Battle of Good and Evil in Macbeth’s Mind

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At a time of great political unrest and uncertainty, Shakespeare wrote the play ‘Macbeth.’ James I had just become King James I of England and Scotland but unfortunately his appointment created unease rather than stabilize an already capacious society. Shakespeare used the character of Macbeth as a means of highlighting the consequences of treasonous plotting.

Throughout the play we see Macbeth battling with ambition, bravery and self-doubt. Shakespeare uses these attributes to show how guilt and ambition can have severe consequences. Before we are even introduced to Macbeth himself he is praised by the Captain to King Duncan which implicates his popularity between the other men. “for brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name)” and “worthy gentlemen.” Macbeth already is described as someone who possess prodigious strength of character, making us have high expectations for his future arrival in the story.

The fact that he is showered in praise suggests how much they admire him for his bravery and loyalty in war. He is a valiant solider which may be one of the reasons why he was proclaimed Thane of Cawdor. After hearing Macbeths description, the audience would have been shocked at his future actions as it shows how a man can change from a loyal solider to a murderous killer in such a short span of time. The first impressions of Macbeth are profound, his overwhelming ambitions and abilities are introduced, and these characteristics are proven to later be fatal.

When Macbeth and Banquo first approach the witches we immediately notice Macbeths strange reaction to their words. “that he seems rapt withal.” We are left wondering why Macbeth is so startled by the witch’s words almost as if he was afraid. Banquo queries the reason for Macbeths irrational fear. Perhaps he has thought about becoming king before making us believe that King Duncan has misplaced his trust in Macbeth. Macbeth may be conflicted about whether or not to believe the words of the witches but soon gains belief in them just as the witches predicted Macbeth is appointed Thane of Cawdor. “…and for an earnest of a greater honour, he bade me, from him, call thee Thane of Cawdor.”

This further strengthens his faith in the witches leading him to get past his previous doubtful thoughts. However, perhaps it is his betraying thoughts that lead him into a state of conflict. Being king means over throwing Duncan whose characteristics are very honourable. The fight between good and evil highlights the unloyal thoughts that are racing around his head leading him into a state of confliction.Macbeths first soliloquy lets us have a look into his troubled mind as for first time we see Macbeth as a complex character. He seems the epitome of opposite contrasting ideas.

He is torn between doing what is right and doing what his deepest desires want. Making him ponder over the idea of committing treason leading the audience to believe that he can’t be trusted. “first, as I am his kinsman and his subject.” The use of the word kinsman shows the kings unwavering faith in Macbeth as he considers him family. The fact the thought of killing Duncan was a choice shows us a much darker side of Macbeth as his guilty conscience maybe destructive on Macbeths mind. “not bear the knife myself…will plead like angels…deep damnation of his taking-off.”

This highlights the fact that Macbeth is totally aware of how good a king Duncan is, he even claims that the angels will sing his praises in heaven. This only adds to Macbeths conflicted state as he may be aware that if he goes through with killing Duncan the after life for him might not be as pleasing, which was very important at the time. “that tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur… only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself, and falls on th’ other.” Shakespeare uses the metaphor of a horseman to show that he has no other reason other than ambition to kill the king and he realises that it could have terrible consequences for him.

Macbeth shows signs of his impending insanity even before he kills King Duncan as just prior to committing the murder, Macbeth experiences hallucinations of a dagger. “is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee:” this hallucination may be a symbol of his inner turmoil. “it is bloody business which informs thus to mine eyes…wicked dreams abuse…the curtained sleep:…pale haccats offerings;”.

From this it is suggested how he sees this vision of the dagger as an invitation to murder. The ‘wicked dreams abuse’ shows how he experiences nightmares which maybe be because of his guilty conscience, therefore leading us to believe that he knows what he about to do is wrong but still can’t give up his desire to become king. The way in which he refers to ‘pale heccat’ shows how he is aligning himself to evil which implies how he can no longer resist the witches urges anymore.

When he returns after committing the crime, it is obvious how highly disturbed he is about what he has done. “… I could not say ‘amen”. The fact that he could not pronounce the word ‘amen implies that he is now unholy. In addition, this may be the start of the insomnia that brings him to madness. Relating back to his restless sleep he hears things in the night which highlights how he is on the brink of insanity. “glamis hath murdered sleep and therefore Cawdor…shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.”

As he is already panicking regarding what he has done hearing voices that foreshadows his sleeplessness shows us just how regretful he is about what he has done as he knows that if someone finds out he will not be punished lightly which may be one of the many causes of his downfall. Macbeths aftermath shows how he is filled with remorse for what he has done. “will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”. This indicates how Macbeth realises that he will forever be filled with guilt and that no amount of water will wash it away. Macbeth wishes that he has never committed the deed and wants King Duncan to live again. Macbeths decision to have Banquo killed shows his bitter feeling towards Banquo’s prophecy, that he would father future kings. “…Duncan have I murdered…to make them king, the seed of Banquo kings.”

Macbeth is angry that Banquo’s children will be kings and not his as he implies that he has fought all the hard obstacles that stood in his way and for that his children deserve to be kings. He surmises that he must kill Banquo and his only son Fleance in order to ensure that Fleance doesn’t take the throne after him. Another reason maybe because Macbeth resents Banquo’s noble character. “…stick deep, and in his royalty of nature reigns that which would be feared.” From this we see how Macbeth thinks Banquo is wise and courageous without being reckless. Perhaps Banquo’s ‘royalty in nature’ will pose a threat to Macbeth which may be why he felt he needed to get rid of his former best friend.

He is more concerned about the threat Banquo possesses against his kinship than his best friend life which shows us in full force his clouded desire to stay on the throne. Banquo’s ghost is a figment of Macbeths imagination. His guilt for killing Banquo manifests itself into a vision of the newly departed. “the tables full.” Macbeths visions of the dead Banquo was merely erroneous and absurd, there is no one sitting there. Just like the hallucination of the dagger, Banquo’s ghost seems to be a realization of his guilt. Macbeths insane mind games are an aberration from his previous characteristics at the start of the book.

When the Lords start to get suspicious of Macbeths questioning actions Lady Macbeths less than comforting words do not help him in this situation. “are you a man”, by challenging his manhood she is putting more pressure on Macbeth, perhaps in an attempt to make him man up. This occurrence with Banquo’s ghost would let the audience understand the side effects of killing people and how they permanently affect your mind. They are also given another look into his future ruination therefore showing the audience that anyone who dares go against the king will be brought down themselves. Macbeth goes back to the witches this time because he wants more specific information on their predictions therefore showcasing his insecurities.

Macbeth is desperate for reassurance that he is consequently willing to believe everything the witches say. “how now, you secret, black and midnight hags?”. He knows that the witches are evil but can’t resist the urge to go back and find out more. The time of the situation “midnight” highlights the fact that Macbeth is so frantic to find out information, that he returns at the witching hour. “through castles topple on their warders’ heads;” the imagery of destruction chaos and death shows how he doesn’t care anymore. “Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth! Beware Macduff; beware the thane of fife.

Dismiss me. Enough.” The witches are warning Macbeth of Macduff leading him to think of Macduff as a threat who might poses danger towards Macbeths kingship. “be bloody, bold, and resolute: laugh to scorn The power of man: for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth” The witches are telling Macbeth that no man born of a women can kill him. Only a person who hasn’t been born from a woman can harm him. This further strengthens his hatred towards Macduff as this prophecy indicates that only Macduff can harm him.

Ultimately Macbeth wanted to know more about what fate had in store for him, thus, he went back to the witches, this time the witches gave him equivocations which he misunderstood and ultimately led to his arrogance and death.Eventually we see how there are no limits to how far Macbeth is willing to go to remain as king, even slaughtering innocents such as Macduff’s family. Macbeth sent his soldiers to kill Macduff but instead, having found he fled, they take action and kill Macduff’s family. This murder has no strategic purpose but to perhaps provoke a reaction in Macduff.

In heeding the witch’s prophecy, Macbeth is required to take action against Macduff. By murdering Macduff’s family, he ensures that Macduff will retaliate and initiate an insurgency against him, ultimately concluding in Macduff’s downfall. This is the final act in the course of events that guarantees Macbeths eventual death.During Macbeths final scene he realises he was wrong to believe the witches but instead of running away from Macduff he chooses to stand firm and face his opponent, “but bear-like I must fight the course.” We finally see the Macbeth from the beginning of the play; the brave loyal solider.

The reference to brave Macbeth shows us how he is returning to his former self. He is admitting how he was fooled to believe that he could ever keep his kingship as the blood on his hands was too much to handle. His conflicted mind is finally put to rest as he now feels at ease with the situation, he knows what he has done in the past was wrong and is accepting full responsibility for it. This would have shown the viewing public that anyone who committed actions similar to Macbeths would not get off without consequences.

To conclude, Macbeths conflicted mind travels through different states of emotions. In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, the various types of conflicts impact the plot internally, externally and through the supernatural, proving this play is a tragedy. We never fully understand Macbeths complex mind as we are always wondering what he will do next, the various possibilities are endless. Throughout the play Macbeth leads the audience to believe that his conflicted mind had a constant battle between good and evil and they are intrigued as to how the play progresses.


Cite this paper

Battle of Good and Evil in Macbeth’s Mind. (2020, Sep 18). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/battle-of-good-and-evil-in-macbeths-mind/



how does banquo post a threat to macbeth?
Banquo poses a threat to Macbeth because he suspects that Macbeth may have committed murder to become king, and his presence may lead to the exposure of Macbeth's crime. Additionally, the witches' prophecy that Banquo's descendants will become kings threatens Macbeth's own hold on the throne.
How does Macbeth show the battle between good and evil?
Macbeth shows the battle between good and evil through his own internal struggle. He is constantly torn between doing what is right and following his ambitious desires.
How does Macbeth's state of mind change?
Macbeth's state of mind changes from being paranoid to being confident.
What is the nature of evil and good in Macbeth?
Macbeth's downfall is his own fault. He is responsible for his own actions and choices.
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