The main themes of Hamlet and Macbeth
William Shakespeare is probably regarded as one of the most significant and transcendent writers of the entire human history. His writings are a legend of the past, and emblem of the Renaissance literature in England, which endured all throughout the course of time. They still live among us, and even if the world has changed, Shakespeare’s plays are still part of most of the people’s book shelves and college libraries. Shakespeare is a versatile author, he has written sonnets, plays and poems, and has even performed some of his plays on some of the most famous theatres of that time, such as The Globe.
Among his plays, Hamlet and Macbeth, which are both tragedies, are considered Shakespeare’s masterpieces. Oftentimes in literature, in order to understand a writer’s work, it is necessary to compare it with other writings of the same period. This can give us a deeper insight on the writer’s intention and on the real “message” of the play or novel; and can even help us to analyze the different perspectives in which a work can be interpreted.
In this case, these two tragedies can be easily compared, as they shared similar characteristics, which are typical of that time, while at the same time they differ in certain aspects. Read about the management of Grief symbolism
This essay will thoroughly canvass the main themes of Hamlet and Macbeth, and will evaluate, with profound tending, which are the points that the two of them have in common and which are those that show contrast. To begin with, it’s crucial to have a basic notion on what each play is about. Macbeth, is the story of a man, who is in fact the one who gives the name to the play, that finds out, by pure action of the supernatural (The Three Weird Sisters), that he will become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland.
These ghostlike characters play a vital role on the play, as they predict what will happen in the future and are, in a way, the ones who stir up Macbeth’s over-ambition. After this bizarre encounter, Macbeth is given the title of “Thane of Cawdor” as it was predicted by the witches. This brings up doubts on Macbeth’s mind, and then he slowly starts to rely on the witches prophecies. As a result of the prophecies, curiosity of how he could be King of Scotland aroused on Macbeth. He tells his wife about what happened and they finally decide to plan a conspiracy against the King.
Spurred on by Lady Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor murders King Duncan while on a visit to his castle. Duncan’s sons, Malcom and Donalbain, escape, and Macbeth assumes the crown. While the story twists and turns, Lady Macbeth loses her reason and dies. Macduff, the Thane of Fife, joins Malcom and attack Macbeth with an army. The story finally ends with Macduff killing Macbeth and Malcom being hailed King of Scotland. In the case of Hamlet, it is a play that tells the story of a young prince whose father recently died. His uncle, Claudius, marries his mother and takes the throne.
Hamlet, meets the ghost of his dead father, who relates the circumstances of the murder and demands vengeance. After a blood-thirsty plot inspired by “revenge”, almost everyone in the play ends up dying, Ofelia (Hamlet’s love), Polonius, Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius, and even Macbeth. What is particularly interesting to analyze in this essay, is that both plays revolve around the dichotomy appearance-reality. This can be seen in Hamlet, for instance, on Act III, when Hamlet proposes to represent a reality on stage. The effect that Shakespeare creates is kind of a blur, as it misleads the reader with what is real and what is not.
The plot is a sub-play that closely resembles the murder of Hamlet’s father, reproducing the circumstances of the murder. Its primary function is to trap Claudius into revealing his guilt. In fact, the king betrays himself. This approach is known in literature as phantasmagoria, as there is a constantly changing medley of reality and fiction. What’s more, Macbeth uses an efficient “modus operandi” so as to uncover the hidden truth about his father’s death: he pretends to be crazy (which indeed he might actually be) and in that way he achieves what he wanted and clarifies his hesitations.
At the same time, in Macbeth something similar happens. Both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, hide their inner appearances so as to carry out their plan to kill the King. When the King arrives to Macbeth’s castle, both wife and husband pretend to be welcoming and amicable. However, behind that fallacy, there were two souls full of hatred, ambition, greed and madness. This “masquerade” enables them to fulfill their will to take the throne. To round up the idea of appearance-reality, let us quote a Shakespeare verse, which is present in Macbeth, and is said by King Duncan: “There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”.
This means that outward appearances can be deceiving, and that our inward thoughts are the true thing. Nonetheless, there is no way to surmise what a person’s deeper and real thoughts are. Moreover, what can be said about the relation between the plots of each of these two plays? Macbeth and Hamlet both plan the murder of a king. Macbeth plans to murder Duncan, King of the Scots, because of his intense ambition, and Hamlet desires to kill Claudius, King of Denmark, because of his overwhelming need to take revenge of the assassination of his father.
Once again, we have arrived to a similarity between these two Shakespeare’s plays: THE THEME OF REVENGE. This is an unquestionable characteristic that is present in both stories, and that keeps the plot flowing. Personally, I believe that this is more evident in Hamlet, because from the very beginning of the story, when Hamlet meets the ghost of his father, the idea of taking revenge on someone appears. Besides, revenge is manifested in the main character specifically. This does not mean that Shakespeare did not work with the theme of revenge in Macbeth.
That would be something mistaken to say, because revenge does appear, but not in the main character. All of the murders that Macbeth commits are not encouraged by revenge but by ambition. Yet, Macduff and Malcom want to avenge the murder of King Duncan, and they therefore kill Macbeth. In terms of the main characters, if analyzed carefully, it is seen that Macbeth and Hamlet have very negative qualities. The latter cares little if he destroys the nai??ve Ophelia on his way to revenge and does not realize that he is tormenting the girl that loves him completely. He also mortally wounds Laertes and stabs the King.
Macbeth, on the other hand, literally kills innocent Banquo, Lady Macduff and her son. The similarity here is that they both kill, literally and not, innocent people, that do not deserve to be killed, in order to get what they want. Moreover, Hamlet is responsible for the murders of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, just as Macbeth is responsible for the murders of the above mentioned characters. Furthermore, I can state the following thesis for both plays: “In Shakespeare’s drama the supernatural apparitions contributed the most to the main character’s degradation”.
In Hamlet, the ghost is the guiding force behind the character’s actions. He asks Hamlet to seek revenge for the King’s death and Hamlet is therefore pushed to set into action against a situation he was already uncomfortable with. The information the ghost gives motivates Hamlet to carry out a series of events that will finally end in his death. In addition, the encounter between Hamlet and his father’s ghost makes Hamlet counterfeit madness to increase the suspicion that he is threatening the death to the King.
But this takes me to another point: can we say that Hamlet’s madness is not just part of his plan and that he is actually crazy? Well, definitely yes. I consider that a normal person would never do what Hamlet did to uncover the truth. It is just not ordinary to make people believe that you are insane. That kind of idea can only be fruit of someone who has at least a minimum level of madness or abnormality. Besides, Hamlet was experiencing grief and despair with the death of his father, and was probably emotionally affected and touched.
The death of a relative or of a loving person sometimes brings up atypical actions on people. More to the point, in the case of Macbeth, he feigned that he was crazy. This takes me to my last point which is, are Macbeth’s murders (Laertes’ and the King’s) also part of his planned madness? I won’t say so. I think that he just ended up driving himself crazy. One act took him to the other, and without probably realizing he did not respect the natural laws, and committed a sin, and arrived to a point of no return. Thus, he must be in some way mentally or emotionally affected.
Likewise, in Macbeth, as it was said before, the Three Weird Sisters play a key role in turning Macbeth into the paranoid, dangerous person that he is. They are the ones that awake Macbeth’s ambition, which slowly creeps in and finally takes hold on him. They represent Macbeth’s evil aspirations. They basically set fire to the tragedy as well as Macbeth’s fate when they tell him that he will be Thane of Cawdor. In my opinion, I believe that what Shakespeare wanted to do is to use the three witches as a cure to Macbeth’s curiosity which corrupts his character.
This is a little bit recondite and opinions on this vary from reader to reader. This is evident because there is always more than just one interpretation of every single part of the play. Together with Lady Macbeth’s influence and plan, the prophecies given to Macbeth to by the Three Weird Sisters, contributed to a great extent to the degradation of the character, which finally resulted in his downfall, or death. By now we have only mention those points that Macbeth and Hamlet have in common, but what about those that make each play different, unique?
There must be something special in them; something that makes a distinction among Shakespeare’s writings, if not every play would have a similar tedious and wearisome style. If this hypothetical example was true Shakespeare wouldn’t have been as well-known and prominent as he now is. Well, both Macbeth and Hamlet are tragedies, as they end up with the death of many of the main characters. Both tragedies display the dilemma of reality vs. appearances; and both main characters share similar characteristics and qualities.
Nevertheless, there is a substantial aspect in Macbeth that is not seen clearly in Hamlet, and it is that of the symbolism. All throughout the play, Macbeth experiences moments in which he imagines things that are not real, but that encourage him to go on with his actions. This is seen in the scene where he is about to kill the King and he imagines a blood-stained dagger on the floor. In a way, this is an anticipant that he will eventually kill the King, while at the same time it demonstrates that the Thane of Cawdor is going crazy.
What’s more, Shakespeare uses metaphors as a symbolism to represent the forthcomings of the story. This is noticed, for instance, when Shakespeare uses a bird as a symbol of the death of the King. Also, symbolism can be perceived with the sounds. Trumpets, bells, are announcers of deaths. Therefore, they are a sign of evil, of casualty. After reading Macbeth I could get to the conclusion that even a generally good person can become corrupt when faced with the prospect of having power.
Macbeth is the perfect candidate for this theory, as he was willing to go to extreme lengths to obtain his power. Once that was achieved, a “few” murders didn’t take a second thought if it meant that their precious power would be maintained. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet was a courageous soldier who fought for his own country, but as ambition took hold on him, he finally ended destroying his own nation. So in conclusion, it has been seen that these two Shakespearean works have many things in common, most of them typical of a tragedy of Renaissance time.
The main motifs in these plays are appearances vs. reality, revenge, ambition and the belief in the existence of the supernatural, which in fact is an integral part of both plots. There is no doubt why these two masterpieces still remain present in our days. From the very first line, they catch the reader’s interest until the end. Shakespeare enriched his writings with a complex vocabulary of the Victorian Era and, with his imagination as his unique and inimitable ingredient, he achieved his well-deserved reputation.
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