GT English 10
6 February 2015
Human Nature of Good and Evil in Macbeth
It is in human nature to want to do bad things, but the question is, how easy is it us to be led astray when we start down the wrong path? According to a selection from the Xunzi, called “Human Nature Is Evil” it says: “…goodness derives from conscious activity. Now it is human nature to be born with a fondness for profit. Indulging this leads to contention and strife, and the sense of modesty and yielding with which one was born disappears.” In William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, these elements of good and evil surface and eventually lead to some serious circumstances that not only show that “good” people such as Macbeth can be corrupted but how difficult it is to escape once you start down a dark path.
In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is a loyal servant to the king and a war hero. There is no indication of him having evil inclinations in any way at this point. Macbeth does not begin to consider or commit evil deeds until the prophecies/suggestions of the witches and the encouragements of his wife. With this being said, he is capable of committing both good and evil deeds. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare illustrates the nature of good and evil using supernatural (witches) or natural (Lady Macbeth) influence.
Throughout the play the use of the supernatural is very apparent to a reader. This is shown by the witches, visions, ghost of Banquo, and the apparitions. All of these contribute to Macbeth’s downfall and corruption. In Macbeth the evil is transferred from the villains, most directly representing the witches, to the hero and the heroine. In the beginning he is described as a man “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” (I.v.15). Though as the play progresses, we see this kindness start to deteriorate through the influence of the weird sisters and Lady Macbeth. Throughout Macbeth, the metaphysical is continually shaping and affecting the play, influencing Macbeth to commit the murders using the power of suggestion.
As the play opens, we learn of Macbeth’s heroic actions in defense of the kingdom. But as he is overpowered by evil and the crime is committed, his human feelings are gradually destroyed until at the end of the play he becomes the unnatural man, cut off from humanity and from God. When evil in one’s nature is let loose, it enables one to commit vices which were previously unheard of. It ultimately takes one to the path of doom. For instance, after Macbeth has received news that he has been named Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth asks himself "why do I yield to that suggestion / whose horrid image doth unfix my hair / And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, / Against the use of nature?" (I.iii.145-148).” In this quote, "suggestion" means "temptation," so Macbeth is asking himself why he feels himself giving into temptation. The "use of nature" means the way things usually and naturally are, so Macbeth means that he is not used to feeling this way. It's as though his body is warning him against what his mind is thinking.
According to Freudian theories of nature, human nature is essentially in conflict—consisting of an unconscious mind (Id) an Ego, and the Superego. Freud says, “In many criminals, especially youthful ones, it is possible to detect a very powerful sense of guilt which existed before the crime, and is therefore not its result but its motive. It is as if it was a relief to be able to fasten this unconscious sense of guilt on to something real and immediate.” (Sigmund Freud, the Ego and the Id) This quote is a perfect example of Macbeth. Even before the murder of Duncan, the reader can detect a powerful sense of guilt eating away at Macbeth most clearly seen through the hallucination of the dagger. Not only does Macbeth foreshadow the nature of evil, but also the good. This can be seen in Lady Macbeth; even though she deliberately chose evil, she still exhibited traces of goodness in her. Her human feelings…