Date of Award

Summer 2015

Thesis Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Liberal Studies


Patricia Lancaster

Second Advisor

Jennifer Cavenaugh


Drama through the ages—from the Greeks’ Oedipus Rex to the morality plays of the Middle Ages—centers on an exploration of the human condition, and the plays of Englishman William Shakespeare are no different. What starts as the impact of fate on the life of man becomes, by the Middle Ages, a religious spectacle centered on evil’s impact on man. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Shakespeare goes much further to develop the concept of evil. A chronological study of four of Shakespeare’s plays--Titus Andronicus, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Macbeth--demonstrates that the playwright evolves his portrayal of villainy and the evil that accompanies it. Shakespeare demonstrates that the path into wickedness is not only an all-consuming one, but one that takes from a villain that which makes him human. Furthermore, his depiction of evil is not stagnant; his characters become increasingly aware of the grip evil can hold on them and of the consequences of one’s battle against it. As the characters grow more conscious of this conflict, the horror and pain they express is shared to a deeper degree by the audience. What is relegated to villainous action at the beginning of Shakespeare’s career becomes a palpable internal battle toward the end. The power of this dramatic change in Shakespeare’s portrayal is that the cost of evil is not just passively observed but profoundly felt by character and audience alike. Thus tragedy becomes less about a sad event that happens to someone else and more about a shared and understood experience that could happen to anyone. And therein lies the power of Shakespeare’s ultimate message on the battle between good and evil—it is most dangerous when it occurs within oneself and even when one is aware of the conflict, like Macbeth, one could still lose the battle at the cost of his own humanity.

Rights Holder

Erin K. Miller