chapter  7
21 Pages

MACBETH AND THE METAPHYSIC OF EVIL

Macbeth is Shakespeare’s most profound and mature vision of evil. In the ghost and death themes of Hamlet we have something of the same quality; in the Brutus-theme of Julius Caesar we have an exactly analogous rhythm of spiritual experience; in Richard III we have a parallel history of an individual’s crime. In Macbeth all this, and the many other isolated poetic units of similar quality throughout Shakespeare, receive a final, perfected form. Therefore analysis of Macbeth is of profound value: but it is not easy. Much of Hamlet, and the Troilus-Othello-Lear succession culminating in Timon of Athens, can be regarded as representations of the ‘hate-theme’. We are there faced by man’s aspiring nature, unsatiated of its desire among the frailties and inconsistencies of its world. They point us to good, not evil, and their very gloom of denial is the shadow of a great assertion. They accordingly lend themselves to interpretation in terms of human thought, and their evil can be regarded as a negation of man’s positive longing. In Macbeth we find not gloom, but blackness: the evil is not relative, but absolute. In point of imaginative profundity Macbeth is comparable alone to Antony and Cleopatra. There we have a fiery vision of a paradisal consciousness; here the murk and nightmare torment of a conscious hell. This evil, being

absolute and therefore alien to man, is in essence shown as inhuman and supernatural, and is most difficult of location within any philosophical scheme. Macbeth is fantastical and imaginative beyond other tragedies. Difficulty is increased by that implicit blurring of effects, that palling darkness, that overcasts plot, technique, style. The persons of the play are themselves groping. Yet we are left with an overpowering knowledge of suffocating, conquering evil, and fixed by the basilisk eye of a nameless terror. This evil will be my subject. In parts of my treatment the influence of A. C. Bradley will be apparent.