One reason for the continuing popularity of Shakespeare's plays is that the themes don't seem to age. In the character of Macbeth, we see an ambitious man evolve into a tyrant. How many examples, say from the twentieth century, can you think of where we see this pattern played out with real historical people and events?
In 'Macbeth', we are presented with a major theme: ambition. In these questions, we will evaluate how different types of ambition and their impact are developed through Macbeth's downfall.
Other themes thread through the story too, so we should be concerned with how they overlap. How do appearances differ from reality? How does Shakespeare's use of imagery emphasise these themes?
As we consider themes we are also exploring what makes literature! One way to think about it is that the authors write about the experiences of being human. As humans, we may experience love, loss, happiness, fear, and so on. Through these experiences, no matter where or when we live, we share this connection with others. The plays, novels or movies that we feel most strongly about are likely to be those we can connect in some way, to some of the feelings or ideas that we have just explored, as being part of recurring experiences in the story of humanity.
As students of literature, we should view 'Macbeth' as a deliberate construct that conveys the writer's ideas. We should also evaluate how effectively this has been achieved. Let's stay alert to ideas which help us explore the following questions: How does Shakespeare structure the play, juxtaposing incidents or comments? How are the characters constructed to act as contrasts or foils to Macbeth? How can we use our knowledge of the Elizabethan period to explore Shakespeare's possible purposes or intentions in writing 'Macbeth'?
You should always refer to your own text when working through these examples. These quotations are for reference only.