Sunday, November 25, 2012

Evil Ambition


One of the things that struck me most during our lecture with Professor Kassel was our discussion of the nature of evil and how it is represented in the play. Professor Kassel said that he believes that evil is everywhere, a piece of everything. He said that he was planning on using this idea in his performance of Macbeth by having the Weird Sisters possess certain characters in the play when they would seem most susceptible to embody evil. While reading the end of Macbeth I kept thinking about this last class in McKenna Theater and this portion of our lecture. I found myself examining the theme of evil and asking myself “do the Weird sisters really represent evil?”

I don’t think they do. First of all, they are three women who seem to tell the future.  Therefore, in my eyes they represent The Fates and although commonly represented as evil, they actually aren’t. Disney movies such as Hercules and other pop culture products have construed this idea, but in Greek mythology the fates were deciders of lives. Together they had the power to grant one a good life, a bad one or some sort of life in between these two extremes (greekmythology.com). If Shakespeare was modeling his weird sisters after The Fates then I would assume that they are not evil but that they are only bestowing evil on Macbeth.

When I came to this conclusion I began to ask myself how the theme of ambition could play into this. It is widely agreed upon that Macbeth is a play about ambition but how can someone be ambitious, a word signaling a desire or plan to change, when their fate is already decided? Is Macbeth’s fate already decided?

In Greek mythology no one was willing to cross The Fates (greekmythology.com). This was assumedly because they had the power not only to decide a person’s fate, but to change that decision at any moment. If this is the case, then Macbeth’s fate is not decided and if it is not decided then there is room for him to be ambitious. Although, Macbeth is not only ambitious, he’s greedy and disrespectful of those who bestowed this knowledge upon him. Macbeth attempts not only to gain the thrown for himself but for his children as well, determining to kill Banquo and his family even though The Weird Sisters had decided that Macbeth was not to beget Kings. In addition, Macbeth calls the sisters “Hags” and demands answers of them, though he has done nothing to deserve answers (IV.I, 64). Therefore, maybe it is only because of Macbeth’s greed and disrespect of The Fates that they decide that he will die in the way he does. In the end Macbeth claims that life “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (V.V, 25-27). Maybe this is not to say that life is meaningless, but that the “idiot”, or common man, cannot control it. Maybe he's only saying that there is no point in being ambitious in one’s own right. I wonder if Shakespeare is trying to tell his audience that instead of taking matters into their own hands that they should appeal to a higher power?

3 comments:

Brianna said...


I really appreciate your post, the witches are always an interesting aspect of the play much like the clowns/ fools of Shakespeare’s other plays. The only thing that contrasts between the witches and these other characters is that the witches to me appear to be omniscient, basically knowing what is going to happen to the characters of Macbeth. What I find most intriguing about them is the way in which you compare them to fate and I would agree. I do not see the witches as an association with evil but rather a higher power. What is most interesting about the witches is that they construct the future in riddles for Macbeth. In this sense, they do not tell exactly what is going to happen, but they allow Macbeth to “determine” his own fate in my opinion. In reality, his decisions were all his own, based on some riddles he received, nothing was “factual” he believed it to be though. I do not think that Macbeth’s fate was already decided, but rather he in turn made his own decisions that happened to match the witches so –called premonitions. Then again, we will never actually know the truth.

Stacy Carter said...

I have never thought about the witches like this, but it really does make a lot of sense. The witches don't really do anything particularly evil, instead they simply tell Macbeth an idea of the future that he then goes and creates for himself. The acted as a catalyst for Macbeth, and he chose his own fate.

Cyrus Mulready said...

Sam--let me first say that I'm sorry for not giving you proper attribution for your great post in class last week! I agree that thinking of the witches as "scary" is just one interpretation of their role in the play, and you do a really nice job here exploring the other possibilities. They are almost like oracles in the play, and as we know from Greek drama and epic, the oracles can sometimes offer vague or misleading prophecies! Thinking of them this way certainly puts responsibility back on Macbeth and the way in which he chooses to respond to their promptings.