MacBETH THEMES AND IDEAS
What’s it about? • Act 1 The witches meet and encounter MacBeth and Banquo. They predict MacBeth will be king and that Banquo’s children will be kings. Lady MacBeth and her husband both conspire to kill Duncan, the king. • Act 2 The king is murdered by MacBeth and kills the guards who were to be blamed for the murder. MacDuff discovers the dead king and becomes suspicious of MacBeth. • Act 3 Banquo is murdered by MacBeth and his ghost visits MacBeth at a formal banquet. MacBeth is unsettled by this and the banquet ends in disaster.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? (cont) • Act 4 The three witches call upon spirits to make predictions for MacBeth. Three prophecies convince him he is safe. MacBeth murders Macduff’s family. He grieves for them and realises he needs to kill MacBeth. • Act 5 Lady MacBeth goes mad and commits suicide (offstage). The prophecies begin to come true when the woods of Birnam “advance” towards the castle.
THEMES • Political corruption: MacBeth as manipulator in order to gain/maintain power. Mugabe, Zuma, Sarkozy, Berlusconi et al…….. • Ambition/power: “Thriftless ambition...” (Ross 2:4, 28-29). Political leaders/heads of industry – e.g., mining in Coromandel to improve NZ’ economic position – at what cost? • Greed (linked with ambition/power): Lady M’s greed enables her to persuade her husband when he weakens. Housing market collapse. • Honour/Kingship: Duncan, MacBeth, Malcolm as kings. Compare/ask question: what makes a good leader? Tiger Woodsetc.
THEMES CONT • Darkness/disturbances in nature (linked to superstition): “’Tis day/Yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp” (2:4, 11). Anthropogenic global warming; conspiracy re climate change science; ETS controversy. • Paradox/appearance vsreality “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (1:1, 11). Framing of guards for murder; the marching of Birnam Wood. Adages/sayings – e.g., don’t judge a book by its cover – yet we do. Plastic surgery disasters (trying to stay young). • Manhood/Gender roles: e.g., women in NZ are still paid, on average, 12% less than men. Lady M: “Unsex me!”. The witches and their role. • Masks/deception – e.g., MacBeth: “False face must hide what the false heart doth know”; Goldman Sachs case; NZ finance compay meltdowns (e.g., Hanover).
STILL MORE THEMES • Scheming: MacBeth’s soliloquies on how to kill the king; Lady M’s planning. Terrorist plots; conspiracies – e.g., tobacco industry. • The nature of good and evil (related to paradox): can someone ever be said to be “truly good” or “truly evil”? Are psychopaths born or made? Is it a choice? • The consequences of evil: MacBeth became king; this seemed to be unjust. However, the ending restored justice and MacBeth was killed. Capital punishment; length of prison sentences. Three strikes bill. • Darkness/superstition (also linked with fate and destiny): “I would not sleep...”(Banquo); the witches. Faith vs reason – e.g., Richard Dawkins vs religious leaders. Persecution.