Explore the themes of conflict, both literal and figurative, in Macbeth.
The theme of good verses evil in William Shakepseare's tragic play Macbeth has historically been regarded as one of the most important themes (along with ambition, guilt, and reality and appearances). In regards to the theme of conflict, one can examine it both literally and figuratively.
Literal Conflict (depicted through external conflict)
External conflict is the conflict one faces with outside forces (man verses nature, man, and the supernatural). According to this, the literal conflicts can be identified.
1. Macbeth verses The Witches. This conflict is literal. Readers can see the contempt Macbeth has for the witches when he comes back to find out more information, after his initial meeting with the witches and finding out about the prophecies.
How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags?
What is't you do? (IV, i)
2. Macbeth verses Banquo. Macbeth worries about his fate given Banquo knows about the prophecies. This said, eventually, he feels as if Banquo may cause him to lose the throne (either directly or indirectly). One can assume Macbeth's feelings about Banquo in Act III, scene i:
Banquo scolded the sisters
When first they put the name of king upon me.
Obviously, Macbeth is angry that Banquo did not seem to support Macbeth.
Figurative conflict (internal conflict- man verses self)
Macbeth's conflict materializes twice over the course of the play. The first time his conflict materializes is when he sees the bloody dagger in Act II, scene i:
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Here, Macbeth sees the dagger, but cannot grasp it. This speaks to the internal conflict welling inside of him. The dagger represents Macbeth's intent to murder Duncan (evil) and his questioning of it (his good). Figuratively, this is exemplified through his ability to see the dagger (evil), but not grasp it (good).
Later, Banquo's ghost materializes at dinner (where Macbeth is surrounded by those celebrating his new title). Not only does Banquo's ghost symbolize his murder (evil), the ghost also symbolizes Macbeth's guilt (good).