Playwrights use their literary works to reflect society at a particular time. Therefore, each playwright employs a unique style to impress the audience or reader (Lombardi, 2019). A comparison of William Shakespeare's Macbeth and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman illustrates how each of these two literary icons uses various themes, dramatic irony, and soliloquy to give their plays a special effect and capture the audience's attention.
A theme refers to an underlying meaning or the central idea in a literary piece, which could be expressed either directly or indirectly (Lombardi, 2019).
Themes in Macbeth
The main themes of Macbeth include ambition, good versus evil, supernatural equivocation, betrayal and treachery, crime, and statecraft.
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Figure 1. Macbeth’s blood-covered face (The figure was removed by the editors for copyright reasons)
Ambition Macbeth becomes ambitious upon hearing the witches prophesy of his eventual status as a king. His ambition intensifies to the extent of plotting to kill the king and anyone that interferes with his plan (Shakespeare & Gibson, 2005). Macbeth’s tragic end, however, depicts how excessive ambition rids people of humanity.
Supernatural Equivocation Shakespeare illustrates the nature of supernatural beings where three witches are instrumental in awakening Macbeth’s ambition of becoming the king. These witches continue to monitor events as they unfold after predicting that Macbeth would become the king (Shakespeare & Gibson, 2005). However, the same witches would later cause Macbeth’s downfall.
Betrayal and Treachery The witches’ prophesy on Macbeth instigates treacherous thoughts in him. As he starts to think about ways to seize the throne, Macbeth plots the king’s deaths (Shakespeare & Gibson, 2005). Treachery and betrayal play out clearly since Duncan, the king, is not only Macbeth’s friend but also his kinsman and friend.
Crime The theme of crime manifests through murder, rebellion, and treason. Macbeth commits the first crime of murder against his friend, kinsman, and king (Shakespeare & Gibson, 2005). The other crimes are state crimes which Macbeth commits with his wife as an accomplice.
Good versus Evil The clash between good and evil ensues once Macbeth starts thinking about seizing the throne. His ambition is the start of an evil that refuses to be contained once unleashed, thus leading to conspiracies, murders, and manipulations in the entire kingdom (Shakespeare & Gibson, 2005). In the end, good triumphs over evil as Macbeth faces defeat. Statecraft Macbeth orders the brutal murders of the king, his children, and guards (Shakespeare & Gibson, 2005). This manifestation of heartless politics often occurs in the statecraft, which is a haven of treacheries, conspiracies, and acts of treason.
Themes in Death of a Salesman This play revolves around the concepts of the American dream, betrayal, and abandonment.
The American Dream The central character in this play, Willy, firmly subscribes to the American myth of individual prosperity in society. Thus, he is deeply convinced that any person can realize socio-economic success through hard work. In an almost childish sense, Willy continues to believe being attractive and well-liked are the necessary ingredients for business success (Miller & Weales, 1996). Consequently, he leads a shallow lifestyle that ignores basic values like hard work and devotion. Eventually, Willy faces the harsh reality of his shallow beliefs when everything around him fails.
Abandonment Willy’s life is characterized by a series of abandonments. The play depicts him as someone that was abandoned by his father at a tender age (Miller & Weales, 1996). Also, Willy and Biff’s conflict is another instance that leaves Willy with a feeling of abandonment. Moreover, Willy abandoned his paternal duties when he cheated on Biff’s mother. As the play draws to an end, both Happy and Biff abandon Willy as they leave him to descend into madness.
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Figure 2. An abandoned and frustrated Willy (The figure was removed by the editors for copyright reasons)
Betrayal What Willy perceives as Biff’s betrayal of his presuppositions is the catalyst of the major conflict in this play. Willy misconstrues Biff’s actions to be a betrayal of his fatherly counsel and model (Miller & Weales, 1996). Biff’s shortcomings, therefore, undermine Willy’s understanding of social order. Also, Willy betrays Linda through an affair with her, and Biff’s knowledge of this issue becomes a betrayal of the family at large.
Dramatic irony is when the characters’ words and actions contrast in meaning for the audience or reader and the characters (UTEP, 2020). This situation arises when the readers or audience know something that the characters do not.
Dramatic Irony in Macbeth
Dramatic irony in Macbeth manifests several times. One instance is when King Duncan visits the Macbeths’ castle to celebrate Macbeth’s promotion to the position of Thane of Cawdor (Shakespeare & Gibson, 2005, Act III, Scene I). Here, the audience knows of the plot to kill the king, but the king is oblivious to it. Besides, Lady Macbeth respects and honors the king, but cautions her husband, through facial expressions, against revealing any of their wicked plans.
Dramatic Irony in Death of a Salesman
In this play , dramatic irony occurs when Willy commits suicide after falling out of sync with his dreams. After his funeral, the audience, however, establishes that he has successfully settled his mortgage. Linda exclaims, “I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home” (Miller & Weales, 1996). Settling a mortgage would depict success for many people, but Willy ironically kills himself before he can even enjoy the benefits of his toil.
A soliloquy is when a character in a play relates thoughts and feelings while speaking to themselves, thus sharing them with the reader or audience (UTEP, 2020). Soliloquies elicit the illusion of unspoken reflections. Other characters present in a soliloquy either remain silent or the speaker disregards them.
- Quote paper
- Oliver Tumbo (Author), 2020, A Comparative Analysis of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" and Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/966948