Malcolm’s “Angels” in “Macbeth”

In Act IV, Scene III of [amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]Shakespeare[/amazon_link]’s “[amazon_link id=”0743477103″ target=”_blank” ]The Tragedy of Macbeth[/amazon_link],” Malcolm tells Macduff that even someone who has morals and integrity may cave under the pressure of a demand from their king. He asserts that both those who are good or those who are evil want to look good; yet, his (Malcolm’s) thoughts, even though they are based in fear, cannot dictate Macduff’s personality. Therefore, Malcolm apologizes and acknowledges that fear of someone, (in this case Macduff) does not cause them to become that which one is afraid of, (in this case treachery: Malcolm is afraid that Macduff will tell Macbeth that there are those who are beginning to doubt Macbeth’s honesty – including Malcolm.)

I am not treacherous.

But Macbeth is.
A good and virtuous nature may recoil
In an imperial charge. But I shall crave your pardon.
That which you are my thoughts cannot transpose.
Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.
Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace,
Yet grace must still look so. (18 – 24)*

Malcolm is referring to [amazon_link id=”0812974441″ target=”_blank” ]Lucifer[/amazon_link] (the Devil) here. In most religious traditions, Lucifer is considered the most intelligent (“the brightest” as in genius) and the most outstanding (the brightest or best) of God’s angels. The name “Lucifer” means “light-bearer” in Latin (lucem ferre.) In the Bible, Lucifer is also referred to as “The Morning Star,” “Day Star,” and “Son of Dawn.” Although Lucifer shows up in many Bible verses, Isaiah 14:12 mentions “the fall” of Lucifer.

“Bright” is also used here in the manner of [amazon_link id=”0199539189″ target=”_blank” ]John Milton[/amazon_link]’s famous poem [amazon_link id=”019280619X” target=”_blank” ]Paradise Lost[/amazon_link] which is about the fall of mankind from the grace of God. Lucifer is described as “bright” meaning “resplendent with charms;” however, remember that being “resplendent with charms” can be both negative and positive – and I think we know what kind of cunning charm Lucifer has! Lucifer falls from Heaven into Hell after he loses face with God; hence, “the brightest fell.”

Remember the serpent in the Garden of Eden found in Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis in the [amazon_link id=”B0032UYGE6″ target=”_blank” ]Bible[/amazon_link] ? After Lucifer falls from God’s grace, in the form of a snake he charms Eve to do the same, by taking a bite from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; eating from the Tree of Knowledge was expressly forbidden by God. Eve, in turn, convinces Adam to eat the fruit. All of this deception and evil-doing is reflected in Macbeth’s treachery.

In addition, Malcolm is saying that Macbeth was once “the brightest and best” and now he has fallen from everyone’s trust and admiration just as Lucifer fell from God’s Grace.

*[amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition[/amazon_link] edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells © Oxford University Press 1986, 2005.


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