The theme of the play, according to G.R. Elliot is that a "wicked intention must in the end produce wicked action unless it is not merely revoked by the protagonist's better feelings, but entirely eradicated by his inmost will, aided by Divine grace." This is seen most clearly in Act V, Scene 1, where the Doctor says, "More needs she the divine than the physician." It also seen throughout the play in Macbeth's murderous plots. Also rampant through the play is the idea of "Fair is foul, foul is fair." Basically, this means that appearances can be deceiving. What appears to be good can be bad, and this is seen in such things as the deceptive facade of Lady Macbeth and in the predictions of the witches.
Shakespeare uses many supernatural elements in his tragedy Macbeth, more so than in any other play he wrote. The witches represent the dark powers that have the capacity to influence men's decisions, but, more importantly, they are an outward representation of Macbeth's inner evil. Having said this, the brooding and mystifying darkness itself is a recurring motif in the drama and, like the witches, it symbolizes the darkness in Macbeth's heart and the evil nature of his horrible deeds. The witches are supernatural beings of terror, in harmony with Shakespeares tragic period. (Clark, Wright 792)
Although most modern readers would agree that Duncan's murder is a direct result of Macbeth's own lust for ambition, coupled with the pressure placed on him by Lady Macbeth, Jacobean audiences would have had a much different view, placing blame squarely on the powers of darkness. Shakespeare altered the sources he used in constructing the play to cater to this deep and prevalent belief in the occult. Hecate is the goddess of witchcraft, and you can view her as the ruler of the three Witches. In Act 3, Scene 5, Hecate appears before the Witches and demands to know why she has been excluded from their meetings with Macbeth. She tells them Macbeth will be back to know his destiny and she proclaims that he will see apparitions that will, "by the strength of their illusion" lead him to conclude that he is safe. She plays an important role in the play because of the lines she utters at the end of the scene: "And you all know, security is mortals' chiefest enemy." She reveals in these lines that Macbeth's belief that he is untouchable will ultimately result in his downfall.
Blood has both symbolic and literal meaning in Macbeth, and so it is one of the major motifs throughout the play. For example, Macbeth returns with bloody hands from the murder of Duncan, and then Lady Macbeth goes back to the scene of the crime to place the daggers, only to return herself with blood-stained hands. This symbolizes that they are accomplices in the crime, tied together by King Duncan's blood. Blood is the outward representation of their evil; it is a continual reminder of the terrible deeds they have committed. As an aside, the imagery of unclean hands comes from Matthew 27.24, when Pilate comes before the masses gathered to witness the trial of Jesus.
The real Macbethus, ruler of the Scots, has been hidden from view, buried under the weight of his fictional nemesis, lost to all but historians. The portrayal of Macbeth in the drama as a man ultimately devoured by lusty ambition is far removed from the true High King of Scotland, who led his people peacefully and justly. The historical Macbeth, like Shakespeare's character, took the throne after killing Duncan, King of the Scots. However, the historical Macbeth did not kill King Duncan in bed, as seen in the play, but on the battlefield.
When we first hear of Macbeth in the wounded captains account of his battlefield valor, our initial impression is of a brave and capable warrior. This perspective is complicated, however, once we see Macbeth interact with the three witches. We realize that his physical courage is joined by a consuming ambition and a tendency to self-doubt. The prediction that he will be king brings him joy, but it also creates inner turmoil. These three attributes, bravery, ambition, and self-doubt, struggle for mastery of Macbeth throughout the play. Shakespeare uses Macbeth to show the terrible effects that ambition and guilt can have on a man who lacks strength of character. Macbeth, great warrior though he is, is ill equipped for the psychic consequences of crime. Before he kills Duncan, Macbeth is plagued by worry and almost aborts the crime. Macbeth seems as if struck out at a heat abd imagined from first to last with unabated fervor. (Clark, Wright 792) It takes Lady Macbeths steely sense of purpose to push him into the deed. After the murder, however, her powerful personality begins to disintegrate, leaving Macbeth increasingly alone. He fluctuates between fits of fevered action, in which he plots a series of murders to secure his throne and moments of terrible guilt. As things fall apart for him at the end of the play, he seems almost relieved. With the English army at his gates, he can finally return to life as a warrior, and he displays a kind of reckless bravado as his enemies surround him and drag him down. In part, this stems from his fatal confidence in the witches prophecies, but it also seems to derive from the fact that he has returned to the arena where he has been most successful and where his internal turmoil need not affect him, namely, the battlefield. Unlike many of Shakespeares other tragic heroes, Macbeth never seems to contemplate suicide: Why should I play the Roman fool, he asks, and die / On mine own sword? Instead, he goes down fighting, bringing the play full circle: it begins with Macbeth winning on the battlefield and ends with him dying in combat.
The contrast between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, united by their affections, their fortunes, and their crime, is made to illustrate and light up the character of each. (Clark, Wright 792)
Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeares most famous and frightening female characters. When we first see her, she is already plotting Duncans murder, and she is stronger, more ruthless, and more ambitious than her husband. She seems fully aware of this and knows that she will have to push Macbeth into committing murder. At one point, she wishes that she were not a woman so that she could do it herself. This theme of the relationship between gender and power is key to Lady Macbeths character: her husband implies that she is a masculine soul inhabiting a female body, which seems to link masculinity to ambition and violence. Shakespeare, however, seems to use her, and the witches, to undercut Macbeths idea that undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males These crafty women use female methods of achieving power, that is, manipulation, to further their supposedly male ambitions. Women, the play implies, can be as ambitious and cruel as men, yet social constraints deny them the means to pursue these ambitions on their own. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband with remarkable effectiveness, overriding all his objections; when he hesitates to murder, she repeatedly questions his manhood until he feels that he must commit murder to prove himself. Lady Macbeths remarkable strength of will persists through the murder of the king. It is she who steadies her husbands nerves immediately after the crime has been perpetrated. Afterward, however, she begins a slow slide into madness: just as ambition affects her more strongly than Macbeth before the crime, so does guilt plague her more strongly afterward. By the close of the play, she has been reduced to sleepwalking through the castle, desperately trying to wash away an invisible bloodstain. Once the sense of guilt comes home to roost, Lady Macbeths sensitivity becomes a weakness, and she is unable to cope. Significantly, she kills herself, signaling her total inability to deal with the legacy of their crimes.