An Analysis Of Central Themes In Shakespears

Macbeth Essay, Research Paper

An Analysis of Central Themes in William Shackespear’s Macbeth

William Shakespeare was born on approximately April 23, 1564 and died on the same day in

1616, at 52 years of age. All of Shakespeare’s dramatic writings were written in the span of the

last 25 years of his life, making his literary productivity even more amazing. Macbeth is the

fourth and last of the “great tragedies,” probably first performed in 1606, during the first years of

King James I’s reign. As in Shakespeare’s other plays, Macbeth is based on a much earlier

mythic-historical source. Scholars attribute Shakespeare’s source to the Chronicles of

Holinshed, which recounts the reigns of one Duncan and Macbeth in around the year 1050. As

usual, Shakespeare just relies of the bare skeleton of his source tale, adding much by way of

plot complication and structural complexity.(SP.p1) In macbeth, Shakespear explores the

themes of blood, self-love, and good vs evil in the development of characters and plot.

A struggle is present in every tragedy, as a person tries to overcome their flaws and fit the

mold of their ideal.(M.G.p.327) William Shakespeare plainly defined a good man in the play

“Macbeth”. This goal by it’s definition is a difficult one for any man to achieve. Prudence and

logic, temperance and patients, as well as the vindication of honor are Shakespeare’s defining

characteristics of a good man. As with any well written tragedy, Macbeth’s title character and

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hero had to fall from his place of greatness to see his faults and begin his agonizing climb back

to his previous position. His position, that of a good man, was one that demanded respect in the

beginning of “Macbeth”. Macbeth was written while Scotland lacked a good leader to defend it

from a Norwasian invasion. During this dangerous situation, Macbeth stood out as the most

commanding figure by defeating the rebel army. His thrill towards the witches’ prophecies all

confirmed his hopes of becoming the King and replacing King Duncan, who lacked the power

and courage to save his country from this invasion. The first signs that tell us of Macbeth’s

thoughts of becoming King were found when the King proclaimed his son, Malcolm, the heir to

the Scottishthrone, and Macbeth considered murder to overcome this obstacle that would

prevent him from becoming the King.

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.

(Act 1:Scene 4:ln.55)

When Lady Macbeth heard of her husband’s success and read the letter, we

almost immediately feel that a new source of power had appared in the

drama. Her words reflected a great knowledge of her husband and her

practical approach to problems as seen in the following two verses.

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Glacis thou art, and Cowdor, and shalt be What thou are promised.

Yet do I fear thy nature.

It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great;

Art not without ambition, but without

The illness should attend it. What though wouldst highly,

That wouldst though holily;wouldst not play false

And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou’ldst have, great Glacis

That which cries”Thus though must do,”if though have it;

And that which rather thou dost fear to do

Than wishest should be undone. Hie thee hither,

That I may pour my spirits in thine ear

And chastise with the valor of my tongue

All that impedes thee from the golden round

Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem

To have thee crowned withal.

(Act 1:Scene 5:ln.14

O, never Shall sun that morrow see!

Your face, my thane, is a book where men

May read strange matters. To beguile the time,

Look like the time;bear welcome in your eye,

Your hand, your tongue, look like the innocent flower,

But be the serpent under’t. He that’s coming

Must he provide for; and you shall put

This night’s great business into my dispatches,

Which shall to all our nights and days to come,

Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.

(Act 1:Scene 6:ln.68)

Driven to murder King Duncan, Macbeth’s conscience first appeared when

he was not present to greet the King upon his arrival at the castle. This

showed the lack of courage that Macbeth had to face his victim.

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well

It were done quickly. If the assassination

Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,

With his surcease, success, that but this blow

Might be the be-all and the end-all here,

But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,

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We’ld jump the life to come. But in these cases

We still have judgment here, that we but teach

Bloody instructions, which being taught, return

To plague the inventor……………………..

(Act 1:Scene 7:ln 1)

This verse stressed Macbeth’s fears of punishment. He cleared out that

he was prepared to suffer eternity if only this crime would go unpunished.

He recognized certain obstacles in killing the King, the first and most

important being was that the King was his guest. He also saw some dangers

of committing the crime and understood it consequences well.

When Macbeth tried to resist the temptation, his wife was the one that

insisted on him to consent the murder. She accused Macbeth of cowardness and later assures

him that the crime will go undetected when she outlined it’s details. In Act2:Scene 1:ln.72, we

know that the crime will happen when Macbeth says:

I go, and it is done. The bell invites me.

Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell

That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

Following the crime, we get the impression that Macbeth was horrified by

what he had done. It seems that he had gone through some sort of “mental

collapse” due to the haunted visions of guilt and punishment that he


Having begun a career of evil, Macbeth felt that the only way to remain

in power was by going on and committing other crimes. He had started

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plotting his own course of murder. His behaviours are all based on fear

which had arose from insecurity. It was not possible for him to turn back

because he had reached the “point of no return.” (Coles Notes.)

Macbeth next hired two murderers to murder Bunquo, and convinced them to

commit the crime saying that it was he who had prevented them from rising

in this world. He attacked their courage and used his wife’s philosophy to

regain their confidence assuring them that everything will go fine.

I will advice you were to plant yourselves,

Acquaint you with the perfect spy o’ the time,

The moment on’t;for’t must be done tonight,

And something from the palace(always thought

That I require a clearness), and with him,

To leave no rubs nor botches in the work,

Fleance his son, that keeps him company,

Whose absence is no less material to me

Than his father’s, must embrace the fate

Of the dark hour. Resolve yourselves apart;

I’ll come to you anon. (Act 3:Scene 1: Ln.144)

The murder had gone undetected but not for long. During the party that

Macbeth made, the ghost of Bunquo appeared twice to him.These are addition to the theme of

good vs evil and an un-mentioned theme of super-naturalality. In the first time,

it looked disapprovingly at him and allowed him to regain his confidence

but finally made him speak of his terrors of the Assembled Lords which

confirmed whatever suspense they had of him.

The guilt of Macbeth is again revealed during this scene when he spoke

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his last two verses.

I hear it by the way;but I will send.

There’s not a one of them, but in this house

I keep a servant feed. I will tomorrow

(And betimes I will) to the weird Sisters

More shall they speak; for know I am bent to know

By the worst means the worst. For mine own good

All causes shall give way. I am in blood

Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er

Strange things I have to head, that will to hand,

Which must be acted ere they may be scanned.

(Act 3:Scene 4:Ln.162)

Come, we’ll to sleep. My strange and self-abuse

Is the initiate fear that wants hard use.

We are yet but young indeed.

(Act 3:Scene 4:Ln.174)

These two verses all reflected the suspense that Macbeth had for his

noblemen and the suggestion of still worse crimes that would follow.

When Macduff defied Macbeth and went to England, Macbeth’s fears drove

him to give up himself to the forces of evil and demanded”to know,by the

worst means,the worst.” He knew that he had nothing to loose since everyone

was suspicious of him. For this reason, when the armed head warned Macbeth

of Macduff, he went and killed his family and servants one by one. The

first two crimes were all carried out at night. In the third one, Macbeth

made no effort to conceal it but boldly carried it out during the daylight.

Macbeth’s honest and heroic character had been replaced by a man who’s

moods always changed, one who feared the hidden truth and one who hardly

knew his mind. We pity this man for the situation he had brought on

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“What makes a true man is a theme that runs throughout Macbeth”

(Coles Notes.)

According to his wife life, a true man is one who sets great goals for

himself and will do anything to achieve them. “The true man towers above

ordinary men,” says Lady Macbeth. Macbeth is full of ambition but has too

much”o’ the milk of human kindness.” that makes up the ordinary man. He

likes to achieve his goals ” holily” like a saint unacquainted with

practical affairs.

It is by this appeal that Macbeth is driven to commit the murders and convince the murderers

to kill Bunquo. “A true man will respond to injuries by taking a bloody revenge!” says Macbeth.

The irony is that by doing what he had done, Macbeth’s guilt followed him where ever he

went and made him loose all his feelings. By the end of the play, Macbeth lost all his feelings .

He reached the point where he had no taste of fear and the death of his wife did not bother him

which he dismisses by saying that she had to die someday and somehow.

The time has been, my senses would have cooled

To hear a night shriek, and my fell of hair

Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir

As life were in’t. I have supped full with horrors.

Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,

Cannot once start me.

(Act 5:Scene 5:Ln.11)

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She could have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player.

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

(Act 5:Scene 5:Ln.19)

All in all, by using the characteristics of Macbeth, Shakespeare succeeded in relating him to

many people today because his qualities are naturally part of human nature. Macbeth had lived

a life full of ups and downs, just like many of us, but in his opinion, he had not accomplished

anything. All men are born good but just like Macbeth, people have the power to become evil,

only when they become aware of it.It was and is always not easy to see a great man turn from

good to evil. We admire Macbeth’s courage, as he, with his wife dead and world collapsing,

resolved to fight to the end and “die with harness on his back.”

In conclusion,Macbeth is presented as a battle betwen good vs evil of self and society.

Macbeth is a mature man of definitely established chacracter, successful in certain fields of

activity and enjoying enviable reputation. In the overall tragedy, the themes of blood, good vs

evil and self-love are explored indepth by the author William Shakespear in the development of

character and plot.


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