Index of Themes and Motifs in Macbeth
- Fair and foul.
To the Weird Sisters what is ugly is beautiful, and what is beautiful is ugly: "Fair is foul and foul is fair." Throughout the play, fair appearances hide foul realities.
This theme is closely related to the "Fair and Foul" theme, because to equivocate is to lie by saying something that sounds fair, but which has a hidden, foul meaning.
- Nature and the Unnatural.
In Macbeth the word "nature" usually refers to human nature, and one might say that the whole play is about Macbeth's unnaturalness. He kills his king, his friend, and a woman and her children. In the end he is destroyed when nature itself appears to become unnatural: trees walk and Macbeth has to fight a man not of woman born.
In the second scene of the play, the report of Macbeth's heroic victory is delivered by a "bloody man." Thereafter, we see and hear of much more blood.
We associate hands with many different kinds of experiences. We "walk hand-in-hand," are "caught red-handed," "give a helping hand," have a "hand on the throttle," fear someone's "heavy hand," and say that "the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing." In Macbeth all of these senses of the word "hand" come into play, and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both have scenes in which they are transfixed by the sight of blood on their hands.
- Sight, Light, Darkness, and Blindness.
Much of Macbeth takes place in the dark, and both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth seem to believe that the dark can hide their crimes, perhaps even from themselves.
In different ways, the play repeatedly asks what it means to be a man.
- Babies and children.
Shakespeare doesn't often portray children, but there's one in this play, and there are repeated references to babies and children.
We often say that we need to "sleep on" a problem, but what do you do when you murder sleep, as Macbeth does?
There are many birds in the play, most of them of ill omen.
Duncan is a true king, gracious and kindly; Macbeth is an usurping tyrant, false and murderous.
- Heaven and Hell.
In Macbeth both of these places seem very close to earth.