Discuss the conflict between good and evil in Macbeth.
The conflict between good and evil in the play Macbeth is illustrated by Macbeth's decision to act upon his ambition and not serve King Duncan loyally like his close friend Banquo. Evil is portrayed through the influence of the Three Witches, Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth's unrestrained violence. In contrast, good is depicted through Banquo's reaction to the enigmatic prophecies, as well as Malcolm's and Macduff's response to Macbeth's tyrannical reign.
Shakespeare portrays the Three Witches as masters of manipulation who spark Macbeth's ambition by telling him that he will one day be crowned king. Macbeth then struggles to decide whether or not to act on his ambition. Lady Macbeth is also depicted as an evil influence and encourages her husband to assassinate the king. While Macbeth initally dismisses the idea of murdering King Duncan, it is Lady Macbeth who persuades him to kill the king. Unfortunately, Macbeth follows through with his wife's plans and makes the tragic decision to kill King Duncan before turning into a bloodthirsty tyrant.
Despite the malevolent, nefarious nature of the Three Witches, Lady Macbeth, and tyrannical Macbeth, Shakespeare portrays Banquo, Fleance, Malcolm, and Macduff in a positive light and illustrates how each is rewarded for their honorable and just personalities. Banquo is rewarded for being a loyal, morally-upright man, and his descendants become kings. With the help of Macduff, Malcolm is also restored to his rightful position as king after defeating Macbeth in the final battle. Overall, good triumphs over evil, and Macbeth's and Lady Macbeth's fate illustrates the consequences of committing evil acts.
On one level, the struggle between good and evil in Macbeth is a simple one. Macbeth, responsible for so much evil in the play, is destroyed by the good Macduff, allowing Malcolm, revealed as a sympathetic character, to rise to the throne of Scotland. So in the end, one might say, good prevails. But the real struggle between good and evil in this play is an internal one within Macbeth himself. Portrayed as a decent, honest, valiant nobleman at the beginning of the play, Macbeth becomes twisted beyond recognition by ambition. He commits, or conspires to commit, one murder after another to satisfy this ambition, driven early on by his wife, who is portrayed as a woman made thoroughly evil by ambition. So in this way, one might argue, evil wins. It destroys Macbeth and his wife as well as Macbeth's ties with his cousin Malcolm and friend Banquo.
The role of Hecate and the witches, or the "weird sisters" is also important here. We are left to debate whether Macbeth pursued his evil course of action out of free will, or whether the witches were able to exercise their malevolent influence on him, and events more generally, to cause chaos in Scotland. In any case, if there is a "good" force to battle the forces (if, perhaps, only the potential forces) of evil that the witches represent, we do not know about it in the play. Macbeth's conscience seems weak indeed in the face of the temptations their prophecies place in front of him.