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Theme Of The Tragedy Of Macbeth

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 932 words Published: 9th May 2017

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The Tragedy of Macbeth was written by Shakespeare around 1606. It’s one of his darkest and most powerful tragedies. It’s about Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman, who is tempted to follow the path of evil to fulfill his ambition after hearing a prophecy that he will become the king. Encouraged by his wife, he murders King Duncan and becomes the King. After becoming the King, he commits more and more murders to protect himself. In the end he is murdered by another nobleman, Macduff.


The main themes of Macbeth are:

1. Ambition – One of the major themes of the play is corruptibility of over-ambition. Macbeth at first is content with being a general, but because of his ambition, even after becoming the thane of Cawdor, he murders the king with support from his ambitious wife. The following lines show that Macbeth is willing to push aside his morality when Malcom is declared the heir to the throne.

“MACBETH [Aside] The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step

On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,

For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;

Let not light see my black and deep desires:

The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be,

Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.” (1.4.4)

2. Destiny and Free Will – Shakespeare asks the question of fate and free will through Macbeth. It’s ambiguous whether Macbeth has free will or his fate is predestined. . All the prophecies in Macbeth come true.

Macbeth’s ambition is kindled by the witches prophecy and their prophecy of him being killed only when Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane Hill and by someone not woman born comes true Yet Macbeth seems responsible for his own actions and he ponders before murdering the king.

There is also a reference to the concept of Rota Fortunae in Macbeth. Rota Fortunae or the Wheel of Fortune is an ancient philosophical concept referring to the fickle nature of fate. The wheel spins at random symbolizing the random nature of fate. Macbeth’s fate also spins as if on a wheel. “Macbeth starts off halfway up the wheel when a Thane, but moves higher and higher until he becomes king, but falls right down again towards the end as his wife dies, and he in turn dies. [3]”

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3. Fair is foul and foul is fair- This line is oft repeated in the play. Throughout the play, fair appearances are used by the characters to hide their foul intentions. “The play is full of ambiguity and double meanings, starting with the prophecies. The day is extremely foul (weather) and extremely fair (MacDonald has been disemboweled.) Banquo is not so happy, yet much happier. Is the dagger a hallucination, or a supernatural phantom? Ask the same question about Banquo’s ghost. Does the bell summon Duncan “to heaven or to hell”? One of Duncan’s son’s called out “Murder!” in his sleep, but the other one laughed, mysteriously pleased at his father’s death. Which was which? [4]”

Macbeth asks his wife during the dinner to be jovial with the king and hide their true intentions. There are numerous instances of this duality in the play.

4. Manhood – In the play manhood is associated with cruelty and violence while feminism is associated with compassion. Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to unsex her and take away her feminine qualities so that she can murder the King.

“Come, you 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.” (1.5.3)

Ironically, the witches and Lady Macbeth are cruel and they are the ones who tempt Macbeth into murdering the King. The play questions the real meaning of manhood. Shakespeare answers this through Macduff who says that the ability to feel the human emotions of love, loss, grief is what makes one human.

5. Guilt – Shakespeare focuses on the emptiness and sadness that result from selfishness and cruelty. By the end, Macbeth is guilty for murdering the king

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand?”

He wonders if he will be able to wash the blood off his hands. He is not able to say amen and thinks that he will never be able to sleep again.

Lady Macbeth initially has no qualms in murdering the King, but later she is guilty and her guilt makes her mad. After the murder she says

“A little water clears us of the deed” but later washes her hands obsessively and says to the Doctor –

“Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

“Lady Macbeth’s insanity is really nothing more than her realizing the nature and consequences of the horrible thing she has done. Macbeth verbally abuses and bullies the people who he needs to defend him (and who are abandoning him), while reflecting to himself on the emptiness and futility of it all.[4]”


Macbeth is a cautionary tale about unchecked ambition. Its shows us how unchecked ambition and the lure of power can corrupt a person. Its shows the fallibility of great men and women and how they have the same feelings and emotions as us. One of the reasons Macbeth is popular even today is because it deals with the universal theme of human emotions.


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