Themes in Macbeth
This resource is designed as a reference guide for teachers. We have listed the major themes and motifs within Macbeth and provided examples of scenes where you can study them.
• • • •
Ambition Kingship Fate and free will Appearance and reality
(Recurring elements and patterns of imagery in Macbeth which support the play's themes) • • • • • •
Nature / The natural world Light and darkness Children Blood Sleep Visions
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Ambition and the devastation which follows when ambition oversteps moral boundaries. Some related scenes: • • •
Act 1 Scene 5: Lady Macbeth receives Macbeth's letter, analyses his character, and invokes the forces of evil. Act 1 Scene 7: Macbeth reflects on what is needed to achieve his ambition and Lady Macbeth taunts him to 'screw your courage to the sticking place.' Act 3 Scene 1: Macbeth determines to kill Banquo in order to prevent his children succeeding to Scotland's throne.
Kingship and the difference between appropriate use of power and tyranny. Some related scenes: • • •
Act 1 Scene 7: Macbeth reflects on Duncan's qualities as king. Act 3 Scene 6: Lennox and another lord discuss life under Macbeth's rule. Act 4 Scene 3: Malcolm and Macduff compare tyranny to honourable kingship.
Fate and free will and the extent to which we control our own destinies. Some related scenes: • • •
Act 1 Scene 3: Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches on the heath.Macbeth reflects on their prophecies. Act 2 Scene 1: Macbeth talks with Banquo about their encounter with the witches, sees a visionary dagger and makes his decision to kill Duncan. Act 6 Scene 1: Macbeth visits the witches who offer him further prophecies.
Appearance and reality, and how people and events are often not as they seem. Some related scenes: • •
Act 1 Scenes 1 and 2: The witches invoke confusion ('Fair is foul, and foul is fair'). Act 1 Scene 4: Duncan...
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