Theme is an overarching idea present in a literary piece. Themes in Macbeth, another masterpiece of Shakespeare, are aplenty. Not only does it present excessive ambition, but also shows the works of supernatural being, violence and betrayal. Some of the major Macbeth themes are discussed below.
Examples of Themes in Macbeth
Ambition is one of the major themes in the play, Macbeth. In fact, ambition is also one of the themes of Julius Caesar, but Macbeth shows excessive ambition and its working. Macbeth, though not overambitious in the beginning, becomes ambitious when he hears prophecies of the witches that he would become the king. This bait works more on his wife Lady Macbeth than on him. Macbeth’s ambition grows so strong that he lets his vicious side of killing free to kill not only the king but whoever comes his way. His end shows that excessive ambition sometimes take humanity out of a person.
The working of supernatural beings is another overarching theme of Macbeth. Three witches play an important role to awaken the ambition of Macbeth to become the king. The witches, once predicted that Macbeth will be the king, keep an eye on the events. They weave a spell through different ingredients and lead to Macbeth’s downfall. Since everything has ensued from the incantation of the witches, it could be stated that supernatural equivocation is one of the major themes in this play.
Betrayal and Treachery
As soon as Macbeth hears prophecy of his becoming the king from the witches, he starts thinking about ways to get to the position. This instigates treacherous thoughts in him. He plans to kill the king at the inciting of his wife Lady Macbeth, who joins him without feeling any qualm for the king or others. The betrayal in Macbeth lies in treachery of Macbeth. Duncan is not only his king, but also a kinsman and friend. Therefore, this betrayal is another significant theme of the play.
The theme of crime in Macbeth is not only prominent but also very glaring. There is a crime of murder, a crime of rebellion and a crime of treason. The first crime of murder is a universal crime that Macbeth commits against his relative and king, Duncan. The second crimes are state crimes Macbeth commits with the cooperation of his wife. By the end, he realizes that his crimes are too heavy to win atonement for him.
Violence and Consequences
As soon as the play opens, the witches meet in murky air, a condition that gives birth to violent events. Macbeth hears prophecy and plans to kill Duncan. Lady Macbeth, his wife too hears the same thing and joins him. When Duncan visits Macbeth, both husband and wife plans to kill him and succeeds in their plan. This leads to a vicious cycle of violence with the killing of guards as well as a protracted attack of others on Macbeth. However, it does not mean that violence is the only theme; it is just part of the larger thematic purpose.
Conflict of Good and Evil
The conflict of good and evil starts as soon as Macbeth harbors the thought of becoming the king. He becomes ambitious due to the prophecy of the witches which is the start of evil. This evil, once unleashed, refuses to be bottled up. This leads to murders, conspiracies and manipulations in the whole kingdom in which king, guards and many others are killed. The good prevails by the end when Macbeth faces defeat. Banquo, Malcom and Donalbain too are shown in good light, representing good along with Duncan. Therefore, the theme of the conflict between good and evil runs deep in the play with the resultant deaths various good and bad people.
Conflict between Loyalty and Treachery
The first reaction of Macbeth after hearing the prophecy is that of disbelief and shock. He does not and cannot think of betraying his beloved king. However, a second thought of becoming the king starts treacherous musings. This leads to conspiracy and consequential killings. Lady Macbeth also harbors loyal thoughts but when she sees herself a queen, she starts taking part in the conspiracy and weaving new plots. This leads to a conflict in the minds and on the scene which eventually ends with a lot of bloodshed. This conflict rather becomes a secondary theme after conflict of good and evil.
Meaninglessness of Life
Although this not the major theme of the play and not even overarching, it shows that meaninglessness of life is a thematic strand. It appears within the play at two places; once when the Lady Macbeth loses her mental balance, and other when Macbeth faces death in the shape of advancing attack of Macduff and Malcolm. This is the point where he comes to the conclusion that life does not signify anything and that it is just a story told by an idiot.
Another overarching but implicit thematic strand is that of the statecraft. It is said that politics has no heart, and it seems true in the case of Macbeth. Macbeth is not only relative of Duncan, the King, but also his subordinate and loyal Thane. However, when it comes to ambition in politics, he mercilessly orders his killing and that of his guards and children. This happens in the statecraft which is a field of conspiracies, treacheries and treasons.
Trust and Distrust
The theme of trust and distrust also looms large in the background of Macbeth’s ambition and treachery. Malcom and Donalbain expresses deep doubts and misgivings over other people when they see that conspiracies are being hatched to kill them, too. After the murder of their father and Banquo, they have lost trust and faith in every body near and dear to them. Although this theme could be analyzed on personal level, it is present on state level as shown from the first scene of Macbeth to the last scene where Macbeth feels that he has been deceived by the witches.