I think that Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’ does satisfy those who believe that plays should teach a moral lesson by rewarding the good and punishing the bad.
Macbeth is an evil character during most of the play. Towards the end of the play Macduff, referring to Macbeth, says;
“Here may you see the tyrant”
(Act 5 / scene 6 / line 56)
To deserve this epithet, Macbeth has carried out many evil deeds. He murders the king, Duncan, so that he could become king himself. He was punished for this by the fact that his conscience was constantly reminding him of what he had done. He couldn’t sleep because, after he murdered Duncan, he heard voices that said;
“…. Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep – the innocent sleep”
(Act 2 / scene 2 / lines 35-36)
This first act also made Macbeth seek more security by organising the murder of Banquo and later, out of fear of Macduff, the killings of Macduff’s wife and children. Although in both cases he did not commit the deed he gave the orders to make them happen.
Again he had justice brought to him. The witches had told us that Banquo’s sons would one day be kings, which meant that Macbeth’s reign would be a barren one. When Banquo was murdered Fleance, Banquo’s son, escaped so we know that this is still a possibility. Macbeth was very disturbed by the fact that Fleance was not killed.
Murderer “Most royal sir,
Fleance is scap’d”
“Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect
Whole as marble, founded as the rock.”
(Act 3 / scene 4 / lines 20-22)
The fact that Banquo’s sons would be kings (a historical fact which the audience will be aware of) rewards Banquo for his goodness.
Macduff dealt the punishment for Macbeth killing his family by killing Macbeth himself. This was the overall punishment for all the evil committed by Macbeth and also may be seen by the audience as a representation of the final victory of good over evil. This also yet again rewards the good man, Macduff, by providing him with revenge for the murder of his wife and children.
Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth, seems to be completely evil right from the start of the play. When we first meet her she is plotting to kill king Duncan so that she and her husband could be King and Queen. Lady Macbeth asks spirits to carry out the dreadful deed. She wanted them to take away her womanly weaknesses and her conscience. She said:
“Come, you evil spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts!
Unsex me here, And fill me from
The crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood
Stop up the access and passage to remorse.”
(Act 1 / scene 5 / lines 39-44)
She hopes that this will keep her free from her conscience but all it does is suppress her feelings, which later overcome her.
Lady Macbeth was also the one who persuaded Macbeth to kill Duncan and also is the one who pushes him into the string of events that left many people, including Macbeth and herself, dead. She committed suicide when her conscience finally got the better of her. This was the penalty she had to pay for all her evil actions.
During the Play Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, represented good. They were both later rewarded by the actions of Malcom.
Malcolm went to England and gathered an army. He then went to overthrow Macbeth and regain the throne. Malcolm and Donalbain regained their honour by Malcolm becoming King and Donalbain regaining his title as Prince.
Macduff was commendable throughout the play and very rarely did anything wrong. When he first had suspicions about Macbeth he did not say anything in case he started some trouble. Nevertheless, he refused to side with the evil Macbeth, and made clear his disapproval of his bloodthirsty reign by refusing to attend Macbeth’s banquet.
“How sayst thou, that Macduff denies his
Person at our great bidding?”
(Act 3 / scene 4 / lines 128-129)
The only bad thing that Macduff did during the play was to leave his wife and kids behind while he fled to England and he was punished for that by the murder of his wife and children.
Macduff was later rewarded for the good actions he carried out during the play by being the one who killed Macbeth at the end. This gave him the revenge he wanted for his family’s murder.
This all shows that evil is punished and good is rewarded. Even Macbeth was rewarded for a good deed he made at the very start of the play. At this point in the play Macbeth was a good character. Duncan called him ‘noble Macbeth’ and due to the fact that he had been instrumental in the winning of a battle and the death of the defecting thane of Cawdor, Duncan says to a servant
“No more that thane of Cawdor shall decive
Our bosom interest. Go pronounce his present
And with his name greet Macbeth.”
This rewards the goodness he had shown until that point.
Therefore you see that ‘Macbeth’ does have a moral message that rewards the good and punishes the wicked.