Macbeth: Key Themes and Symbols

Ambition Theme – How far will a human go to achieve their goals?
Power Theme – Does power always corrupt? What is the affect of power on a good person?
Guilt Theme – What is the effect of unconfessed guilt? How does guilt fester if left buried?
Appearance versus reality Theme – Fair is foul and foul is fair — we have to look deeper.. What is see is not always what really is.Duncan never knows what is in a man’s mind when his face is friendly.
Good and evil Theme – Do we each have good an evil in us? Macbeth is a good man who becomes a tyrant.
The supernatural Theme – What role does the supernatural have in our fates and free will? Religion? Witches and magic? Do humans believe they are influenced by otherwordly forces?
Order and disorder Theme – Order is good, Chaos is bad. When we have chaos, people die. Order and loyalty allows us to hold on to ideas of our responsibilities and what is right or wrong.
Bravery and cowardice Theme – Cowardice is bad.Young Siward dies, but he dies well.Cawdor dies a traitor, but he meets his death as a brave, proud man.Macbeth = a brave man whose overconfidence and pride takes him down. He seems to have no fear, and then at the end, Macduff is someone who Macbeth suddenly fears.
Trust and betrayal Theme – Loyalty is a very common theme in literature. Who do we owe loyalty to? Will we betray loyalty to get ahead?
Actions and their consequences Theme – What is the right punishment for something a society considers wrong?I.e. murder, betrayal/treason, stealing,
Blood Symbol – Represents guilt, life, death, and betrayal.
Darkness Symbol – Represents confusion of the supernatural influence — evil emerging and taking over
Witches Symbol – Man’s lack of control over his fate / life — There are many things we cannot control.
Violence A motif that shows the effect the committing of violence has on a human as well as the focus of how that violence affects the world.
Prophecy Motif – This incited the plot, keeps the plot moving by manipulating the characters.
The weather Motif – represents occurences where natural order is disrupted during the plot — Examples-Fog/ Thunder/ Lightning when the witches gather-Wind-torn night full of screams coming down the chimney as Duncan is murdered / horses eat each other.

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