The theme that is brought up early in this play is “fate and predestination”. This was very much part of the Protestant belief at the time of Macbeth. Ones future was mapped out to a certain extent ultimately leading to salvation or damnation. In Macbeth’s case it was damnation and failure. This theme was displayed early in the play.
Macbeth and Banquo have recently been in a tough battle with rebels and have won the victory for Scotland. Duncan rewards Macbeth for his courage by giving him the title ‘Thane of Cawdor’. This title previously belonged to one who was a ‘most disloyal traitor’ so it seems Macbeth was destined to become one himself.
But Duncan himself does not tell Macbeth. He is told by three witches he meets on the ‘lonely moor’. Macbeth is surprised to be told by the witches but even more so when they proclaim he will be King:Order now
Act 1 Scene 3 “First Witch
All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis
All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor
All hail Macbeth, that shall be King here after.”
However, certain issues must be raised. The question has to be asked â€“ “Are the witches predicting his future or are they trying to manipulate him into doing something he would regret?” The witches may have been told by someone about Macbeth receiving the honour of being Thane of Cawdor before the information got to him. Macbeth was destined to fail as soon as he thought about being King. Thinking about being would have made him exercise thoughts about killing Duncan in order to be King more quickly. In those days it was believed that the Monarch was appointed by God and therefore any attempt to usurp the Monarch was sacrilegious. This is made clear to us when Duncan’s sons discover their father dead. McDuff says:
Act 2 Scene 3 “Confusion now hath made his masterpiece
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord’s appointed temple and stole thence
The life o’th’building.”
McDuff says that the life of the ‘Lord’s anointed temple’ has been stolen. He means that Duncan was the life of God and this life was stolen because he is dead. This shows a strong belief that Kings were appointed by God. This belief is called “The Divine Rights of Monarchs” and once again shows that Macbeth was destined to fail when he killed Duncan.
Macbeth’s moral dilemma when considering murdering Duncan, and the religious terminology he uses illustrates how he knows that the act he is considering is immoral and that he will be punished accordingly. However he is still seduced by offers of greatness. He says:
Act 1 Scene 7 “But in these cases
We still have judgement here that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught, return
To plague th’inventor”
Even though he will receive greatness for murdering Duncan, it will come back to haunt him or he might even be killed himself. This once again shows that Macbeth was destined to fail.
It is obvious to us that Macbeth is attracted to the idea of murdering Duncan but he knows it is an evil act:
Act 2 Scene 1 “Nature seems deadâ€¦ wicked dreamsâ€¦
Witchcraft celebrates Pale Hecate’s off’ringâ€¦
Withered murderâ€¦ wolfâ€¦ howl’sâ€¦ Tarquin’s
Ravishing stridesâ€¦ ghost”
All of these things represent evil and it shows what was going through Macbeth’s mind. Even still he contemplated murdering Duncan. This shows that he was once again destined to fail.
The murder of Duncan and the upsetting of the pre-ordained order is illustrated symbolically by the in incident with the owl and the falcon:
Act 2 Scene 4 “old man
Even like the deed that’s done on Tuesday last
At a falcon tow’ ring in her pride of place
Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed”
This is showing that the less powerful and important is killing the more powerful and important. It is a parallel to Macbeth killing Duncan. Macbeth usurped Duncan’s position and this is unnatural or wrong occurrence. Macbeth is defying the natural order and therefore defying God therefore he will be punished and this punishment will be failure.
This manifestation of God’s will was central to the belief system of Low Church Christians in the early 17th Century, of which James I was one. This play serves as a warning to those wanting to kill the monarch at the time of the play.
The Gunpowder Plot is referred to at the beginning of Act 2 Scene 3:
“Knock, knock. Who’s there in th’other devils name?
Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the
Scales against either scale, who committed treason
Enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to
Heaven. O, come in, equivocator.”
The Porter seems to be referring to the Jesuit father Garnet, who tried to save his life with his specious arguments but who was executed in 1606 for complicity in the Gunpowder Plot. He especially refers to the Jesuit priest’s equivocal oaths when he says “for God’s sake”. The plotters were condemned and this is parallel to Macbeth being condemned â€“ his madness and suffering along with that of his wife are symbolic of the punishment awaiting the traitors. His punishment comes in several ways. Firstly he cannot sleep at night, secondly he keeps visualising the ghost of Banquo and thirdly and ultimately he himself is killed.
James I defeating the plotters and Malcom and McDuff defeating Macbeth are examples of the theme good versus evil. If good were not to prevail then the whole socio-cultural fabric that underpinned 17th Century life would be destroyed making society unstable. This is proved in the years following the death of James I. His successor Charles I was impeached and he was eventually executed after the Civil War. Also the governments of the Interregnum and the Protectorate had failed.