Christine Tirman

April 7th, 1999

Professor King

Essay # 3

Comparing and Contrasting

Hamlet and MacBeth

Throughout William Shakespeare?s plays Hamlet and Macbeth

there are many similarities, along with many differences. These plays

are both Shakespearean tragedies, which often use supernatural

incidents to intrigue the reader?s interest, and consists of a hero that

has a tragic flaw. There are many comparative and contrasting

aspects in these plays.

The opening of Hamlet involves a supernatural, as does the

opening of Macbeth. In the first scene the ghost of his father, King

Hamlet, approaches Hamlet. Similarly, the opening of Macbeth

involves the three witches. Although the witches can be seen by

anyone they approach, the ghost of King Hamlet is only seen by

Hamlet himself, and in one scene by Marcellus and Bernardo,

Hamlet?s servants. Similarly in both plays, the main characters are

slightly suspicious of the actual powers these supernatural figures

have. As the witches use their apparent powers to tell Macbeth the

future, the ghost of King Hamlet tells Hamlet what has happened

already. Hamlet states in one of his soliloquies ?The spirit that I have

seen / may be the devil? (2.2.598-599). Macbeth also has his doubts

because when the witches tell him that he will be named Thane of

Cawder, Macbeth himself had not known, but many people had. It is

possible the witches could have known. In the same matter in both

plays, the presentation of the supernatural began to lead to the final

downfall of each of the characters. In Macbeth, the three witches

cause him to think and do evil deeds. In Hamlet, if he had not seen

the ghost of his father, he would not have known that Claudius has

killed his father to claim the throne. In both instances the characters

gave into the nagging supernatural beliefs. And hence they lost their


Other characters in these plays show parallels in their plots.

Both plays have a main character that portrays the king of that

country. In Hamlet, the King of Denmark, Claudius is directly related

to Hamlet. He is his uncle, and also his mother?s new husband.

However, in Macbeth the King of Scotland, King Duncan, is not

directly related to the main character. Both plays do however, have

the main character killing off the king in order to get the throne, which

ultimately results in there own death. Horatio, in Hamlet and Banquo,

in Macbeth share the same loyalty to the main characters. In both

stories these friends are more skeptical of the supernaturals than the

main characters themselves. In a meeting with the witches, Banquo

challenges them to ?Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear /

Your favours nor your hate? (1.3.60-61). In a scene where Horatio

and Hamlet witness the ghost, Horatio tries to keep Hamlet from

going with the ghost. He was even reluctant in the opening scene to

go with Marcellus to hear about the ghost.

Some themes in the plays are also similar. The way that the

weeds and flowers illustrate good and bad in Hamlet is like the way

the birds do in Macbeth. This is also true of the fair and foul theme in

Macbeth and the indirections theme in Hamlet. In Macbeth, to the

weird sisters, what is ugly is beautiful, and what is beautiful is ugly.

Through the play fair appearances hide foul realities. This theme has

a lot in common with the theme in Hamlet where the appearance

varies from the reality. In contrast, one of the main themes in

Macbeth is Manhood, while in Hamlet it is frailty, and more

specifically, the frailty of women.

It seems evident that Shakespeare used a strong, similar story

line in these two tragedies. Apparently Macbeth and Hamlet are

similar stories in numerous ways. These two plays seem different

because of the variation in story lines, but in fact are very similar due

to the parallel characters and themes.