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Macbeth Themes



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Just as their words are confusing, it is unclear as to whether the witches merely predict or actually effect the future. Banquo fears, for example, that the witches' words will "enkindle [Macbeth] unto the crown"—in other words, that they will awaken in Macbeth an ambition that is already latent in him I iii His fears seem well-founded: as soon as the witches mention the crown, Macbeth's thoughts turn to murder. For Macbeth, the witches can be understood as representing the final impetus that drive him to his pre-determined end.

The prophecy is in this sense self-fulfilling. The oracular sisters are in fact connected etymologically to the Fates of Greek mythology. The word "weird" derives from the Old English word "wyrd," meaning "fate. For unlike Macbeth, Banquo does not act on the witches' prediction that he will father kings—and yet the witches' prophesy still comes true. The role of the weird sisters in the story, therefore, is difficult to define or determine.

Are they agents of fate or a motivating force? And why do they suddenly disappear from the play in the third act? The ambiguity of the Weird Sisters reflects a greater theme of doubling, mirrors, and schism between inner and outer worlds that permeates the work as a whole. Throughout the play, characters, scenes, and ideas are doubled. As Duncan muses about the treachery of the Thane of Cawdor at the beginning of the play, for example, Macbeth enters the scene:. He was a gentleman on whom I built An absolute trust. I iv Similarly, the captain in Scene 2 makes a battle report that becomes in effect a prophecy:. For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name! I i As in all Shakespearean plays, mirroring among characters serves to heighten their differences.

Lady Macbeth, who casts off her femininity and claims to feel no qualms about killing her own children, is doubled in Lady Macduff, who is a model of a good mother and wife. Banquo's failure to act on the witches' prophesy is mirrored in Macbeth's drive to realize all that the witches foresee. Similarly, much of the play is also concerned with the relation between contrasting inner and outer worlds. Beginning with the equivocal prophecies of the Weird Sisters, appearances seldom align with reality. Macbeth appears to be a loyal Thane, but secretly plans revenge.

Lady Macbeth appears to be a gentle woman but vows to be "unsexed" and swears on committing bloody deeds. Macbeth is also a play about the inner world of human psychology, as will be illustrated in later acts through nightmares and guilt-ridden hallucinations. Such contrast between "being" and "seeming" serves as another illustration of equivocation. One of the most ambiguous aspects of the play is the character of Macbeth himself.

When he swears to commit suicide, he must overcome an enormous resistance from his conscience. At the same time, he sees as his own biggest flaw not a lack of moral values but rather a lack of motivation to carry out his diabolical schemes. In this he resembles Hamlet, who soliloquizes numerous times about his inaction. But unlike Hamlet, Macbeth does not have a good reason to kill, nor is the man he kills evil—far from it. And finally, while Macbeth becomes increasingly devoted to murderous actions, his soliloquies are so full of eloquent speech and pathos that it is not difficult to sympathize with him.

Thus at the heart of the play lies a tangle of uncertainty. If Macbeth is indecisive, Lady Macbeth is just the opposite—a character with such a single vision and drive for advancement that she brings about her own demise. And yet her very ruthlessness brings about another form of ambiguity, for in swearing to help Macbeth realize the Weird Sisters' prophecy, she must cast off her femininity.

In a speech at the beginning of Scene 5, she calls on the spirits of the air to take away her womanhood:. 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 th'access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between Th'effect and it. I v Lady Macbeth sees "remorse" as one of the names for feminine compassion—of which she must rid herself. Thus she must be "unsexed. Instead, she becomes a woman devoid of the sexual characteristics and sentimentality that make her a woman. She becomes entirely unnatural and inhuman.

Like the supernatural Weird Sisters with their beards, Lady Macbeth becomes something that does not fit into the natural world. The corruption of nature is a theme that surfaces and resurfaces in the same act. By murdering Duncan, then, Macbeth perverts nature by severing himself effectively from the very "root" that feeds him. Just as the Weird Sisters pervert the normal course of nature by telling their prophecy, Macbeth upsets the course of nature by his regicide. Reflecting the disruption of nature, the dialogue between Macbeth and Lady in the scene following the murder becomes heavy, graceless, and almost syncopated. Lady Macbeth, for example, says:. What thou wouldst highly, That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false And yet wouldst wrongly win.

Thou'd'st have, great Glamis, That which cries "Thus thou must do," if thou have it, And that which rather thou dost fear to do, Than wishest should be undone. The repetition of the phrase "thou wouldst," in all its permutations, confounds the flow of speech. The speech is clotted with accents, tangling meter and scansion, and the alliteration is almost tongue-twisting, slowing the rhythm of the words. Just as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have corrupted nature, the language Shakespeare uses in these scenes disrupts the flow of his usually smoothly iambic meter.

Yet another part of the theme of corruption of nature lies in the compression of time that occurs throughout the act. By telling the future to Macbeth and Banquo, the Weird Sisters upset the natural course of time and bring the future to the present. He wants the murder to be over quickly—indeed so quickly that it is over before the audience even registers it. Just as equivocation twists the meaning of words, Macbeth's murderous desires twist the meaning of time. Thus beginning with the Weird Sisters, equivocation in all its permutations is threaded throughout the fabric of the first act.

Over the course of the play, the breach between the worlds of reality and illusion that is the core of equivocation grows ever wider. The Question and Answer section for Macbeth is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel. How did Macbeth view change? How was fate shown in Macbeth? The plot of Macbeth is set in motion ostensibly by the prophecy of the three witches. This battle between appearance and reality is shown throughout the course of the play.

It begins when Macbeth is informed of his fate to be crowned King, he begins to ponder thoughts of committing murder "Is this dagger which I see before me, The handle Continue reading this essay Continue reading. Toggle navigation MegaEssays. Saved Essays. Topics in Paper. Example Essays. Macbeth Themes. Continue reading this essay Continue reading Page 1 of 7. Next Page. More Essays:. In MegaEssays.

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