Macbeth themes

Ambition

Vaulting Ambition

  • Macbeth and Lady M are both extremely ambitious - ambitions contribute to the tragedy of the play
  • lady M initially views Macbeth as ambitious but not capable of committing evil deeds in order to achieve his ambitions - ''BUT WITHOUT/ THE ILLNESS SHOULD ATTEND IT.
  • however with the prompting of the witches and his wife, he seeks power - commits the acts he first shied away from. Despite immediately regretting killing Duncan -''WAKE DUNCAN WITH THY KNOCKING. I WOULDST THOU COULDST. - Macbeth still retains his ambition. From this point onwards he is focused on finding ways to keep the throne.]
  • AO3 - Banquo fails to tell other nobles about the witches' prophecy and keeps his own council concerning his suspicions that to become King Macbeth ''PLAYEDST MOST FOULLY FOR’T’’. This could lead us to the conclusion that he is less than honest when it comes to ambition for his children.
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Ambition

Retaining Power

  • Macbeth wishes to keep the crown within his family - even though he has no children
  • this desire to pass the crown on to a future - defies the witches' prophecy for Banquo's children
  • the self believe implies him to hire assassins to kill Banquo and Fleance.
  • the fact that Fleance escapes brings Macbeth to the realisation that not all his ambitions will be met. - he then focus his ambition on retaining power
  • Macbeth believes he will find a solution to his objective with eac murder he plots.
  • each murder, he judges, will be his last
  • the murder of Banquo is designed to destroy a man whose genius is superior to Macbeth's own
  • murder of Macduff's family - suggests a tyrant's ambition to hold on to power at any cost
  • AO3 - ONE OF BANQUO'S KEY ROLES IS TO SHOW MACBETH THAT THERE ARE MORAL CHOICES AND HE CLEARLY INDICATES TO MACBETH THAT HE INTEDS TO KEEP HIS ''BOSOM FRANCHISED, AND ALLEGIANCE CLEAR'' 
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Ambition

Lady Macbeth's Ambition

  • driving force behind the murder of Duncan
  • pursues her ambition with a great determination - willingly seeks evil to aid her in her objective - asks for evil to fill her ''from the crown to the top full/ of direst cruelty''
  • she asks that no feelings of womanly humanity will upset her ruthless intentions of making sure that her husband becomes king- and she becomes queen
  • evil spirit inside her body - forces Macbeth to kill Duncan
  • self- determination helps her to keep strong after Duncan's death - at this point she is Macbeth's crutch - holding him up and urging him on
  • remainder of the play- passive - watches Macbeth commit more atrocities while she is driven into madness and despair.
  • tragic fate - both Lady M and Macbeth regret the fruit of their unbridles ambition
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Guilt

A guilty conscience

  • Macbeth is essentially a play concerning how the protagonists are tormented by guilt that eventually leads to their destruction
  • before he murders duncan- macbeth feels guilt at the thought of becoming king. witches' prophecies startle him - act 1 scene 3. Even at this early stage, macbeth shows his surprise - implies a guilty conscience. - may suggest that he planned on becoming king before meeting the witches? Banquo noted his reaction and asked ''good sir, why do you start'' (act 1 scene 3)

Lady Macbeth's guilt

  • after killing duncan - ''a little water clears us of the deed''
  • act 5 - sleepwalking - mimics rubbing her hands and declares ''who would have thought the old man to have had/ so much blood in him''
  • unable to free herself of the guilt - relentlessly bullied macbeth into the regicide - knows she is to blame for the consequences that stemmed from the murder
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Guilt

After the regicide

  • AO4 - WHEN SHAKESPEARE WROTE MACBETH THE GUNPOWDER PLOT (1605) WAS STILL FRESH IN PEOPLE'S MINDS. THERE HAD ALSO BEEN AN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS UPON THE LIFE OF JAMES 1 - THE THEME OF GUILT LINKED TO THE CRIME OF REGICIDE - WOULD HAVE BEEN POLITICALLY ACCETABLE
  • having murdered duncan, macbeth looks upon his blood stained hands - he can only utter ''this is a sorry sight''
  • already guilty knowing that the only reason for killing the king was ''so meek'' and ''so clear in his great office ''..''vaulting ambition)  (act 1 scene 7) - felt guilty before the murder because he knew he should have ''against his murderer shut the door'' when duncan stayed in his castle.
  • he was also duncan's near relative and defended him on the battlefield. - should have defended him inside the castle
  • manifestations of his guilt - blood covered daggers - led him to duncan's chamber
  • cannot ''wash this blood/ clean from my hands'' - conscience has now been stained.
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Guilt

Final release

  • Macbeth's tortures continues - assassins murder Banquo - Banquo's ghost is seen by macbeth at the banquet - product of guilt
  • before Macbeth fights Macduff in hand to hand combat - he declare ''my soul is too charged with blood of thine already''
  • carries the guilt of murdering macduff's family
  • modern critics - imply that only death at the hand of macduff can release macbeth form his guilt. however a jacobean audience - macbeth will face eternal damnation for his deed . he cannot ''jump the life to come''
  • AO3 - HAVING MURDERED DUNCAN, MACBETH BELIEVES HE WILL NEVER SLEEP PEACEFULLY AGAIN. SLEEP IS SEEN AS A PREROGATVE OF THOS WHO HAVE NO GUILTY CONSCIENCE. IT IS EVEIDENT THAT MACBETH DOES NTO SLEEP AND WHEN HE DOES HE IS PLAGUED BY NIGHTMARES. IN CONTRAST, THE GOOD DUNCAN IS MURDERED WHILE SLEEPING THE DEEP SLEEP OF THE JUST.
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Kingship

Duncan as a king

  • first king we meet
  • macbeth is aware of the kingly qualities duncan possesses before killing him - duncan's ''virtues / will plead like angels'' ( act 1 scene 7) - this view is reinforced by macduff when he declares to malcolm that duncan '' was a most sainted king''
  • good man but was he a good king? - one character flaw , could have led to the rebellion - lack of ability to understand people's motives/ trust in the wrong people.
  • treacherous Thane of Cawdor duncan states ''he was a gentleman on whom I built/ An absolute turst'' - transfers the title to macbeth, who is driven by ''vaulting ambition''
  • lady macbeth fools him into calling her ''fair and noble hostess'' - arguably this inability to judge a character leads to his death.

Banquo's Kingly qualities

  • loyal subject - receives no reward after the battle- duncan recognises banquo has ''no less deserved'' (act 1 scene 4) honours.
  • Macbeth recognises quality - courage and wisdom - declaring his own ''genius is rebuked'' (act 3 scene 1)
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Kingship

Malcom and Macbeth - AO2

  • act 4 scene 3 - Malcolm lists all the characteristics of a tyrant - these are voluptuousness (sexual pleasures) , avarice (extreme greed for wealth) and a lack of kingly graces. - Malcolm pretends these are his personal faults. malcolm lists the grace that he tricks macduff into thinking he does not possess. they are ''justice, verity, temp'rance, stableness / bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness/ devotion, courage, patience, fortitude''
  • we are aware that once he is king - scotland will be healed through his kingship
  • isn't as gullible as his father - thinks macduff was sent by macbeth to lure him to his death
  • Macbeth in contrast - portrayed as a tyrant - despite his bravery in battle which initially inspires trust and loyalty he does not possess kingly qualities- viewed as a man thirsty for power , violent , and of an impulsive temperament.
  • macbeth can only bring chaos - shown in freak weather and supernatural events. also brings death and destruction - offers no justice and is instrumental in the murdering of innocents - becomes the embodiment of tyranny. Scotland can only be healed when macbeth is killed.
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The Supernatural

The Witches

  • act 1 scene 3 - witches possess supernatural powers - able to control the elements  ''and the very ports they blow''. Banquo's description of the witches - not human , not gender specific - '' you should be women / and yet your beards forbid me to interpret / that you are so''.
  • powers both predict macbeth and banquo futures
  • shakespeare makes us know that the witches aren't a figment of macbeth's imagination but are real by allowing both macbeth and banquo to speak to them. yet when the witches vanish banquo question if he and macbeth have ''eaten the insane root / that takes the reason prisoner?
  • their role seems to give macbeth a reason to kill duncan - tick macbeth into believing he can do anything - thus encouraging his moral decent.
  • AO3- THE DAGGER MACBETH CAN ''SEE BEFORE ME'' (ACT 2 SCENE 1) CAN BE SEEN AS A SUPERNATURAL ONE- CONJURED BY THE WITCHES TO LEAD HIM TO DUNCAN'S CHAMBER. HOWEVER MACBETH ALSO DESCRIBES IT AS A ''DAGGER OF THE MIND'' SUGGESTING THAT THE REAL TERROR OF MACBETH LIES IN MENTAL BREAKDOWN RATHER THAN SUPERNATURAL FORCES
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The Supernatural

The Apparitions - AO4

  • the 3 apparitions would have thrilled the jacobean audience. the armed head, a bloody child and a child crowned with a tree in his hand (act 4 scene 1) would all evoke a sense of horror in the minds of the audience - who really would have believed in such occurrences.
  • the grotesque ingredients thrown in the cauldron and the potion that is conjured would certainly be seen as literal product of evil

AO2 - THE PLAY BEGINS WITH THE SUPERNATURAL - THE WITCHES MEET ON A HEATH. THE FIRST SCENE SETS THE TONE FOR THE REST OF THE PLAY. ITS GOTHIC ASPECTS ALLOWS THE AUDIENCE TO FEEL FEAR- IN THE SAME WAY THAT A MODERN HORROR MOVIE MIGHT COMBINE A BLEAK SETTING WITH THE OCCURENCE OF SOME UNNATURAL EVENT AT ITS START.

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The Supernatural

the supernatural and nature

  • supernatural occurrences within nature after duncan's death - the natural order has been disturbed
  • lady macbeth claimed she heard ''the owl-scream and the cricket's cry'' (act 2 scene 2) - as if nature's creatures are aware that something terrible has occurred
  • before the murder - lennox to macbeth - '' lamenting heard i' th' air, strange screams of death'' and that the earth ''was feverous and did shake'' - (act 2 scene 3) the earth, in a supernatural way has, has acted to the death of the rightful king.
  • following scene - act 2 scene 4 - ross and an old man discuss the unnatural events outside the castle which correspond to the unnatural events inside the castle - macbeth (owl) murdering duncan (falcon)
  • supernatural events and murder occur at night - evokes fear and mystery and heightens suspense
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The Supernatural

Banquo's ghost

  • banquo's ghost - creates further suspense and excitement - we can view it as an illusion - a product of macbeth's guilty conscience. however we do not know how the scene will turn out - will macbeth reveal that he hired assassins to murder banquo?
  • AO4 - THE JACOBEAN AUDIENCE WOULD BE THRILLED AND FRIGHTENED BY THE GHOST. SHAKESPEARE  USED THIS GOTHIC ELEMENT AS A DRAMATIC TECHNIQUE TO HIEGHTEN THE ALREADY INTENSE ATMOSHPERE
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