Macbeth Themes

William Shakespeare, in his tragic play Macbeth, written in 1606, dramatizes the
unrelenting power of deception, insanity, and greed which ultimately results in
the demise of Macbeth. Macbeth allowed his desire to become king overrule his
judgement which consummately terminated his existence. The play is full of
pestilence and set in Scotland during the eleventh century. In Macbeth,
sleeplessness is an important motif that permeates the dramatic structure.

Shakespeare uses this fatigue to substantiate the guilt of Macbeth, to represent
subconscious insanity, and to show a foreshadowing of bad things to come. The
motif serves to dramatize the true overview of how the characters are handling
the various tragedies that occur. Initially, the motif of sleeplessness is used
as a model of foreshadowing. For example, in Act II, scene i, Banquo finds it
hard to sleep the night Macbeth is supposed to kill King Duncan. This is
evidence that evil things will occur throughout the play. Furthermore, in Act
II, scene ii, while Macbeth was killing Duncan, Malcolm and Donalbain arose in
their sleep. One laughed and the other “cried murder.” This is their
sleeplessness foreshadowing because Duncan was dead, even though the brothers
did not know it yet. Shakespeares use of the sleeplessness motif as
foreshadowing allows the reader to get a concept of what evil will come in the
future. Not only does Shakespeare use sleeplessness for foreshadowing he also
uses it as a mode of guilt. For example, in Act II, scene ii, Macbeth thinks he
hears a voice say, “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep!” This is
Macbeth imagining voices, telling him not to sleep because he is feeling immoral
and liable for Duncans murder. Next, Macbeth is afraid to sleep peacefully
because he knows that Duncan is “in restless ecstasy”(Act III, scene ii).

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Apparently, Macbeth is aware of his wrongdoing and feels culpable that he is
king and alive, but only at the sacrifice of Duncan. By using guilt to show
sleeplessness, Shakespeare shows that a corrupt crime can only leave the mind
unsure and unable to rest. The most significant aspect of this motif, however,
is how it is used to demonstrate the insanity of Macbeth and his wife. For
instance, in Act II, scene iv, Macbeth is at dinner with Lennox, Ross, and other
lords. He sees ghosts and is apparently insane. This proves that all the sleep
in the world could never clear Macbeth of his crime, he is already destroyed. In
addition, Lady Macbeth sleep walks and hallucinates a spot of blood on her hands
in Act V, scene i. This proves that she has gone crazy as well. She cannot sleep
because she is trying to remove the spot, which represents guilt. The strong use
of insanity as a moving force in the play causes the reader to understand that
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth cannot rid themselves of their evil deeds. The play
demonstrates that the subconscious can allow evil things to occur. The
sleeplessness motif is significant because it shows how the characters in the
play deal with their stresses. The eerie use of sleeplessness added to the guilt
of the characters, the foreshadowing of evil supplied a dark sensation, and the
irony of insanity showed that the characters souls could not handle the
calamitous situations. Macbeth could not sleep because he was too guilt-ridden,
which eventually drove him to the breaking point. Macbeths fate, foretold by
the witches, finally caught up to him and after his frighteningly sleepless
nights, he was now engrossed by the eternal sleep called death.

Macbeth: Themes

Macbeth was written while when 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.

In this essay, I will discuss Macbeth during the many experiences that
he had faced and come across and I will show how these experiences and
pressures that he faced helped with the conclusion and theme of the play
which yet has to be understood.

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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 Scottish
throne, 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.

What beast was’t then that made you brake this enterprise to me?
When you drust do it, then you were a man;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more than man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both.

They have made themselves, and that their fitness know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.

I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipples from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.

(Act 1:Scene 7:ln. 68)
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

“There’s one did laugh in’s sleep, and one cried
“Murder!”” (Act 2: Scene 2:ln.32)
“Glacis hath murdered sleep, and therefor Cowdor
Shall sleep no more! Macbeth shall sleep no more!”
(Act 2:Scene 2:ln.57)
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.)
When Macbeth spoke of his fears from Bunquo, we immediately know that
the next murder will target on the later.

To be thus is nothing
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Bunquo
Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be feared. ‘Tis much he dares,
And to that dauntless temper of his mind
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor
To act in safety. There is none but he
Whose being I do fear…………………

(Act 3:Scene 1:Ln.52)
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. 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.

Thanks for that!
There the grown serpent lies;the worm that’s fled
Hath nature that in time will venom breed,
No teeth for the present. Get thee gone. Tomorrow
we’ll hear ourselves again.

(Act 3:Scene 3:Ln.35)
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 forhis
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”
(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)
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, I think that 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.

Seyton-I am sick at heart,
When I behold-Seyton, I say!-This push
Will cheer me ever, or disseat me know.

I have lived long enough. My way of life
Is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have;but, in their stead,
Curses not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.

(Act 5: Scene 4:Ln.48)
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.”
Not all men are as heroic, after all !


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