Hamlet and Macbeth are two of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Though they were written centuries ago, they continue to be studied and performed today. Both plays explore similar themes, such as the nature of evil, the corrupting power of ambition, and the importance of family.
Hamlet is a tragedy that tells the story of a young prince who is haunted by the ghost of his father and must take revenge on his uncle, who killed him. Macbeth is a tragedy about a brave general who is seduced by ambition and turns to murder to fulfill his aspirations.
Though both plays deal with dark themes, they also offer hope and redemption. In Hamlet, Horatio remains loyal to Hamlet until the end, while in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth eventually realizes the error of her ways. Ultimately, both plays show that evil does not triumph in the end.
While other revenge plays potentially lack the depth that Hamlet poses, this play goes above and beyond to address difficult questions with introspection.
Hamlet seems uncertain about everything. He is unsure about whether or not his uncle killed his father, unsure about what sort of person his mother is, unsure about the ghost’s reliability, and unsure about Hamlet’s own sanity. Even when Hamlet finally takes action at the end of the play, he does so impulsively and blindly, killin Polonius instead of Claudius and thus setting off a bloody cycle of revenge and counter-revenge that ultimately destroys Hamlet himself as well as almost everyone else around him.
Macbeth is a tragedy about a nobleman who commits regicide in order to fulfill his ambitions to be king and then descends into tyranny, paranoia, and madness. Like Hamlet, Macbeth is also a play that poses many questions, particularly about the nature of evil and whether or not people can be truly good or evil.
Macbeth himself is a complex character who vacillates between good and evil, and his actions throughout the play cause us to question whether he is ultimately responsible for his own downfall or if he is simply a victim of fate. In the end, like Hamlet, Macbeth’s blind ambition and impulsiveness leads to his ruin and the destruction of everyone around him.
Witches, wizards, ghosts, and otherworldly creatures have played a long role in theater storytelling. Many literary works by different writers and playwrights feature these concepts. For instance, some of William Shakespeare’s plays and poems allude to unearthly beings or powers. In Hamlet and Macbeth, two of his most highly-praised works, these themes are present throughout.
Witchcraft plays a significant role in Hamlet. Hamlet’s father, the King of Denmark, is murdered by his uncle Claudius, who then marries Hamlet’s mother and takes the throne. Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father, who tells him of Claudius’ treachery and commands Hamlet to take revenge. Hamlet feigns madness as he plots to kill Claudius but ends up killing Polonius, a courtier, instead. Hamlet’s girlfriend Ophelia goes mad after her father’s death and drowns herself. Hamlet finally kills Claudius but dies in the process.
The supernatural is also a key element in Macbeth. Macbeth is a Scottish general who is told by three witches that he will one day be king. Driven by ambition and spurred on by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne. He becomes paranoid and paranoid and starts to kill anyone who he thinks might threaten his position. In the end, Macbeth is defeated and killed by Macduff, a Scottish nobleman.
Both Hamlet and Macbeth are excellent examples of Shakespeare’s use of the supernatural as a central theme. In both plays, the witches represent the otherworldly forces that drive the characters to their doom. In Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet’s father is a key figure in motivating Hamlet to take revenge. In Macbeth, the witches’ prophecies drive Macbeth to murder and paranoia. In both plays, the supernatural is used to create an atmosphere of suspense and tragedy.
Both Hamlet and Macbeth are heavily influenced by supernatural forces, leading them to doubt their own morality. The ghost of Hamlet’s father and the three witches in Macbeth play a pivotal role in shaping the events of the plot and affect the mood of each respective play.
The ghost of Hamlet’s father asks Hamlet to avenge his death, and Hamlet agrees. Hamlet is then consumed by thoughts of revenge and his mental state deteriorates. The three witches in Macbeth make predictions that encourage Macbeth to kill Duncan and become king. They also give him false hope that he will never be harmed by any man born of woman. These prophecies ultimately lead to Macbeth’s downfall.
Both plays explore the theme of ambition, and how it can have a corrupting influence. In Hamlet, Claudius’s ambition leads him to kill his brother and marry his sister-in-law in order to become king. In Macbeth, Macbeth’s ambition is fuelled by the witches’ predictions and he becomes a tyrannical ruler.
The theme of appearance vs. reality is also explored in both Hamlet and Macbeth. In Hamlet, Claudius appears to be a loving husband and brother, but he is really a murderer. In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth appears to be a kind and caring wife, but she is really ambitious and will do anything to further her husband’s career.
Both Hamlet and Macbeth are about the dangers of allowing oneself to be controlled by supernatural forces. Hamlet is controlled by the ghost of his father and Macbeth by the witches. In both cases, the protagonists are manipulated into questioning their own morality and ultimately end up destroying themselves.
The spirits that appear to Hamlet and Macbeth at the outset of each act provide them with important information. When Hamlet encounters his father’s ghost for the first time, he is commanded to “avenge his most foul and unnatural murder” (Hamlet 1.5.25). Hamlet becomes enraged with Claudius as a result of this encounter, although neither he nor the audience know if the spirit is telling the truth.
Similarly, Macbeth meets three witches who give him three prophecies; the first two come true, so when the third—“Macbeth shall be king” (Macbeth 1.3.50)—does as well, Macbeth becomes consumed with ambition. Both Hamlet and Macbeth are then driven by a single goal: to take revenge/become king.
The theme of betrayal is also prominent in both Hamlet and Macbeth. In Hamlet, almost every character betrays someone else at some point in the play. For example, Hamlet betrays his mother by killing Polonius, even though he was just trying to kill Claudius. Gertrude betrays Hamlet by marrying Claudius so quickly after his father’s death. Ophelia betrays Hamlet by telling her father and brother about Hamlet’s strange behavior.
In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to kill Duncan so that he can become king; however, once Duncan is dead, she immediately regrets her decision and is haunted by his ghost. Later, Macbeth has Banquo killed because he is afraid that Banquo’s descendants will usurp his throne; this act of betrayal causes Macbeth to lose the loyalty of many of his friends and allies.
The theme of appearances versus reality is also present in both plays. Hamlet is constantly questioning what is real and what is just an appearance. For instance, Hamlet stages a play called “The Murder of Gonzago” in order to catch Claudius in the act of murder; however, Hamlet is not sure if his own father’s ghost was really there or if it was just his imagination. Similarly, Macbeth is haunted by the apparitions of the three witches; he is not sure if they are real or if they are just products of his imagination.
The main themes of Hamlet and Macbeth are very similar. Both plays deal with betrayal, revenge, and appearances versus reality. However, the way these themes are explored is quite different. In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a lot of verbal irony and sarcasm, whereas in Macbeth he relies more on visual images and symbolism. Nevertheless, both plays are excellent examples of Shakespeare’s genius.