When I first read Macbeth, it was in Mr. Morrish’s English class during either my junior or senior year of high school. I remember vividly his “Evil Chart” that he created on the board. He argued that Lady Macbeth was the most evil of characters in the play. After this second reading–my homework for the Globe Education Academy–I think I might have to disagree with him.
The most evil characters in my opinion? Definitely the trio of witches. I first had this inkling while reading, but that inkling became conviction after viewing the 2010 version of Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart this afternoon.
Don’t get me wrong. Lady Macbeth is just not a nice woman. She’s ruthless, ambitious, and manipulative. The first time we meet her, she’s already plotting the king’s death, wishing she were a man so that she could just do it herself. (Honestly, I wonder what’s holding her back. She seems more than capable in the desire/lack of scruples department.) She’s utterly frightening as she manipulates her husband into killing King Duncan and setting up the guards. The thing is, at the end of the play Lady Macbeth’s conscious troubles her enough that she takes her own life. If she was truly evil, she would not have been as troubled by these pangs of conscious.
The way I see it, though, Macbeth may be the puppet of Lady Macbeth, but they are both the puppets of the witches. Don’t let their sing-songish rhymes and apparently bearded faces fool you into thinking that they merely a cartoonish plot device. These “weird sisters” are the source of evil, manipulation, and temptation in this story. Their words change the course of every characters’ life, and bring many to an incredibly bloody–and in the case of Macbeth, headless–end.