Macbeth Major Themes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
How To Analyze A Drama… Here Are The Essential Elements of the Story: • Theme: main idea—what the work adds up to • Plot: Relationship and patterns of events • Characters: people the author creates • Including the narrator of a story or the speaker of a poem • Setting: when and where the action happens • Point of View: perspective or attitude of the narrator or speaker
What Is The Theme? The theme is the main idea or underlying meaning of the literary work. • What the author wants the reader to understand about the subject matter. • Sometimes this may also be the moral of the story. So, What Are The Main Themes In Macbeth?
Ambition and the devastation which follows when ambition oversteps moral boundaries. Some related scenes: • Act 1 Scene 5: Lady Macbeth receives Macbeth's letter, analyses his character, and invokes the forces of evil. • Act 1 Scene 7: Macbeth reflects on what is needed to achieve his ambition and Lady Macbeth taunts him to 'screw your courage to the sticking place.' • Act 3 Scene 1: Macbeth determines to kill Banquo in order to prevent his children succeeding to Scotland's throne.
Macbeth is often read as a cautionary tale about the kind of destruction ambition can cause. Macbeth is a man that at first seems content to defend his king and country against treason and rebellion and yet, his desire for power plays a major role in the way he commits the most heinous acts (with the help of his ambitious wife, of course). Once Macbeth has had a taste of power, he seems unable and unwilling to stop killing (men, women, and children alike) in order to secure his position on the throne. Selfishly, Macbeth puts his own desires before the good of his country until he is reduced to a mere shell of a human being.
Kingship and the difference between appropriate use of power and tyranny. Some related scenes: • Act 1 Scene 7: Macbeth reflects on Duncan's qualities as king. • Act 3 Scene 6: Lennox and another lord discuss life under Macbeth's rule. • Act 4 Scene 3: Malcolm and Macduff compare tyranny to honorable kingship.
Macbeth is interested in exploring the qualities that distinguish a good ruler from a tyrant (what Macbeth clearly becomes by the play's end). It also dramatizes the unnaturalness of regicide (killing a king) but walks a fine line by portraying the killing of King Macbeth. Although the play is set in 11th century Scotland (a time when kings were frequently murdered), Macbeth has a great deal of contemporary relevance. In 1603, King James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England, becoming England's first Stuart monarch. The play alludes to an unsuccessful Catholic plot (the Gunpowder Plot of 1605) to blow up Parliament and King James. Shakespeare also pays homage to the Stuart political myth by portraying Banquo as King James's noble ancestor.
Fate and free will and the extent to which we control our own destinies. Some related scenes: • Act 1 Scene 3: Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches on the heath. Macbeth reflects on their prophecies. • Act 2 Scene 1: Macbeth talks with Banquo about their encounter with the witches, sees a visionary dagger and makes his decision to kill Duncan. • Act 6 Scene 1: Macbeth visits the witches who offer him further prophecies.
Macbeth takes seriously the question of whether or not fate (destiny) or human will (choice) determines a man's future. Shakespeare seems, ultimately, to be interested in what it is that causes a seemingly decent man (Macbeth) to commit evil acts. On the one hand, the play is set in motion by the weird sisters' prophesy that Macbeth will be king, which turns out to be true. It also often seems that outside forces (related to the weird sisters, who are in many ways associated with the three fates) control Macbeth's actions. On the other hand, the play goes out of its way to dramatize how Macbeth deliberates before taking action, which suggests that he alone controls the outcome of his own future. Alternatively, some critics suggest that Macbeth's fate may be set in stone but his choices determine the specific circumstances by which he arrives at or fulfills his destiny. In the end, the play leaves the question unanswered.
Appearance and reality, and how people and events are often not as they seem. Some related scenes: • Act 1 Scenes 1 and 2: The witches invoke confusion ('Fair is foul, and foul is fair'). • Act 1 Scene 4: Duncan reflects on the traitorous Thane of Cawdor and ironicallyrewards Macbeth with this title, saying, 'I have begun to plant thee, and will labour/To make thee full of growing.' • Act 1 Scene 6: Duncan remarks on the Macbeths' castle having 'a pleasant seat’ as the Macbeths plot his murder.
"Fair is foul and foul is fair." That's what the witches chant in unison in the play's opening scene and the mantra echoes throughout the play. In Macbeth, appearances, like people, are frequently deceptive. What's more, many of the play's most resonant images are ones that may not actually exist. Macbeth's bloody "dagger of the mind," the questionable appearance of Banquo's ghost, and the blood that cannot be washed from Lady Macbeth's hands all blur the boundaries between what is real and what is imagined. This theme, of course, is closely related to the "Supernatural."
Task #1 • Working in pairs read the following dialogue from Macbeth between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Translate it into a dialect of your choice (Californian/Cowboy/Jamaican/Street/African American Slang…)
Act I Scene VII MACBETH We will proceed no further in this business: He hath honour'd me of late; and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people, Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, Not cast aside so soon. LADY MACBETH Was the hope drunk Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since? And wakes it now, to look so green and pale At what it did so freely? From this time Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard To be the same in thine own act and valour As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem, Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,' Like the poor cat i' the adage? MACBETH If we should fail? LADY MACBETH We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we'll not fail. When Duncan is asleep-- Whereto the rather shall his day's hard journey Soundly invite him--his two chamberlains Will I with wine and wassail so convince That memory, the warder of the brain, Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason A limbeck only: when in swinish sleep Their drenched natures lie as in a death, What cannot you and I perform upon The unguarded Duncan? what not put upon His spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt Of our great quell? MACBETH Bring forth men-children only; For thy undaunted mettle should compose Nothing but males. Will it not be received, When we have mark'd with blood those sleepy two Of his own chamber and used their very daggers, That they have done't?
Task #2 • Examine two major themes in Macbeth and relate them to current events.