Audiences recoil from Macbeth, but he recoils from himself too. After Macbeth murders King Duncan, a knocking at the gate startles him, and Macbeth wonders, “How is’t with me, when every noise appals me?” He stares at his bloody hands as if they belonged to someone else’s body: “What hands are here?” He knows that the “multitudinous seas” can’t wash away the stain of Duncan’s blood, and later he is haunted by the ghost of Banquo. Macbeth “murder[s] sleep” and so deprives himself of that nightly “balm of hurt minds.” Almost no one hears “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” and thinks, “Well, Macbeth, you deserve it.” He does deserve it, but Shakespeare has shown us enough of Macbeth’s shocked soul and tortured conscience to convince us that he’s human.
Shakespeare is no liberal sentimentalist. He knows that evil is evil, and knows that Macbeth chooses evil. A. C. Bradley saw the play as evidence of Shakespeare’s feel for the “incalculability of evil””that in meddling with it human beings do they know not what.” We don’t know where evil will lead; we can only be sure that the result “will not be what you expected.” Macbeth dramatizes what Colin McGinn has described as the surprising character of evil.
Shakespeare humanizes Macbeth to hold him up as a mirror to nature, our nature. We pity, and fear, because we recognize that the evil that surprises us in Macbeth is our own.