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The Relationship between Women and Evil in Macbeth

Updated on May 10, 2012

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and one of his most well-known plays. The play has gained infamy for the accidents that have happened during its many stagings so much so that it is also known as “the Scottish play” to keep from having to say its name. The spooky lore surrounding the performing of the play is fitting given the events that happen during the plot. After hearing the prophecy told by the three witches, Macbeth is filled with desire and becomes ambitious for assuming the throne, and being crowned King of Scotland, the last of the predictions given to Macbeth and Banquo when they stumble upon them. After the earlier predictions of the witches come true, Macbeth takes a more proactive stance in fulfilling the prophecy, whereas Banquo decides to let after take its own course and to not interfere. Macbeth’s proactive ness leads to much bloodshed and violence, ending in his and his wife’s demise. Lady Macbeth is an interesting character because she is the one who is the most influential in establishing Macbeth as the king. She is the pivotal force in the murder of Duncan and covering up the crime when he visits Macbeth’s castle. Her part in the ultimate fate of Macbeth is interesting considering that she is a woman. In Macbeth, there is a curious relationship between women and evil, which concerns both roles of the three witches and Lady Macbeth. The disaster caused by women in the play is seen as abnormal and out-of-place in contrast to the natural and acceptance violence of the men. In Macbeth, unacceptable or evil acts stem from and are associated with women.

Women are associated with evil from the beginning of the play. The three witches are portrayed as malevolent beings. They are like a demonic version of the Fate from Greek Mythology, who controlled every begins destiny , and were also women. The pagan aspect of the three witches is retained with their comparison to the Fates and to showcase their unsavory behavior, such as making potions: “Scale of a dragon, tooth of wolf, / Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf / Of the ravined salt-sea shark, / Root of hemlock, digged I’th’dark” (IV.I.22-25). They are instrumental in starting the action that leads to so much tragedy. After Macbeth and Banquo stumbled upon them and heard their predictions, Banquo is skeptical of their praises of Macbeth: “What, can the devil speak true?” (I.III.105). He considers them to be devils or the embodiment of evil. He sense harm and deception in their nature. He thinks that there is an ulterior motive behind their predictions: “And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, / The instruments of darkness tell us truths; / Win us honest trifles, to betray’s / In deepest consequence” (I.III.123-126). The “us” here can refer to Banquo and Macbeth specifically or it can be applied to all men with “the instruments of darkness” being the witches or women in general. Banquo thinks that they could be telling a truth, but behind it is a negative consequence that could outweigh it. The witches make few appearances, so the theme of evil correlating with women is continued throughout the play with the role of Lady Macbeth. As the plot unfolds, Lady Macbeth becomes Macbeth’s “instrument of darkness” because she is his main driving force behind the murder of Duncan and the attempt to cover it up. She uses her own type of manipulation to get Macbeth to commit evil just like the manipulation used by the witches with their prophecy that sounds attractive, but underneath the “deepest consequence” is hidden.

Lady Macbeth acts as an agent of evil actions during the play. She is involved intensely in Macbeth’s affairs to make sure that he does what is necessary for him to become king. When finding out that Duncan plans to visit their castle, Lady Macbeth recognizes this as a prime opportunity for Macbeth to assume the position of King: “Only look up clear; / To alter favour ever is to fear. / Leave all the rest to me” (I.V.69-71). Without Lady Macbeth’s persistence in seeing the prophecy through it is likely that the murders and the subsequent chaos that follows would never have happened. The three witches planted the idea into Macbeth’s mind and Lady Macbeth took that temptation and ambition and made it reality. Lady Macbeth is indispensable to the evil set in motion by the witches because she finishes what the witches started. Lady Macbeth takes on the responsibility of making sure Macbeth murders Duncan and making sure the rest of the plan is done competently enough for people not to suspect them. She is confident in her ability to do evil, which is why she wants Macbeth to “leave all the rest to [her].” Macbeth is not completely committed to the murders, and almost botches the frame-up of the two passed out servants. Lady Macbeth makes up for her husband’s indecisiveness: “Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead / Are but as pictures; ‘tis the eye of childhood / That fears a painted devil” (II.II.56-58). Lady Macbeth fulfills her role in completing what the three witches started. She able to act where Macbeth is not. Lady Macbeth becomes the single most important part of the evil and tragedy by taking over when Macbeth is slow to react. If the daggers were not planted, they would have been caught immediately, and none of the tragic events that followed would have happened. The path of evil is linked from the three witches to Lady Macbeth.

The evil done by the women characters is also on a different plane from the men. The men commit physical acts of violence just like any other Shakespearean tragedy, but Lady Macbeth and the three witches are more subtle. They use the manipulation to do harm instead of being physical, which can arguably be considered to be more dangerous and sinister. The witches are very skilled at being manipulative. The prophecies are not straightforward and they are often cryptic in meaning. In the beginning, they tempt Macbeth and play on his ambition by telling him he will be king. Near the end of the play, the witches use an apparition to reassure Macbeth’s invincibility in battle: “The power of man, for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth” (IV.I.79-80). Macbeth thinks he is safe from death because everyone has a mother, but the prophecy is a trick because MacDuff reveals that he was born through a caesarian section meaning that he can kill Macbeth. The manipulation is subtle and relies upon deception by leading Macbeth t believe in things that are not true or only partly true. The three witches are effective in their deception, but Lady Macbeth knows how to use deception to get what she wants and get it done quickly. When Macbeth is questioning the plan to murder Duncan, Lady Macbeth gets into his head and puts him back in line to taking the throne of himself: “When you durst do it, then you were a man. / And to be more than what you were, you would / Be so much more than the man. / Nor time, nor place / Did then adhere, and yet you would make both” (I.VII.48-52). Lady Macbeth does not need to be subtle in her manipulation because she knows how to get into Macbeth’s head and mike him do what she wants by touching in his pride, man’s fatal flaw. Lady Macbeth is also successful in manipulating herself. She is able to get herself in line for what is about to be done to Duncan and remove any uncertainty: “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here / And fill me from the crown to the toe top full / Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood, / Stop th’access and passage to remorse” (I.V>38-42). Macbeth is not the only character who needs encouragement. Lady Macbeth manipulates her nature to fulfill her role in the murders.

Many deaths follow the murder of Duncan. An eventual battle ensues between the forces of MacDuff and Macbeth, and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both meet their demise. All of the evil stem form the women characters. Without the three witches and Lady Macbeth, the events would not have happened the way that they did. They are the most important driving forces behind all the action even when they are not on the stage. The prophecies and encouragements given to the other characters permeate though the rest of the play. The three witches have their counterpart in the Fates of Greek mythology, and so does Lady Macbeth. When it concerns being behind evil actions, Lady Macbeth finds her counterpart in Pandora. Pandora lets out evils through curiosity and Lady Macbeth does this through ambition. The results are disastrous for all. Of course, Eve is not to be left out when being the starting point of sinful actions. Eve is blamed for the Fall of Man and the expulsion from Eden. She uses manipulation, like Lady Macbeth to get Adam to let her go off alone to be tempted by Satan. Eve stands as the ultimate example of evil’s connection with women. The results are disastrous for the Macbeths in the play and for the women of the world.


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    • profile image

      Nawal Islam 5 years ago

      An awesome analysis,Helped me a lot for my term paper

    • Der Meister profile image

      Der Meister 5 years ago from Virgo Supercluster

      Glad to have helped you out.

    • profile image

      Daniel Okafor 5 years ago from Nigeria

      This helped me out today!

    • Der Meister profile image

      Der Meister 5 years ago from Virgo Supercluster

      Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed it.

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 5 years ago from Tennesee

      An interesting analysis. Of course, not every male in Shakespeare's works were "led astray" by coniving females but sometimes by other men, Othello being the most obvious example. I had a drama teacher once suggest that these characters' biggest downfall lay not in who they listened to but their own egos. I tend to go along with that, too.

      But great post, I enjoyed reading it!

    • Der Meister profile image

      Der Meister 6 years ago from Virgo Supercluster

      Evil and strength can be so alluring. Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost is like that in the early books in Hell after being cast out of Heaven.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I like Shakespeare's strong women, though evil. I think maybe he verbally painted his women so strong because Shakespeare lived and wrote during the time of Queen Elizabeth. He made strong, good women as well; and he did expose how easily influenced certain men were by women. The power behind the throne.

    • Apostle Jack profile image

      Apostle Jack 6 years ago from Atlanta Ga

      After the sin and disobedience of Adam and Eve they became adversaries and competitors and evil became a dominate force between the 2.The flesh rule above intellect,and the weak rule over the strong.And unity with God was disconnected.