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
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.
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,
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
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
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
“What makes a true man is a theme that runs throughout Macbeth”
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
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)
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,
(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.