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“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

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1 “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare
Theme, characterisation, motifs and symbols

2 Themes in “Macbeth” Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. There are many themes in the play e.g. ambition, power, human conscience When mentioning these themes or ideas in your essays, it is too simplistic to just say, “Shakespeare explores the theme of ambition” and then leave it at that. A more insightful statement is needed e.g. Shakespeare explores the idea that, if you are ambitious for power then you can easily become corrupted in your moral values because you would be so hungry for power that you would be willing to sacrifice your moral integrity.

3 Theme and the changing character of Macbeth
It is clear that even if the essay task asks you to focus on a changing character, a good essay will have to mention some of the themes e.g. Through Macbeth’s changing character and final downfall Shakespeare reveals the theme of power and how it can be a very destructive influence. If the essay task asks you to focus on theme, the structure of your essay will be the same as a character essay (beginning, middle, end) but the emphasis will just change slightly e.g. Shakespeare explores the theme of power through the changing character of Macbeth. The play shows how having too much ambition and greed for power can destroy and good man and make him disregard his morals.

4 Themes in “Macbeth” The human conscience (conflict within us)
Good versus evil (conflict within our soul) Appearance vs. reality (public face vs. private) Ambition (unchecked ambition can misguide us) Power (greed for power corrupts) Corruption (of moral values) Guilt (we cannot escape our wrongdoings) Cyclical nature of violence

5 What the critics say… Theme and Character
“Shakespeare uses Macbeth to show the terrible effects that ambition and guilt can have on a man who lacks strength of character.” “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.”

6 What the critics say… Theme and Character
“The evil actions motivated by his ambition seem to trap him in a cycle of increasing evil, as Macbeth himself recognises: "I am in blood; stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as to go o'er." “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.”

7 What the critics say… Theme and Character
“These fluctuations reflect the tragic tension within Macbeth: he is at once too ambitious to allow his conscience to stop him from murdering his way to the top and too conscientious to be happy with himself as a murderer.” "Macbeth has not a predisposition to murder; he has merely an inordinate ambition that makes murder itself seem to be a lesser evil than failure to achieve the crown."

8 What the critics say… Theme and Character
“Three separate attributes—bravery, ambition, and self-doubt—struggle for mastery of Macbeth throughout the play.” “Macbeth’s constant fluctuations reflect the tragic tension within Macbeth: he is at once too ambitious to allow his conscience to stop him from murdering his way to the top and too conscientious to be happy with himself as a murderer.

9 Theme and Motifs Hallucinations
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. Visions and hallucinations recur throughout the play and serve as reminders of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s joint culpability for the growing body count. They serve to reveal the turmoil in both character’s minds because they have acted against God, nature, human morality and their own conscience. They are a good reminder or warning to the audience of the fragility of the human mind.

10 Theme and Motifs – Hallucinations
When he is about to kill Duncan, Macbeth sees a dagger floating in the air. Covered with blood and pointed toward the king’s chamber, the dagger represents the bloody course on which Macbeth is about to embark. Later, he sees Banquo’s ghost sitting in a chair at a feast, pricking his conscience by mutely reminding him that he murdered his former friend. The seemingly hard headed Lady Macbeth also eventually gives way to visions, as she sleepwalks and believes that her hands are stained with blood that cannot be washed away by any amount of water. In each case, it is ambiguous whether the vision is real or purely hallucinatory; but, in both cases, the Macbeths read them uniformly as supernatural signs of their guilt.

11 Theme and Symbols- Blood
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colours used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Blood is everywhere in Macbeth, beginning with the opening battle between the Scots and the Norwegian invaders, which is described in harrowing terms by the wounded captain . Once Macbeth and Lady Macbeth embark upon their murderous journey, blood comes to symbolize their guilt, and they begin to feel that their crimes have stained them in a way that cannot be washed clean (Macbeth in Act 2:2 and Lady Macbeth much later in Act 5:1) Blood symbolizes the guilt that sits like a permanent stain on the consciences of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, one that hounds them to their graves.

12 Any Questions? Extra notes

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