Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What are the similarities and differences between Macbeth and Ulysses?

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Macbeth and Ulysses have more differences than similarities. Macbeth chronicles the rise and fall of a general who believes he is fated to rule Scotland. Taking matters into his own hands, Macbeth kills the rightful king, rules with an iron fist, soon alienates his allies, and is overthrown and killed. Concise, brutal, and dark, Macbeth is the tragic story of a formerly virtuous man whose own ambition leads to his downfall. The story also has contains many fantastical elements, including, most famously, the witches who prophesy Macbeth's rise to the throne.

Ulysses, on the other hand, is a the tale of a day in the life of a fairly unremarkable man, Leopold Bloom. While the novel is based on Homer's Odyssey, Joyce ultimately tried to capture the nature of an ordinary life, something that few novels had tried to do in 1922. Additionally, while there are many tragic elements in the novel, the end is relatively uplifting, as Bloom finds a potential mentoring relationship with Stephen Dedalus and comes closer to repairing his strained relationship with his wife. Also, the novel constitutes Joyce's celebration of the common human, as one of the overarching themes of the novel is the inherent epic quality of every life, no matter how ordinary.

In short, Ulysses differs from Macbeth in some pretty significant ways. While Ulysses celebrates the ordinary, the mundane, the REAL, Macbeth chronicles the epic struggle between kings, lords, Fate, and the supernatural. Additionally, Ulysses is often uproariously funny, while most audience members watching the Scottish Play would be hard-pressed to crack a smile. That said, Joyce does heavily reference many works of Shakespeare throughout his novel; however, his most common allusion is to Hamlet, not Macbeth.

That said, there are some interesting similarities between Macbeth and the character of Ulysses, especially the Ulysses found in Dante's Inferno. Rejecting the comforts of home, Dante's Ulysses left Ithaca to sail off for the ends of the Earth. During this venture, his boat was capsized and he and all of his crew mates drowned. Punished for his blasphemous ambition, Ulysses is forever imprisoned within the bowels of Hell. Thus, both Macbeth and Dante's Ulysses are ultimately punished for the extent of their ambition, and so there are actually quite a few similarities to be seen in that context. But, compared to Jame Joyce's Ulysses, Macbeth is altogether a different work of literature.  

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