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The main theme of Macbeth—the destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral constraints—finds its most powerful expression in the play’s two main characters.
Characters in Macbeth frequently dwell on issues of gender.
Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband by questioning his manhood, wishes that she herself could be “unsexed,” and does not contradict Macbeth when he says that a woman like her should give birth only to boys.
The model king, then, offers the kingdom an embodiment of order and justice, but also comfort and affection.
Under him, subjects are rewarded according to their merits, as when Duncan makes Macbeth thane of Cawdor after Macbeth’s victory over the invaders.Most important, the king must be loyal to Scotland above his own interests.Macbeth, by contrast, brings only chaos to Scotland—symbolized in the bad weather and bizarre supernatural events—and offers no real justice, only a habit of capriciously murdering those he sees as a threat.Whether because of the constraints of her society or because she is not fearless enough to kill, Lady Macbeth relies on deception and manipulation rather than violence to achieve her ends.Ultimately, the play does put forth a revised and less destructive definition of manhood.As the embodiment of tyranny, he must be overcome by Malcolm so that Scotland can have a true king once more.Although he is encouraged by the Witches, Macbeth’s true downfall is his own ambition.Malcolm’s comment shows that he has learned the lesson Macduff gave him on the sentient nature of true masculinity.It also suggests that, with Malcolm’s coronation, order will be restored to the Kingdom of Scotland.To Malcolm’s suggestion, “Dispute it like a man,” Macduff replies, “I shall do so. At the end of the play, Siward receives news of his son’s death rather complacently.Malcolm responds: “He’s worth more sorrow [than you have expressed] / And that I’ll spend for him” (5.11.16–17).