What are the main conflicts in Macbeth? How are they connected to the themes of the play?  

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thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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There are both internal and external conflicts in Shakespeare's Macbeth. The important theme of the nature of evil is addressed in both.

The main internal conflicts occur when people reflect about how they should respond to the witches' prophecies. Banquo, after some initial hesitation, realizes that the witches are evil and thus to listen to them would be to risk one's immortal soul. Macbeth, on the other hand, lets their words overcome his ethical training and loyalty to Duncan, and cause his ambition to gain the upper hand in his nature, leading him to commit increasingly evil deeds. Lady Macbeth convinces herself that she must go against her moral nature and womanly instincts to support her and her husband's ambitions, eventually driving herself insane. 

The main external conflicts are the ones between Macbeth and the people he increasingly sees as obstacles to his ambition, including Banquo, Duncan, Malcolm, and Macduff. These conflicts are all related to the theme of what makes authority legitimate.

malibrarian's profile pic

malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Conflicts in Macbeth include:

Conflict between Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, who doesn't think he's enough of a man to get the job done (the job of murdering the king, that is).

Conflict between Macbeth and Macduff because of Macbeth having had Macduff's family murdered.

Conflict between Banquo and Macbeth because Macbeth is afraid Banquo's descendents will become kings of Scotland, despite the throne having been "promised" to Macbeth by the witches.

Conflict between Macbeth and the Apparitions because he wishes to speak to them, to question them further, but they refuse to allow him to speak.

Conflicts between the armies of Macbeth and Malcolm (Macbeth's men are serving simply out of fear of Macbeth, while Malcolm's men are serving to help Scotland escape the tyranny of Macbeth).

Conflict between Hecate and the witches because they took it upon themselves to speak to Macbeth without her permission or her being present.

Conflict within Lady Macbeth, once the guilt starts to work on her, leading her to madness and suicide.

Initially there's conflict within Macbeth over killing Duncan, but he manages to get over that particular hurdle, then isn't much bothered by the rest of the murders he is responsible for.

These conflicts relate to the play's themes in some way or another...themes which include ambition, power, guilt, the supernatural (illusion versus reality), and fate versus personal choice.


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