Motifs and Characterization in Macbeth Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 19 February 2017

Motifs and Characterization in Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, uses various literary elements; among the strongest are motifs and characterizations used to express and symbolize important changes and events throughout the play. Macbeth is a brave and ambitious man full of self-doubt who is driven by evil forces into bad situations. The motif of light and darkness symbolizes the conflict between good and evil. A motif is a significant word, phrase, image, description, idea, or other element repeated throughout a literary work and related to the theme. Manhood is a motif used throughout the play to symbolize the manly and weak sides of people and what qualities people expect a man to have. Blood comes to symbolize guilt and violence.

The clothes as titles motif symbolizes the title a person holds in the Kingdom. Characterization is used to explain how each character changes throughout the play and the reasoning behind their actions. Shakespeare also uses characterization to develop his plot. Shakespeare shows that Lady Macbeth is a very ambitious, dominating, and controlling character throughout the play. She is the reason Macbeth decides to kill Duncan. King Duncan is loved by everyone in the Kingdom. He is characterized as praiseworthy, caring, naïve, and trusting. Banquo is characterized as brave, innocent, logical, and full of reason. He is the mastermind behind the murder of King Duncan. Shakespeare uses many motifs throughout the story but he uses a lot of imagery of darkness and light. This is one of the strongest motifs used in the play.

The motif of light and darkness symbolizes the conflict between good and evil. This motif is used to foreshadow when something good or bad is going to happen. It also shows the readers which characters are good and which characters are bad. In this play, darkness stands for evil, bad deeds, and hell. It is always dark when something bad is going to happen like when Lady Macbeth decides to kill Duncan. When she makes her decision she says, “Come, thick night, / And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, / That my keen knife see not the wound it makes” (Act 1. Scene 5. Lines 49-51). The darkness she calls on shows the evil or darkness in the act she plans to commit. The witches are also associated with darkness. They always meet in dark, stormy scenes and talk about wandering in foggy and filthy air. They symbolize evil. Light is associated with Heaven, God, and goodness.

When Lady Macbeth calls on the murderous spirits saying, “Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark” (Act 1. Scene 5. Line 52), she is implying that light is the only thing that could stop her from murdering Duncan. Also, when Macbeth is fighting his ambition to kill Duncan and become King, he says, “Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires” (Act 4. Scene 4. Lines 50-51). This statement is implying that he is thinking evil thoughts and he does not want God to know his evil desires. Light and darkness are very prominent in all the characters’ actions and thoughts.

Macbeth is a man that at first seems content to defend his King and country against treason and rebellion, and yet, his desire for power plays a major role in the way he commits the most heinous acts. Macbeth is characterized as brave, valiant, and loyal. The witches also awaken Macbeth’s ambition in the first act. The act gives the initial impression of Macbeth as a brave hero and then shows us how he changes. It reveals his fixation on the witches’ prophecy. Macbeth is characterized as a brave and noble warrior when King Duncan says, “For Brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name” (Act 1. Scene 2. Line 16).

But, Macbeth’s reaction to the witches’ predictions emphasizes his great desire for power and prestige. Macbeth realizes that murder might be required to achieve this. He thinks about it but has no means of acting on it. He begins to be confused and he is conflicted. He is caught between his loyalty to the King and his desire for power. He yearns for a simple way out, free of guilt and consequence. He implies this when he says, “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well/ It were done quickly” (Act 1. Scene 7. Lines 1-2). Lady Macbeth finally emerges and drives the hesitant Macbeth to act; she is the will propelling his achievements. Macbeth knows what he does is wrong, and recognizes there will be consequences. He is tempted but tries to resist it. He is not strong enough to stand up to his wife.

Literary elements like motifs and characterization help develop the entire plot. By using characterization, Shakespeare is able to reveal the characters’ thoughts and feelings in order for readers to analyze the characters’ motives for their actions. Characterization gives the reader a better understanding of each character. The use of motifs in “Macbeth” help define the setting and mood of the Act, as well as the good or bad intentions of the characters. For example, darkness or night in Macbeth is associated with evil, murder, murderous intent, and mischief, and death.

Light is feared by those who wish murder on the King, because they do not want their evil thoughts/deeds revealed. Characters who are innocent were always shown in bright, lighted scenes to stress their goodness. Darkness was the background for evil, as exhibited by the scenes where murder occurs, or where the mischievous, evil witches appear. Blood is a recurring symbol or motif that symbolizes death, and later, Macbeth’s guilt. These are just a few of the many motifs and symbols found in Macbeth. Motifs are used to add depth and richness to characters and settings, and bring out the major themes and ideas of the play.

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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 19 February 2017

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