What are the themes in Act I of Macbeth?I only need the themes for Act I.  I'm having a lot of trouble with this.  Thank you for taking the time to read and answer my question!

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here are the main themes with supporting quotes from Act I of Macbeth:

  • Ambition can subvert reason
“Thou wouldst be great; art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it.”–Act I, Scene 5
  • When supernatural powers represent evil, they should be ignored.
“But ‘tis strange! And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.”–Act I, Scene 3
  • Appearances do not always reflect reality.
“There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust.”–Act I, Scene 4
  • Despite prophecies of the future, people are responsible for their own actions.
“If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear your favors nor your hate.”–Act I, Scene 3
kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act I, Shakespeare introduces a number of key themes. Firstly, through the witches, he introduces the theme of the supernatural. This is important because it sets the tone for the rest of the play. The use of magic, for instance, creates a mysterious feel for the reader.

The line "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" adds to this supernatural feel and also introduces another key theme—deception. So, right from Act I, the reader is prepared to understand that not everything is quite as it seems in this story. This theme is also important in Scenes 6 and 7 when Macbeth is preparing to murder King Duncan.

Finally, the theme of loyalty is also significant in the first Act. As we see from the descriptions of Macbeth on the battlefield, he appears to be an extremely loyal and dedicated servant of King Duncan. But, as the act unfolds, we realize that his loyalty is questionable. Again, this feeds into the theme of deception and also establishes the theme of ambition.

xoplatypusox | Student

Themes in "Macbeth" include:

-the supernatural (the witches are very mysterious characters and add to the suspense of the play.  Banquo chooses to disbelieve the prophecies-he is superstitious while Macbeth believes their prophecies)

-appearance vs reality (everything is not what is seems.  For example, the witches in scene i say, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" (11) which confirms that everything is not what is appears to be)

-Blind ambition (Greed) (Macbeth is very greedy in order to make the witches' prophecies come true.  Macbeth, along with his wife's assistance, plans to murder King Duncan in order to take over the role of King of Scotland.  This is a very risky move, since it involves a reversal of order (chaos) in Scotland.  However, Macbeth is ambitious to receive a new political title and obtain more power than the Thane of Cawdor could ever have)

Hope this helped!!!

kc4u | Student

Let us talk about the themes in act 1 of Macbeth scene by scene:

Sc. I > Theme of Fairness & Foulness: Witches' chiasmus--'Fair is foul, and foul is fair' striking the key-note of the whole play, immediately underscores the co-existence and interchangeability of Fair and Foul in the political world of Duncan's Scotland, and more so, in the deeper moral world of man.

Sc. II > The Bleeding Sergeant Sc. further explores the theme of Fairness & Foulness. Macbeth and Banquo, the two noble generals of King Duncan, represent Fairness, while the rebel, Macdonwald, the treacherous Cawdor, and the infiltrating Norwegian King represent Foulness. The Sc. also suggests the theme of Loyalty & Disloyalty, of Courage & Heroism.

Sc. III > Witches' proclamations on the heath and their impact on Macbeth highlight the theme of Temptation, and also exposes through Macbeth's asides the theme of Moral Vacillation.

Sc. IV > Duncan's observation in respect of the treacherous Thane of Cawdor that there is no art to read 'the mind's construction' on the face of a man, brings in the theme of Appearance & Reality. Duncan trusted Cawdor so much, Cawdor betrayed him. The King now confers the same title onto Macbeth in great trust, and Macbeth shall betray him in the worst possible way. Thus the theme of Trust is introduced in the play.

Sc. V > Lady Macbeth, in her soliloquies, commits herself to evil to stand by the ambition of her husband. Macbeth would be the King of Scotland as promised by the 'weird sisters'. Shakespeare's play is a study in ambition, and the theme of Ambition is apparent in the scene.

Sc. VI > As Duncan, Banquo and others arrive at Macbeth's castle to stay for the night, the king refers Lady Macbeth as the kind hostess. The theme of Hospitality and the most sinister breach of the same are ironically referred to in this scene.

Sc. VII > In his long soliloquy, Macbeth refers to the themes of Trust(also the breach of it) and Ambition( his 'vaulting ambition'). His self-divided personality also betrays the theme of Fear, of being punished for his contemplated crime of Duncan's murder.

danielmonckton | Student
  1. -Appearances can be deceiving. This theme is shown several times through this act when Macbeth is hiding his sinister plans.

-People are responsible for their own actions. Macbeth is consistently fighting the prophecy that he believes he must follow through with.

-Irony. King Duncan wants to stay in the very house of his killers for the night.

-The Supernatural. Banquo chooses to disbelieve the prophecies of the witches because he is superstitious while Macbeth believes their prophecies.