One of the most important themes in
Macbeth involves the witches' statement in Act 1, Scene1 that "fair is foul and foul is fair." (Act
1, Scene 1, Line 10) This phrase aptly describes the macabre status quo within the character Macbeth
and without. When Macbeth and Banquo first see the weird sisters, Banquo is horrified by their
hideous appearances. Conversely, Macbeth immediately began to converse with these universally
known evil creatures. After hearing their prophecies, one can say that Macbeth considered the
witches to be "fair" when in reality their intentions were quite "foul." Macbeth's possession of the
titles of Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland came by foul means. Macbeth became
the Thane of Glamis by his father Sinel's death; he became Thane of Cawdor when the former namesake
was executed for treason; and he was ordained King of Scotland after murdering the venerable Duncan.
Thus, Macbeth has a rather ghastly way of advancing in life.
This theme is further verified by King Duncan's statement "There's no art/ To find the mind's construction
in the face." (Act 1, Scene 4, Lines 11-12) Although Macbeth has the semblance of the amicable and dutiful
host, ("fair") he is secretly plotting Duncan's death ("foul"). Furthermore, Lady Macbeth's orchestration
of the murder exemplifies the twisted atmosphere in Inverness. Both a woman and a host, she should
be the model of grace and femininity. She is described, however, as a "fiendlike queen" (Act 5,
Scene 6, Line 69) and exhibits a cold, calculating mentality. In addition, the very porter of
Inverness likens the place to the dwelling of the devil Beelzebub. This implies that despite its
"pleasant seat," (Act 1, Scene 6, Line 1) Inverness is a sinister and evil place. It is also interesting
to note that Macbeth is unable to say a prayer to bless himself after murdering Duncan. It is
strange and "foul" that he should think of religion after committing such an unholy act. The very
sanction of sleep and repose is also attacked in Macbeth. What is normally considered a
refreshing and necessary human activity is "murdered" by Macbeth after he commits his heinous crime.
Neither Macbeth nor his wife is able to sleep after killing Duncan. Macbeth's lack of sleep makes
him a brutal killer; Lady Macbeth begins to sleepwalk and inadvertently reveals the source of her distress
through her nightly babble. In addition, Macbeth gains an almost inhuman strength and courage
after his first crime. He is more courageous in crime than he has ever been in virtuous deed,
which is indeed bizarre.
second theme in Macbethis that of the tragic hero. A tragic hero is a character that the
audience sympathizes with despite his/her actions that would indicate the contrary. Macbeth, in
spite of his horrible murders, is a pitiable man. His saving grace is that he did not initially
want to kill Duncan but later changed his mind after listening to his wife. In addition, Macbeth
internally suffered because he could not enjoy his royal status. Fear, paranoia, exhaustion and
sleeplessness plagued him despite his sovereignty. Lady Macbeth is also a tragic hero. Her
initial courage and daring did not last long, and she quickly deteriorated into a delusional, hapless
somnambulist. She broke down mentally and physically because of the strain of the crime.
Macbeth and his wife are pitiable characters because the reader is able to follow their every thought
and action. Thus, the reader sees not only their gruesome effects on the Scottish people but also
theme in Macbeth is that of indecision and internal conflict. Macbeth was indecisive up
until the very night of the murder about whether or not he should kill Duncan. Afterwards, he
was unsure of a course of action. He rashly decided to kill Banquo, visit the witches and remain
confident even when his castle was besieged. Lady Macbeth's initial lack of indecision is what
brought about the pair's downfall. Later, however, she becomes tentative about the potential benefits
of Banquo's murder. By the end of the play, she has become a delusional recluse that is almost
entirely ignored by her husband.
A fourth important theme in Macbeth is the creation of an internal/external hell. This
creation of a place of damnation begins when Macbeth freely converses with the sinister witches.
Banquo calls the weird sisters "instruments of darkness," (Act 1, Scene 4, Line 124) but Macbeth still
decides to take their advice. At several times in the play both Macbeth and his wife invoke the
night, a universal symbol of evil. Furthermore, many of the scenes in the play take place at night
or in murky areas and are accompanied by the shrieks of ominous animals. Macbeth is unable to
bless himself after the crime and he "murders sleep," (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 35) one of the only positive
associations with night. Thus, hallucinations, sleepwalking, disembodied voices and ghosts all
pervade Inverness. One can recognize the climax of this creation of an external hell when the
porter himself likens the castle to the residence of the devil. Furthermore, Macbeth is indirectly
compared to Edward the King of England. Whereas Edward cures people, Macbeth kills them.
In addition, Lady Macbeth commits suicide in the castle, an act considered worthy at the time of eternal
damnation in hell.
of an external hell also corresponds to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's internal suffering. Macbeth
is never at peace-he is always delirious, enraged, brutal and paranoid. He cannot enjoy the material
and mortal pleasures of being a king despite all of the sacrifice that it took on his part. Lady
Macbeth's courage and resolve quickly deteriorates and she is left as an incurable somnambulist who
unconsciously tries to erase her memory of the crime. Macbeth and his wife's unintentional creation
of an external hell for Scotland is pitiable because they suffered internally as well.