William Shakespeare
Contributed by Sharon Fleming
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
The Fall of Man

In ancient Greece, the downfall of a man of social stature was considered a tragedy. One example of this is when a king was usurped or demoted to a humble position. In many cases, people learned from such tragedies. Macbeth’s downfall is tragic: his glory and power becomes nothing. His actions make him a target for rebuke and contempt, and his misdeeds justify punishment. Macbeth’s story ends with his regrettable death at Malcolm’s hands, and Malcolm becomes the king of Scotland. Likewise, the Bible includes a story of man’s downfall. During creation, the Bible states that God made man in his image and placed man in the Garden of Eden to rule all other creatures. However, man sinned, and God removed him from the Garden. In the same way, Macbeth sins, and as a result, he loses his authority.

The Inevitability of Fate

When the witches reveal to Macbeth that he will become king, he readily accepts their prophecy and acts to hasten his ascension to the throne. However, when the witches tell him that future kings will come from Banquo’s lineage, he refuses to accept it and attempts to stop it from happening. In another prophecy, the witches reveal to Macbeth that someone who was not born of a woman will end his reign. In both cases, Macbeth tries unsuccessfully to prevent the prophecies from being fulfilled. In fact, he dies during these attempts. Macbeth’s situation suggests external forces control individual’s lives. Even when someone like Macbeth wants fate to change, it remains stubborn and refuses to go away. Ultimately, Macbeth’s attempts to stop fate from taking its course has catastrophic results.

Uncontrolled Ambition for Power and Abuse of Power

“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This expression permeates Macbeth. When the three witches inform Macbeth that he will become a king, the prospect of power goes to his head, and he refuses to wait for his time. Macbeth kills King Duncan so that he can prematurely assume the throne. Moreover, he kills Banquo in a bid to stop his descendants from ascending to the throne. Macbeth also kills Macduff’s family because he abandons Macbeth and flees to England. Macbeth’s behavior reflects political systems and politicians of the modern world. People in power often use their elevated positions to commit a range of crimes, including enriching themselves by looting public coffers. In Macbeth’s case, anyone who stands in his way gets brutally murdered or faces persecution.

Inverted Gender Roles

Macbeth’s character is incomplete without the influence of his wife, Lady Macbeth. Macbeth’s every decision comes with Lady Macbeth’s approval. She exercises such power over Macbeth that he accepts all her demands, requests, and advancements. Although Macbeth initially loathes crime and does not feel it necessary to kill the king, his wife makes him believe that murdering Duncan is their best course of action. Lady Macbeth complete dominates Macbeth, who finds it difficult to reject her advice. Lady Macbeth’s domineering qualities undermine traditional gender roles of female submission to male dominance.

The Conflict Between Reason and Passion

As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth determine the best course of action, they struggle with a clash of reason and passion. In most cases, Macbeth expresses deep concern over the ramifications of his actions. However, Lady Macbeth wants quick results, regardless of their effects. For example, Macbeth considers the religious, ethical, and cultural arguments against regicide. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth’s desire to assume power inhibits her ability to think clearly and logically about the consequences of murder. When Lady Macbeth’s passion overwhelms Macbeth’s reason, their demise becomes inevitable. Like the Macbeths, many people struggle to balance logic with emotion and, as a result, experience serious disappointment, loss, and even trauma.

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