It’s really not that bad...
• an English essay is an argument - you decide what you
think the answer is then show why you’re right
• you need to quote and reference the text for EVERY POINT
YOU MAKE!!! Never say anything unless you can back it up
• you need to EXPLAIN your quotes and examples. It’s not
enough to just slap them in there - why do they prove your
argument is correct?
• A good essay has a clear introduction, body paragraphs
that explore one key point each and a conclusion
Breaking down a question
1. Identify the Key Words
(What do you have to discuss? What is the argument
2. Connect the Key Words with the Text
(Eg. “Themes” - what are the themes of Macbeth?)
3. Decide on your Thesis Statement
(What do you think the answer is? What’s your opinion?)
Let’s have a go...
How does Shakespeare use symbolism to create
characterisation in Macbeth?
How does Shakespeare characterise the witches in
Macbeth? What is their thematic significance?
What effect does pathetic fallacy have on thematic
concerns and characterisation in Macbeth?
Discuss the role that blood plays in Macbeth.
What does it symbolise for Macbeth and his wife?
Blood is by far the most prevalent symbol in the play Macbeth. It appears early in Act 1 and is referenced repeatedly by
Macbeth and his wife. While, in the opening scenes, blood and murder is condoned as a necessary part of war, Macbeth
and Lady Macbeth’s unchecked personal ambition drives them to spill blood which will haunt them throughout the play. By
late in the play they have both realised that blood, as a stain of guilt, cannot be washed away.
In Act 1, Scene 2, Duncan and Malcolm meet a bleeding soldier who reports on the state of the battle. His bloody condition
is celebrated as a symbol of his loyalty and honour. Duncan sends him away saying, “So well thy words become thee as thy
They smack of honour both.” The soldier’s description of Macbeth on the battlefield is equally gory:
For brave Macbeth--well he deserves that name--
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour's minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave;
Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chops,
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.
This violent action is lauded as “valiant” and “worthy” by Duncan. Thus bloodshed in the name of war is presented as not
only acceptable, but desirable. Duncan relies on Macbeth’s strength as a solider to defend his kingdom, yet it is that same
strength that leads to his murder. Blood as a symbol for violent death is therefore established: it is only Macbeth’s motive
The symbol of blood takes on new meaning once the war is over. This should mean an end to violence, but personal ambition leads
Macbeth and his wife to plot Duncan’s murder. From here on, blood symbolises the guilt of the murderer, a stain that cannot be
removed. The notion that blood, once spilled, will haunt the murderer and bring about their downfall concerns Macbeth:
But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips.
Lady Macbeth dismisses his fears, suggesting they smear the grooms with his blood to cast guilt on them. Macbeth agrees,
remarking, “Will it not be received, /When we have mark'd with blood those sleepy two /Of his own chamber and used their very
daggers, /That they have done't?” Shakespeare thus explicitly connects blood on the body with guilt and murder, in contrast to the
beginning of the play where it represented loyalty and bravery. This connection is further reinforced when Banquo’s murderer
appears at the banquet. Macbeth sees the blood upon his face, a symbol of the deed. The appearance of the murderer at a royal
banquet, covered in blood, is an indiscreet and brazen act, suggesting that the blood of the murdered is seeking to publicly identify
those responsible for his death. After the horror of seeing Banquo’s bloody ghost, Macbeth admits that there is no escape from the
consequences of such evil acts:
It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood:
Stones have been known to move and trees to speak;
Augurs and understood relations have
By magot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth
The secret'st man of blood.
As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s actions come back to haunt them, blood is used to symbolise their guilt and inability to avoid the
consequences of their ambition.
Before Macbeth loses all sense of morality and feeling, he is wracked with guilt concerning Duncan’s murder. Despite Lady
Macbeth’s claims that a little water will wash away all evidence of their crime, Macbeth fears it will not:
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
This idea is repeated in Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, as she desperately tries to rub the stain from her hands:
Out, damned spot! out, I say!...
What, will these hands ne'er be clean?...
Here's the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
The imagined blood symbolises her guilt at the deed committed, just as the grooms were blamed after she smeared them with
Duncan’s blood. Her prophecy as to how the guilty would be identified therefore comes true, but not in the way she expected.
Throughout the play Macbeth, Shakespeare uses the symbol of blood to represent violent death and the inescapable guilt that comes
from murder. His message for the audience is that blood spilled for personal gain is an evil act which will not go unpunished. He tells
us that while men may kill each other in battle without fear of retribution, a man who murders for ambition or desire for power will find
himself forever stained. The blood of his victims will seek out ways to bring about his downfall. The play Macbeth reminds audiences
of their correct loyalties and responsibilities, as well as the price and corrupting nature of power.
“How does Shakespeare use literary devices
and dramatic elements to communicate various
themes and ideas in Macbeth?”
★ Find the key words
★ Link key words to the text
★ Think of examples and quotes
Planning and writing an
Literary Devices Themes
★ symbolism • Appearance vs Reality
★ characterisation • Good vs Evil
★ pathetic fallacy • Order vs Chaos
★ descriptive language • Ambition
★ paradox and • The Supernatural
equivocation • Honour vs Loyalty
★ aside/ soliloquy
★ stage direction
1. Make a general statement on the topic
2. Paraphrase the focus of the question
3. Put in your thesis and briefly list the
points you’re going to argue.
Point: an idea that builds your argument
Example: a clear quote or reference from the text
Explanation: how does the quote prove your
Link to thesis: how does this support your
1. Restate your thesis
2. Show how the points and issues you
wrote about apply to the wider world
3. Give a personal view on the text, or
make a final comment on it.