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What are the main themes present in Shakespeare's play "Macbeth"?

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Quick Answer

The main themes present in Shakespeare's play "Macbeth" are fate, free will, reality, ambition and kingly authority. Shakespeare develops these themes through recurrent images. The most important motifs are children, blood, sleep, nature and the dichotomy between darkness and light.

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Full Answer

In "Macbeth," Shakespeare explores the consequences of rabid ambition pursued through immoral tactics. A closely related theme is the inherent power of the royal throne and its relationship to tyranny. Through the themes of fate and human free will, the characters confront the degree to which they control their own futures.

Another important theme in "Macbeth" is the relationship between reality and illusion. Shakespeare's "play within a play" forces the audience to acknowledge that what seems to be true is often not. This issue pervades the play, particularly in Act 1. For example, in the sixth scene, Duncan praises the luxury and comfort of Cawdor Castle, unaware that its occupants are plotting to kill him.

According to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare uses the motif of natural harmony to illustrate moral behavior, and the disruption of that harmony reflects immorality. He symbolizes good and evil with light and darkness and also uses light as a symbol for innocence. Blood indicates tyranny and excessive ambition, and children symbolize both the future and the extent to which the present generation controls it.

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