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Joanna Belechak

Mr. Clark

Honors English 12

December 13, 2017

Macbeth Theme Paper

A careless attitude toward death leads to the belief that life is meaningless.

Macbeth is the shortest and darkest play in William Shakespeare’s collection of ten

tragedies. Shakespearean tragedies share a number of common features. The first comparable

quality include the hamartia of the tragic heroes, the downfall of the wealthy and powerful, and

the tragic heroes falling victim to external pressures ( Yet, Macbeth is unique to

this genre. Though it is the shortest, it is also the most complex. Consumed by relentless

ambition and thirst for power, Macbeth turns from a virtuous character to one that is filled with

darkness and evil. Death and destruction constantly surround him through either his own actions

or those of others. Through this you can see how a careless attitude toward death leads to the

belief that life is meaningless.

Macbeth appoints two murderers to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance, because the witches

prophesied that Banquo’s descendants would be kings of Scotland. These murderers are the first

characters in Macbeth that exemplify complete despair and hopelessness in their lives. In Act II,

you see the rendezvous of Macbeth and the Murderers. The Second Murderer says, “I am one,

my liege, whom the vile blows and buffets of the world hath so incensed that I am reckless what

I do to spite the world” (Shakespeare III. i. 108-111). Similarly, the First Murderer says, “And I

another so weary with disasters, tugged with fortune, that I would set my life on any chance, to
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mend it or be rid on ’t” (Shakespeare III. i. 112-115). In the few words exchanged between these

men, it can be concluded that the Murderers feel so angry at the world and their bad fortune that

there is nothing to stop them from the risks of going through with this horrible deed.

As the British soldiers marched to seize Macbeth’s castle, Dunsinane, Macduff, Malcolm,

Siward, and others gather to plan the attack. As they decide the strategy for their own soldiers,

Macbeth’s soldiers come into question. Malcolm says “…and none serve with him but

constrained things whose hearts are absent too” (Shakespeare V. iv. 13-14). Those who fight

alongside Macbeth are not doing it for any specific purpose. They see no meaning in the coming

battle or killing the opposing troops and they see no meaning in what they are doing with their


Macbeth himself is the next character that you see develop this meaningless attitude. His

situation is unique because he initially began as a loyal, trustworthy, and well-rounded character.

Very quickly, however, he succumbed to the negative influence his wife and the prophetical

witches. After murdering King Duncan, Macbeth’s perspective of murder, death, and demise

completely twisted. He lost respect for the dignity of the lives of the human person. When he

hears the news of Lady Macbeth’s murder, he says “…Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a

walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no

more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” (Shakespeare V. v.

23-28). Macbeth calls life an illusion that is devoid of meaning. This speech perfectly

exemplifies Shakespeare’s intention to create this message within the play.

Another character who exemplifies this trait is Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth. Lady

Macbeth was the first person to introduce evil and darkness into the play. She is the driving force
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to the initial killing of King Duncan which launched Macbeth’s rampage and the destruction of

all good surrounding the throne. As the play continues, Lady Macbeth begins to understand the

gravity of the situation which she started. It begins to paralyze her emotionally, physically, and

mentally. She broke down completely as Malcolm says, “…of this dead butcher sand his

fiendlike queen, who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands took off her life…” (Shakespeare

V. viii. 69-71). Her thoughts on death were once careless, but as she began to care more and

more she could not live her life knowing what she had done. Her life seemed so meaningless that

she took it herself by committing suicide.

In the play, the virtuous characters increasingly disappear. Malcolm and Macduff are two

respectable characters to be noted throughout Macbeth. They see how death is being treated in

and affecting the hierarchy of Scotland. Instead of giving up, they band together to fight against

it. Malcolm and Macduff see the essence of life, and they do all in their power to mend the

country from the insufferable evil. They defy the main concern of the play.

In Macbeth, William Shakespeare created complex and unique characters while still

portraying all of them with the same despair and hopelessness in their lives. Direct character

quotations firmly confirm the message that Shakespeare is trying to portray in this tragedy. A

reader attempting to deny this could certainly be questioned for their possible vague reading or

skewed interpretation of the text. Macbeth encompasses the brutal effects of actively seeking

power with violence and how numb to emotion one can possibly become because of it.

Whether beginning as a virtuous character or not, the characters with these negative traits wind

up defeated by people that use their power for good and care about others.

Works Cited
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Jamieson, Lee. “What Makes Shakespeare’s Tragedies Tragic?” ThoughtCo, 6

Mar. 2017.

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Edited by Sylvan Barnet, Signet Classic, 1998.