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Betrayal in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” Essay

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Updated: May 6th, 2022


Macbeth is a play by Shakespeare set during the Second War. One of the major themes in the play is betrayal. The betrayer, Macbeth betrays the King, friend and other subjects in the kingdom. It is a violent play, full of murders even as Macbeth does all he can to ensure he becomes the king and there is no opposition. The killings are merciless and finally, some of the Kingdom subjects decided to fight him. They were able to kill him and ensure the peace in the country is restored.

Betrayal in Macbeth

The King

The story occurs in Scotland, beginning with Macbeth and Banquo’s defeat of the Norway and Ireland armies. They are generals in King Duncan’s administration. In Act 1 Scene 3, Macbeth and Banquo meet with witches who prophesy to them. They prophesy that Macbeth will be the Thane of Cawdor, which is a rank of Scottish royalty. They also prophesy he will be the King of England. For Banquo, he was told his sons will be kings however he himself would not be king. The men are skeptical of the witches’ prophesies. However when Macbeth is told he has just been chosen as the Thane of Cawdor, scenes of the possibilities of him as the King start to form in his mind. Macbeth is made the Thane of Cawdor as the former Thane had betrayed the King. The king, angered by the former thane’s betrayal has stripped him of his title and ordered that he be put to death. The Thane had betrayed the King by fighting on the Norwegians side during the battle. Macbeth starts thinking of the witches’ prophesies and betrayal starts to take root and grow in his heart.

He starts thinking of how to usurp the Kingship. When he tells his wife of the witches’ prophesy, the wife betrays the king in her heart and actions as she starts telling her husband to waste no time in killing the king. Lady Macbeth was the main driving force that greatly influences him to do everything possible to become the King (Learmond, 2007). She does not hesitate at all to think on the impact and consequences of Macbeth’s actions. She tells him to pretend to be the King’s friend then kill him. She tells “False face must hide what the false heart doth know” (Markham, 2011) The greed for power and his wife’s influence drives Macbeth to kill the king while he is asleep. He frames the chamberlains for the murder. Later, he pretends he is so angry and outraged by the chamberlain’s decision to kill the King that he kills them. The King’s sons, Malcom and Donalbein escape seeing the treason and betrayal, flee for their lives.

The friend and others

Macbeth, fearful of the witches prophesies that his friend’s son will become the king starts thinking of how to kill him and his sons thus betraying their friendship. The friend’s son in the future may become an obstacle to his goal of becoming a king and therefore he needs to be eliminated. This shows that Macbeth’s heart has never been loyal to the King and his friend (Spark Notes Editors, n,d). The intensity of betrayal is high as Macbeth goes on a blood path. The witches’ prophesy is suspect as it seems they had plans to oust the king. They betray Macbeth’s confidence since he believes the prophecies are given with good intention. Macbeth betrays his friend by sending a group of people to kill him and his son while on his way to a royal feast. The son, Fleance however is able to escape.

Macbeth betrays his fellow subject, Maduff. He seizes the castle and kills Macduff’s wife and children. Macbeth had visited the demons and spirits and received prophecies of how Macduff, a man who was greatly against the plan of Macbeth becoming the King.

Macbeth sees Macduff as a threat to the establishment of his rule so he kills the family. Macduff escapes the country. The former king’s son, Price Malcom has assembled an army at England. Macduff and Malcom combine forces and advance to attack Macbeth. The nobles in the country desire that Malcom wins the war. They are in shock in the way Macbeth has been murderous and dictatorial.When Macbeath and Malcom’s army meet in battle, Macbeath and his army are defeated. Macduff kills him and Malcom becomes the king.


Macbeth efforts to control the kingdom do not bear fruits. The ghost of Banquo visits him causing him to rave in the presence of his subjects incoherently. The wife tries to cover for him however there is already resistance against, Macbeth. The fruits of betrayal of the king and the friend are painful. Lady Macbeth commits suicide after having spells of sleepwalking. She actually says that she has blood on hands, knowing the number of people her husband and her have killed. Maduff, on seeing the King’s body is not convinced of Macbeth’s innocence and starts to observe vim quietly.

The story seeks to shows the effects of greed for power and influence. It can cause devastation in a kingdom, as subjects seek to be rulers. Treason and betrayal does not and usually does not pay off for any person (Dollack, 2009). That is the teaching the author conveys.

Works Cited

Dollack, Amanda.”Literary Analysis: Dominant themes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth”.Helium, 2009. Web.

Learmond, Wayne. “Macbeth”. Associated Content, 2009. Web.

Markham, Samantha.”Key Quotations from Macbeth”. Suite101, 2011. Web.

Spark Notes Editors (n,d) . Spark Notes, n,d.

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