In other tragedies of Shakespeare the evil is concentrated in the antagonists who are able to bring about the ruin of better people than themselves by making use of their weakness: pride, credulity and lust. But in Macbeth the evil is transferred from the villains to the hero and the heroine. For instance, Macbeth, the hero of the playstands as a perfect embodiment of the disintegration of the individual under the influence of evil. At the start of the play he is a very successful and highly esteemed member of a social group, loaded with honors and enjoying every prospect of further commendation. He has a loving wife and a secure home in his castle at Inverness. He is a man “full of the milk of human kindness” (Shakespeare, Macbeth I.V.17). As the play opens, we learn of his heroic actions in defense of the kingdom. We see him interact with other nobles, and their friendship and esteem are evident, as is Duncan’s high regard, which expresses itself in terms of fertile growth, the beauty of natural processes, and spontaneous generosity with promises of more to come. 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. As his link with humanity weakens, so also does his desire to live, until at last he sinks into total despair which is the surest evidence of his damnation.
It is noteworthy that Macbeth’s extraordinary powers of imagination enables him to see all the implications of his evil deed in their most frightening form, before the deed itself is committed. His imagination enables him to grasp the moral implications of the deed he is going to commit, and he can visualize the full horror of the crime. He is fully aware of God’s moral system with its “even handed justice” (Shakespeare, Macbeth I.VII.10), which forces the criminal to drink the very cup of poison which he has prepared for another. Macbeth’s soliloquy in which he meditates upon Duncan’s murder (Act 1, Scene VII. 1-28) shows clearly his feelings of kinship with the moral order before he commits the crime. But Macbeth’s exceeding ambition, which represents the evil, is so overwhelming that in the struggle with it his moral consciousness and better feelings get defeated and leave him utterly wretched. His passion for power and his instinct of self-assertion are so vehement that no inward or outward misery could persuade him to relinquish the fruits of crime, or to advance from remorse to repentance. Evidently he commits himself to his course of evil. He deliberately tries to suppress his moral feelings. Just as he gets ready to commit the deed, he makes another soliloquy, and he seeks the suppression of all the moral feelings within himself. In a devilish incantation he calls for darkness and the extinction of nature, appealing to theearth itself to look aside while he violates the harmonious order of the world. This violation alienates him from God. Immediately after the murder, Macbeth finds that he cannot utter the word “Amen” (Shakespeare, Macbeth II.II.31). He also finds that he will sleep no more. Sleep is an aspect of divine mercy which offers man an escape from worldly cares. This escape will be denied to Macbeth. Afterwards, Macbeth steadily moves further and further from God and from his fellow human beings. His bond with nature is thus weakened. After the murder of Duncan he commits himself to an unnatural course from which his cannot retreat as he himself says:
I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go over.
(Shakespeare, Macbeth III.IV. 136-38)