Thomas Hibbs and Stacey Hibbs

Abstract

This essay explores a remarkable congruence between Macbeth and the teachings of Thomas Aquinas on the nature of virtue, temptation and evil, natural law, and the relationship of the natural to the supernatural. Macbeth's virtue is problematic in that initially he seems courageous when on the attack in battle. But in reality he shows the excessive vice of boldness, and subsequently he fails to manifest courageous endurance and patience in clinging to the good, drifting rather into restlessness and impatience. Aquinas defines evil as a privation of the good. Macbeth persistently chooses apparent good over real good, as he is tempted by the witches and Lady Macbeth. He violates the natural law and suffers extrinsic and intrinsic punishment, a conception linking the play with Aquinas rather than Hooker and Locke. Furthermore, his decline into evil mirrors Aquinas conceptions of the order of punishments following on violation of the natural law, evident in the progressive loss of eternal happiness, virtue, reason and physical and material goods. Finally, the play is not naturalistic but portrays the witches and Macbeth's opponents as instruments of the supernatural.

Series:

Thomas Hibbs

As Andrew Delbanco has observed, our society suffers from an impoverished moral vocabulary and lack of compelling and complex narratives about good and evil. The attendant cultural vacuum is especially problematic for our youth, who suffer an atrophying of the moral imagination. In the place of fertile, complex, and hopeful stories about the battle in the human soul between good and evil, there are tales that make goodness simplistic and evil complex and alluring. Indeed, strains of nihilism have become particularly pronounced in film, TV, and popular music. Young persons are thus deprived of a vocabulary, a stock of images and stories that could inspire and guide them in light of which to conceive their own lives and imagine their futures. The Harry Potter books and films, however, constitute a powerful countervailing force in the culture of American youth. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), we find a rich depiction of the battle between good and evil, one that captures both the surface allure of evil and its ultimate banality. It also depicts goodness in terms of a shared appreciation of a set of virtues.