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Analysis Of The Main Themes Present In Macbeth By William Shakespeare

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The text Macbeth is still important to this day, as it delivers many themes and fundamental questions that prevail in current society. Macbeth the dramatic, poetic play written by William Shakespeare was first performed in 1606. The play was written to show gratitude towards King James 1 who was an advocate for the arts, following in the footsteps of Queen Elizabeth 1. In the genre of tragedy, it explores the damaging consequences of desire and the risks people are willing to take to get what they want – displaying a timeless relevance to this day and age. The play begins by exploring Macbeth as he comes upon three mysterious witches who tell him a deceptive prophecy: that he will one day reign as king. Macbeth’s greed to become king is spurred on by his manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth, to the point where he murders the current king, Duncan. Consequently, Macbeth becomes king and orders the murder of Banquo and Macduff’s family, driving him into insanity. Macbeth’s ambition eventually leads to his downfall when Macduff turns his grief into revenge and kills Macbeth. Apart from the main characters, the dominant themes in Macbeth are revealed through the motif of blood, symbolising evil and guilt; the motif of sleep, signifying a loss of innocence; and the soliloquy in act 2 scene1, highlighting the theme of ambition.

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The theme of evil has been constructed through the motif of blood to seem consuming, controlling and too difficult to stop. A motif is a recurring symbol which has significance throughout a piece of creative work. This text explores whether evil is something that is learnt from others and their surrounding environment, or whether it emanates from inside a person. Evil in this play is so powerful that it twists the character’s values to pursue their greedy ambition and appears right from the start with supernatural activities from the three witches. Blood in the start of the play is seen as bravery, but as the play progresses the motif of blood intensifies and represents guilt and murder, all of which show the evil plans in the play. In act 2 scene 2 Macbeth questions, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood… No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, ” and the quote, “Making the green one red, ” include the motif of blood and shows the enormity of the crime he has committed as he thinks no vast amount of water in the entire world could ever wash away his guilt and the evil. Blood once represented the courage of war but now represents the guilt and dishonesty of evil spreading throughout the kingdom. Also, green represents life and nature and for something to stain and damage the vast sea it shows the imbalance of nature and evil. The juxtaposition of blood and the ocean suggests that evil is opposed to nature and not something innate within us. In act 5 scene 8 Macduff shouts, “Thou bloodier villain than terms can give thee out, ” giving voice to the monster Macbeth has become through slaying Macduff’s family. Macbeth used to be known as “noble” and now his prestigious reputation has all been destroyed by his ambition to reign as king. The blood in this phrase has been used to represent evil and it is basically saying that nothing can describe the villain he has become. The recurring references to blood in Macbeth encourage the audience to reflect on the nature of evil, highlighting its prominence as a theme of the play.

The theme loss of innocence has been revealed in the text by the motif of sleep. It is usually seen as comfort and innocence, though Shakespeare has constructed it to show guilt, a cloudy conscience and mental instability – establishing the dark events throughout the text. In act 2 scene 2 Macbeth has killed Duncan in his sleep, symbolically destroying Scotland’s hopes of stability. He is trying to explain to Lady Macbeth about a voice in his head, “Macbeth sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep, ” showing how he thinks he has murdered sleep and all of his innocence. Rest allows a person to relieve pain and heal, but he cannot soothe away his worry and innocence after committing the crime. Macbeth’s conscience and the thought of not being able to sleep brings on stress and insanity, as well as nightmares and hallucinations. In act 3 scene 2 Macbeth says, “Sleep in the affliction of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly, ” revealing his sleep deprivation from nightmares that haunt him to the point where he would rather be dead than experience the psychological torture. He thinks about his predicament and weighs up whether death is a much more peaceful option which would allow him to sleep. This shows that the mental insecurity is affecting him physically and is getting worse. Therefore, through the motif of sleep, the audience is shown the theme of loss of innocence and how the characters have irrevocably stepped into the guilt and darkness.

The soliloquy in act 2 scene 1 reveals Macbeth’s overarching ambition to kill Duncan and become king. It is a significant moment in the play as it gives the audience a view of Macbeth’s mentality – we witness Macbeth’s conscience playing and deceiving him, willing him to commit murder, as well as the effects of madness and insanity. A soliloquy is a device that presents the private thoughts of a character to themselves and the audience. The soliloquy in act 2 scene 1 is significant as it gives the first glimpse into the hallucinations which follow and symbolizes the accomplishment of Macbeth’s desires. The character struggles to become fully committed to the murder as “I have thee not, and yet I see thee still, ” meaning he can see the dagger but when he lunges at it he can’t grab it. This shows the confusion in his mind, having not truly agreed to committing the deed. Macbeth is having difficulty making up his mind, demonstrating that the thought of murder goes against his values and that it is against nature to commit such a crime. On the other hand, the soliloquy quotes, “Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going, ” meaning the dagger was leading him to Duncan, the way he was already planning to go. This contradicts the last phrase and shows that he has perhaps always had a desire for power, but through the confusion in his head he has never had enough courage to commit the crime. Therefore, the soliloquy in act 2 scene 1 makes the reader question whether he has always had the ambition to commit the crime or the dagger revealed his intentions.

The vivid text, Macbeth, touches the audience deeply through relatable human emotions and motives. Apart from the main characters in the text, the theme of evil, guilt and loss of innocence are revealed through motifs. The soliloquy in act 2 scene 1 has been constructed to show Macbeth’s ambition. Extraordinary texts like Macbeth written by William Shakespeare will continue to be studied into the future for their inspiring detail and relations to our world. All of the themes in Macbeth are usually found in archetypal narratives, connecting Shakespeare’s writing to the present. As most of the themes show, “Greed makes man blind and foolish, and makes him an easy prey for death”.

15 April 2020

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