How is the theme of disorder conveyed in Macbeth?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of disorder is conveyed by the opening in which there is a disruption. The weather is abnormally foul; there is thunder and lightning. The unusual weather conditions are further described later, when Macbeth comments about how "foul and fair" the day has been. A further aspect in this trend is when Banquo tells his son, Fleance, that "there is husbandry in heaven," implying that the lights have all gone out, it is pitch dark, and heaven wants to conserve its light.

In addition, Lennox later comments, in his conversation with Macbeth, on the strange weather. He states that the "night has been unruly" and mentions that "the obscure bird" was crying the entire night and that "the earth was feverous and did shake," suggesting tremors. Added to all these are the reports by Ross and the old man about Duncan's horses eating each other, that there is an eclipse and that a falcon had been attacked by a mousing hawk. 

All these reports and events indicate a disruption in nature. The natural order has been reversed. This is further emphasized by the witches' equivocal statements, including "Fair is foul and foul is fair." Their conversations with Banquo and Macbeth also indicate this confusion when they state that Banquo will be "lesser than Macbeth, and greater," that he is "not so happy, yet much happier," and lastly, that he shall get kings although he would not be one. Their doublespeak makes it obvious that things are not what they seem. Macbeth takes their predictions literally throughout the play, which ultimately leads to his downfall.

The murder of King Duncan follows the theme. Malcolm, Duncan's oldest son and Prince of Cumberland, should have been his natural heir. Macbeth, however, disrupts the natural order through regicide and then claims the throne for himself. His ruthless and bloodthirsty rule further emphasizes the disruption. A ruler is supposed to take care of his citizens and protect them. He has to ensure peace. Macbeth, however, spreads disorder and selfishly killed others.

Even Lady Macbeth's actions indicate a reversal of what is natural. She was sly, ruthless, greedy, and evil. She disassociated herself from her feminine qualities and asked that they be removed so that she could execute her iniquity. She displayed none of the caring and affectionate qualities one normally expects from a woman.

In the final analysis, then, Lord and Lady Macbeth's actions were, essentially, what caused the turmoil in Scotland. Macbeth, once an honored general, had become the epitome of evil and greed. His and his wife's "overriding ambition" almost completely destroyed their beloved country.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of disorder is conveyed, in William Shakespeare's Macbeth, in a few different ways. The opening of the play depicts storms ("thunder and lightening"), as the witches introduce the main paradox which exists throughout the play. "Foul is fair, and fair is foul" refers to the fact that everything is not as is seems. This paradox can show the disorder the play will contain--based upon the idea that good cannot be evil and evil cannot be good. This can cause confusion for the audience.

Secondly, the play opens during war. War is disorderly. War is confusing. Therefore, with war upon Duncan's people, the people are probably confused about what could come.

Third, after Duncan's murder, more disorder comes. Although Macbeth takes the throne, others do not believe that he should have it. Malcolm and his brother have fled (fearing for their own lives), leaving Duncan's former people confused about why.

Most poignantly is Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's disorder. Macbeth is slowly going insane ("Is this a dagger which I see before me?") and Lady Macbeth follows suit ("Out Damned spot. Out!"). They possess a more understandable disorder--one of mental illness and guilt.