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Note the kinds of conflict: internal conflict takes place within a character; external conflict takes place between the character and others: man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. God (supernatural), and man vs. nature.
In Shakespeare's Macbeth, there are several motifs (like themes)—guilt, fear, ambition, and evil—and the themes of appearance vs. reality and good vs. evil.
A motif is:
A conspicuous recurring element, such as a...reference ...which appears frequently in works of literature.
A theme is a main idea that an author attempts to share with the audience.
Regarding ambition, Macbeth says:
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself,
And falls on th'other… (I.vii.25-28)
Power is the only reason he has to kill Duncan. Macbeth expresses guilt and regret when men come to the castle early the morning after the murder to get the King. Macbeth knows that Duncan will not hear their knocking, and wishes it were not so:
To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself. (Knock)
Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst! (II.ii.92-93)
Macbeth shows fear as he jumps at every noise he hears after the King's murder. How could he be so naive to think his actions would not affect him?
Whence is that knocking?
How is't with me, when every noise appals me? (73-74)
As Macbeth commits murder more often, it becomes easier. He realizes he has reached the point of no return (and Elizabethans believed that to kill a king was a mortal sin). Macbeth notes:
I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er. (III.iv.165-167)
Macbeth decides that to try to try to mend his ways is useless...to move forward would be just as easy. So the bloodshed gets worse. And in this we see a major aspect of evil. When the witches tell him to "Beware Macduff," Macbeth already knows this, but decides to murder Macduff anyway. When the assassins arrive at his home, Macduff is not there, but every member of Macduff's family is murdered, as are his servants. Macbeth has also killed Banquo (his close friend) and attempted to murder Banquo's son. Macbeth has immersed himself in evil.
The once noble Macbeth is evil incarnate: unlike the honorable king Duncan was, Macbeth is a tyrant, and no one is safe from his treachery. Here we see good vs. evil, as we see again when Macduff fights Macbeth at the end.
Another theme is that of appearance vs. reality, expressed in "Fair is foul, and foul is fair," introduced by the witches at the beginning of the play (I.i.11). Macbeth appears to be loyal to Duncan; yet he kills Duncan for the sake of his ambition. When the guards are framed for Duncan's murder, Macbeth acts distraught, and kills the guards, saying he lost his mind:
Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious,
Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man... (II.iii.120-121)
At the same time, Duncan's sons are accused of Duncan's murder (insinuated by Macbeth) because they disappear so quickly after their father's murder. Because they do not know who killed their father, they flee to save their own lives, but they are not guilty of murder.
"Fair is foul" is seen with the witches' first predictions. Macbeth says:
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? (I.iii.145-148)
What seems good in this play is often evil.
three internal conflicts of macbeth:
1. his conflict with his own conscience about the murder of duncan. he could not decide whether he should murder him in order to the crown. "if chance will have me king,why chance may crown me/ without my stir",says he in act1 scene 3. he is clearly vacillating with the thought of murder.
2. his inner conflict is shown explicitly in act1,scene7,when he weighs not only the bad political consequences of the murder but also the moral values involved. here,his inner conflict rises from duncan's trust of him.
he says in act1,sc. 7:
"...he is here in double trust.
first as i am his kinsman,and his subject.
strong both against the deed.then as his host,
who should against the murtherer shut the door,
not bear the knife myself..."
3. when he has killed duncan (act2,sc.2),he is tortured by the thought of what he had done. he starts with every single noise. he wants to adopt hypocrisy:"false face must hide what false heart doth know." he is terribly conscientious that when the knocking commences,he says:"wake duncan with thy knocking;i would thou could'st."
In Act 5.3 of Shakespeare's Macbeth, internal conflicts are revealed in the title character.
The scene opens with Macbeth appearing confident that he can withstand any attack by his enemies. He is holding on to his faith in the predictions made by the witches. He spouts the details--the man born of woman thing, etc.--like he is invincible.
Yet, within only seconds he is despairing, saying he "has lived long enough," and that he should not expect those things that come with old age, such as "honor, love, obedience."
Emotionally, Macbeth holds on to the predictions that suggest he is indestructible. Rationally, however, Macbeth appears to know better. His emotions cannot withstand the fact that 10,000 soldiers are preparing to attack him.
Later, in Act 5.5, Macbeth will despair again when he is told that his wife has died. In his "Tomorrow" speech, he will reveal another internal conflict: whatever one does or accomplishes, it is meaningless anyway. Macbeth slips into nihilism, the belief that nothing matters.
Yet, again, oppositions appear in Macbeth. Soon, whether it matters or not, Macbeth, facing certain defeat, will battle face-to-face with his foes, fighting and dying nobly.
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