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Good and Evil in Humanity and Macbeth
A major component of all human societies has been the existence of religion. In all of these religions the concepts of good and evil have been present. The reason for this is because man has constantly been in a struggle with internal and external pressures about the intentions of his actions either good or bad. Pressures have been given different names throughout history. These range from vices, temptation, morals, sins, conscience and goals. They can be either good or bad and can be exerted on an individual from others (external) or from within (internal). One play that examines the issue of external and internal pressures on an individual and his actions is William Shakespeare's Macbeth. One particular episode that reflects the intent of the play is when the title character kills the King of Scotland in order to become king himself. Shakespeare concludes that both external and internal pressures have forced Macbeth to act evilly. As both options (good and evil) are available for mankind and there are numerous examples of both being done, then it must be concluded that the choice of evil is not non-existent nor rare, but rather frequent. Therefore, through the murder of Duncan, Macbeth does not isolate himself from humanity but rather embraces it.
The character of Macbeth that the audience is introduced is the epitome of good. Act One sees nearly all characters, other then Macbeth, give some sort of compliment towards his character. The Sergeant declares "For brave Macbeth - well he deserves that name"1 while Banquo, Macbeth's second in hand, calls him "My noble partner"2. Macbeth' wife states that he is "too full o' the milk of human kindness"3. Duncan, King of Scotland, whose status would cause the audience to give his opinion the most weight, describes Macbeth's character three times in Act One. These are "O valiant cousin! Worthy Gentlemen"4, "They (Banquo and Macbeth) smack of honour both"5 and "peerless kinsman"6. We also learn from Macbeth that he is not ambitious as he states "come what come may"7. Thus the audience has a clear picture in their mind of the good nature of Macbeth by the end of Act One. However, Macbeth's character changes as a number of influences challenge his actions and lead him on a path of definite evil.
The first several pressures that challenge Macbeth are of the external nature. There are the three weird sisters, "All hail, Macbeth! That shalt be King hereafter."8, who first put into Macbeth's mind the possibility of being king. However, his internal pressures (commonly referred to in modern societies as the conscience) are not yet ready for a change in character. Macbeth replies "If chance will crown me king, why chance may crown me, Without my stir"9. He then is told by Duncan that his son, Malcolm, shall be the next in line, "Malcolm, whom we name hereafter the Prince of Cumberland"10. This marks a change in his conscience that sees it begin an internal struggle between good and evil. In one soliloquy Macbeth realises he must become more ambitious yet his morals are still present and an important factor:
"The Prince of Cumberland! That is a
Names mentioned in this term paper
Lady Macbeth, the milk, Duncan, himself, Malcolm,
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