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A perfect Macbeth essay? - You decide! (AQA 2023)

Macbeth is a play written by William Shakespeare that was first performed in 1606. It tells the story of a Scottish general named Macbeth who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become king. Obsessed with the idea of power, Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth embark on a bloody and treacherous journey to achieve their ambitions. The play is studied by students in the UK as part of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) curriculum. In this blog post, we will explore the themes, characters, and language used in Macbeth, as well as its historical context and relevance today.


Macbeth is a play that explores a range of themes, including ambition, power, guilt, and the supernatural. One of the main themes of the play is ambition. Macbeth is consumed by his desire for power and is willing to do whatever it takes to become king, even if it means betraying those closest to him. His wife Lady Macbeth is also ambitious and plays a key role in encouraging her husband to pursue his ambitions.

Power is another important theme in Macbeth. The play shows how power can corrupt even the most noble of individuals. Macbeth, who starts off as a loyal and honorable soldier, becomes a tyrant once he becomes king. He becomes obsessed with maintaining his power and will stop at nothing to do so.

Guilt is also a major theme in Macbeth. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both experience intense feelings of guilt over their actions. Macbeth is haunted by the ghosts of those he has killed, and Lady Macbeth is driven mad by her guilt. The play shows how guilt can consume individuals and lead to their downfall.

Finally, the supernatural is a significant theme in Macbeth. The play features three witches who prophesy Macbeth's rise to power. Their supernatural abilities add an element of mystery and intrigue to the play.


Macbeth features a range of complex and interesting characters. Macbeth himself is a tragic hero, a noble individual brought down by his own flaws. He is a brave and loyal soldier at the start of the play, but his ambition and desire for power lead him to commit terrible deeds. Lady Macbeth is equally complex. She is a strong and determined woman who encourages her husband to pursue his ambitions, but she is ultimately driven mad by her guilt.

The three witches are also fascinating characters. They are mysterious and otherworldly, and their prophecies set the events of the play in motion. The character of Banquo, a fellow soldier and friend of Macbeth, serves as a foil to Macbeth. He is loyal and honorable, and his murder at the hands of Macbeth highlights the tragic nature of the play.


Shakespeare's language is one of the most distinctive features of his plays, and Macbeth is no exception. The play is written in iambic pentameter, a form of poetry that consists of ten syllables per line, with the stress falling on every second syllable. This gives the play a rhythmic quality that makes it easy to memorize and recite.

The language used in Macbeth is also rich in imagery and metaphor. For example, the famous "Out, out, brief candle!" soliloquy spoken by Macbeth after he learns of Lady Macbeth's death is full of metaphorical language. Macbeth compares life to a candle that is extinguished all too quickly, highlighting the fleeting nature of existence.

Historical Context

Macbeth was written during a time of political instability and uncertainty in England. The play was performed for the first time in 1606, just a few years after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a failed attempt by a group of Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament and assassinate King James I. The plot was a significant event in English history and led to increased persecution of Catholics in England. It is possible that Shakespeare included the witches in Macbeth as a nod to the idea of witchcraft, which was a hot topic at the time.

Macbeth is also set during the reign of King James I, who was interested in witchcraft and wrote a book on the subject called Daemonologie. The play may have been written as a way to flatter the king and appeal to his interests.

Relevance Today

Despite being written over 400 years ago, Macbeth remains relevant today. The themes of ambition, power, and corruption are timeless and continue to resonate with modern audiences. The play also raises important questions about the nature of power and its impact on individuals and society as a whole.

Macbeth has also inspired numerous adaptations and reinterpretations over the years. From film adaptations to modern retellings, the play has proven to be a rich source of inspiration for artists and storytellers. Some of the most notable adaptations of Macbeth include Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, which is set in feudal Japan, and Justin Kurzel's 2015 film adaptation, which features a gritty and realistic portrayal of the play's violence and brutality.


GCSE students in the UK are required to study Macbeth as part of their English literature curriculum, and for good reason. The play is a masterpiece of English literature that explores important themes and features complex and fascinating characters. Shakespeare's language is rich and poetic, and the play's historical context adds an extra layer of intrigue and meaning. Macbeth remains relevant today, and its influence can be seen in countless adaptations and reinterpretations. By studying Macbeth, students can gain a deeper understanding of literature, history, and the human experience.

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