Literary Analysis Essay For Macbeth Witches

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Macbeth by William Shakespeare that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in Macbeth and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of William Shakespeare's Macbeth in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Macbeth at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Power of Power

One of the most profound and disturbing themes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth involves the power that power exerts over an individual who has ascended to a post of authority. Under the influence of unchecked power, Macbeth takes actions that have serious and devastating consequences for himself and for other characters in the play. Once Macbeth has committed an act in which he uses power for negative ends, he finds it increasingly difficult to restrain himself from resorting to the perverted use of power. Ultimately, it his inability to distinguish the adaptive and maladaptive functions of power from one another that prevents him from realizing his potential greatness.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Role of Witches in Macbeth

Macbeth introduces an element of fantasy into the normal tragedy narrative through the characters of the witches. The witches are important figures in the play, as their function is both to predict Macbeth’s fate and to signal to the reader what is to come. Far from serving as a distracting element, the witches help focus the reader on some of the darker and more sinister aspects of the play. Shakespeare’s use of this fantasy element is effective as a narrative technique.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Role of Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is a character who makes an easy reading and interpretation of the play impossible. Like many female characters, Lady Macbeth was cast into a role not entirely of her own choosing; however, like her husband, she finds that once she is on the path of darkness, it is impossible for her to turn back. In fact, Lady Macbeth becomes even more bloodthirsty than her husband, and she encourages him to use his power to perpetrate violence against others. A character analysis of Lady Macbeth reveals that she is a complex character who adds depth to an otherwise straightforward play about power dynamics.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Blood Imagery in Macbeth

Violence and the bloodshed that results are important symbols in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. While the blood that is shed is a tangible reminder of the outcomes of misused power, it also serves as an image that provokes Macbeth to reflect upon his deeds, even if he does not change his behavior. Macbeth becomes obsessed with the blood on his hands. Unfortunately, this reminder of his guilt does not prevent him from continuing violent acts.


This list of important quotations from Macbeth by William Shakespeare will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Macbeth listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of Macbeth by William Shakespeare they are referring to.

“Let not light see my black and deep desires…." (I.iv.51)

“Yet I do fear thy nature. It is too full o the milk of human kindness….Thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without The illness should attend it." (I.v.16-20).

“Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe

topful of direst cruelty!" (I.v.41-43).

“…We but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return To plague th’ inventor" (I.vii.8-10)

“O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart Cannot conceive nor name thee!" (II.iii.63-64)

“[B]lood will have blood." (III.v.121)

“I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing To those that know me." (III.v.85-86)

“Something wicked this way comes." (IV.1.45)

“The spirits that know All mortal consequences have pronounc’d me thus: ‘Fear not, Macbeth, no man that’s born of woman Shall e’er have power upon thee.’" (V.iii.6-7)

“The time approaches That will with due decision make us know What we shall say we have, and what we owe." (V.iv.17-19).

Reference: Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. In Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In The Riverside Shakespeare. Eds. G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.M. Tobin. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 1360-1390.
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Introduction to the Main Characters in Macbeth

Macbeth

The horrific and detestable acts perpetrated by Macbeth mirror the crimes of Shakespeare's great villains -- Aaron the Moor, Iago, Richard III, Edmund -- all at the ready to slaughter women and children, usurp divinely appointed kings, and butcher their closest friends to satisfy ambitious cravings. Yet, despite his villainous deeds, Macbeth is not among the list of Shakespeare's most base evildoers. What sets Macbeth apart is his penchant for self-reflection. Although ultimately he cannot resist his dark desires, his struggle to regain his goodness is constant, and the part of his character that is capable of much love and compassion, although ever fading, is always present. There is no moral dilemma with Shakespeare's true villains. They relish every moment of their immorality. Thus, rather than a villain, Macbeth is considered to be one of Shakespeare's tragic heroes. He is by no means the epitome of the Aristotelian tragic hero, as is Hamlet, but he is a tragic hero nonetheless, because we, the audience, can see ourselves in him.

More on the character of Macbeth:

 How Shakespeare changed his sources to develop the character of Macbeth.
 How Shakespeare crafted a sympathetic Macbeth using the rules of Aristotelian tragedy.
 The effect of Lady Macbeth's death on Macbeth.
 Macbeth's motives, weaknesses and lack of self-expression.
 An analysis of Macbeth's six main traits.


Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is Shakespeare's most evil feminine creation. Her satanic prayer to the forces of darkness in Act 1 is chilling to modern readers and it would have been absolutely terrifying to Jacobean groundlings watching the horror unfold in Shakespeare's own Globe Theatre. Most critical analysis of Lady Macbeth focuses on her as catalyst for Macbeth's first murder, that of Duncan, and the linear progression of her deteriorating mental state, culminating in her sleepwalking scene.

However, the most interesting facet of Lady Macbeth's character is hardly ever explored: that she herself intends to commit the murder of Duncan, while her husband merely plays the smiling host. This precious detail gives Lady Macbeth's invocation new weight and her character new depth. John Dover Wilson, the editor of the first edition of The Cambridge Macbeth, was one of the first scholars to bring this hypothesis to light. As he writes in his introduction to the play:
The whole point of Lady Macbeth's invocation is that she intends to murder Duncan herself. She speaks of 'my knife' and of 'my fell purpose.' And the same resolve is implied in everything she says to Macbeth after his entry. She bids him put "This night's great business into my dispatch"...she tells him he need do nothing but look the innocent and kindly host; she dismisses him with the words 'Leave all the rest to me'. All this seems obvious directly it is pointed out, though once again no one appears to have noticed it before, simply because in the end the murder is of course performed by Macbeth himself; and must be, however the drama is shaped. I suggest, by means of a further dialogue between husband and wife, preceded perhaps by a scene in which, going to the bedroom knife in hand, she cannot bring herself to the action; and I further suggest that when he reached this point in 1606 Shakespeare found he had no room for such developments and had to extricate himself as best he could. And how triumphantly he does it! First he writes a soliloquy ('If it were done, when 'tis done') for the beginning of scene 1.7, which conveys the impression that Macbeth was intending all along to do the deed himself; he then later in the same scene makes the guilty pair talk as if they were proposing to do it together; and finally, though he sends Macbeth to the bedroom alone, he brings Lady Macbeth on to inform us that she has already been there, and that

Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done't.


(Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. John Dover Wilson. Cambridge: UP, 1968. p.p. xxxvii)
More on the character of Lady Macbeth:

 The psychoanalysis of Lady Macbeth in the sleepwalking scene.
 Lady Macbeth's suicide and the causes of her death.
 Does Lady Macbeth really faint upon hearing of the murder of the grooms?
 Lady Macbeth in the spotlight.
 An analysis of Lady Macbeth's five principal traits.



Duncan

Duncan, the King of Scotland, is Macbeth's first victim en route to obtaining the crown for himself. As is evident here and in all of the history plays, Shakespeare was, at least in the public arena, a firm believer in the divine right of kings. Usurping a divinely appointed ruler was always the most serious of crimes, but to usurp a valiant and benevolent monarch was wicked beyond comprehension. Thus, for reasons both dramatic and political, Shakespeare had to make notable changes to the historical Duncan. The real King Duncan, according to Shakespeare's sources, was your regular nasty warlord; nastier, it appears, than the actual historical Macbeth. If Shakespeare's Macbeth planned to kill this Duncan he would be justified, and hence there would be no play. So Duncan morphs into a delightful and much beloved ruler, kind to the point of annoyance. With his 'silver skin' and 'golden blood' (2.3.97), Shakespeare's Duncan epitomizes the perfect ruler. Shakespeare's changes to Duncan's character are also in keeping with other changes he made to his sources, all seemingly intended to cater to his king and patron, James I.

Banquo

Shakespeare's Banquo is the antithesis of Macbeth -- his pure, moral character foil. Banquo has no 'vaulting ambition' and thus can easily escape the trap of the Witches' prophesies. Wise and steadfast, Banquo warns Macbeth that
Oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's
In deepest consequence. (1.3.132)
Banquo ultimately falls victim to Macbeth, but his son, Fleance, escapes.

More on the character of Banquo:

 How Shakespeare changed his sources to develop the character of Banquo.
 Banquo's first encounter with the Weird Sisters.
 Banquo's suspicions of Macbeth.
 The murder of Banquo.
 The importance of Banquo's ghost.

Macduff

Macduff, the thane of Fife, arrives at Macbeth's castle the morning after Duncan has been murdered. Macduff pronounces the king dead, and is suspicious of Macbeth almost immediately. Macduff quickly sides with Malcolm, Duncan's son and rightful heir to the throne. As punishment for his betrayal, Macbeth hatches a plan to kill Macduff and his whole family. Macbeth's assassins do murder Lady Macduff and his son, but Macduff, who is in England at the time, lives to take his revenge on Macbeth at the end of the play, when he slays in him battle and carries his head to the new king, Malcolm.

More on the character of Macduff:

 An analysis of Macduff's principal qualities.
 Macbeth's relation to Macduff.
 The murder of Macduff's family.
 Macduff's reaction to the news of the murder of his family.

The Three Witches

Shakespeare's Three Witches, or the Three Weird Sisters, are characters in Macbeth, answering to the fates of mythology. They appear first in 1.1 and they make their prophecy known to Macbeth and Banquo in 1.3. In 4.1. they show Macbeth the three apparitions.

The following analysis of Shakespeare's Weird Sisters is an excerpt from the book, Shakespeare and his Times, by Nathan Drake:
In the very first appearance, indeed, of the Weird Sisters to Macbeth and Banquo on the blasted heath, we discern beings of a more awful and spiritualized character than belonged to the vulgar herd of witches. "What are these," exclaims the astonished Banquo, --
What are these,
So wither'd, and so wild in their attire?(1.3).
Even when unattended by any human witnesses, when supporting the dialogue merely among themselves, Shakespeare has placed in the mouths of these agents imagery and diction of a cast so peculiar and mysterious as to render them objects of alarm and fear, emotions incompatible with any tendency towards the ludicrous. But when, wheeling round the magic cauldron, in the gloomy recesses of their cave, they commence their incantations, chanting in tones wild and unearthly, and heard only during the intervals of a thunder-storm, their metrical charm, while flashes of subterranean fire obscurely light their haggard features, their language seems to breathe of hell, and we shrink back, as from beings at war with all that is good. Yet is the impression capable of augmentation, and is felt to have attained its acme of sublimity and horror, when, in reply to the question of Macbeth,
How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags?
What is't you do?
They reply,-- A deed without a name.

Much, however, of the dread, solemnity, and awe which is experienced in reading this play, from the intervention of the Witches, is lost in its representation on the stage, owing to the injudicious custom of bringing them too forward on the scene; where, appearing little better than a group of old women, the effect intended by the poet is not only destroyed, but reversed. Their dignity and grandeur must arise, as evil beings gifted with superhuman powers, from the undefined nature both of their agency and of their eternal forms. Were they indistinctly seen, though audible, at a distance, and, as it were, through a hazy twilight, celebrating their orgies, and with shadowy and gigantic shape flitting between the pale blue flames of their caldron and the eager eye of the spectator, sufficient latitude would be given to the imagination, and the finest drama of our author would receive in the theatre that deep tone of supernatural horror with which it is felt to be so highly imbued in the solitude of the closet. (589)
More on the Witches

 Witches or Weird Sisters?
 The symbolic character attached to the Weird Sisters.
 Detailed commentary on the Witches' Chants.
 Exploring the Witches' control over nature in Macbeth.
 Which three apparitions do the Witches show Macbeth?
 The Witches' metre: trochaic tetrameter.


How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Introduction to the Characters in Macbeth. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth/macbethchars.html >.


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More Resources

 Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
 Life in Stratford (structures and guilds)
 Life in Stratford (trades, laws, furniture, hygiene)
 Stratford School Days: What Did Shakespeare Read?

 Games in Shakespeare's England [A-L]
 Games in Shakespeare's England [M-Z]
 An Elizabethan Christmas
 Clothing in Elizabethan England

 Queen Elizabeth: Shakespeare's Patron
 King James I of England: Shakespeare's Patron
 The Earl of Southampton: Shakespeare's Patron
 Going to a Play in Elizabethan London

 Ben Jonson and the Decline of the Drama
 Publishing in Elizabethan England
 Shakespeare's Audience
 Religion in Shakespeare's England

 Alchemy and Astrology in Shakespeare's Day
 Entertainment in Elizabethan England
 London's First Public Playhouse
 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time

Points to Ponder

"The study of Macbeth's character is hampered in another way by the comparative meagreness of his self-expression. Many readers would doubtless be surprised to learn how little Macbeth actually says. In the long and important third scene of the first act he speaks only thirteen times; in his first talk with his wife he speaks three times and utters fifteen words; in the hesitation scene that closes the first act, he speaks seven times, once at great length; in the dagger scene he speaks six times; in the courtyard after the murder, a scene which expands in our excited minds to epical or cosmical dimensions, he speaks thirteen times; in the entire fifth act there are only twenty-six speeches." O. W. Firkins. Read on...

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Research Your Topic

 Macbeth: The Complete Play with Annotations and Commentary
 The Metre of Macbeth: Blank Verse and Rhymed Lines
 Metaphors in Macbeth (Biblical)
 Figures of Speech in Macbeth

 Macbeth, Duncan and Shakespeare's Changes
 King James I and Shakespeare's Sources for Macbeth
 Contemporary References to King James I in Macbeth
 The Royal Patent that Changed Shakespeare's Life

 Soliloquy Analysis: If it were done when 'tis done (1.7.1-29)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Is this a dagger (2.1.33-61)
 Soliloquy Analysis: To be thus is nothing (3.1.47-71)
 Soliloquy Analysis: She should have died hereafter (5.5.17-28)





 Explanatory Notes for Lady Macbeth's Soliloquy (1.5)
 Explanatory Notes for the Witches' Chants (4.1)
 Macbeth Plot Summary (Acts 1 and 2)
 Macbeth Plot Summary (Acts 3, 4 and 5)

 How to Stage a Production of Macbeth (Scene Suggestions)
 A Comparison of Macbeth and Hamlet
 Macbeth Study Quiz (with detailed answers)
 The Curse of Macbeth

 Shakespeare's Sources for Macbeth
 Macbeth Q & A
 Essay Topics on Macbeth
 Aesthetic Examination Questions on Macbeth
 What is Tragic Irony?

 Stages of Plot Development in Macbeth
 Time Analysis of the Action in Macbeth
 Quotations from Macbeth (Full)
 Top 10 Quotations from Macbeth

 Shakespeare's Workmanship: Crafting a Sympathetic Macbeth
 Origin of the Weird Sisters
 Temptation, Sin, Retribution: Lecture Notes on Macbeth
 Untie the winds: Exploring the Witches' Control Over Nature in Macbeth

 Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers

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