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Role of Evil in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

The Three Prophecies and Meaning of Each

Prophecies in Shakespeare’s Macbeth occurs in act 1 and act 4. These prophecies play a significant role in advancing the themes of good and evil, treachery and betrayal, loyalty, crime, and violence, which are common in the play. Shakespeare used various characters and styles of writing to illustrate such themes throughout the book. The first set of prophecies comes in act 1, scene 3. In this scene, Macbeth and his friend, Banquo, met three witches as they came from a battle in Scotland. The three witches make predictions about the two friends.

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The first witch referred to Macbeth as Hail to the Thane of Glamis, a position he already held in the kingdom. The second witch referred to Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor, while the third witch prophesied he would become a king. The first prophecy came to pass when Ross and Angus reported that the previous Thane of Cawdor had been executed for going against King Duncan. Macbeth was named Thane of Cawdor as a reward for his loyalty, strength, and success in the battlefield. Macbeth was hesitant when he heard of the prophecies as he had no ambitions of rising to the throne. However, his aspirations to become the King were reinforced when he realized the witches were correct when he was promoted to the position of Thane of Cawdor (Shakespeare, 2001). The first prophecy was important because it served as evidence that the witches were telling the truth. It also influenced the decisions made by Macbeth with pressure from Lady Macbeth to set his eyes on the throne.

The second prophecy enabled Shakespeare to illustrate the themes of treachery, loyalty, evil, and betrayal. Macbeth’s ascension to the throne demonstrated these themes because he murdered King Duncan while he was sleeping as a guest in the castle (Shakespeare, 2001). Macbeth also murdered the King’s guards who were in the castle, who he framed as part of his plan. King Duncan’s son, who would inherit the throne, fled the country. As a result, Macbeth became the King, thus fulfilling the second prophecy. Lady Macbeth played a big role in the fulfillment of this prophecy because she convinced Macbeth to kill King Duncan in his sleep.

The third prophecy was about Banquo and his descendants. The witches said that, although Banquo would not be a king, his sons would become kings (Shakespeare, 2001). Because of Macbeth’s insecurities, he was determined to use all the necessary evil means to remain in power. Consequently, he ordered that Banquo and his son, Fleance, be killed. He was afraid that Banquo would beget sons who would become kings instead of Macbeth’s lineage. Killing Banquo ensured that the third prophecy would not be fulfilled. The three prophecies show how greedy, corrupt, power-hungry, selfish, and treacherous Macbeth had become since the fulfillment of the first prophecy. In fact, Macbeth had tried to question the witches how he would rise to power, who unfortunately vanished before they could answer. Perhaps, they failed to answer so that Macbeth would believe the witches were on his side.

How Fulfilment of Each Prophecy Changes Macbeth’s Character and How He Becomes Evil

Macbeth’s character undergoes a considerable transformation throughout the essay, from a brave warrior to a ruthless King. He was a loyal soldier and a good man to the extent that he was surprised to hear the witches’ prophecies about ever becoming a King. Macbeth was eager to learn how he would become the King. However, the witches left before they could answer, leaving him to choose his own path to the throne. He doubted the witches, but the fulfillment of the first prophecies made Macbeth more ambitious towards becoming the King. However, Banquo viewed the forecasting made by witches as instruments of darkness and bearer of supernatural evil, which came to be observed as Macbeth became obsessed with power.

After the fulfillment of the first prophecy, Macbeth was struck by an immediate desire to take the crown by force immediately. However, his actions were calculated because he awaited to find out what were the chances of the prophecies occurring. For instance, Macbeth accepted the decision by King Duncan, who intended to make his son the new King of Scotland, despite being dissatisfied with the choice. He continued showing his support and loyalty towards the King while waiting for his opportunity to become heir to the throne. Macbeth also took advice from Lady Macbeth, who emphasized that he played a game of foul and fair. Additionally, Lady Macbeth was depicted as motivated and audacious, especially because she hatched the plan to murder King Duncan.

Although Macbeth was fascinated with the idea of becoming the King, he was conflicted between wishful thinking and justice. He understood, as shown in scene seven, that killing Duncan was an injustice, and it would lead to severe consequences (Shakespeare, 2001). Macbeth was aware that killing Duncan, a guest who he had promised safety in Macbeth’s castle, would lead to eternal damnation. Macbeth’s inner conscience forced him almost to abandon the idea of murdering Duncan because it would be unjustifiable and would serve only to further his ambitious plans. However, Lady Macbeth played into Macbeth’s weaknesses, like questioning his manhood and threatening to harm her baby (Arbour & Gilhooly, 2017). As a result, Macbeth gave in and murdered King Duncan, thus becoming the King.

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Macbeth’s ascension to the throne was bloody. After the death of King Duncan, Macbeth assumed the leader of the kingdom. He was always afraid of losing power to other people, which led him to kill anyone in his way. For instance, he hired men to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. These men successfully murdered Banquo, but his son fled from the country, and his whereabouts were not clear until the end of the play. As he grew insecure, Macbeth’s also consulted with the three witches to know who was a threat to the kingdom. Macbeth was informed of a Scottish nobleman, Macduff. The King visited Macduff’s castle to kill the family but only succeeded in killing Lady Macduff (Arbour & Gilhooly, 2017). He was also told by the witches that he would be incapable of being harmed by any man born of a woman. As a result, Macbeth felt safe because he misunderstood prophecies to be on his side, which led to his death at the hands of Macduff.

Macbeth’s desire to become the King and his greed to remain in power are major contributing factors as to how he became evil. Throughout his leadership, Macbeth tortured and murdered people who he saw as a threat to his kingdom. He murdered Duncan to become the King, killed his best friend Banquo and Lady Macduff because he was convinced they would inherit the kingdom. Many people also fled the country because they were scared of Macbeth and his brutal ways. The witches and Lady Macbeth have also had an impact on Macbeth. It is possible that Macbeth would not have killed Duncan were it not for Lady Macbeth’s influence.

How Evil Shows Up in Symbols and Characters in the Play, Including His Wife Lady Macbeth and How Evil Ultimately Destroys Macbeth

The theme of good and evil is predominant in Macbeth, especially because their influence led to an ambitious mind to commit treacherous crimes. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth was considered a hero for his influence on the battlefield and his kind nature. However, as the play progressed, Macbeth committed atrocious deeds which transformed him from a hero to a villain. Evil in the novel shows up in several symbols and characters.

First, the evil showed up at the beginning of the play with the supernatural powers held by the three witches. It appeared that Macbeth did not have any ambitions towards becoming the King. However, the prophecies from the witches significantly contributed to Macbeth’s embrace of evil willingly. In fact, Banquo called the prophecies instruments of darkness, and he suspected the witches as the enchantress of supernatural evil (Schoenbaum, 2015). Overwhelmed by the desire to actualize the second prophecy, Macbeth murders Duncan to gain the kingdom. He also murdered every other person who was thought to be in line to kingship. These evil actions occurred because of the prophecies combined with human selfishness.

Evil is also demonstrated in Lady Macbeth. She was determined to inherit the kingship more than Macbeth to the extent that she was prepared to kill Duncan had he not resembled “her father when asleep.” Lady Macbeth was open to approaching and accepting evil thoughts as compared to her husband. For instance, she was the one who reinforced and reprimanded Macbeth to commit murder. Lady Macbeth had perverse conceptions to the extent that she saw the attainment of kingship through murderous actions as glorious. She also thought that little water would help in clearing the guilt they carried for killing Duncan. However, Shakespeare noted that her hands would never be clean and no perfumes would sweeten them. Lady Macbeth also held evil thoughts, such as knocking her child’s brains and Macbeth’s visions of a bloody dagger (Schoenbaum, 2015).


The three prophecies drove Macbeth’s story forward, and they ultimately led to his destruction. These prophecies influenced his desire to commit treacherous and evil actions towards people. First, he wanted to become the King, and he had to kill Duncan to ascend to the position. He also killed other people, and when this was not enough, he visited the three witches who gave more prophecies, especially one that said he would not be killed by a son born of a woman. As a result, he believed that he was invincible because the prophecies appeared to favor him, while some appeared impossible to fulfill. However, Prince Malcolm and Macduff vowed to revenge the deaths of their families with the support of an army from England and Scotland. Foreign armies decided to help because they were afraid of tyrannical rule and evil deeds performed by Macbeth. Macduff, who declared that he was untimely ripped from his mother’s womb, vengefully killed Macbeth, thus fulfilling the final prophecy.


Arbour, B., & Gilhooly, J. R. (Eds.). (2017). Evil and a selection of its theological problems. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

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Schoenbaum, S. (Ed.). (2015). Macbeth: Critical essays. Routledge.

Shakespeare, W. (2001). The tragedy of Macbeth (Vol. 2). Classic Books Company.

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