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Macbeth Themes - Good And Evil In Macbeth

The theme of good versus evil is at the heart of Macbeth.

The witches set the tone at the very beginning: fair is foul and foul is fair. Good and evil exist side by side, and it can be difficult to tell which is which. The fair face may hide the foul heart. As Duncan says of the first Thane of Cawdor: ‘There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.’ This is part of the theme of equivocation, of ambiguity, of false words and false appearances, which runs through Macbeth.

Are the witches' intentions towards Macbeth in the beginning foul or fair? Is Duncan, the meek King who applauds savagery in battle, as gentle as he seems? Is Banquo noble or self-serving? Are Thanes like Lenox and Ross honourable or opportunistic? Does Malcolm truly represent good, when, as he does to Macduff, he can imitate evil so well?

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Roman Polanski - Macbeth Witches Opening Scene


Many Of The Spoken Words In Macbeth Have Double Meanings

Words spoken by so many of the characters have double meanings and so can be read in several ways. And then of course there is the huge deception practised on Macbeth. The witches show him visions and promise: ‘All this is so.’ And so it is, but not in the way that Macbeth expects. They have lied ‘like truth’: they have equivocated. The porter, of course, adds a note of black comedy to the theme of the evils of double meaning, tying it to the famous equivocation practised by one of the gunpowder plot culprits. His satirical in-jokes would have made the Elizabethans laugh in recognition, and perhaps shudder as well, for the Elizabethans hated the ‘fiend that lies like truth.’ Such equivocation destroyed certainty in their world, and made it seem a dangerous, shifting place.

In Macbeth Evil Exists Side By Side With Good

Besides equivocation that can make bad things seem good, evil in Macbeth can also exist side by side with good. We watch the struggle between good and evil within Macbeth. Then, the batlle lost and won, we see the evil growing and corrupting him still further. The disease spreads beyond him, affecting the whole of Scotland. Linked with evil is disorder: the natural world shudders and quakes, and the order of things seem to be turned upside down. But Macbeth is not the only source of evil. There is something dark in the world outside of him. The witches are there before we meet Macbeth. Black night and ravens are the other side of the sun and of the martlets. They exist without Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. But the misguided couple seize on the darkness that is around them, and use it to strengthen the evil impulses within themselves, edging out the good as darkness squeezes out light during an eclipse.

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The shadows over Scotland lift only when the forces of justice and order return to defeat Macbeth, and to restore harmony to the world. We must assume that the world is still, in some ways, both fair and foul. But evil has been put in its place, and balance restored. It is now up to Scotland’s kings to see fair as fait, and foul as foul.

More In My Series Of Shakespeare's Macbeth

  • My Favourite Shakespeare Play, Macbeth
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  • Was Macbeth A Villain Or A victim?
    If you have seen Macbeth performed on stage several times you will realise that no two Macbeths are ever played in quite the same way. Of course, both actors and directors will have their own views on how...
  • Lady Macbeth - A Fiend Or A Caring Wife?
    Is Lady Macbeth really an evil fiend-like queen? Selfish, bullying and cruel? Or is Lady Macbeth simply ambitious for a husband whom she loves, and so forces herself to deny her true self, which is tender and...
  • Macbeth Themes Ambition And Power
    The theme of ambition in Macbeth is linked to that of good and evil. Like many other passions and impulses, ambition can be both foul and fair. Through Macbeth, we see that it can be fair when put to good...
  • Macbeth Themes - Relationships


Re34 on January 28, 2019:


DABOSS!!! on June 22, 2015:

I think Macbeth is the BOSS!!!!!

a on November 01, 2011:

macbeth is evil

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