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Question 02 - Can Macbeth be considered a moral tale focused upon the punishment of sin?
Macbeth published in 1606 can be considered the catalyst for the eventual gothic genre, whilst this can be considered true to simply assign Macbeth to this pure definition is simply far too reductionist and actually upon analysis the Shakespearean play can be considered some kind of a ‘moral play’ which indeed focuses on the punishment of sin. Its exploration of the results of treachery and deceit provide a great insight into how and why these themes develop, but also the way they are dealt with, making it the moral play I hypothesised.
Arguably one of the most important ideas to explore here is how Shakespeare’s focus upon developing a gothic villain like character allows him to highlight the sin of the character and most importantly why this sin needs to be punished. In the case of the play Shakespeare uses the main protagonist Macbeth as his gothic villain, evidenced within such quotes as ‘Butcher’ and ‘I am in blood’ Shakespeare is able to exemplify the evil nature of Macbeth to the audience. In specific the quote ‘I am in blood’ is supported by a strong first person narrative combined with the gothic motif of blood, by using these literary techniques Shakespeare is able to simply assign Macbeth to this path of ‘blood’ therefore highlighting Macbeths violence and ultimate sin. However, whilst this strong characterisation is effective at demonstrating sin, Shakespeare’s choice to obligate this gothic villain to death is the paramount evidence to why Macbeth can be considered a moral play based upon the punishment of sin. Instead of allowing the gothic villain to take hold and eventually stay successful within his bid of usurping power Shakespeare is purposeful within his death; arguably the choice to allow him to die by the hands of royalty Macduff only exemplifies the concept of punishment of sin. Upon evaluation one can argue that ultimately it is the gothic villain characterisation of Macbeth that plays a huge part in Shakespeare’s ability to highlight the punishment of sin and makes the play of Macbeth an extremely moral play.
It is also interesting to analyse how Shakespeare uses the gothic theme of madness as a way of demonstrating that the play is about the punishment of sin. One can argue that Shakespeare’s choice to allow both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth the villains of the play to be consumed my madness is extremely effective td providing a sense of morality to the play. The idea that the evil deeds these two characters have committed such as the murder of Duncan has led to their madness means that Shakespeare is able to demonstrate that what these characters have done is wrong and can only end within madness. Evidenced within the quote ‘O full of my mind is scorpions’ Shakespeare can be seen to be use the metaphorical idea of violent insects within the mind to exemplify the idea that within the situation Macbeth has finally been consumed by madness. This demonstration of the punishment of sin is made more effective by the idea that within contemporary Shakespearean society the portrayal of the psychological was extremely unknown and any information regarding it was to be taken in an almost supernatural way, this allowed Shakespeare to add greater force to the moral that like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth the sin of evil is punished with madness. However upon evaluation it must be mentioned that the theme of madness was successful within acting as a punishment for Lady Macbeth as it led to her death, but actually within the case of Macbeth critics such as Thorslev have argued that madness does not act as a punishment, but instead empowers Macbeth. Evidenced within the quote ‘some say he’s mad’ Shakespeare can be seen to be using the narrative of others to create the picture that Macbeth is a man madness, but power. With this counter argument in mind it seems that whilst madness is used as a way of demonstrating the concept of punishing sin in the case of Lady Macbeth, it seems that within the case of Macbeth it does not take the same path, one can conclude that regarding the theme of madness it seems that Macbeth is not completely a very moral play.
Building on the previous point it seems suitable to argue that actually whilst Macbeth does have its moral points it is still considered a work of gothic, or more suitably ‘pre-gothic’. With this in mind one must remember that Shakespeare’s main aim of the play was to inflict horror upon the audience, this can be seen foremost within the murder of gothic innocents within the play. One can argue that within Macbeth it is this sacrifice of gothic innocents that completely outweighs the idea that the sin is punished. In specific this gothic theme is emphasised through the way Shakespeare guides Macbeth to commit both infanticide and also regicide. Evidenced within the violent quotes ‘he has killed me, mother’ and ‘his silver skin laced with his golden blood’ Shakespeare can be seen exemplifying these dark acts with the dynamic verb ‘killed’, but also with the used of royal colours as pre-modifiers ‘silver’ and ‘golden’. As well as the use of literary techniques one must also remember that these acts would provide a greater amount of shock to Shakespearean audience as the plays contemporary society placed a huge focus on royalty and the innocence of children so for one of this characters to be killed Shakespeare can only be expecting to create shock within the. Upon evaluation of this point one can conclude that actually within the circumstances of killing gothic innocents Shakespeare does not try to provide a focus upon the punishment of sins, and instead of portraying the play as a very moral instead uses this theme to inflict gothic shock and horror upon his audience.
Another point for debate is regarding the way Shakespeare uses the gothic concept of guilt as a way of demonstrating to the audience that even the villains committing these evil acts recognise that their sins need to be punished. Evidenced within the rhetorical quote ‘will all great Neptune’s ocean was this blood clean from my hands?’ Shakespeare can be seen almost forcing the audience to question themselves on the idea of murder, but also question Macbeth and how this sin should be punished. Again this same attempt can also be seen within the ravings of Lady Macbeth who quotes ‘out damned spot’, within this quote Shakespeare can be seen repeating the concept of ‘blood upon the hands’ which only allows the audience to again question the punishment of such characters. Critics have argued that it is this synthetic personalisation between both the play and its audience that plays the most important part in bringing the moral of evil and how it is punished to the epicentre of the plays main aim. In conclusion it seems that the by allowing both the characters within the play and the audience to recognise that these murderous acts committed are evil means that the later guilt felt on both sides is plain evidence of the idea that Macbeth is a very moral play focused on the punishment of sin.
Arguably if anything it is the final death of Macbeth and his wife that assigns this play to a moral nature, their leaving of the play acts as a restoring of order and ultimately a moral behind the evil they committed. However whilst there death and other themes have demonstrated that Macbeth can be considered a very moral play, it must be remembered that Macbeth still is a gothic or pre gothic play and as I have argued it is this core that means it can never truly be attributed to a moral play entirely focused upon the punishment of sin.
Question 21 Are gothic characters naturally inclined to be evil or do they become evil upon others influence?
The gothic genre’s theories main aim is to shock and inflict terror upon the audience, to do this many of the writers I have studied have positioned their characters as evil in order to evoke such strong emotions, however it is interesting to analyse whether these characters are naturally evil or instead good, but have to be evil to achieve a gothic aim of shock. One may argue that to simply attribute that gothic writings attributes humans as naturally inclined to be evil is far to reductionist and actually this arguments needs a substantially more holistic approach towards it.
To fully understand this question it is important to establish first hand whether the characters within gothic are evil from the very outset. This argument can be seen embodied first hand within Wuthering Heights. In the text Bronte can be seen to evoke the idea of nature vs nurture of evil within characters, exemplified within the concept of gothic doppelgangers she portrays the idea that both Heathcliff and Hareton are the same character embraced within two bodies. Similar dark and dirty descriptions surround both characters from the outset ‘ruffianly child’ for Hareton and ‘dirty ragged black haired child’ for Heathcliff. With this doppelganger in tow one could begin to make the assumption that as they both share the same doppelganger physical descriptions that they are both naturally inclined to be the evil ‘Black villain’ Heathcliff can be seen to be. However, one must evaluate that Bronte does provides the idea that actually not all characters are naturally inclined to be evil and actually it is the influence of others that instead provokes them to be evil. Evidenced within the quote ‘we’ll see if one tree won’t grow as crooked as another with the same wind to twist it’ Bronte can be seen using natural imagery such as ‘wind’ as a metaphor for the influence of evil upon others. Critics have argued that from this quote and idea alone it seems that actually not all characters are inclined to be evil, and actually within this situation it is only the influence of the gothic villain Heathcliff that makes Hareton the ‘sullen’ evil adult he goes on to be.
Building upon the momentum of the previous point it is also important to establish the same theme that gothic characters are not naturally inclined to be evil and instead it is the behaviour of others that act as the catalyst for their evil decline. This idea is seen first-hand within Macbeth where the once ‘Brave Macbeth’ is influenced by the gothic seductress Lady Macbeth who uses her stock characteristic of influencing others on a sexual basis to commit evil. Evidenced within the quote ‘When you durst do it, then you were a man’ Lady Macbeth can be seen using the sexual reference of ‘man’ combined with the direct personal pronoun ‘you’ as a way of enticing Macbeth into evil. Exemplified by the idea that a man’s social reputation as a ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’ individual was paramount within Shakespearean society it seems that actually this gothic seductress stock character is very effective at pulling upon a strong contextual idea and using it as a way of committing Macbeth into evil. With this in mind one can argue that actually in the case of Macbeth it seems that actually Macbeth is not naturally inclined to be evil and instead it is the influence of the gothic seductress Lady Macbeth that draws him to be evil rather than good. When stepping back from this point though one can evaluate that whilst Macbeth may not be naturally inclined to be evil Lady Macbeth is. Shakespeare’s purposeful structural choice to introduce Lady Macbeth as a gothic seductress from the start only creates the idea that actually in the case of Lady Macbeth human beings are inclined to be evil. Evidenced within the seductive quote already mentioned and vast others such as ‘Look like th’ innocent flower, but be the serpent beneath it’ Shakespeare is seen providing the idea that Lady Macbeth is naturally evil. In specific it is important to mention that the use of infanticide within Lady Macbeth’s soliliquies provides the final idea that she is violent within the core and actually at no other point in the play does she show a glimpse of being good.
Evidenced within the violent quote ‘have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out’ Shakespeare can be seen using the power of the plosive ‘plucked’ and the pre-modification ‘boneless gums’ as a way of exemplifying Lady Macbeths true evil. Arguably this infanticide would have been shocked within the relatively conservative reputable Shakespearean audience, even today many audiences would be shocked by this threat of killing a child and actually it is this gothic feeling of shock that provides the conclusion that the gothic seductress Lady Macbeth does provide the idea that within gothic writing human beings are naturally inclined to be evil.
In the case of Frankenstein the reader is actually given a situation where we are able to see whether a human is naturally inclined to be evil from birth. In the case of the creation of the monster it is important to analyse how actually from the start the monster does not seem to evil, exemplified by Shelley’s choice of giving the monster a position within the circular narrative the reader is given an insight into the idea that the monster was only turned evil through the way he received no friendship, or in the case of a common gothic idea the lack of a parent. This gothic motif is presented in such a way that it seems that Victor is indeed evil and actually unlike the other two works I have discussed it is his lack of influence on the monster that is the catalyst for turning the monster evil and actually reaffirms the idea that the monster is not naturally inclined to be evil. Evidenced within the textual quote ‘I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch’ Bronte can be seen to employ the use of the rule of three ‘poor-helpless-miserable’ as a way of exemplifying the innocence of the monster at the start. Whilst this is put into contrast later on where it seems the monster fully embraces evil ‘I am a wretch, I have murdered the lovely and the helpless’ one must evaluate that structurally the monster was not always portrayed as evil, therefore in the case of the monster within Frankenstein it seems that humans are not naturally inclined to be evil. However, before this specific argument can be fully resolved it is important to employ the critical idea that the monster is not exactly the definition of a human, his gothic supernatural qualities ‘gigantic stature’ provide the idea that he is inhuman, therefore the argument that he is a human not naturally inclined to be evil is almost defaulted and actually cannot be fully validated.
One of the greatest points of argument is within the idea that whilst gothic writing does provide the idea some humans are completely innocent. Exemplified by the use of the stock gothic character type ‘gothic innocent’ one can argue that actually in gothic writing some characters are not shown to be evil at all. Within the case of Frankenstein again one can begin to hypothesise that characters such as Justine and Elizabeth are not evil at all. Exemplified within the innocent descriptions ‘purest creature’ ‘poor,good Justine, is innocent’ Shelley can be seen building upon the use of powerful noun phrases and actually by doing so reaffirms the idea that these characters are not naturally inclined to be evil at all. However, similar to the argument seen within the point above one has to come to the conclusion regarding their position as humans within the gothic at all. From a feminist perspective one can argue that the women within gothic, especially Frankenstein hold no real human value and are instead considered objects, fuelled by the Victorian social idea of a patriarchal society it seems that women within society and gothic cannot be fully compared to a human due to their complete lack of power and rights. It seems that within evaluation this gothic innocent characterisation does not completely adhere to the question and its reliance upon a ‘human’ one cannot completely confirm that gothic innocents are examples of humans within gothic that are naturally inclined to be evil rather than good.
It is also important to analyse how within Wuthering Heights Bronte’s choice to characterise Heathcliff as gothic tragic hero is compelling to the idea that humans in specific those within the gothic are not naturally inclined to evil and instead it is the unconsciousness of their hubris that obligates them into becoming evil. Evidenced within the idea that Heathcliff was once a ‘patient child’ provides the idea that at one point Heathcliff was inclined to being good instead of evil. However, it is it hubris, in this case his obsession with revenge, that is the driving force behind his eventual evil. Evidenced within the powerful quote ‘I will pay Hindley back’ Bronte can be seen using deontic modality ‘will’ to exemplify Heathcliff’s Hubris. Arguably with this in mind it seems that actually Heathcliff is not naturally inclined to be evil from his own choice, but actually it is internal drive for revenge that ultimately casts him as evil instead of good. This idea can also be analysed within using a Freudian, in specific Heathcliff’s internal drive for revenge can be seen as a manifestation of the battle between his id and ego, whilst he realises that what he has done is wrong ‘I have lost the faculty of enjoying their destruction’ he cannot escape his desire for evil as according to Freud it is inside of him and within the case of the Id overcoming the ego cannot be stopped. This reading of Heathcliff provides the idea that actually whilst yes he is inclined to be evil it is not always of his own choice due to the way he cannot control his id, upon evaluation this provides the conclusion that gothic writing does provide the idea that whilst humans are naturally inclined to be evil it is not always from our own conscious willing.
Upon covering all these points it seems that I have uncovered the idea that whilst in certain situations within the gothic writing I have studied humans are shown to be naturally inclined to be evil, I have also uncovered that in some circumstances they are not and actually desire to be good. Either way the shocking gothic genre blurs this final conclusion as writers will always manipulate the evil of characters therefore not representing a true picture of a human being, with this in mind it seems that a large more amount of analysis needs to go into this concept until it can be finalised that gothic writing shows human beings as naturally inclined to be evil instead of good.
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