What can we, as humans, learn about ourselves from Macbeth?

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator


  • Ambition can subvert reason:

“From this moment,the very firstlings of my shall be the firstlings of my hand.” –Act IV, Scene 1


“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


“Accursed be the tongue that tells me so, for it hath cowed my better part of man! And be these juggling fiends no more believed.” –Act V, Scene 8
  • The natural order is disrupted by any upset in the proper order of human society.
“By the clock ‘tis day, and yet dark night strangles the traveling lamp. Is’t night’s predominance, or day’s shame, that darkness does the face of earth entomb when living light should kiss it?” –Act II, Scene 4


“The obscure bird clamored the livelong night. Some say the earth was feverous and did shake.” –Act II, 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


“Our separated fortune shall keep us both the safer. Where we are, there’s in men’s smiles; the near in blood, the nearer bloody.” –Act II, Scene 3
  • 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
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The desire to appropriate the world in pure accordance to one's own subjectivity can be dangerous.  I think that this is one of the most rich lessons from Macbeth.  In understanding Macbeth's rise and fall, one realizes that attempting to bring one's subjectivity into external reality with no limitations nor checks can bring about personal and social destruction.  This is seen in both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who focus on their own ambitions and subjective senses of self as the only elements that matter in consciousness.  In the end, we realize that dreams or hopes that are solely driven by personal ambition and self- centered ends can be shallow and only serve to sever bonds with others, not cultivate them.

kc4u | Student

What Macbeth primarily teaches is that Ambition is man's worst enemy, more so if it is not a lawful or bonafide ambition. It is so potent an enemy because it works from within. Macbeth was so profusely and widely admired and rewarded, and he would have remained great and noble if the witches didn't prvoke him on the heath and if his wife didn't stand by his ambition.

The play also throws very important light on conjugal relationship. No wife should ever think like Lady Macbeth to back up her husband's unlawful desire. Lady Macbeth thought that it was her duty as a devoted wife to assist her husband in realising what he deserves. But soon after the murder of Duncan, the bond between Macbeth and his wife loosened.No relationship can last on the basis of unethical or criminal collaboration, a companionship marked with guilt and fear.

'Fair is foul and foul is fair'-this formula of the witches relates to Macbeth, and gives us an important insight into the world of man. Mabeth is so fair and, at the same time, so foul. Human life is indeed a combination of both fair and foul.

Macbeth also teaches that crime never pays. While Macbeth goes down to defeat and death in the end, Lady Macbeth suffers from somnambulism leading to suicidal death.

Evil must be challenged and fought. Any compromise with evil may prove disastrous. For example, Banquo and Macduff. The former compromises with the usurper king and gets killed, while the latter cofronts Macbeth to work towards the salvation of the land and the people from tyranny and fear.