Themes of Macbeth

Colleen, Mackenzie, Briana, Halyna, and Makenna


Themes present in Macbeth

There are many themes that are present in this Shakespearean play Macbeth. Some of these themes include:

  • Appearance v. reality
  • Ambition
  • Guilt
  • Murder
  • Fate/Prophecy v. Free Will
All these themes develop the plot and characters throughout the story line. As this play progress you noticed how these themes developed as well as how they related to each other and how they changed the characters prospective on one another and their actions.
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Ambition is one of the most prevalent themes in Macbeth. It is the fuel of all the conflict in the play.

Ambition is most represented in Macbeth himself, but is also seen in Lady Macbeth.

Macbeth says, “I have no spur/ to prick the sides of my intent, but only/ vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself/ and falls on the other” (1.7.25-28).

· In this line Shakespeare is establishing Macbeth as a very ambitious character, this line also shows Macbeths acknowledgment of his fatal flaw.

· Throughout the play, Macbeth’s ambition causes him to venture towards his down fall.

· It is Macbeth’s ambition to be king that leads him to murdering Duncan. His ambition is one that cannot be satisfied, and so having this power means nothing to him as well. He then goes on to kill his best friend Banquo,

· Macbeth’s ambition causes him to take without thinking. He yearns for ultimate power, but can never be satisfied by what he has because his ambition forces him to look to achieving more.

Macbeth says, “Out, out, brief candle! / Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, / that struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ and then is heard no more. It is a tale/ told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing” (5.5.25-30).

· Shakespeare uses Macbeth’s ambition to show how futile life is if we do not take time to enjoy what we have.

· Macbeth has everything; ultimate power, wealth and riches. Yet, he is unimpressed by life, calling it meaningless and comparing to a walking shadow

· Macbeth’s ambition has cause him to gain so much, but it has also cost him his honor, conscience and his wife

· Now, Macbeth can see no point or worth in life because he can so easily take it away from others, and his has become riddled with guilt and paranoia

· This was all cause by his unhindered ambition to surpass him self


· Ambition is a theme which plays a major role in Macbeth

· This is Macbeth’s hamartia (fatal flaw)

· Ambition leads to all the major conflicts of Macbeth

· Shakespeare uses Macbeth’s ambition to show the importance of appreciating what you have, because if you don’t life will become a meaningless battle for power

Appearance v. Reality

What it this theme?

Appearance v. Reality is a theme that shows what something may seem to be when in reality it can be completely different. Appearances can be associated with how the characters perceive certain situations or people, however in most cases these appearances turn out to be a mask, when in fact the truth/reality in hidden underneath that mask.

How does Shakespeare develop this theme?

  • When the three witches appeared before Macbeth and Banquo, they gave them three prophesies, to Macbeth they seemed to be coming true, when in reality they were setting up Macbeth to kill the king.
  • Lady Macbeth told Macbeth to wash the blood from the king off his hands to make it look like he had nothing to do with the murder, when in reality he was the one to kill Duncan.
  • The king liked macbeth very much and was complimenting Macbeth's castle upon his arrival, little did the king know that he would be killed in that castle by his good friends Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
  • "Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it" -Lady Macbeth 1.5.72-72
  • Lady Macbeth and Macbeth frame other people for Duncan's death in order to make themselves look innocent.

Why does Shakespeare include this in his play?

  • Creates conflict and distrust between the characters.
  • Paints a picture of what Lady Macbeth's and Macbeth's relationship is like.
  • Some people aren't what they seem to be.
  • Makes you think twice about certain situations/characters.
  • Believe what you want to believe, and ignore the truth.

"Theres no art/ To find the minds construction in the face" -Duncan (Act 1.4.13-14)

This quote symbolizes how sometimes its difficult to see a person true self by just looking at them. You will never be able to see what a person is truly thinking or how they truly are until something happens. Even though Duncan was talking about the Thane of Cawdor, It set the theme for how Macbeth will act throughout the play.

Fate/Prophecy v. Free Will

What is this theme?

Fate/Prophecy v. Free Will is a theme that shows the difference in what is predicted, and what is done. Our fate does not have to become our future. Free Will is our choices, that can be affected by the fate we are "entitled" to fulfil. Fate is predetermined by supernatural forces, while freewill is us acting of our own accord.

How does Shakespeare develop this theme?

  • Introduction of Three Witches and their three prophecies to Macbeth (Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, King)
  • Macbeth's promotion to Thane of Cawdor
  • Macbeth's decision to kill Duncan to fulfil the third prophecy, resulting in further bloodshed of Banquo, Macduff's family, as well as young Siward
  • Introduction of Three Apparitions and their warnings (beware Macduff, no man of woman born, and safe until Great Birnam Wood marches to Dunsinane)
  • Lady Macbeth's pressure for Macbeth to act

Why does Shakespeare include this in this play?

  • Demonstrates how Macbeth's downfall is due to his own course of action
  • Our fate is determined by our free will
  • Show that fate does not equate wrong behaviour
  • We have the choice to become what we want
  • It is easy to be mislead by what may lie ahead of us:

"And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,/The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/Win us with honest trifles, to betray us/In deepest consequence" -Banquo (1.3.134-137)

Banquo told Macbeth to be weary of trusting the Three Witches, because believing in them could lead to Macbeth's downfall. Macbeth became Thane of Cawdor, like the second prophecy, but he did not have to kill Duncan to fulfil the third prophecy, that was his own free will


Guilt occurs when it is clear to us that we have done something wrong or unjust, and have violated a moral standard. The theme of guilt was very prominent in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Guilt is shown through Macbeth and Lady Macbeth throughout the play, and changes depending on the character.


  • At the beginning of the play, Macbeth feels very guilty for killing Duncan. After it is done, he states, "Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red” (2.2.72-75). Macbeth is making it clear that no matter what happens, he’ll never be able to get over what he’s done. Even after killing Banquo, he sees his ghost, which displays how guilty Macbeth is feeling about murdering his best friend, all for power.

  • During the second half of the play, after he had killed Macduff's family, upon finding out that Macduff is coming with an army from England, Macbeth exclaims, "Why should I play the Roman fool and die on mine own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes do better upon them" (5.8.1-3). It is clear that Macbeth no longer values the lives of others, and can therefore, commit murder without feeling much guilt. He does not see why he should harm himself if he can continue to kill others instead.

Lady Macbeth

  • At the beginning of the play, in contrast to Macbeth, Lady Macbeth feels little guilt when it comes to killing Duncan. She states, "A little water clears us of this deed" (2.2.80). Here, Lady Macbeth is letting the audience and her husband know that she feels the opposite of Macbeth in regards to the King's death.

  • Towards the end of the play, Lady Macbeth feels an extreme amount of guilt when it comes to the murders that have been committed. Whilst sleepwalking, she exclaims, "Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" (5.1.43-44). During this scene, it is clear that Lady Macbeth is distressed. Similarly to her husband at the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth knows that no matter what, she will always feel guilty for what has happened. While sleepwalking, she pretends to wash her hands, to symbolize trying to wash the blood, or guilt, from them. Soon after, Lady Macbeth commits suicide, her guilt ended up being the cause of her downfall.

Towards the end of the play, it almost seems as if Macbeth and Lady Macbeth switch roles when it comes to how they feel about what they've done. At the beginning, Macbeth feels very guilty for the crime he has committed, whereas at the end, the more he murdered, the less guilty he began to feel. Lady Macbeth, who talked down to her husband at the beginning of the play for feeling guilty, ends up committing suicide at the end, as her constant sense of guilt is too hard for her to handle.

Why include guilt in Macbeth?

  • To soften Macbeth's ambition (provides a balance).
  • Allows the audience to identify with the characters.
  • Displays character development.
  • If you feel guilty about something, it's probably not something you should be doing.


Murder in Macbeth

In Macbeth, Murder is a huge theme present in the play. It starts of with the prophecies, Macbeth used murder as a way to fulfil them when in actuality, there may have other ways to make sure they came true. Murder was what started and ended the play and was a huge theme throughout.

How does Shakespeare develop these themes?

In Macbeth, murder is major theme in the play. The theme of murder is presented at the very beginning of the play when Macbeth's mind instantly jumps to murder when the prophecy of him becoming king is revealed. Throughout the play the theme of murder is constantly present, such as the murder of Duncan so Macbeth could take over as the role as king and the murder of Banquo so Macbeth would make sure he would keep his position as king. The play also takes place during a time of war in Scotland where a lot of people are being killed during battle. The theme of murder carries out to the very end of the play where Macbeth has a sword fight with Macduff and is murdered. The theme is developed by Macbeth uses murder throughout the play to get what he wants and to keep himself in power, but murder is Macbeths ending.

Why does Shakespeare include this in this play?

  • It shows the lengths Macbeth is willing to go to get what he wants
  • Demonstrates how important the prophecies were to him
  • The actions Macbeth makes in regards to murder foreshadows his end
  • It keeps readers interested
  • Shows the type of personality Macbeth has (murder is the first thing to come to his mind)
"Macbeth" | Motifs: Overview & Analysis | 60second Recap®

Pale Pink Petals Stained Red

The following short story is a tale about a flower queen and how she led herself to her own demise. This piece was chosen as the artistic section of our presentation because it displays each of our discussed themes, and uses them in ways very similar to how Shakespeare used them in Macbeth. Inspiration for the setting and characters of this story came from the quote, "Look like the innocent flower,/ but be the serpent under it" (1.5.73-74).

Pale Pink Petals Stained Red

By Mackenzie Batista

There once was the most beautiful flower, with silk like petals of pale pink completion, who lived in the Garden Kingdom. Every day she sang gentle songs of hope, love and joy. Butterflies danced in her song, and all the other flowers would travel days across the kingdom just to hear her sweat melodies.

The flower had many friends, and was loved by all those around her, but she was never satisfied. She wanted more. The flower thought that her sweet melodies made her the perfect candidate to be the ruler. She was unique, different. Her talents were unlike anyone else’s.

The other flowers agreed, surely someone with such a joyful song was fit to lead them. So they crowned the young flower, naming her Queen Melody of the Garden Kingdom.

For many years Melody ruled the happy kingdom, singing peace and prosperity to all the land. Until one day, a village seedling name Rose was born. She was beautiful, and could sing just as well as the queen. Her song became evermore sweet as she grew in age.

Queen Melody grew jealous, and requested the help of the three willow sisters. She did not want the young seedling to ever succeed her talent.

The willow sisters cackled at the Queens dismay, saying that they would only give prophecy, and no help. Queen Melody would have to fix her problems by herself. So she agreed to hear her fate.

The child Rose shall come of age more gracefully then thee

Her voice and song more wonderful than yours could ever be

And on the day she turns 18, the prophecy fulfilled

The child Rose will be queen, as you are left to wilt

Queen Melody was furious, she refused to give her crown to some little village seedling. So that night, she sent a dandelion to the seedlings home with instruction to kill all those inside. With the child gone she wouldn’t have to worry, her crown would stay firmly on her head.

But when the dandelion returned from his assignment, he bore disturbing news. The little seedling Rose was nowhere to be found. She had been wandering the forest for some fresh air, and would come back hours later to find her family dead.

Little Rose, frightened and alone, went to the one place she had been told safety lives, the Queen’s grand palace. The queen was pleased to have her in her grasp, but could not kill her in broad day.

So she cared for the young seedling, giving her comfort and warm food, and sang a song like a lullaby the null the child’s wounded heart. Queen Melody could not understand why she began to feel the way she did, like this child was a blessing and should be protected at all costs. She knew the child trusted her, which added fuel to her guilt. She was the reason this seedling was orphaned, and yet she played the role of the concerned Queen. Ever so lovingly washing the pain away.

As much as she wanted to, the queen could not bring herself to kill the seedling. After all, she was just a child, and children cannot rule a kingdom. So instead she raised her, unwilling to let to child out of her sight. Each night the queen spent dwelling in thoughts of the speckled blood on her petals. Every time she looked at the seedling, she was reminded of her murderous orders.

Riddled with guilt, the queen would no longer sing for her people, as her song had become bitter and mismatched. The land became plagued with winter’s cold air, once kept at bay by the warmth of Melody’s voice.

12 Years passed, and it was finally the night before young Rose’s 18th birthday. Rose, having been raised by the queen, was now a princess, and so a royal ball was to be held in honor of this joyous celebration.

The queen could not bear it. All the people had grown to love young Rose. As she sat in the cold draft of her chambers, the young flower roamed the kingdom, singing joyous songs to all those wanting listen. Soon they forgot the queens song, as it had been replace with a new and lovelier one.

The queen had grown sick, never leaving her room. She was in constant darkness, never seeing the sun. And so, her voice became hoarse and her petals slowly wilted. The queen was too weak to sing, too weak to lead the Garden Kingdom.

They people had no choice, Princess Rose was crowned queen.

Everyday Queen Rose would visit her weaken adoptive mother, bringing her sweet wines and tales of wondrous times outside the castle walls. She would ask for advice on politics, tell the old queen of all the luxurious gifts bestowed upon her, and before she left for the night she would sing tired Melody a song.

It was a song of peace, love, joy, hope and prosperity, and it was the sweetest song poor Melody had ever heard.