What do you think are the most important underlying themes in "Macbeth"?What do you think are the most important underlying themes in "Macbeth"?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here are the major themes of Macbeth:

  • 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
luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Look at the link listed below for the best information on themes in "Macbeth".  I will give you a brief idea of the themes though.  The danger in unchecked ambition is certainly the most prevalent theme.  Macbeth allows his inner desire to be king to overrule his common sense and his conscience.  He knows he has no good reason to kill Duncan other than his desire for power, but he does it anyway (Act 1, sc. 7, ll. 26-29).  Another theme is that guilt will drive a person to either madness or to even greater evils.  Lady Macbeth succumbs to her guilt by going insane.  Macbeth kills more and more people to cover up his guilt as he kills Banquo and then Macduff's family because he fears the two suspect he killed Duncan.  The theme of deceptive appearances is throughout the play as well.  The line, uttered by Macbeth at the close of Act 1, "False face must hide what the false heart doth know", displays this idea.  The most graphic example though occurs when, in Act 4, sc. 1, the witches show Macbeth the apparitions that give Macbeth partial or veiled truths in order to give him false hope a false sense of security.  There are other, minor themes in the play, but these are the more prevalent ones.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm with #2.  I am responsible for what I do.  Period.  Lots of things may influence me, just as they did Macbeth.  My loved ones may try to influence me, but I still choose for myself.  My friends may try to influence me, but my choices are still mine.  Outside forces may compel me to act or not to act in a certain way; I am still in control of my decisions.  My own mind may cause me conflict and indecision, but in the end I must choose.  And, once I choose, I am responsible but I can change my path.  Macbeth, too, could have changed course and been a different kind of king; instead, he allowed forces to assume control and in doing so sealed his own dreadful fate.

jblederman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare was interested in the concept of fate vs. freewill. As in Romeo and Juliet, characters in Macbeth are fated to accomplish certain things and meet certain ends. At the beginning of the play, it is foretold that Macbeth will "be King hereafter." HOW this occurs is NOT foretold; he could have simply been passive (though Lady Macbeth is a force unto herself) and achieved the same goal of kinghood. Thematically, man may be fated to arrive at a certain conclusion, but how he gets there is still entirely up to him.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Yet knowing how way leads onto way," Frost's line from "The Road Not Taken," comes to mind in considering Macbeth.  For, the underlying theme can be found in its foundation in Macbeth's having chosen to give in to his vice of ambition.  Whenever one entertains one's vice(s), the initial choice always leads one down the path to destruction, as it did for Macbeth. "Vaulting ambition," not just ambition, is the tragic flaw that leads to Macbeth's tragedy as he goes out of control.

gohanssj2a99 | Student

Appearence Vs Reality

lvsuey | Student
The Corrupting Power of Unchecked Ambition,The Relationship Between Cruelty and Masculinity,The Difference Between Kingship and Tyranny