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Analysis on Macbeth: Are Humans Inherently Good or Evil?

Updated on November 1, 2017
Asteriaa profile image

Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Asteriaa writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.

People are not inherently evil, however, they can commit evil acts depending on their situation. To demonstrate, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the social and financial benefits that characterise the monarchy class created the temptation for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to push to murder out of ambition. The macro theory of self-determination encapsulates both character’s desire to climb the social ladder. This is employed through Shakespeare’s use of dramatic techniques to reveal Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s embedded ambition. Therefore, humans aren’t inherently evil since both character’s actions are the result of circumstance and the biological drive humans have to want better for themselves.

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Humans are not inherently evil but are driven to evil acts depending on their circumstances. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, he emphasises the fact ambition is instinctual through the desire to improve their living condition. For instance, when Lady Macbeth is introduced to the audience, she is characterised as self-centered and ambitious through her soliloquy. To exemplify, in act 1, scene 5, after receiving Macbeth’s letter she believes that Macbeth will become king at the murder of the current king, King Duncan. Nevertheless, Lady Macbeth fears that Macbeth is in nature too kind to commit the deed. However, due to her instinctual ambition, she seeks to intensify this desire by calling for spirits “... fill me from the crown to the toe top-full, Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.” Through her soliloquy, it makes it clear to the audience that her intention to kill is founded on her desire to claim a higher position in society for herself. In addition, if Lady Macbeth were born within the monarchical class, it is unlikely she would of had that desire. Clearly, through the employment of soliloquy, it proves humans aren’t inherently evil as it depends on circumstances that people can commit evil deeds based on instinctual ambition.

Macbeth And Banquo Meet The Witches

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People can commit evil acts depending on their situation and ambition, but that doesn’t make them inherently evil. For instance, Shakespeare’s Macbeth reveals Macbeth’s undergoing character change from a heroic archetype to a villain throughout the text. Shakespeare uses the technique of binary themes of hero versus villain in Macbeth’s characterisation. Initially, when the audience is introduced to the protagonist, he is characterised as a respectable character with morality through dialogue. In act 1, scene 2, he is admirably described by King Duncan’s dialogue, “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman.” However, the binary theme of being a villain implies that Macbeth wasn’t inherently evil, but was lured by monarchical power into committing evil acts to gain it. For instance, his temptation for power surfaces with his monologue and response to the prophecy in which he kills for status, “I am thane of Cawdor. If good, why do I yield to that suggestion? Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair.” (act 1, scene 3) His ponder of murder challenges the audience’s heroic perception of Macbeth character. In the end, the social benefits of becoming a monarch outweigh Macbeth’s morals. Thus, his villainy quality in his character becomes evident after he achieves monarchical power. If the privileges of the monarchical class hadn’t existed, he wouldn't of committed evil acts. Ultimately, through the transition of Macbeth’s character, it proves that humans aren’t inherently evil, but depending on their situation they can commit evil acts.

Macbeth (Shakespeare) - Thug Notes Summary and Analysis

Shakespeare’s Macbeth argues against whether we are inherently evil, as there is an insufficient amount of characters that are shown as evil. For instance, in act 5, scene 3, when Macbeth’s men spot Malcolm's army, Macbeth responds with isolation, “...which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have.” This means he could no longer ‘look to have’ respect from his people due to his immorally-perceived killing spree. This dialogue, Shakespeare utilises to convey the juxtaposition between Macbeth and his subjects. This is because Macbeth’s subjects detest Macbeth’s actions as a king. As a result, the audience is persuaded that Macbeth’s evil character had gone beyond what is acceptable due to his subject’s disrespect. This argues against the idea of humans being inherently evil as the majority of the cast are disgusted of Macbeth’s evil character. Therefore, through a dialogue of Macbeth to express contrast to his subjects, Shakespeare’s Macbeth argues against we’re inherently evil.

Video SparkNotes: Shakespeare's Macbeth summary

Individuals aren’t inherently evil, yet can commit evil acts. This is dependent on the embedded ambition, which is manipulated by circumstance. In Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s case, it was the temptation of monarchical status brought by the privileges of becoming king and queen. The binary theme of hero vs villain within Macbeth’s character illustrates this. The juxtaposition of Macbeth’s subjects and Macbeth argues against the idea of people being inherently evil, as Macbeth’s evil character is looked down upon by his subjects. In conclusion, We as social creatures adapt to society for survival, so it is unfair to label individuals as inherently good or evil.

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    • Sherita Brace profile image

      Sherita Brace 

      12 months ago from USA

      An insightful and thoughtful narrative .

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