Macbeth Themes

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.

Supernatural Equivocation

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.

Statecrafts

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.

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macbeth theme essay example

macbeth theme essay example

Macbeth Essays

There are loads of ways you can approach writing an essay, but the two i favour are detailed below., the key thing to remember is that an essay should focus on the three aos:, ao1: plot and character development; ao2: language and technique; ao3: context, strategy 1 : extract / rest of play, the first strategy basically splits the essay into 3 paragraphs., the first paragraph focuses on the extract, the second focuses on the rest of the play, the third focuses on context. essentially, it's one ao per paragraph, for a really neatly organised essay., strategy 2 : a structured essay with an argument, this strategy allows you to get a much higher marks as it's structured to form an argument about the whole text. although you might think that's harder - and it's probably going to score more highly - i'd argue that it's actually easier to master. mainly because you do most of the work before the day of the exam., to see some examples of these, click on the links below:, lady macbeth as a powerful woman, macbeth as a heroic character, the key to this style is remembering this: you're going to get a question about a theme, and the extract will definitely relate to the theme., the strategy here is planning out your essays before the exam, knowing that the extract will fit into them somehow., below are some structured essays i've put together., macbeth and gender.

macbeth theme essay example

Macbeth: Essay Plan Examples

A* and Level 9 essays are always properly planned before they are written. But how should you plan a Macbeth Essay?

Here is a list of practise plans and notes that students have completed for a range of essays on Macbeth. Some are focused on ideas, and others on structuring. To get the best out of your plans, you should try to keep a balance between both of these.

Always plan a thesis before writing — this is your main argument, the main answer to the question that comes in the intro of your essay. The rest of the essay should then explore and argue on this thesis.

This page is suitable for students aged 14–18 (GCSE — A-Level), particularly those studying the following exam boards: CIE / Cambridge, AQA, OCR, WJEC / Eduqas, CCEA, Edexcel.

Thanks for reading! If you find this resource useful, you can take a look at our full online Macbeth course here . Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!

This course includes: 

  • A full set of video lessons on each key element of the text: summary, themes, setting, characters, context, attitudes, analysis of key quotes, essay questions, essay examples
  • Downloadable documents for each video lesson 
  • A range of example B-A* / L7-L9 grade essays, both at GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-Level (age 16+) with teacher comments and mark scheme feedback
  • A bonus Macbeth workbook designed to guide you through each scene of the play!

For more help with Macbeth and Tragedy, read our article here .

PRACTICE ESSAY 1:

Explore how Shakespeare discusses the theme of deception in Macbeth.

Trickery begets trickery — Macbeth deceives Duncan at the start, Banquo shortly after, he himself is deceived by the Witches > negative comment on deception.

Feudal system / divine right of kings vs New Politics / Machiavelli.

Deception creates temporary power, but the order of the world will be restored.

God ignores the castle — sinful behavior causes God to turn away.

Thesis: deception is evil and creates more evil and chaos, both for the individuals who deceive and the kingdom as a whole. For the human characters, it leads down a path to insanity, Shakespeare is drawing a parallel between deception and evil to show that it is ungodly and sinful.

P1 — Intro — Shakespeare discusses the theme of deception in Macbeth by exploring Macbeth’s insanity, showing the Macbeths covering their tracks and the temporary success with long term failure that deception brings.

P2 — Macbeth’s insanity — “oh full of scorpions is my mind”, “could not I pronounce Amen” “Is this a dagger I see before me”.

P3 — Showing the Macbeths covering their tracks — creates a climate of panic and paranoia — “I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal”.

P4 — demonstrates the religious messages of Macbeth — don’t commit sinful behavior.

P5 — demonstrates Shakespeare’s political beliefs — his faith in the Feudal system / his mistrust of New Politics.

PRACTISE ESSAY 2:

How does Shakespeare make this scene particularly terrifying?

500–600 Words essay.

5 Paragraphs:

  • Intro — 50 words — Go over points quickly > thesis at the end
  • Paragraph 1 (PEAL) — 165 words
  • Paragraph 2 (PEAL) — 165 words
  • Paragraph 3 (PEAL) — 165 words
  • Conclusion — Recap strongest points quickly > Link back to the thesis

Paragraph plans

  • Shakespeare makes this scene particularly terrifying by… (religion)
  • Furthermore, the scene is particularly terrifying due to … (fear)
  • Another way that Shakespeare has made this scene particularly terrifying is… (supernatural)

PARAGRAPH STRUCTURE:

Point — 1 Sentence

Evidence — Quotation (no longer than 7 words).

Analysis — Identify techniques, language features, vocabulary, and dramatic devices ‘how / why’ something works in a certain way.

Evaluation — assessing the importance/significance of something.

Link — Link back to text and thesis.

Thesis: The significant turning point for Macbeth in the play as he realizes that he is unable to say amen and might be haunted due to his deed. Macbeth is a dynamic character, a tragic hero who undergoes a tragic fall, and this moment demonstrates the point at which his mind begins to disintegrate and he is abandoned by God, which would be very terrifying for a Shakespearean audience.

Top Level Mark Scheme:

  • Answers in this band have all the qualities of Band 2 work, with further  insight, sensitivity, individuality, and flair.  They maintain a  sustained engagement  with both text and task.
  • Sustains a perceptive, convincing and relevant personal response
  • Shows a clear critical understanding of the text.
  • Responds sensitively and in detail to the way the writer achieves her/his effects (sustaining a convincing voice in an empathic task).
  • Integrates much well-selected reference to the text

‘Make’ > understand and discuss dramatic devices

‘Particularly’ > evaluation word

Thesis: ‘what we think/feel/realize’

Shakespeare makes this scene particularly terrifying through the implicit meanings in the text. He uses varying vocabulary and language features such as allegory and allusion, which are seen throughout the text, to create a frightening atmosphere. This mainly revolves around Macbeth, a dynamic character, whose insight to murder has changed. We realize that Macbeth is unable to cope with his past actions due to his current actions.

QUOTES/IDEAS:

“ Didst thou not hear a noise ?” — Macbeth builds tension/suspense, a small amount of fear, later layers up into terror.

“ The owl scream ” — Lady Macbeth, possible link to Duncan’s death, possible horror sound, ‘scream’ > personification.

“ As I descended ?” — Macbeth, descent downstairs, but also perhaps signifies hell/degeneration into evil + madness.

Disjoined / lack of connection between characters — Macbeth is jumpy. They disagree. Macbeth is empathetic towards Donalbain > ‘ sorry sight’, Lady Macbeth is cold and says he is ‘foolish’.

“ There’s one did laugh in’s sleep, and one cried ‘Murder !’,” > terrifying, because two random people woke up during Macbeth murdering Duncan, they have a premonition or some sort of awareness.

“ I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’/ Stuck in my throat. ” > he’s under the influence of evil, so God has abandoned him, he’s past the point of redemption, perhaps the turning point where he realizes he can’t go back, psychological?

“ It will make us mad ” > Lady Macbeth feels that the two of them will be mad if they dwell on their deeds in a negative way.

“ Macbeth does murder sleep ” > this is particularly terrifying as sleep also means rest and peace. Not only is Macbeth murdering sleep, but he is murdering rest and peace which he will not get as he will be haunted by the murder. ( personification )

“ Smear / The sleepy grooms with blood ” > the fact that they can pass the blame so easily and effectively is terrifying, what else can they pass the blame for if they can pass the blame for the murder.

“ Painted devil ” > the image of a dead body is likened to a painted devil seen by a child. They are just images that are feared.

“ Clean from my hand? No ” > No amount of water will be able to wash the blood off of Macbeth’s hands. He will never be able to forget about the blood on his hands, in a metaphorical sense.

“ Making the green one red ” > His hands will turn the sea red. That is the amount of blood which he bears.

Foreshadowing Lady Macbeth’s ‘out damned spot’:

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say! — One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky! — Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? — Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” >  5.1, just before she commits suicide, a descent into madness — she sees spots of blood on her hands, paralleling Macebeth’s visions of blood.

Motif – recurring element of a story (lack of sleep/blood on hands).

ESSAY PLAN 3:

In what ways does Shakespeare make the relationship between Macbeth and Banquo so compelling?

P1 — Intro — Shakespeare makes the relationship between Macbeth and Banquo so compelling through the exploration of the themes of deception, death, and good versus evil. The discussion of such themes leads us, as the reader, to come to the conclusion that Macbeth is a sinister character who has somehow managed to befriend an honest, decent man, Banquo which leads to a relationship filled with tension.

P2- Deception- “I fear thou have played most foully for it” “fruitless crown” “I wish your horses swift and sure of foot”

P3 — death- “Banquo, thy soul’s flight…find heaven”  Enter the Ghost of Banquo and sits in Macbeth’s place  (stage directions)

P4 — good versus evil- juxtaposing of characters

Conclusion — strongest points again

ESSAY PLAN 4:

‘Macbeth is not an evil man, but one led astray by those around him’.

To what extent do you agree with this view?

You should write 500–600 words.

Thesis — I believe that Macbeth is an evil man and is responsible for his own actions. His sheer greed for power is what has led him astray and it was his choice to kill Duncan and have Banquo and Fleance as well as Macduff’s family killed. He has shown throughout the play that his greed, not those around him, has led him astray.

Paragraph 1: — Intro- include thesis and quick overview Paragraph 2: — Disagree paragraph Paragraph 3: — Disagree paragraph Paragraph 4: — Agree paragraph (counter) Paragraph 5: — Conclusion (quick overview of strongest points, thesis)

Point -main point

Evidence -quotation

Analysis -why/how does it relate to argument

Context -context to shakespearean times

Alternative interpretation -alternative view

Link -back to thesis

  • Told by the witches that he will be king.
  • Pressured by Lady Macbeth to kill Duncan.
  • Witches tell him that Banquo’s descendants shall be king, incites Macbeth. Witches may have known that this would have riled Macbeth up.
  • Witches told Macbeth he will be king so he could have waited until he became King the right way.
  • Macbeth could have stood up to Lady Macbeth and told her no.
  • Macbeth felt the need to have Banquo and Fleance killed, nobody pressured him to do so.
  • Macbeth had Macduff’s family killed for no good reason.
  • Macbeth acted on his own accord.

If you’re studying Macbeth, you can click here to buy our full online course. Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!

You will gain access to  over 8 hours  of  engaging video content , plus  downloadable PDF guides  for  Macbeth  that cover the following topics:

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  • Plot summaries
  • Deeper themes

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You’ll find plenty of  top level example essays  that will help you to  write your own perfect ones!

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macbeth theme essay example

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From the moment the weird sisters tell Macbeth and Banquo their prophecies, both the characters and the audience are forced to wonder about fate. Is it real? Is action necessary to make it come to pass, or will the prophecy come true no matter what one does? Different characters answer these questions in different ways at different times, and the final answers are ambiguous—as fate always is.

Unlike Banquo, Macbeth acts: he kills Duncan . Macbeth tries to master fate, to make fate conform to exactly what he wants. But, of course, fate doesn't work that way. By trying to master fate once, Macbeth puts himself in the position of having to master fate always. At every instant, he has to struggle against those parts of the witches' prophecies that don't favor him. Ultimately, Macbeth becomes so obsessed with his fate that he becomes delusional: he becomes unable to see the half-truths behind the witches' prophecies. By trying to master fate, he brings himself to ruin.

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The Theme of Deception in Macbeth

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Published: Mar 6, 2024

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Table of contents

Deceptive prophecies, manipulative characters, the consequences of deception, the message of the play.

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COMMENTS

  1. Macbeth: Critical Essays

    Lady Macbeth is the focus of much of the exploration of gender roles in the play. As Lady Macbeth propels her husband toward committing Duncan's murder, she indicates that she must take on masculine characteristics. Her most famous speech — located in Act I, Scene 5 — addresses this issue. Clearly, gender is out of its traditional order.

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    Published: Mar 14, 2024. Revenge is a powerful and enduring theme in William Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth. From the very beginning of the play, we see the seeds of vengeance planted in the hearts of the characters, driving their actions and ultimately leading to their downfall. In Macbeth, the titular character's desire for revenge is sparked ...

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    Theme #4. Crime. 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 ...

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    Macbeth is a play about ambition run amok. The weird sisters ' prophecies spur both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to try to fulfill their ambitions, but the witches never make Macbeth or his wife do anything. Macbeth and his wife act on their own to fulfill their deepest desires. Macbeth, a good general and, by all accounts before the action of the ...

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    Strategy 2: A structured essay with an argument. The key to this style is remembering this: You're going to get a question about a theme, and the extract will DEFINITELY relate to the theme. The strategy here is planning out your essays BEFORE the exam, knowing that the extract will fit into them somehow. Below are some structured essays I've ...

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    Macbeth's. Topic #3. A motif is a word, image, or action in a drama that happens over and over again. There is a recurring motif of blood and violence in the tragedy Macbeth. This motif ...

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    A good thesis for an essay on Macbeth could focus on a variety of themes present in the play, such as the consequences of excessive ambition, the effects of guilt, the role of fate, or the theme ...

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    P1 — Intro — Shakespeare discusses the theme of deception in Macbeth by exploring Macbeth's insanity, showing the Macbeths covering their tracks and the temporary success with long term failure that deception brings. P2 — Macbeth's insanity — "oh full of scorpions is my mind", "could not I pronounce Amen" "Is this a dagger ...

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    Macbeth tries to master fate, to make fate conform to exactly what he wants. But, of course, fate doesn't work that way. By trying to master fate once, Macbeth puts himself in the position of having to master fate always. At every instant, he has to struggle against those parts of the witches' prophecies that don't favor him.

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