Macbeth: The Torture of the Mind
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"Macbeth: The Torture of the Mind," in Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies, Princeton University Press, 1973, pp. 206-37.
Mc Elroy argues that the tragedy of Macbeth lies in the discrepancy between Macbeth's evil actions and his abhorrence of evil. He notes that Macbeth is the most internal of Shakespeare's tragedies and that the protagonist is "his own most formidable adversary." Mc Elroy asserts that Macbeth is revolted by the act of killing Duncan but tantalized by the daring of it. Mc Elroy maintains that Macbeth is "fully aware of the enormity of his transgressions"; because of this, the critic calls the play a tragedy of self-loathing and self-horror, "the tragedy of a man who comes to condemn all that is in him for being there." Mc Elroy contends, against such critics as Robert Pack (1956), that Macbeth retains his humanity throughout the play because he retains an awareness of the magnitude of his crimes.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare focuses his attention fully upon a problem he had dealt with peripherally in Hamlet and Measure for Measure: that of the criminal who is deeply aware of his own criminality, is repulsed by it, but is driven by internal and external pressures ever further into crime. What differentiates such villains as Claudius, Angelo, and Macbeth from Richard III, Iago, and Edmund is that the former fully admit the validity and worth of the moral laws they violate, while the latter dismiss the ethical standards of the world as so much folly and delusion. The latter three relish their superiority over their victims, while the former judge themselves from the same ethical perspectives as their victims. The descendants of the Vice believe in what they do, while the conscience-stricken criminals are in the agonizing position of being committed by their actions to one set of values while committed by their beliefs to quite another. Macbeth dramatizes this predicament as...