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Macbeth Themes – Relationships In Macbeth

Updated on February 3, 2012

The relationships in Macbeth fall into distinct groups.

Firstly, there is the relationship between husband and wife, seen in the marriage of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and of Macduff and Lady Macduff. In both cases the couples seem to love each other. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth put their personal relationship and their own needs above the well-being of the country. Macduff, however, puts his loyalty to Scotland above his love and loyalty to his wife and children. He leaves them in danger while he flees and helps raise the standard against Macbeth.

Macduff is not without blame, but he was in a difficult dilemma, caught between that tug of loyalties which can happen when the nation is in danger: to whom is ones chief loyalty due? To the greater family, the nation? Or to the immediate one, the close kin?

The other close family relationship explored in Macbeth (though in less detail) is that between father and son.

Malcolm’s relationship with his father, King Duncan, is seen entirely in the context of the kingship. If Donalbain and Malcolm have tears to shed at his murder, as they surely have, then those are for later, in privacy. Their immediate aim is to escape the unknown murderer, for by saving themselves, they also save their father’s dynasty. At the end, Malcolm’s revenge on Macbeth seems less personal than Macduff’s. Malcolm is revenging the killing of a king rather than a father, and his aim is to restore his father’s rightful line to the throne.

Macduff, by contrast, who has had his family wiped out by Macbeth, is bent on revenging them. He now has no sons to follow him: brave young Macduff, who defended his father’s honour before his abandoned mother, and then in the face of fearsome murderers, is dead. Macduff has paid dearly for his loyalty to Scotland, with the death of his family and his noble line. Banquo, under attack from Macbeth’s assassins, urges his son Fleance to flee. The royal dynasty which Banquo, no less than Macbeth, had dreamed of, will endure through the son.

Perhaps another father-son relationship worth considering is that between Macbeth and his hoped-for offspring.

Macbeth cannot bear the thought that Banquo’s sons will one day inherit the crown that he has risked everything for, and so he tries to destroy Banquo’s line. Then, when the witches show him Banquo’s royal descendents, Macbeth is almost beside himself with anger and frustration. His first action is to lash out at the family of another – Macduff’s. Denied his own dynasty, he cannot bear to see others flourishing.

Besides family bonds, there are the sacred ties between king and subject. Macbeth breaks these (as he also breaks the ties between guest and host, and kinsmen) when he kills Duncan. Once he is king himself, he has for a short time the respect and loyalty due to a monarch. But as the nature of his kingship becomes clear, the ties that bind a subject to his king are broken, and the thanes are justified in deserting him. Macbeth has only borrowed (or stolen) the robes of kingship: they do not fit him, unlike his warrior’s garb of old. Macbeth committed regicide (the killing of a king); Macduff and Malcolm committed tyrannicide (the killing of a tyrant).


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