In William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, a recurring motif of light and darkness is presented and helps exhibit characterization, the mood and the setting. It aims to reveal the differences between good and evil, since the contrast between light and darkness is often used as a metaphor for good and evil. Darkness allows evil actions to be conducted and deception to occur. For example, darkness can be used to represent death, as darkness occurs at the end of the day and death is the end of a life. Furthermore, darkness is connected with murder, as the act is associated with evil or madness, and darkness allows to conceal the dark intentions or actions of a character. In comparison, light reflects the possible good within a character or a setting and the hope that change can occur, as light is associated with renewal and rebirth when a new day begins.
First and foremost, a majority of the play is conducted during the night and establishes the existence of darkness throughout the play. Thunder and lightning introduces the witches when they gather in the first scene and this imagery reoccurs twice afterwards when they tell the prophecies to Macbeth. Storms are a form of pathetic fallacy, as the feelings of the characters were reflected within the weather. Due to storms being destructive, it foreshadows the chaotic events surrounding Macbeth becoming king and his eventual downfall. For example, Macbeth killed those who prevented or challenged him being king, such as Duncan, Banquo and Macduff’s family, during the night. This reveals the lengths in which he will go to maintain his control and power, as well as depicting how Macbeth’s true intentions are only shown within the cloak of darkness. Banquo supports this with “oftentimes, to win us to our harm, / The instruments of darkness tell us truths” after Macbeth is titled Thane of Cawdor. The truth is that Macbeth explains how he has “no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition”, which reveals how his ambition to be king motivated him to kill Duncan, whilst having the awareness that there will be destruction after the king’s death. Ambition eventually turned into hubris, as Macbeth believed he could not be killed from the witches’ second prophecy, and exhibits how the same determination in which allowed him to achieve what he wanted, was also the source of how he was overthrown. Additionally, the dark and chaotic atmosphere built a sense of the eeriness surrounding the witches as their intentions may not be entirely good nor evil, because their prophecies predicted Macbeth ruling as well as his downfall. Overall, all these elements successfully establishes the darkness of the play.
Another prominent moment within the first scene of the play is “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” and describes the duality between good and evil that appears in the play. Lady Macbeth exemplifies this through acting as a good hostess to Duncan in the daylight to appear friendly and welcoming, yet, similar to Macbeth, during the night she too reveals her dark desires of killing the king. This contrast between her good and evil traits reveal the duality and depth of her character as her deception plays a major role in Duncan’s murder. In addition, this distinction also occurs in the candlelight when Macbeth has a soliloquy about his fear and hesitation of killing Duncan, as it shows the humanity within him because he feels guilt about his betrayal. Macbeth’s fears about being found out, “Stars, hide your fires! / Let not light see my black and deep desires.” , is due to how light reveals the presence of evil. One of the few scenes in Macbeth during the daytime is with Duncan, who is known to be a good character as he’s very trusting. A character is most vulnerable during the night, as displayed through the death of Duncan and Lady Macbeth’s unrest due to her lack of sleep caused by her guilt and unease. This further affirms her doubt about if gaining power was worthwhile as eventually the guilt consumed her to the point of madness and death. In addition, Macbeth lost a part of his humanity when he was hardly astounded towards the death of his wife, since it suggests his lust for power overwhelmed his concern for others. Furthermore, the torches and candles revealed the time of the setting and showed how there was still some light within the darkness; which means that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both have some good, mainly portrayed through their fear and guilt surrounding Duncan’s murder, within them. However, there are more appearances of darkness than light, as “By the clock ’tis day, / And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.”
Although, eventually “The night is long that never finds the day.”, or the darkness of Macbeth’s ruling, is brightened from Macduff using his grief of the deaths of his family to motivate and fuel his need for revenge by killing Macbeth. This all shows how despite the presence of light, darkness affects everyone, even good people, as human beings cannot escape from their own or others’ evil. The light and darkness motif effectively deepened a reader’s understanding of the mood and setting of William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, as well as allowing the characters to be developed and characterized.