Macbeth Journals Ideal ► Macbeth is set in 11th century Scotland. What qualities did the ideal man seem to possess during this time period? How does Macbeth compare to Beowulf as a hero? Who or what would be a modern version of each respectively? How do they each compare to what you believe makes an ideal man? How does Lady Macbeth compare to your notions of the ideal woman? Does our concept of what makes an ideal person change over time? Who are some people that represent the ideal to you? Do we even look for such ideals in our lives today? Ambition Ambition is generally considered a good quality, in the sense of to aspire to be better than you are. But is there a point when that ceases to be true? Is there such a thing as too much ambition? How would you define what is too much? What would you personally be willing to do to achieve your goals? What price is too high? What are the possible consequences and side effects of using any means to get what you want? Do you think that power is inherently corrupting? The Purpose of Tragedy ► Discuss the idea behind tragedy, as introduced by Aristotle, that it is a story depicting the fall and suffering of a noble character, but that it is spiritually or intellectually uplifting, ennobling and enlarging at the same time. Is this a contradiction? Explain. ► What appeal does tragedy have for audiences and readers? How does catharsis work exactly? ► Consider and discuss the following line from a song in the musical The Fantasticks: “Without a hurt the heart is hollow.” ► Someone else famously said that comedy equals tragedy plus time. What does that mean? Security In Act 3 of Macbeth, Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft says, “Security is mortal’s chiefest enemy.” Is this a paradox? In what sense is this statement contradictory, and in what sense is it nevertheless true? Does it contain truth about human nature in general? What are some modern-day parallels? The Fall of Man ► The idea of human banishment from an ideal world is an archetypal theme that can be traced back through the canon of Western literature all the way to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. ► To what extent can we connect Macbeth’s story to this archetypal theme? ► Does he dwell in an “ideal” world or embody an ideal when we first meet him? Consider both his internal and external state. ► Is he tempted by evil? ► Is the result a metaphorical expulsion from his ideal world, from everything that is good and innocent and natural in life? Is his a self- banishment? ► What imagery in the play supports a parallel to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve? Morality ► The philosopher Emmanuel Kant said, “Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.” That idea certainly applies to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth: their lack of morality leads to their unhappiness. Do you think a person can lack virtue and still find happiness? Explain your opinion. “Evil” ► How soon after hearing the witches’ prophecies does Macbeth begin to think about murdering Duncan? What is it that first brings the “horrid image” to his mind in Act 1, Scene 3. line 148? ► What is the effect of this “fantastical murder” on Macbeth? What seems to be happening to Macbeth? ► Do you think the witches choose Macbeth by chance or do they target him? Why does Banquo not turn into a murderer? ► What do you believe is the source of evil and the origin of temptation? Is it something within us or outside of us? ► Do you think the witches are purely evil or simply agents of fate (sometimes called another word for character)? Symbols ► Almost all the scenes that recur to memory in this play take place either at night or in some dark spot. How is Macbeth a preoccupation of the fears and tensions of darkness? Is there any color in the play? ► Shakespeare uses the word “blood” well over a hundred times in Macbeth. What do you think blood symbolizes? ► What is sleep? Why is Macbeth the murderer of sleep and why will Macbeth “sleep no more”? What does sleep symbolize in the play? Lady Macduff ► Lady Macduff only makes a brief appearance in the play, and yet she is given some important lines, and is a striking foil to Lady Macbeth (as Macduff is to Macbeth). ► In response to Macduff’s having fled to England, she has this to say: “Wisdom? To leave his wife, to leave his babes, / His mansion and his titles in a place / From whence himself does fly? He loves us not; / He wants the natural touch; for the poor wren / (The most diminutive of birds) will fight, / Her young ones in the nest, against the owl. / All is fear, and nothing is the love, / As little is the wisdom, where the flight / So runs against all reason” (Macbeth 4. 2. 8-16). ► How do the above words provide commentary and a different perspective on the entire action of the play? ► Later in the same scene, shortly before she and her son are murdered, Lady Macduff is warned that her life is danger and that she should flee. This is her response: “Whither should I fly? / I have done no harm. But I remember now / I am in this earthly world, where to do harm / Is often laudable*, to do good sometime / Accounted dangerous folly” (Macbeth 4. 2. 72-5). ► Explain and evaluate the above statement. How does Lady Macduff’s outlook fit into the broader themes of the play? Do you agree with her viewpoint? Why or why not? ► * praiseworthy Tragic hero ► Aristotle defined a classical tragedy as having the following elements: The cast is made up of elevated characters, i.e. nobility or royalty. One of these characters will rise as a hero, but he will also eventually fall; this fall will be due to a personality defect, or a tragic flaw. The hero recognizes his mistake, but it’s too late to change the course of events. Finally, the tragic hero suffers immensely but becomes enlightened or ennobled by his experiences and meets his end with dignity. ► To what extent does Macbeth fit the definition of a classical tragedy? Evaluate Macbeth as a tragic hero: Does he fit all the criteria? Try to examine both sides of the question. Modern-Day Macbeth ► Though Macbeth takes place in Scotland nearly a thousand years ago, many of the themes are still relevant today. People are still greedy and ambitious; people still commit crime to get what they want; people are still tortured by their conscience; the health of society is still affected by the health of the individuals, and so forth. ► Consider and describe how the essential plot line, character types, emotions and motivations of Macbeth, might remain the same but be recast into a more familiar and contemporary setting. For example, one film version of Macbeth sets the story in contemporary New York among the mafia, where a mob boss is taken out by one of the men who work for him. Another film sets the story in the corporate world with a CEO being assassinated.
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