Compare and Contrast Essay on King Lear and Macbeth

Category: Macbeth
Last Updated: 18 Apr 2023
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Shakespeare had written many plays in his life time, some of them included various tragedies which included King Lear and Macbeth. All of Shakespeare’s plays had a theme which was used to help the story’s plot to advance further, making events much more interesting. King Lear and Macbeth both have a common theme of madness that is apparent throughout the play which has been depicted differently. They are both written in different ways but still share a same purpose. The essay will be broken down into three parts; firstly we will look at the way madness is viewed in Macbeth.

Secondly, we will look at the way King Lear portrays madness lastly we will compare the two to see how differently madness is displayed. While both plays share this similarity, the plays differ by the way the theme of madness is executed. In Macbeth, both the main characters Macbeth and Lady Macbeth begin to show clear signs of madness through alterations in their physical senses. (smell, sight etc. ) this is evident when Lady Macbeth hallucinates that her hands are still covered in king Duncan’s blood despite having washed then several times.

Here’s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. (Act 5, scene 1, 46-47) Shakespeare uses imagery to give a better understanding of what is going on within the characters mind. Here madness is altering Lady Macbeth’s sense of smell and sight, this tricks her into believing that King Duncan’s blood will never dissipate from her hands even though they are perfectly clean. Another example of the theme of madness that is characterized by Macbeth is found in act three, scene four, the climax of the play.

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Immediately guilt ridden from ordering the murder of Banquo, Macbeth reaches his pinnacle of madness; exemplified by his delusion of Banquo's ghost. Showing that he can no longer differentiate between reality and his imagination Macbeth shouts, Avaunt! And quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee! Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold; Thou hast no speculation in those eyes Which thou dost glare with (III. iv. 93-97). Ross responds to him, What sights, my lord (III. iii. 118). The Insanity of Macbeth is shown in these quotes.

Shakespeare's description of Macbeth's thoughts visibly reveals the theme of madness. Shakespeare portrays madness among many of his characters, and he returns to the theme again and again. Indirect characterization in the form of Lear's mad speeches allows Shakespeare to convey the theme of madness. For example one of Lear's first speeches after things started to go bad for him, Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your house-hold heads and unfed sides, Your loop'd and window'd rag-gedness, defend you… (III. iv. 35-38).

Lear's insanity increases throughout the play, demonstrated to the audience through more speeches, until his emotions overthrow his reason at the climax of the play. Lear randomly shouts in to the storm, Rumble thy bellyfull! Spit, fire! Spout, rain! Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire are my daughters. I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness. I never gave you kingdom, called you children (III. ii. 14-17). The example of Lear invoking the storm to destroy the seeds of matter along with many other absurd statements illustrates that he has an unsound mind and it is made clear to the audience by his words.

Shakespeare expands on the theme of madness in King Lear by Lear again using his words to express the reason for his insanity. The cause is the realization that his daughters Goneril and Regan do not love him. What finally pushed him over the edge was the cruel actions afflicted on him by the people that supposedly loved him. To such a lowness but his unkind daughters. … 'Twas this flesh begot Those pelican daughters describes Lear of the cruelty of his daughters (III. iii. 76,80-81). The character of Lear produces the theme of madness by expressing his own increasing insanity and reasons the reason for it in raving tangents.

The style and depiction of the theme of madness are very different in both plays. Macbeth shows madness in the main characters with lots of imagery, giving a very physical sense of feeling towards the audience making them have a better understanding of what the characters are feeling. In King Lear madness is depicted through the main characters dialogue. This is meant to show the psychological turmoil going through the character’s mind which helps the audience understand why and what the character is doing within the play.

In conclusion it is clear that madness was a very re occurring theme in both plays King Lear and Macbeth. However, the style in which the madness was depicted in each play is very different, in Macbeth madness within the main characters is shown through basic hallucinations through sight and smell, whereas in King Lear Shakespeare wanted the main characters to display madness through the dialogue. Both techniques used by Shakespeare were made to ultimately give more of an understanding of what is going on within the play.

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Compare and Contrast Essay on King Lear and Macbeth. (2017, May 07). Retrieved from

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