This is an analysis example:
The Role and Importance of Motifs in Macbeth by Tom Wiig
A motif is a recurring element, event, idea, or theme in a story. A motif is used to bring about a particular mood or theme. Motifs appear throughout literature, in most major books and works, if not all. Motifs often emphasize a theme or idea. Throughout the tragedy of Macbeth, Shakespeare employs the use of motifs to emphasize certain ideas as he aims to point out key elements for us, the audience, to decipher and explore.
The first motif to explore is that of predictions. Predictions occur throughout the play, manipulating Macbeth and others into doing certain things. The predictions of the witches have a huge impact on the characters in Macbeth – he likely would not have killed Duncan if the witches had not told him he was to become king. The prediction by the witches about Banquo’s sons becoming king and not Macbeth’s own, causes Macbeth to attempt murder on Fleance and kill Banquo. The predictions given to Macbeth by the Three Apparitions give him a false sense of security – they cause him to not worry and make him feel invincible. The predictions – talking about moving trees and someone not born of a women – seem crazy, causing Macbeth to feel as if he doesn’t ever need to prepare for battle. Banquo at one point does warn Macbeth to be careful about the statements the witches make, however Macbeth continues to fully trust the literal sense of the things that the witches say. Predictions cause this play to take a much different path than it would have without them.
Violence is another motif featured in Macbeth. Macbeth is characterized by violence in the play, from Scene 2 in Act 1 where Macbeth is a brave hero who helps squash a rebellion to the final scene where Macduff kills Macbeth and returns with his decapitated head. Violence happens, some is necessary and good like when Macbeth kills Macdonwald to protect the kingdom or when Macduff kills Macbeth when Macbeth becomes a tyrant. Other violence, such as the slaughtering of Macduff’s family and Banquo are both out of greed. Another example is Duncan’s horses who eat each other after Duncan’s murder. Macbeth is a classic case of violence begetting violence.
Hallucination is another motif that appears in Macbeth. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffer from hallucinations in the play as a result of the guilt that they feel about the things they are planning to do, like the bloody dagger that Macbeth sees before he kills Duncan, or for the things they have done, like seeing Banquo’s ghost sitting at the table right after Macbeth has had Banquo murdered. These hallucinations cause them to slowly become insane and their behavior becomes more and more erratic. The number of hallucinations that occur increases as their guilt becomes greater and greater.
Gender is another motif present in the play of Macbeth. Men and women are expected to behave in traditional ways. Lady Macbeth is often frustrated by the limitations placed on her because of her gender. She even asks the gods to “unsex” her so she can do the things that Macbeth hesitates to do. Macbeth on the other hand often shows feminine characteristics – he wavers on whether or not to kill Duncan, but she convinces him by telling him to be a man. When Macbeth breaks down at the sight of Banquo’s ghost, Lady Macbeth tells him to be strong and not act like a woman. Shakespeare’s three witches are considered female, but they have beards, that make them not normal humans and thus allow them to break traditional gender roles. In both instances, it is women that encourage Macbeth to do the evil things that he does – similar to how stories often portray women, dating back to Adam and Eve.
Weather is a motif used as a way of foreshadowing things to come. The weather described is always bad – thunder, lightning, rain, and strong winds. Bad things happen when bad weather occurs. The witches always meet in bad weather and set in motion many of the bad occurrences in the play. Tying in with weather is darkness versus light. In Macbeth, bad things happen in the dark. Most of the evil things that happen occur at night. Duncan is murdered in his sleep when it is dark. Banquo is murdered after sunset. The battles at the beginning and end of Macbeth occur in daylight because they are for the good of Scotland. The characters hide their evil deeds in the dark, and shine their good deeds in the daylight.
Sleep is another motif in Macbeth. The good and those who have died sleep well, those who are overwhelmed by what they have done cannot sleep. An example of this is the sleeplessness experienced by Lady Macbeth after the murders of many. She has gone completely insane over the guilt she experiences for her actions.
A final motif in Macbeth is blood. Blood tends to stain things. In Macbeth, blood appears on the hands and faces of those who commit grotesque murders. The murderers cannot get the smell or sight of blood off of their hands, illustrating the actions they have done are irreversible and the guilt is overwhelming. Lady Macbeth feels that she cannot remove the blood from her hands. She talks about a damned spot that smells bad and pervades her entire existence.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a powerful and moving tragedy. It is the most violent play that he has written and has a very strong message about the ills begotten from greed. Those who do for the common good are rewarded, those who seek only personal gain will bring about their own downfall. Shakespeare’s use of motifs plays a prominent part in delivering this message.
Darkness: evil nature of Macbeth (horrible deeds), the darkness in Macbeth’s heart. Relates to unnatural world and witches.
Light: It is associated with God, goodness, divine will.
Rebellion of Nature: against death of Duncan
Blood: Bloody Daggers, Bloody Hands
Symbols in Macbeth: