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The Themes of Macbeth

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Essay title: The Themes of Macbeth

The Themes of Macbeth

William Shakespeare’s plays are full of different types of imagery. Many of these images, or themes, run throughout his entire play at different times. In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses five of these images including nature, paradoxes, manhood, masks, and light versus darkness, to convey his overall message that before a man gives into his desires, he should understand the consequences of doing so.

“Thunder and lightning.” This is the description of the scene before Act I, Scene i, Line 1. The thunder and lightning represent disturbances in nature. Most people do not think of a great day being filled with thunder and lightning, and shroud of thunder and lightning surrounds the witches. Also, the first witch asks in Line 2 about the meeting with Macbeth, “In thunder, lightning, or in rain?” The meeting will also be filled with these disturbances. The witches are also surrounded by more unpleasant kinds of weather: “Hover through the fog and filthy air” (Line 11). The weather might personify the witches, meaning that the witches themselves are disturbances, though not limited to nature. The bad weather also might mean that the witches are bad or foul (“filthy air”) creatures.

Act II, Scene i takes place on a dark night. Fleance, Banquo’s son, says, “The moon is down” (Line 2), and Banquo says, “Their (Heaven’s) candles are all out (there are no stars in the sky”) (Line 5.) Darkness evokes feelings of evilness, of a disturbance in nature on this fateful night. It creates a perfect scene for the baneful murders.

Another disturbance in nature comes from Macbeth’s mouth, “Now o’er the one half-world/ Nature seems dead” (Lines 49-50). This statement might mean that everywhere he looks, the world seems dead and that there is no hope. It might also give him the idea that the murder he will commit will have repercussions spreading far. The doctor says in Act V, Scene 1, Line 10, “ A great perturbation in nature,” while talking about Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking. This is just another example of how nature is disturbed by human doings, placing emphases on mankind (following the Humanistic philosophy).

An example of paradox occurs in Act I, Scene 1, Line 10 during the witches’ chorus: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” It is also a prophecy, where one thing seems like another (the characters of the play), or about how things will change through the story (again, the characters). Being so early in the play, it is a good attention getter for the reader. Since it is not a simple statement, it makes the readers think about the line to find some meaning for them. It is easier to grasp a meaning of this line further along in the story.

This theme is subtle, but not without meaning. It is referred to again and again throughout the play, adding new lines, or analyzing characters and events using the theme.

When Macbeth first enters Scene 3, he says, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” (Line 38). It is not likely that when the witches said “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” during Scene 1, they were just referring to the condition of the day when they meet Macbeth. Deeper meaning goes along with that quote, as later events in the play will show.

“Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,” says Lady Macbeth (I.v.41-42). She wishes to be like a man. Why? What does Lady Macbeth envision a man as being like?

And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full

Of direst cruelty! Make think my blood,

Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse,

That no compunctions visitings of nature

Shake my fell purpose, not keep peace between

Th’ effect and it! (I.v.43-48).

Lady Macbeth wants to be like this so that she will be able to plan the murder of Duncan. She does not believe that Macbeth will be able to do it because he is “…too full o’ the milk of human kindness.” (I.v.18.)

To help convince Macbeth not to call the murder off, Lady Macbeth questions his manhood. She says, “When you durst do it, then you were a man; / And to be more than what you were, you would / Be so much more the man.” (I.vii.49-51). Upon hearing this speech, Macbeth finally decides that he will go along with the murder after all.

Another example of the theme of manhood in the play deals with Macduff during Act IV, Scene 3. While Malcolm implores him to “dispute it [the loss of his family] like a man,” (Line 220), Macduff says that he must also “feel it as a man,” (Line 221), which changes the image of a man given above by Lady Macbeth. While she portrays men as

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