Why does Macbeth still connect with modern audiences?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although the time period may be old, the themes in Macbeth are just as relevant today. 

Shakespeare is still very popular today, as shown by the worldwide celebrations of the 400th anniversary of his birth and death. The reason Shakespeare's plays are so popular today is because they are written with engaging characters and memorable themes. Macbeth is still one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays. 

The play’s main themes focus on the importance of ambition and honor. These are timeless concepts. The audience watches two compelling characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, descend into madness. They go from ruthless murderers to guilt-written paranoids. 

Lady Macbeth is particularly intriguing. Before she desperately tries to get the spots off of her hands, she has lines like these:

Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it!  (Act 1, Scene 5)

Modern audiences love that Lady Macbeth is a strong woman. She is more ambitious and bloodthirsty than her husband. Lady Macbeth carefully plans the murder, scolding Macbeth when he doesn’t get all of the details exactly right.  Lady Macbeth is as cunning and ruthless as any of Shakespeare’s male characters.

The Macbeths are contrasted with two likable and honorable characters—Macduff and Malcolm. Macduff loses his entire family to Macbeth, and famously faces him down in battle. Malcolm wants to end Macbeth’s tyranny, but he does not act out of blind hatred or revenge. Macduff kills Macbeth for the good of his country.

If you haven't already, treat yourself to a live performance of this or any other Shakespearean play.  If you think Shakespeare is bland, boring, or inaccessible, going to one of the plays will change your mind. Like any play, Shakespeare is meant to be experienced live.