Theme 1: Great ambition, or inordinate lust for power, ultimately brings ruin. For ignoring this ancient rule of living, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth pay with their lives. Theme 2 Evil wears a pretty cloak. Early in the play, the three witches tell Macbeth that "fair is foul,” a paradox suggesting that whatever appears good is really bad. For example, murdering Duncan appears to be a “fair” idea to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, for Macbeth would accede to the throne. But the Macbeths soon discover that only bad has come of their deed, and their very lives–and immortal souls–are in jeopardy. Macbeth also perceives the prophecies made by the “armed head” and the “bloody child” as good omens; in fact, these prophecies are deceptive wordplays that foretell Macbeth’s downfall. In a further exposition of the theme of deceptive appearances, King Duncan speaks the following lines when arriving at Macbeth’s castle: .
..................This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air ..................Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
..................Unto our gentle senses. (Act I, Scene VI) .
Theme 3 Temptation can defeat even the strongest human beings. On the battlefield, Macbeth is a lion and a leader of men. But when the witches tempt him by prophesying that he will become king of Scotland, he succumbs to the lure of power. When his resolve weakens, Lady Macbeth fortifies it with strong words. Theme 4 Guilt haunts the evildoer. Whether from prick of conscience or fear of discovery, Macbeth’s guilt begins to manifest itself immediately after he murders Duncan and the guards (Act II, Scene II). “This is a sorry sight,” he tells Lady Macbeth, looking at the blood on his hands. When he speaks further of the guilt he feels, Lady Macbeth–foreshadowing her descent into insanity–says, “These deeds must not be thought / After these ways; so, it will make us mad.” Macbeth then says he thought he heard a voice saying, “Sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep.” When they hear knocking moments later at the castle door, it is the sound of their guilt as much as the sound of the knocker, Macduff.
Imagery: Adam and Eve
• Why does Shakespeare open the play by showing the witches? Why is it good for Macbeth not to appear first? • How does Duncan reward Macbeth for his bravery in defeating the rebels? Comment on the order in which Duncan announces it and Macbeth finds it out. • Macbeth calls the day of the battle “foul and fair”. Comment on what you think he means. • When Macbeth is told of his new title, how do he and Banquo react? Can you think of reasons for the difference in reactions? • Why does Macbeth call Malcolm “a step on which” he “must fall down or else o'er leap”? Which of these alternatives do you expect Macbeth to choose and how might he do it? • What does Lady Macbeth fear about her husband, after she has read his letter? • Lady Macbeth tells her husband to “look like the innocent flower/But be the serpent under it”. Explain what she means (either generally or specifically or both, as you think appropriate). • What is the purpose and effect of Duncan's and Banquo's comments when they approach Macbeth's castle? • Why, in Macbeth's opinion, is the murder of Duncan so wrong? • How does Lady Macbeth make sure that her husband murders Duncan?
• Comment on Banquo's speech beginning “There's husbandry in heaven...” and ending “...in repose”. Remember that this play would originally have been performed in the daytime, using natural light. • After his servant leaves him (Act 2, scene 1, line 33 and following) Macbeth imagines he can see something (in some film versions the audience may be shown this, too). What is it? Explain why, you think, Macbeth sees this, especially at this time and in this place. • When Lady Macbeth says, “That which hath made them drunk...
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