Comparing the Evil of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
“At the heart of William Shakespeare's Macbeth is an examination of the nature of evil and it's many faces and facets”(Cathell 119). The principal evil characters in the play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, are both evil, but the manifestation of evil is different in each.
Macbeth's evil is a dynamic character trait. He begins the play as a celebrated hero, loyal to his friends and dedicated to his king. He is strong and noble, a man to be admired by his audience. Macbeth and Banquo are visited by the three witches, who promise him that he will be king. This veiled intimation ignites a secret ambition within Macbeth. Evil has dawned within him, but at this early stage of his transformation Macbeth is ashamed of his evil urges. He says,
Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires;
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be,
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. (Shakespeare I, iv, 50)
Soon, however, Macbeth is overcome by his ambition and his fall begins. He says,
I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself/ and falls on the other. (Shakespeare I, vii, 25)
As soon as the descision to murder Duncan is made, and until his death, Macbeth is a vessel relentlessly filling with evil. Macbeth is the source of all the dastardly deeds in this play. The witches ignite his evil ambition, Lady Macbeth stokes the fire, but the blame for Duncan's murder rests squarely on the shoulders of Macbeth. Macbeth may not have held the knives that killed Banquo or Macduff's family, but the agression is his.
Lady Macbeth does not descend into evil. She wallows in it. From the first moment the audience meets her, she has blatantly committed herself to evil. She longs to be even more evil, and tries to commune with unseen spirits to help her. She says,
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 up the access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature/ Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between/ The effect and it! come to my woman's breasts,/ And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,/ Whatever in your sightless substances/ You wait on nature's mischief! Come think night,/ And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,/ That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,/ Nor Heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,/ To cry 'Hold, hold!' (Shakespeare I, v, 36)
For all the sound and fury, Lady Macbeth's evil signifies nothing. She has no goal that requires such sinister behaviour. When she learns of the witches' promise, Duncan is nothing to her but a suitable victim. Her true...