Why is the Shakespearean play "Macbeth" still relevant today?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth has continued relevance because it addresses themes and fundamental questions that persist in modern times. If Shakespeare shows us nothing else in the play, it is that power corrupts. Macbeth begins the play as a good and "worthy" man, loyal to his kinsman King Duncan. By the end of the play, however, he has become a monster, completely devoid of morality. It took only the prediction that he would become king of Scotland to start him on this path. In Shakespeare's time, audiences would have interpreted this in light of the fact that Macbeth broke the natural order of things--his ambition caused him to attempt to rise above his station in an unnatural way. In today's more egalitarian world, this is not necessarily the message. We are rather struck by the ways that completely unchecked ambition causes Macbeth to destroy nearly everyone around him, and ultimately himself. 

Another source of endless fascination with the play is its portrayal of guilt. First Macbeth and then his wife are wracked with guilt for the horrific deeds they have carried out, and in both cases, guilt is manifested through visions. Macbeth, for example, sees the bloody ghost of Banquo at the banquet table shortly after his murder. Later in the play, a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth attempts to wash nonexistent blood stains from her hands. The psychological decline of Lady Macbeth, who demonstrates no remorse as she urges her husband to carry out the murders and fulfill his destiny, is especially striking. Before we learn that she commits suicide, she is obviously completely broken by guilt. 

Finally, the play addresses questions of faith and free will that are difficult to resolve. The tension between the two is particularly compelling: Is Macbeth simply being toyed with by the witches, or is he alone responsible for his actions? This question is not resolved by the end of the play, creating a tension that still appeals to audiences. 

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare’s play ‘MacBeth’ is still relevant to today’s audiences partly because human nature hasn’t changed that much since Elizabethan times. The play’s themes still concern us, guilt, shame, hierarchy, anxiety,paranoia, trauma, distress, mental illness, psychological vulnerability, jealousy, envy, inferiority, manipulation, psychosis, greed and murder - all are sadly present in the societies we watch every night on our news channels. For an essay title based on the relevancy of the drama, it would be worth finding a quote or an instance of each theme, and then trying to match it with an example from current events. Wherever there is hierarchy, there will always be a pecking order and all the gripes, grudges and grumbles that go along with that - we even see it in Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello.’

The foundation storyline of MacBeth  still chimes with our modern audiences today because it is a swashbuckling bloodcurdling story of ambition, and shows the depths to which we humans will sink to get what others have - rights that we want. The audience follows the main character, Macbeth, as he schemes and plots and kills in order to become the new king but as soon as he gets his objective and gets crowned, the audience is gripped as his world crumbles around him and he descends the path of pain that all tragic heroes/victims must follow.

MacBeth is considered a very unlucky play - actors are advised not even to utter the word 'Macbeth' if they aren't onstage actually performing it because there is a legend that there are secret magic lines in it, so it’s cursed. Obviously the curiosity of that ‘fact’ would still be a big draw today.