Macbeth: Theme Analysis
One of the most important themes in Macbeth involves the witches' statement in Act 1, Scene1 that "fair is foul and foul is fair." (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 10) This phrase aptly describes the macabre status quo within the character Macbeth and without. When Macbeth and Banquo first see the weird sisters, Banquo is horrified by their hideous appearances. Conversely, Macbeth immediately began to converse with these universally known evil creatures. After hearing their prophecies, one can say that Macbeth considered the witches to be "fair" when in reality their intentions were quite "foul." Macbeth's possession of the titles of Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland came by foul means. Macbeth became the Thane of Glamis by his father Sinel's death; he became Thane of Cawdor when the former namesake was executed for treason; and he was ordained King of Scotland after murdering the venerable Duncan. Thus, Macbeth has a rather ghastly way of advancing in life.
This theme is further verified by King Duncan's statement "There's no art/ To find the mind's construction in the face." (Act 1, Scene 4, Lines 11-12) Although Macbeth has the semblance of the amicable and dutiful host, ("fair") he is secretly plotting Duncan's death ("foul"). Furthermore, Lady Macbeth's orchestration of the murder exemplifies the twisted atmosphere in Inverness. Both a woman and a host, she should be the model of grace and femininity. She is described, however, as a "fiendlike queen" (Act 5, Scene 6, Line 69) and exhibits a cold, calculating mentality. In addition, the very porter of Inverness likens the place to the dwelling of the devil Beelzebub. This implies that despite its "pleasant seat," (Act 1, Scene 6, Line 1) Inverness is a sinister and evil place. It is also interesting to note that Macbeth is unable to say a prayer to bless himself after murdering Duncan. It is strange and "foul" that he should think of religion after committing such an unholy act. The very sanction of sleep and repose is also attacked in Macbeth. What is normally considered a refreshing and necessary human activity is "murdered" by Macbeth after he commits his heinous crime. Neither Macbeth nor his wife is able to sleep after killing Duncan. Macbeth's lack of sleep makes him a brutal killer; Lady Macbeth begins to sleepwalk and inadvertently reveals the source of her distress through her nightly babble. In addition, Macbeth gains an almost inhuman strength and courage after his first crime. He is more courageous in crime than he has ever been in virtuous deed, which is indeed bizarre.
A second theme in Macbethis that of the tragic hero. A tragic hero is a character that the audience sympathizes with despite his/her actions that would indicate the contrary. Macbeth, in spite of his horrible murders, is a pitiable man. His saving grace is that he did not initially want to kill Duncan but later changed his mind after listening to his wife. In addition, Macbeth internally suffered because he could not enjoy his royal status. Fear, paranoia, exhaustion and sleeplessness plagued him despite his sovereignty. Lady Macbeth is also a tragic hero. Her initial courage and daring did not last long, and she quickly deteriorated into a delusional, hapless somnambulist. She broke down mentally and physically because of the strain of the crime. Macbeth and his wife are pitiable characters because the reader is able to follow their every thought and action. Thus, the reader sees not only their gruesome effects on the Scottish people but also on themselves.
Another important theme in Macbeth is that of indecision and internal conflict. Macbeth was indecisive up until the very night of the murder about whether or not he should kill Duncan. Afterwards, he was unsure of a course of action. He rashly decided to kill Banquo, visit the witches and remain confident even when his castle was besieged. Lady Macbeth's initial lack of indecision is what brought about the pair's downfall. Later, however, she becomes tentative about the potential benefits of Banquo's murder. By the end of the play, she has become a delusional recluse that is almost entirely ignored by her husband.
A fourth important theme in Macbeth is the creation of an internal/external hell. This creation of a place of damnation begins when Macbeth freely converses with the sinister witches. Banquo calls the weird sisters "instruments of darkness," (Act 1, Scene 4, Line 124) but Macbeth still decides to take their advice. At several times in the play both Macbeth and his wife invoke the night, a universal symbol of evil. Furthermore, many of the scenes in the play take place at night or in murky areas and are accompanied by the shrieks of ominous animals. Macbeth is unable to bless himself after the crime and he "murders sleep," (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 35) one of the only positive associations with night. Thus, hallucinations, sleepwalking, disembodied voices and ghosts all pervade Inverness. One can recognize the climax of this creation of an external hell when the porter himself likens the castle to the residence of the devil. Furthermore, Macbeth is indirectly compared to Edward the King of England. Whereas Edward cures people, Macbeth kills them. In addition, Lady Macbeth commits suicide in the castle, an act considered worthy at the time of eternal damnation in hell.
This creation of an external hell also corresponds to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's internal suffering. Macbeth is never at peace-he is always delirious, enraged, brutal and paranoid. He cannot enjoy the material and mortal pleasures of being a king despite all of the sacrifice that it took on his part. Lady Macbeth's courage and resolve quickly deteriorates and she is left as an incurable somnambulist who unconsciously tries to erase her memory of the crime. Macbeth and his wife's unintentional creation of an external hell for Scotland is pitiable because they suffered internally as well.
Macbeth Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Act 1, Scene 1-Act 1, Scene 2
- Act 1, Scene 5-Act 1, Scene 6
- Act 1, Scene 7-Act 2, Scene 1
- Act 2, Scene 2-Act 2, Scene 3
- Act 2, Scene 4-Act 3, Scene 1
- Act 3, Scene 2-Act 3, Scene 3
- Act 3, Scene 4-Act 3, Scene 5
- Act 3, Scene 6-Act 4, Scene 1
- Act 4, Scene 2-Act 4, Scene 3
- Act 5, Scene 1-Act 5, Scene 2
- Act 5, Scene 3- Act 5, Scene 4
- Act 5, Scene 5-Act 5, Scene 6
- Act 5, Scene 7-Act 5, Scene 8
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- William Shakespeare