Archetypes / C.G.Jung / Fine Art / Gnostic / Literature / Literature & Art

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” from a Jungian view

when they all know the good as good, there arises the recognition of evil.

When they all know the good as good, there arises the recognition of evil.

This article explores the psychological underpinnings of  Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” from a Jungian view. Carl Jung left a great deal of ambiguity surrounding his work. He understood, as long as there have been men and they have lived, they have all felt this tragic ambiguity and everybody must accept his or her “Shadow” during the individuation process. Ambiguity between good an evil, and a failed individuation is the core theme in the tragedy Macbeth: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” say the three witches in the beginning of the play and this paradox is touched again by Macbeth: “So foul and fair a day I have not seen”. The enemy and death is “foul” – bad – but the outcome of the battle is “fair” – good, only because he has won.So the play Macbeth is about the evil, but as we see mostly the evil in us, and this evil is first impersonated by the witches. That is why Macbeth is also called the “Scottish play” by the superstitious theater folk. The play has gotten a reputation for being bad luck in terms of productions and those who act in it, and so it is referred from them to as “the Scottish play” to avoid naming it. The play is about the good consumed by the evil. However, Tao says Tao is eternal and so are the two principles Yang and Yin, so that good and evil must be eternal, as necessary elements of our world.

Secularism, particularly relativism has tried to blur the line between good and evil where belief systems and philosophies used different approaches to mask the ambiguity between “evil and good”.  Dualistic has the view that the world consists of or is explicable as those two fundamental entities. It is God, love, death, suffering and infinity that open us to the non-dualistic mind, or contemplation. Dualism means eliminating everything that is not like you (or projecting all your rejected attributes to others). Lao-Tse and Jesus were masters of non-dualistic thinking. The Jungian System is a fine example of an non-dualistic psychology : the more inflated your self-image (Ego), the bigger your shadow will be. Macbeth looses his soul (his Self) failing to differentiate between Persona and his inflated Ego and overwhelmed by his shadow and his anima utilized by the ambitious Lady Macbeth. 

Jung’s vastly varying influences have helped shape a psychology that has influenced a great many scholars, theorists, psychologists, and artists of various specialties. While still maintaining an empirical stance Carl Gustav Jung has taken the influential elements of literature, symbolism, religion, and the alchemy and has formed these raw, primordial factors into a unparalleled  psychoanalytic system. Jung’s view of literature was ambivalent. He was fascinated by Nietzsche, and lectured on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Besides of German literature C. G. Jung appears to have been influenced by Shakespeare. In particular Jung was interested in the mythic and archaic elements in literature. Hermann Hesse’s novel Demian was inspired by Jung’s theory of individuation whereas Macbeth seems to be the prototype of a failure to achieve successful ego-individuation.

The play Macbeth



Jung found literature to be a psychological process which includes the process of materials being “drawn from man’s conscious life; and the visionary dealing with primordial images that transcend human understanding.” Jung found that the archetypal symbols he worked with could, quite naturally, be found in the works of various ages. “It is to be expected… that the poet will turn to these mythological images to give suitable expression to his own experiences.”

Macbeth, when you analyze it, is a psychological battle between good and evil, and between evil ambition and order. Darkness is a symbol of the characters forgetting all about honor or goodness. The play demands that the audience think about how we make excuses in our life to pursue false ambitions that are wrong. Macbeth makes this mistake and ultimately it leads to his death. Darkness in Macbeth is a key theme. The play begins with the brief appearance of a trio of witches and then moves to a military camp, where the Scottish King Duncan hears the news that his generals, Macbeth and Banquo, have defeated two separate invading armies—one from Ireland, led by the rebel Macdonwald, and one from Norway. Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches who prophesy that Macbeth will be made thane (a rank of Scottish nobility) of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland. Macbeth and Banquo treat their prophecies skeptically until some of King Duncan’s men come to thank the two generals for their victories in battle and to tell Macbeth that he has indeed been named thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is intrigued by the possibility that the remainder of the witches’ prophecy—that he will be crowned king—might be true, but he is uncertain what to expect. It remins me a little bit of Wagners Rhinemaidens, who have a magical gold treasures with magical powers. Alberich an ugly dwarf, trys to score on them but they laugh at him. So he robs their treasure with  the ring (the key to power and wealth). To do this, he must renounce love. I think Macbeth never could love, neither himself nor others.

 Lady Macbeth suffers none of her husband’s uncertainty. She desires the kingship for him and wants him to murder Duncan in order to obtain it. When Macbeth arrives at Inverness, she overrides all of her husband’s objections and persuades him to kill the king that very night. He and Lady Macbeth plan to get Duncan’s two chamberlains drunk so they will blame the murder on the chamberlains. While Duncan is asleep, Macbeth stabs him, despite his doubts and a number of supernatural portents, including a vision of a bloody dagger. When Duncan’s death is discovered the next morning, Macbeth kills the chamberlains—ostensibly out of rage at their crime—and easily assumes the kingship. Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain flee to England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that whoever killed



Duncan desires their demise as well. Fearful of the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s heirs will seize the throne, Macbeth hires a group of murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. They ambush Banquo on his way to a royal feast, but they fail to kill Fleance, who escapes into the night. Macbeth becomes furious: as long as Fleance is alive, he fears that his power remains insecure. At the feast that night, Banquo’s ghost visits Macbeth. When he sees the ghost, Macbeth raves fearfully, startling his guests, who include most of the great Scottish nobility causing Macbeth’s kingship to incite increasing resistance from his nobles and subjects. Frightened, Macbeth goes to visit the witches in their cavern. There, they show him a sequence of demons and spirits who present him with further prophecies: he must beware of Macduff, a Scottish nobleman who opposed Macbeth’s accession to the throne. Macbeth orders that Macduff’s castle be seized and, most cruelly, that Lady Macduff and her children be murdered. It should be clear by now, that Macbeth represents the archetypes of weak king and becomes a cruel sadistic warrior, whereas Lady Macbeth seems to own foremost frigid witch qualities.

When news of his family’s execution reaches Macduff in England, he is stricken with grief and takes revenge and with Prince Malcolm, Duncan’s son, and the support of the Scottish nobles, who are appalled and frightened by Macbeth’s tyrannical and murderous behavior. Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, becomes plagued with fits of sleepwalker in which she bemoans what she believes to be bloodstains on her hands. Before Macbeth’s opponents arrive, Macbeth receives news that she has killed herself, causing him to sink into a deep and pessimistic despair.

He is struck numb with fear, however, when he learns that the English army is advancing on Dunsinane shielded with boughs cut from Birnam Wood. Birnam Wood is indeed coming to Dunsinane, fulfilling half of the witches’ prophecy. In the battle, Macbeth hews violently, but the English forces gradually overwhelm his army and castle and he realizes that he is doomed, Macbeth continues to fight until Macduff kills and beheads him.

Failed Individuation in Shakespeare’s Macbeth



Macbeth has not begun to deal with the adult developmental task of individuation. According to Jung, in the process of individuation “unconscious potentials are explored and reintegrated with the “Self”. The exploration of certain parts of the unconscious brings to consciousness unacknowledged ” missing pieces. Macbeth’s failure to individuate successfully is reflected by the distance between his rigid Persona and his real personality, and his inability to confront the shadow aspects of his psyche, and the complete rejection of his anima. Tellingly those developmental issues only seem able to get Macbeth’s attention through his hallucinations and visions. Jung said that “only through the adult development of individuation can the person become truly an ‘individual’ and not simply a carrier of unconscious images and other people’s projections”. This “carrier of unconscious images” and receptacle of “other people’s projections” is exactly how Shakespeare paints Macbeth: Macbeth is Duncan’s “O worthiest cousin” (I, iv, 17), the murderers’ “Highness,” “liege,” “lord” (III, I, 81, 102, and 131), and Malcolm’s “tyrant” (Iv, iii, 14). Throughout the play Macbeth’s identity is formed by Shakespeare’s other characters. The tragedy of Macbeth is that he has failed to explore his unconscious and discover and accept his true identity. Because he has not individuated, he can be molded and pushed into identities and actions that others project onto him. Macbeth is very conscious of his persona and of the positive reputation he has cultivated, and he enjoys thinking of himself in this way. According to Jung, the Persona (literally the mask) is the aspect of personality that adapts to the world to be accepted in society. Throughout the play Macbeth attempts to put on a “false face” (I, vii, 9 5) so that he can hide what his “false heart doth/know” (I, vii, 95-96). When he has plotted Banquo’s death and is preparing to make merry with his guests, Macbeth  believes that he can cover not only his conscious knowledge of his role in Banquo’s death from others but keep his unconscious feelings of fear, shock, and guilt at arranging a murder from himself. During dinner Macbeth has a hallucination. He sees the ghost of Banquo come to haunt him and denies his guilt: “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake/ Thy gory locks at me” (III, iv, 61-62). Throughout the play Macbeth refuses to own his unconscious; he places supreme importance on appearances (Persona), his consciousness and refuses to deal with any desires and actions which challenge his idealized Ego.

instinctive powerful, beast

Shadow- instinctive powerful, beast

His rejection and disregard of this “shadow” keep him ignorant of its motivational power and the gulf that develops between his persona and real personality. Jung described the shadow as “those aspects of the psyche that are rejected from consciousness by the ego (during sozialization in the first half of life), because they are inconsistent with one’s self-concept. Macbeth’s history of denying his shadow is detailed throughout the play. In Act I, after learning of Duncan’s intention of having Malcolm succeed to the throne, Macbeth rejects his ambitiously motivated ability to become a traitor. Jung says that as we show our persona to others and conceal our shadow from ourselves, “the shadow gets more and more ugly, and the split between persona and shadow … widens”. For Macbeth, this is true. After he kills Duncan, Macbeth refuses to believe that he could be a murderer – one although this ability to murder is present in Macbeth’s character. After his second meeting with the Weird Sisters, Macbeth resolves to kill Macduff’s family in the Thane of Fife’s absence Macbeth has progressed from ambitious regicide to familial mass murderer. Because  Macbeth has not confronted his shadow and haven’t taken the effort caused by introduction of the shadow to consciousness, Macbeth cannot follow an intrinsic moral compass. This allows him to commit his atrocities without having to justify them. Ironically, part of Macbeth’s anima is positive, but it is repressed because he believes it to contain negative qualities.



According to Jung, men have “repressed feminine-typed qualities” (their anima) and women have “repressed masculine-typed qualities” (their animus). While this area of Macbeth seems cloudy, I believe that Macbeth cannot explore what Jung would call the inner feminine qualities of empathy and emotion because Lady Macbeth is constantly questioning his identity as a man, struggling herself to be a women and with her animus. Two passages support this theory. When Macbeth begins to vacillate between killing Duncan and maintaining his honorable reputation, Lady Macbeth chastises him for not being man enough to take what he wants (I, vii, 3 9-49). She also calls him to task for not being a man of his word (I, vii, 53-67). Lady Macbeth claims that she, a woman, is more manly than Macbeth. Macbeth is expressing fear and guilt, emotional inner controls, and Lady Macbeth makes fun at him. Later, when Macbeth is confronted with his hallucination of Banquo’s ghost, he expresses fear and revulsion at what he has done to Banquo through the ghost’s horrible appearance. Lady Macbeth tells him to stop acting like a hysterical woman and to live in reality. She even asks Macbeth, “Are you a man” (III, iv, 70). While Macbeth clearly rejects his “inner woman,” as shown by the ease with which he is manipulated by gender role identification (making him vulnerable to Lady Macbeth evilness), he is severely hampered in uncovering his anima by her disparaging of his male identity.

Personal Layers

Personal Layers

Macbeth’s strict adherence to his inflated Ego a false Persona, his unwillingness to deal with his shadow. According to Jung rejecting anima have psychological consequences – sometimes the shadow and anima merge and overpower the consciousness (Ego); he has hallucinations.  Jung interpreted psychotic hallucinations and delusions as expressions of the collective unconscious archetypes, which can be interpreted as visions or a type of dream, manifesting their meaning from his personal unconscious. Act II’s floating dagger can be read as a symbol forcing its way into consciousness. Through his visions, Macbeth’s unconscious is trying to show him the issues he must deal with. One of the sadder aspects of the tragedy is that he is constantly dissuaded from looking at them. The moral conflict needed to mitigate his personal not to speak collective un consciousness  is not present.  This is why poor Macbeth (like many powerful men and women) is so far from the mark with his comments on life. They does not know enough about themself to allow anything but a shallow, two-dimensional interpretation of life, letting them be directed by passions unseen, greed and manipulative persons around them.

Anima and Animus in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth

There appears to be some critical discord in connection to the classification of Lady Macbeth, whether she qualifies as an innocent, supportive wife, or, in Malcolm’s words, as a “fiend-like queen.” (Shakespeare V. ix. 35) However, Shakespeare’s text simply does not support the idea that the Lady Macbeth did not play a serious role in the murder of King Duncan and. The concept which seems to lie at the core of critical discussion in relation to Lady Macbeth, is gender. Lady Macbeth herself, makes the argument about gender in her famous speech, wherein she appeals to the powers of dark spirits to “unsex” her, and replace any feminine tendency in her with “direst cruelty” (Shakespeare I. v. 42-43). She wishes to take all that she perceives as weak and feminine in herself, and seeks to substitute it with an evil. Jung believed that all men and women were made up of masculine and feminine energies, the former being called the animus and the latter being called the anima and this unconscious selves of individuals can be used to understand Lady Macbeth’s actions. It can be argued, that Lady Macbeth’s vehement denial of her feminine self (or her anima) that causes her to manipulate her husband into committing the murder of Duncan, affected her relationship with her husband (unable to maintain it) and ultimately led to her insanity and death.


 “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” : What the line points to is the play’s concern with the discrepancy between appearance and reality: that is, the difference between how someone seems and how someone really is. It is a central concern of Shakespeare’s, and obviously one that fits well with the medium of theatre, which relies on actors seeming to be something that they most definitely aren’t. This is one of the last lines in Act 1 Scene 1 when the witches are foreshadowing events to come in the play. With these words, they are predicting the evil that will cloud Macbeth’s judgments and that those judgments will appear to Macbeth as fair and just. This line also could refer to the witches believing that things some consider to be foul and ugly are just and beautiful to them because they embody evil.