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Three themes present in both Macbeth and Great Expectations are the consequences of ambition, the revenge can backfire, and the destructive power of guilt.
Both the play and the novel have dark overtones. In each case, there are mysteries to be solved and creatively complex characters.
Macbeth and Pip both want to climb above their current social station. In each case, they do not question the forces or actions that help them rise up. They are so blinded by their ambition that they don’t see that it is destroying them.
Revenge is a key theme in both the play and novel. Miss Havisham and Magwitch both want revenge against society and individuals, and ultimately they end up suffering along with their victims. They use innocents, Estella and Pip, to accomplish this revenge. In Macbeth, MacDuff’s desire to seek revenge similarly destroys him.
When one thinks of guilt, Lady Macbeth is one of the first images to come to mind. She is destroyed by it, and so is Pip. He constantly faces his guilty conscience, and while he does not go mad he certainly remains miserable. It prevents him from a fully realized life.
These two works are so different that finding common themes requires making generalization so broad as to make the conception of thematic analysis almost meaningless. Dickens is a realistic novelist writing about the lives of his own period, whereas Shakespeare is writing an historical revenge tragedy about medieval Scotland. Nonetheless, a few universal themes both address are:
Power Corrupts: Many of the characters in both works, when they obtain or wield power and wealth, use it badly. While that is not universally true, as Duncan appears to have been a good king and Magwitch is actually generous in his success, many of the characters including Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Miss Havisham use power for evil ends.
Nobility; Both works contrast external nobility with nobility of character. Not all people with high social standing are portrayed as good people.
Ambition and Avarice: Both ambition and avarice lead people to bad ends. Both authors suggest that it is better to care for people than to care for wealth and power, and that people who do focus on worldly goods and success are ultimately unhappy.
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