What are themes that apply to both Macbeth by Shakespeare and to The Handmaid's Tale by Atwood? How can these be worked into a single thematic statement?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Several themes occur jointly in Macbeth and The Handmaid's Tale but they appear with opposing messages. For instances, while both works speak of men's versus women's roles (i.e., sex or gender roles), they demonstrate opposite aspects of the theme. In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth overturns understood male-female roles by intimidating Macbeth, chiding his lack of manhood and suggesting that she would be more man than he if she could be a man. In contrast, in Handmaid's Tale, women are consigned to standard roles of female oppression as concubines, wives and handmaids (servants).

Another jointly occurring theme is that of free will. In both narratives, free will is lost yet it is taken through quite different agents. In Handmaid's Tale, free will is taken by agency of the government after global neglect has caused catastrophic consequences, such as the destruction of ocean life (a real and present concern),

The sea fisheries were defunct several years ago; the few fish they have now are from fish farms, and taste muddy. The news says the coastal areas are being "rested." (The Handmaid's Tale)

while in Macbeth, it can be argued that free will is taken by two agents. The first agent is the influence of the supernatural in the persons of the three witches. The second agent can arguably be stated as the violent manipulations of Lady Macbeth.

... Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,... (Macbeth, I.v)

Depending upon your choices of theme, of subject within the theme, and the argumentative point you wish to prove, themes in Macbeth and Handmaid's Tale might easily be brought together in a single thematic statement in a compare/contrast statement. Another way they might be brought together is within a thematic statement that reflects present reality against the thematic messages in the two works. Two examples might be (1) how the works reflect or contradict present day situations regarding men's and women's roles or (2) how the works reflect, foreshadow, or contradict present global depletion circumstances.