Filly drop’s English literature : Macbeth : Themes

The Fall of Man The ancient Greek notion of tragedy concerned the fall of a great man, such as a king, from a position of superiority to a position of humility on account of his ambitious pride, or hubris. To the Greeks, such arrogance in human behavior was punishable by terrible vengeance. The tragic hero was to be pitied in his fallen plight but not necessarily forgiven: Greek tragedy frequently has a bleak outcome. Christian drama, on the other hand, always offers a ray of hope; hence, Macbeth ends with the coronation of Malcolm, a new leader who exhibits all the correct virtues for a king.Macbeth exhibits elements that reflect the greatest Christian tragedy of all: the Fall of Man. In the Genesis story, it is the weakness of Adam, persuaded by his wife (who has in turn been seduced by the devil) which leads him to the proud assumption that he can “play God.” But both stories offer room for hope: Christ will come to save mankind precisely because mankind has made the wrong choice through his own free will. In Christian terms, although Macbeth has acted tyrannically, criminally, and sinfully, he is not entirely beyond redemption in heaven.
Fortune, Fate, and Free Will Fortune is another word for chance. The ancient view of human affairs frequently referred to the “Wheel of Fortune,” according to which human life was something of a lottery. One could rise to the top of the wheel and enjoy the benefits of superiority, but only for a while. With an unpredictable swing up or down, one could equally easily crash to the base of the wheel.Fate, on the other hand, is fixed. In a fatalistic universe, the length and outcome of one’s life (destiny) is predetermined by external forces. In Macbeth, the Witches represent this influence. The play makes an important distinction: Fate may dictate what will be, but how that destiny comes about is a matter of chance (and, in a Christian world such as Macbeth’s) of man’s own choice or free will.Although Macbeth is told he will become king, he is not told how to achieve the position of king: that much is up to him. We cannot blame him for becoming king (it is his Destiny), but we can blame him for the way in which he chooses to get there (by his own free will).
Kingship and Natural Order Macbeth is set in a society in which the notion of honor to one’s word and loyalty to one’s superiors is absolute. At the top of this hierarchy is the king, God’s representative on Earth. Other relationships also depend on loyalty: comradeship in warfare, hospitality of host towards guest, and the loyalty between husband and wife. In this play, all these basic societal relationships are perverted or broken. Lady Macbeth’s domination over her husband, Macbeth’s treacherous act of regicide, and his destruction of comradely and family bonds, all go against the natural order of things.The medieval and renaissance view of the world saw a relationship between order on earth, the so-called microcosm, and order on the larger scale of the universe, or macrocosm. Thus, when Lennox and the Old Man talk of the terrifying alteration in the natural order of the universe — tempests, earthquakes, darkness at noon, and so on — these are all reflections of the breakage of the natural order that Macbeth has brought about in his own microcosmic world.
Disruption of Nature Violent disruptions in nature — tempests, earthquakes, darkness at noon, and so on — parallel the unnatural and disruptive death of the monarch Duncan.The medieval and renaissance view of the world saw a relationship between order on earth, the so-called microcosm, and order on the larger scale of the universe, or macrocosm. Thus, when Lennox and the Old Man talk of the terrifying alteration in the natural order of the universe (nature), these are all reflections of the breakage of the natural order that Macbeth has brought about in his own microcosmic world (society).Many critics see the parallel between Duncan’s death and disorder in nature as an affirmation of the divine right theory of kingship. As we witness in the play, Macbeth’s murder of Duncan and his continued tyranny extends the disorder of the entire country.
Gender Roles Lady Macbeth is the focus of much of the exploration of gender roles in the play. As Lady Macbeth propels her husband toward committing Duncan’s murder, she indicates that she must take on masculine characteristics. Her most famous speech — located in Act I, Scene 5 — addresses this issue.Clearly, gender is out of its traditional order. This disruption of gender roles is also presented through Lady Macbeth’s usurpation of the dominate role in the Macbeth’s marriage; on many occasions, she rules her husband and dictates his actions.
Reason Versus Passion During their debates over which course of action to take, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use different persuasive strategies. Their differences can easily be seen as part of a thematic study of gender roles. However, in truth, the difference in ways Macbeth and Lady Macbeth rationalize their actions is essential to understanding the subtle nuances of the play as a whole.Macbeth is very rational, contemplating the consequences and implications of his actions. He recognizes the political, ethical, and religious reason why he should not commit regicide. In addition to jeopardizing his afterlife, Macbeth notes that regicide is a violation of Duncan’s “double trust” that stems from Macbeth’s bonds as a kinsman and as a subject.On the other hand, Lady Macbeth has a more passionate way of examining the pros and cons of killing Duncan. She is motivated by her feelings and uses emotional arguments to persuade her husband to commit the evil act.
The Corrupting Power of Unchecked Ambition The main theme of Macbeth—the destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral constraints—finds its most powerful expression in the play’s two main characters. Macbeth is a courageous Scottish general who is not naturally inclined to commit evil deeds, yet he deeply desires power and advancement. He kills Duncan against his better judgment and afterward stews in guilt and paranoia. Toward the end of the play he descends into a kind of frantic, boastful madness. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, pursues her goals with greater determination, yet she is less capable of withstanding the repercussions of her immoral acts. One of Shakespeare’s most forcefully drawn female characters, she spurs her husband mercilessly to kill Duncan and urges him to be strong in the murder’s aftermath, but she is eventually driven to distraction by the effect of Macbeth’s repeated bloodshed on her conscience. In each case, ambition—helped, of course, by the malign prophecies of the witches—is what drives the couple to ever more terrible atrocities. The problem, the play suggests, is that once one decides to use violence to further one’s quest for power, it is difficult to stop. There are always potential threats to the throne—Banquo, Fleance, Macduff—and it is always tempting to use violent means to dispose of them.
The Relationship Between Cruelty and Masculinity Characters in Macbeth frequently dwell on issues of gender. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband by questioning his manhood, wishes that she herself could be “unsexed,” and does not contradict Macbeth when he says that a woman like her should give birth only to boys. In the same manner that Lady Macbeth goads her husband on to murder, Macbeth provokes the murderers he hires to kill Banquo by questioning their manhood. Such acts show that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth equate masculinity with naked aggression, and whenever they converse about manhood, violence soon follows. Their understanding of manhood allows the political order depicted in the play to descend into chaos.At the same time, however, the audience cannot help noticing that women are also sources of violence and evil. The witches’ prophecies spark Macbeth’s ambitions and then encourage his violent behavior; Lady Macbeth provides the brains and the will behind her husband’s plotting; and the only divine being to appear is Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. Arguably, Macbeth traces the root of chaos and evil to women, which has led some critics to argue that this is Shakespeare’s most misogynistic play. While the male characters are just as violent and prone to evil as the women, the aggression of the female characters is more striking because it goes against prevailing expectations of how women ought to behave. Lady Macbeth’s behavior certainly shows that women can be as ambitious and cruel as men. Whether because of the constraints of her society or because she is not fearless enough to kill, Lady Macbeth relies on deception and manipulation rather than violence to achieve her ends.Ultimately, the play does put forth a revised and less destructive definition of manhood. In the scene where Macduff learns of the murders of his wife and child, Malcolm consoles him by encouraging him to take the news in “manly” fashion, by seeking revenge upon Macbeth. Macduff shows the young heir apparent that he has a mistaken understanding of masculinity. To Malcolm’s suggestion, “Dispute it like a man,” Macduff replies, “I shall do so. But I must also feel it as a man” (4.3.221-223). At the end of the play, Siward receives news of his son’s death rather complacently. Malcolm responds: “He’s worth more sorrow [than you have expressed] / And that I’ll spend for him” (5.11.16-17). Malcolm’s comment shows that he has learned the lesson Macduff gave him on the sentient nature of true masculinity. It also suggests that, with Malcolm’s coronation, order will be restored to the Kingdom of Scotland.
The Difference Between Kingship and Tyranny In the play, Duncan is always referred to as a “king,” while Macbeth soon becomes known as the “tyrant.” The difference between the two types of rulers seems to be expressed in a conversation that occurs in Act 4, scene 3, when Macduff meets Malcolm in England. In order to test Macduff’s loyalty to Scotland, Malcolm pretends that he would make an even worse king than Macbeth. He tells Macduff of his reproachable qualities—among them a thirst for personal power and a violent temperament, both of which seem to characterise Macbeth perfectly. On the other hand, Malcolm says, “The king-becoming graces / [are] justice, verity, temperance, stableness, / Bounty, perseverance, mercy, [and] lowliness” (4.3.92-93). The model king, then, offers the kingdom an embodiment of order and justice, but also comfort and affection. Under him, subjects are rewarded according to their merits, as when Duncan makes Macbeth thane of Cawdor after Macbeth’s victory over the invaders. Most important, the king must be loyal to Scotland above his own interests. Macbeth, by contrast, brings only chaos to Scotland—symbolised in the bad weather and bizarre supernatural events—and offers no real justice, only a habit of capriciously murdering those he sees as a threat. As the embodiment of tyranny, he must be overcome by Malcolm so that Scotland can have a true king once more.

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