Analyzing Themes In Macbeth English Literature Essay

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Though written nearly 400 years ago, Shakespeares Macbeth continues to capture the interest of modern audiences. Laden with political intrigue, supernatural elements, and complex psychological issues, Macbeth is a play of contemporary relevance, despite its tale of witches and ancient Scottish kings. While the play reflects seventeenth-century theological and political concerns, it also explores enduring themes, such as fate and free will, appearance and reality, order and disorder, ambition and obedience, and madness and sanity. Macbeth has been staged countless times, and it has also been produced for film and television.

Apart from being a widely acclaimed tragic masterpiece, Macbeth is held by quiet a majority of critics as being a mere play fit for a king.

It will be argued that the play could be seen as taking into consideration King James' infatuation with witchcraft, his uncaring for lengthy plays and taking pride in his royal lineage.

Taking into consideration the aforementioned elements, Shakespeare mended the play to please the King and meet his expectations.

It will be demonstrated, however, that Macbeth is much more than a mere work meant to please the king for it's richness with artistic elements that are masterfully net by a man who is as well-known and gifted as William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare specifically chose to include elements in the play that he knew would interest James and crafted an absolute masterpiece of theatre.

Firstly, James was fascinated by witchcraft. In 1597 he published a book on the subject called Demonology. And while he was king o Scotland, there had been terrible witch purges and countless women tortured and forced to admit to being witches and these trials were supervised by King James himself.

So William Shakespeare knew that witchcraft should feature heavily in this play.

William Shakespeare developed a great deal of sorcery and witchcraft in Macbeth

When the witches lead off with "fair is foul and foul is fair" they are wicked; but

Apparitions Minor characters in Macbeth, supernatural phenomena shown to MACBETH by the WITCHES, in 4 . 1 . These specters are designated as the First, Second, and Third Apparition; each has a distinctive appearance and message. The First Apparition is described in the stage direction at 4.1.69 as 'an armed head', and it warns Macbeth to beware of MACDUFF.

The Second, 'a bloody child' (4.1.76), declares that '. . . none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth' (4.1. 80-81). The Third Apparition is 'a child crowned, with a tree in his hand' (4.1.86), and it adds that 'Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be, until / Great Bir-

nam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him' (4.1.92-94). Macbeth naturally receives these prophecies as 'Sweet bodements!' (4.1.96) and assurances that he will not be killed by his enemies.

The tensions of the play tighten with this episode, the first intimation of its climax. Macduff is brought into sharp focus for the first time, yet Macbeth's defeat is made to seem all but impossible. These portents come from the same supernatural agency whose prediction of Macbeth's rise-in the WITCHES' prophecy of 1.3-was gravely accurate.

In Act 5 the prophecies of the Apparitions are borne out, though not as Macbeth anticipates. With hindsight we can see that the Apparitions bear clues as to Macbeth's true fate, for their appearances are symbolically significant The armoured head that is the First Apparition forecasts the severing of Macbeth's own head after 5.8. The Second Apparition, a bloody child, suggests Macduff'from his mother's womb / Untimely

ripp'd' (5.8.15-16). The Third Apparition, the child crowned, foretells the reign of the young Prince MALCOLM with which the play closes, and the tree it bears refers to his decision to have his soldiers bear boughs cut from Birnam wood as they march on DUNSINANE.

"The witches in Macbeth are another variety of supernatural life in which Shakespeare's power to enchant and to disenchant are alike portentous. The circumstances of the blasted heath, the army at a distance, the withered attire of the mysterious hags, and the choral litanies of their fiendish Sabbath, are as finely imagined in their kind as those which herald and which surround the ghost in Hamlet" (BIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL ESSAYS.BY THOMAS DE QUINCEY. )


the Ghost confirms the Witches' prediction that his descendants will

be KINGS. King JAMES I, England's ruler in Shakespeare's day, was believed to be descended from an historical Lord Banquo.

Banquo lineage

Banquo is a decent and honourable nobleman who senses that the Witches are evil and thus not to be relied on. He warns Macbeth that 'oftentimes, to win us to our harm, / The instruments of Darkness tell us truths' (1.3.123-124), and his concern contrasts strikingly with Macbeth's susceptibility to the Witches.

The playwright may have altered Banquo simply to avoid depicting the king's ancestor as a murderer, though Banquo could merely have been omitted to achieve this end

But as it couldn't be contemporary, he researched Scottish history to find a tale that he could rework to reflect modern times but be firmly grounded in history.

He came across the story of the Scottish king Duncan who was killed by the traitor Macbeth who took the crown for himself. Shakespeare took these historical facts from his favourite source; Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland published in 1577, which not only gave him the characters of Macbeth and Duncan, but linked James I to Banquo and Fleance all the way back through the Stewart line of ancestry. According to Holinshed's version of events, Banquo actually helps Macbeth to kill Duncan, but Shakespeare neatly altered this. He made Banquo a hero in the play, a man with high morals. Shakespeare's portrayal of Banquo as a worthy man would've been immensely flattering to James. He also included references in the play to Edward the confessor, king of England at the time Macbeth ruled Scotland. It was said that Edward had healing powers and could cure diseases by laying his hands on the sick. James believed that he too could cure some maladies by touch.


He thought like and actor, a writer and a director. He wanted to move the audience to create a reaction, and this is the main reason why he emerged with the greater reputation, the stronger legacy and the most profound body of work. Although the language of his writing is extraordinary, it is a tool, a device to create a feeling and mood on stage. His work was innovative and groundbreaking because overtime he stretched the rules to create a new kind of theatre.

Shakespeare was at the height of his powers when he wrote Macbeth. Macbeth is the fourth play in a quartet of tragic masterpieces written of three amazing years. First came Hamlet, then Othello, King Lear and finally Macbeth. Of the four, Macbeth is the leanest, the most focused and the darkest. Because it was written for a premier performance by candlelight, Shakespeare knew he could let his imagination run wild, and it did.

Shakespeare plunges the audience headfirst into a scene of spells, magic and plotting. There is no introduction, no drawn out exposition but one bam and you're in.

Today, we're used to the fast-paced editing of movies and T.V. as the action shifts quickly from one place to another, but in Shakespeare's days this was revolutionary. When Shakespeare arrived in London to write for the theatre nobody was devising a world like this. Plays were still pretty much based on the well-known morality tales that had developed since medieval times with one location and one simple storyline. But Shakespeare turned this on its head using multiple scenes and different geographic areas and with days and even months between scenes with many characters and storylines.


Greenblatt, Stephen. "Shakespeare Bewitched." New Historical Literary Study: Essays on Reproducing Texts, Representing History. Ed. Jeffery N. Cox and Larry J. Reynolds. Princeton UP, 1993. 108-35