The Tragedy of Macbeth
A lady-in-waiting and a doctor discuss Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking. As they are speaking, Lady
Macbeth enters, walking in her sleep. She rubs her hands repeatedly to rid them of the blood that
she imagines stains them. From Lady Macbeth’s words, the onlookers infer that she and Macbeth
murdered Duncan, but the doctor is afraid to speak of his suspicions.
1. (ll. 1-2) Prose
This scene is almost entirely in prose in contrast to the blank verse used in most of the play. As
you read, consider why Shakespeare switches to prose in this scene.
2. (ll. 8-9) Theme
The link between unnatural acts and unusual evens in nature is one of the themes of the play.
Why does the doctor call Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking “a perturbation of nature”? What other
lines focus on this theme?
3. (ll. 16-17) Theme
Here again is the sleep motif. What does Lady Macbeth’s disturbed sleep represent?
4. (ll. 25-27) Comparing and Contrasting
Reread II. 2. 66-67. How are Lady Macbeth’s assumptions in Act II proved incorrect here? Note:
Washing one’s hands to remove guilt is a ritualistic act that has a long history. For instance, in the
New Testament Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, washed his hands before he
released Jesus to the Romans to be crucified.
5. (ll. 31-39) Making Inferences
To which events and people does Lady Macbeth refer? What clues let you know?
6. (ll. 45-47) Hypothesizing
The doctor and the gentlewoman express pity for Lady Macbeth. Why do you think Shakespeare
has them do so?
7. (ll. 63-64) Imagery
The images of illness used to represent evil. What does the doctor mean when he talks about
“infected minds”? Why do these “infected minds” eventually “discharge their secrets”?
In the country near Dunsinane, the Scottish lords prepare to join forces with an approaching
English army to fight against Macbeth. The lords discuss their plans and Macbeth’s reported state
1. (ll. 13-14) Making a Judgment
What is your opinion of Macbeth: Is he mad or does he possess a “valiant fury”?
2. (ll. 22-29) Tragedy
Here the Scottish thanes talk of joining forces with Malcolm. Is Macbeth’s impending fall
that of a tragic hero, or is he a villain?
Because of the witches’ prophecies, Macbeth feels confident that he is invincible inside his castle. A
servant brings news of the approaching army.
1. (ll. 1-10) Finding Details
Macbeth refers to two of the prophecies uttered by the apparitions, but he appears to forget the
third. What prophecy does he neglect to mention? The prophecies are located in Act IV, Scene I.
2. (ll. 14-17) Imagery
After King Duncan’s murder, Lady Macbeth chided her husband for wearing “a heart so white.”
What similar imagery does Macbeth now use to rebuke his servant? How do Macbeth’s insulting
remarks reveal his character?
3. (ll. 47-56) Figurative Language
To what “disease” is Macbeth referring? What is ironic about his metaphor?
4. (ll. 61-62) Speculating
The doctor does not help Lady Macbeth and does not satisfy Macbeth. What do you think is the
purpose of having him appear in the play?