UBC Undergraduate Research

The Symmetry of Evil: An Examination of Guilt and Trust in William Shakespeare's Macbeth Jackson, Jessica


A reading of Macbeth using the moral philosophy of Paul Ricoeur can help explicate Macbeth's decision-making and subsequent actions. Such a reading places Macbeth within the context of Ricoeur's discursive responses to and multi-levelled analysis of evil. This paper uses Ricoeur's philosophy to explore the paradox behind Macbeth's behaviour, specifically why he continues to commit further wrongs despite recognizing that such acts will cause him further guilt. It is the central argument of this paper that Macbeth's extreme guilt becomes a self-sustaining and perpetuating spur for further acts of violence and betrayal. It is further argued that the relational nature of trust mirrors the relational nature of guilt, as described by Ricoeur. Finally, this paper discusses how images of the deaths of children, which appear throughout the play, represent the interaction between Macbeth's acts of betrayal, his guilt and societal breakdown.

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