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First, it is important, curious and interesting comparing the vision of good and evil in the Middle Ages and Renaissance in order to understand how meanings of those concepts have changed from one century to another. In the middle Ages, it was believed that good initially originated from God and evil was created by the Devil. Medieval philosophers wondered about the origins of good and evil, and came to the conclusion that evil could not come from God.

Evil was seen as absence of good and God, and by that reason it was supposed to be originatedfrom the Devil. Moreover, in that age there was a tendency to personify the concepts of good and evil, and a good example of such personified notions of good and evil give the medieval morality plays. Evil was also personified and was called vice figure which stand for all negative qualities of a man.

So, it can be concluded that the traditional resolving of the conflict between good and evil was that goodness prevail evil, as a sinful man who had to repent and was saved by God. While in the middle Ages it was believed that good and evil originated from God and the Devil, in the Renaissance the meaning of good and evil has changed. It was accepted that good and evil was a part of human nature and originally came from human beings. It should be pointed out that people of that age believed that the whole world was organized by God as a hierarchical system.

Order was the condition of human existence and was present everywhere: in outer space, nature and society. People saw themselves as part of the hierarchical system and did not question the existence of the universe and order at all. Especially important for people was society, which was held by family and religious bonds.

So, people did not question the existence of the universe, because they accepted a general order as a law. Moreover, they glorified God as a powerful organizer and feared the destruction of that system, which was the basis for their life. Relying on such social believes the distinction between good and evil was set by the norms of human behaviour. Evil was defined as opposite of good and was thought to be every action which could harm the natural order, especially society and family order, which was so important for people. Being deeply religious, people believed that denial of society or family bond was a sin, which could lead to a disruption of society order.

King Lear - Good vs. Evil

Moreover, persons who were trying to harm the order by their wrongdoings were regarded as evil persons, because they could cause chaos, and disruption of natural order. A good example of evil characters gives a Renaissance drama, where vice figure of morality plays developed in a villain person, who was seen as a cruel person involved in wrongdoing.


  1. 1. Introduction.
  2. Churchills White Rabbit: The True Story of a Real-Life James Bond!
  3. BoD-Leseprobe: Good and Evil in Shakespeare´s King Lear and Macbeth.
  4. 1. Introduction;
  5. Quotes By Topic.
  6. The Mountains Between!

Modern critic Coe explains that the audience of Elizabethan Age regarded villains as evil persons. In addition, one of such evil figures was Machiavel, the term derived from the Italian philosopher of the Renaissance Machiavelli who wrote the book the Prince , which was published in , andin which he gave a special importance to the fact that a royal Prince according to circumstance should use his intelligence for manipulation of others in order to get and to maintain the power cf.

Such idea was regarded as an evil one, because deception and manipulation of others was seen as means directed against medieval society and was associated with disruption of society order. So, the theatrical performers acting in this way were also seen as despised and evil figures. Moreover, while strong medieval beliefs in God and the Devil still continued to exist in the Renaissance, it was widely belied in the existence and power of witchcraft. So, the witches, whose supernatural practices were seen as a danger to natural order of society and religion, were thought to be in alliance with the Devil, because their power was directed against men.

In addition, being aware that consciousness of good and evil was incorporated in human nature, people believed in the Chain of Being, a concept which reflected human position in the hierarchy of the world. To apply the understanding of good and evil to human behaviour, people looked carefully at the position of man on the Chain. It was a simple position between good and evil, in which good was regarded as aspiration to be perfect, while evil was seen as a consequence of human sins.

Good and Evil in Shakespeares King Lear and Macbeth by Alina DeGunther, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

Humans believed that God gave man freedom of choice to move on the Chain in both directions. Man was thought to be capable of two kinds of sins. As man had a soul as an angel, he could be overwhelmed with passions, which was called intellectual sin. Man had also physical desires as an animal, so he could be overwhelmed with physical satisfaction which was called physical sin. People believed that it depended on each person whether he followed his intellect or not in order to make a choice between good and evil.

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However, in the late Renaissance the development of the individual takes place and, as the consequence of it, the hierarchical system of nature has collapsed. Now instead of glorifying God, art was directed to honour the individual. Church was not seen as a main centre of social activities, religion was not dominating anymore, and material world became a dominant part of life.

All these factors also influenced the Renaissance vision of good and evil associated with God, order and disorder which began to disappear. Moreover, new outlook on the world has sharply changed the spiritual and moral values in human consciousness.

The principle of free human development becomes a main idea of the late Renaissance, and a religious sight at a person as on a sinful being who was thought to be evil has also been overcome. In this period, the new direction gets stronger which is called humanism.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, under this word was understood a world outlook, proclaiming the supreme value of the human, confirming his rights of happiness and harmonious development cf. In addition, new individuals of the Renaissance, who do not see natural order in the nature, have new opinion about good and evil. Johnston indicates that new individuals strongly oppose the medieval vision of morality and immorality, holding the opinion that man should apply his wit to shape his own future and to find his own sense of oneself without relying on what the community tells them what is wright and wrong.

They regard a good life as an assertion of their own individuality cf. With new consciousness and outlook on the world, the great difference between good and evil began to disappear. Writers firstly argue the concepts of good and evil and make them problematic. For example, philosophers of the late seventeenth century Bacon and Montaigne discuss the concepts of good and evil and their degrees. Bacon makes a contrast with the medieval perception of those concepts, when evil was seen as absence of good, and now he gives a new understanding of evil, pointing out that evil is not the absence of good, but is something what is less good.

Good and Evil in Shakespeares King Lear and Macbeth

Montaigne states that evil things can in fact be not evil at all,obviously referring to the fact the humans made things evil by the opinions they had which were shaped by the former hierarchical structures of the world and society. So, the late Renaissance can be characterized as the beginning of the modern era, when attitude to human behaviour which could not be set by the norms of destroyed hierarchical order any more has changed.

New perception of human individuality created the distinction between good, bad, and evil, and so the attitude to wrongdoers has also changed. What was morally wrong was not always seen as evil but as bad. Moreover, to define evil became problematic because of its ambiguous nature. First, the goodness of Cordelia and Banquo will be presented and clarified in the following pages.

More than four centuries have passed since William Shakespeare slipped off this mortal coil, yet the impact of his genius continues to shape and inspire the world. His brilliant pen and keen insight into the human condition has allowed his legendary work to boldly stand the test of time, remaining relevant and accessible across the globe.

The evil characters populating the Shakespearean page and stage are just as compelling as the heroes, in addition to being sinister, powerful, tragic, intelligent, and brutal figures. The scheme backfires, leading to the bloody close of this epic drama. Displaying malice and jealousy without clear reason, Iago is a force of lies and chaos, double-crossing numerous characters, and ultimately manipulating Othello into murdering his wife, Desdemona.

She subtly drives Macbeth to murder King Duncan, her husband, by challenging his manhood, while maintaining a facade of innocence and ignorance, rather than revealing her true role as the evil puppet master of The Scottish Play. Caliban is similarly doomed to existence on the island, and plots to viciously murder Prospero. From framing innocent characters for murder to convincing the title character to sever his own hand, Aaron the Moor is an angry, violent, and unsettling figure in Shakesperean lore. While his physical deformity — a twisted spine and a withered arm — cast him as something of a sympathetic character, he is also a dangerously ambitious and savage figure who orders the deaths of nearly a dozen named characters in this historical play.