Which play will you be studying? Macbeth by William Shakespeare
What English concepts will you focus on?
Perceptions, values and attitudes about the roles of individuals in society are transmitted from one
generation to the next through the stories that are told. The stories tell as much about the time in
which they were written as they do about characters and events, which are the subject of their
stories. Culture shapes the stories and the way stories may be read. Students will closely study a
Shakespearean tragedy, or similarly challenging modern play, in order to understand the issues, values,
attitudes and beliefs presented in the context of the time in which the play was written. Through this
study they will come to realise that there is no neutral position from which a text can be read, and
that there are connections between cultural contexts and dominant discourses.
What will you be doing?
o Focus on invited readings of Macbeth but also engage in multiple readings of the play.
o Construct a eulogy for the central character in the play reflecting a preferred reading position.
o Examine and discuss the ways discourses are mobilized in Macbeth.
o Identify the connections between Elizabethan beliefs and the dominant discourses of order and
disorder found in Macbeth.
o Analyse and evaluate the play in terms of the way context (social, cultural and historical) and
accompanying attitudes, values and beliefs are reflected in it.
How will you be assessed?
Assessment 5. Eulogy for Macbeth
You have accepted an invitation to perform in a workshop at the Queensland Dramatic Arts‟
Festival 2005. The workshop is entitled “How the Mighty Have Fallen” and will examine,
through dramatic performance, central characters who die in famous tragedies.
Those participating in the workshop will present a eulogy, in role as a character from the
play, for the protagonist who is dead by the end of the play.
As the Dramatic Arts‟ Festival is open to the general public, the audience is expected to
consist of a variety of interested persons (writers, actors, students, theatre-goers) as well
as other dramatic performers.
In response to the play studied in your class, you are required to construct and present a
eulogy in role as one of the other characters in the play. Position your audience to agree
with the opinions presented in the eulogy.
You are to demonstrate your chosen character‟s knowledge and understanding of the:
Significant events of the protagonist‟s life.
Protagonist‟s motivation in behaving as he did at significant moments in the play.
Values, attitudes and beliefs underpinning the protagonist‟s words and actions.
In/justice in the circumstances surrounding the death of the protagonist.
You must clearly substantiate your imaginative response with well-balanced and relevant
evidence and quotations from the play.
o Four weeks notice of unseen task.
o 90 minutes under test conditions.
o 600-800 words
Due Exam Block Term 3
MACBETH – Getting to Know the Play
Anticipation Guide: What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?
„Bad‟ people are born bad, not made bad.
Murder is never justifiable.
Individual human destiny is determined by fate, not by our actions.
A person who achieves power through violence will probably lose power through violence.
Ambition is a negative human quality.
Discuss in a small group then report your findings to the class.
Role Play: You have invited your boss to dinner. Your wife thinks you might have a better chance of rapid promotion
if she poisons his soup. Improvise the discussion between husband and wife just as the guests are about to arrive.
Macbeth, in a manner most flighty,
Aspired to the high and the mighty.
Urged on by his wife,
He stuck in his knife,
And the blood got all over his nightie!
Macbeth - Synopsis
Macbeth is a play about a Scottish nobleman who learns, from a prophecy given to him by three witches, that he is
to become king. When Macbeth's ambition overcomes his moral judgement, he assassinates the reigning king and
fulfils the prophecy. In doing so, however, he undermines his own rule with insecurity - insecurity he created when
he upset the natural succession to the throne. Beheaded in battle, Macbeth's death allows the rightful heir to
reclaim the throne and order is restored.
The play is set in Scotland and the characters' names, including Duncan, Macbeth, Malcolm and Siward, are based
on the names of real 11th century British figures. Although Duncan and Macbeth were both kings in life as in the
play, Shakespeare did not directly base his narrative on fact, but instead used historical events as a frame for the
action in the play.The real Macbeth, ruler of the Moray region of Scotland, was elected to the Scottish throne
when the previous king, Duncan, died in battle. Whether Macbeth killed Duncan in the battle remains unknown.
Historical opinions suggest that Macbeth was a charitable king who brought peace and prosperity to Scotland
during his reign of 17 years. During this time, he made advances into northern England, which displeased Siward,
Earl of Northumberland. Siward then campaigned to depose Macbeth and reinstate Malcolm Canmore, Duncan's son.
Malcolm eventually beheaded Macbeth in a duel at Lumphanan to become Malcolm III, King of Scotland. Some
sources say that the Battle of Dunsinane, and the concept of Birnam Wood encroaching on Dunsinane, refers to an
earlier battle during Macbeth's reign, while others dismiss it as part-myth ascribed to Macbeth by Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, at the time when King James
I's ascendancy united the throne of England with the throne of Scotland. Knowing that James' lineage included
Banquo, Thane of Lachaber, Shakespeare may have tried to ingratiate himself with his new ruler by emphasising
that Banquo and his heirs were the rightful rulers of Scotland.
Macbeth is also known as 'The Scottish Play' due to a long-held superstition that the play has a curse upon it and
that if anyone utters the word 'Macbeth' in a theatre, outside the context of a rehearsal or performance, tragedy
will befall the production. The characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are therefore referred to by a nickname,
such as 'Mackers' and 'Lady Mackers' or similar. To remedy the curse, the offender needs to leave the theatre,
turn around three times in a clockwise direction and spit over his or her left shoulder before knocking on the
theatre door to be admitted back into the vicinity. Some theatres practise variations on this ritual, such as
recitation of the 'Angels and ministers of grace defend us!' speech from Hamlet (I.iv). There are a number of
theories about how the superstition originated. From the beginning there were rumours that Shakespeare had used
real incantations for the witches' scenes, which could have been enough to perpetuate the idea of a curse. Even
without real incantations, the supernatural concepts could have been enough to suggest a curse. Historians have
also documented a number of accidents that have occurred in the staging of the play, from prop daggers switched
with real daggers to cast illnesses and venue-related catastrophes. Other productions have suffered crippling
reviews, or critics have savaged the actor playing Macbeth.
The Murder Scene (Act II Scene iii.)
1. Read the scene as directed by your teacher. There are five characters involved: four men and one
woman. Name the speakers man 1, 2, 3 and 4 and woman. In pairs, see if you can work out:
When the speaker changes.
Who says what.
2. Which words and phrases are difficult to understand? Discuss them with your teacher.
3. Describe what you think has happened.
4. Act out the scene in a group of five.
5. How are unnatural occurences in nature linked to the murder of the king?
Act II Scene iii
Is thy master stirring?
Enter Man 2
Our knocking has awaked him; here he comes.
Good morrow, noble sir.
Good morrow, both.
Is the king stirring, worthy thane?
He did command me to call timely on him:
I have almost slipp'd the hour.
I'll bring you to him.
I know this is a joyful trouble to you;
But yet 'tis one.
The labour we delight in physics pain.
This is the door.
I'll make so bold to call,
For 'tis my limited service.
Goes the king hence to-day?
He does: he did appoint so.
The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i' the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch'd to the woeful time: the obscure bird
Clamour'd the livelong night: some say, the earth
Was feverous and did shake.
'Twas a rough night.
My young remembrance cannot parallel
A fellow to it.
Re-enter Man 1
O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart
Cannot conceive nor name thee!
What's the matter.
Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord's anointed temple, and stole thence
The life o' the building!
What is 't you say? the life?
Mean you his majesty?
Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight
With a new Gorgon: do not bid me speak;
See, and then speak yourselves.
Exeunt Man 2 and Man 3
Ring the alarum-bell. Murder and treason!
Banquo and Donalbain! Malcolm! awake!
Shake off this downy sleep, death's counterfeit,
And look on death itself! up, up, and see
The great doom's image! Malcolm! Banquo!
As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites,
To countenance this horror! Ring the bell.
Enter Woman 1
What's the business,
That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley
The sleepers of the house? speak, speak!
O gentle lady,
'Tis not for you to hear what I can speak:
The repetition, in a woman's ear,
Would murder as it fell.
Enter Man 4
O Banquo, Banquo,
Our royal master 's murder'd!
What, in our house?
Too cruel any where.
Dear Duff, I prithee, contradict thyself,
And say it is not so.
GETTING TO KNOW THE PLAY
1. Listen to a child‟s version of the play or view animated version. List the main events on a flow
chart. View Polanski film.
2. Complete the worksheet entitled “ Macbeth – Scrambled Plot”.
3. Draw a diagram showing the narrative structure of the play: orientation, complication/s,
sequence of events, climax, resolution, denouement.
4. Answer the following questions in discussion:
A symbol is a person or object which stands for an idea. What idea do you think the three
witches might represent or symbolise? Give reasons for your answers.
What happened to the original Thane of Cawdor? Why?
Why did King Duncan make Macbeth the new Thane of Cawdor?
How was MacBeth able to become King of Scotland?
Why does MacBeth have Banquo murdered?
What does MacBeth see at the banquet which so disturbs him? Why is he so upset?
Who is Macduff and why is he a threat to Macbeth?
What does Macduff mean when he says he was „”from his mother‟s womb untimely ripped‟?
5. Answer the following in writing:
List all the evil actions Macbeth did. Which one or two actions do you feel are the worst or
most evil. Give reasons for your answer. (50 words)
Do you think Macbeth deserved his fate? Give reasons for your answer. (50 words)
6. Read Act I for homework.
Macbeth – Scrambled Plot
Place the following events in the correct sequence by numbering them 1-12.
Three witches on the heath confront Macbeth These witches make three statements:
and Banquo. Macbeth will become Thane of
Macbeth will become king
Banquo will father kings but
will never be a king
Banquo‟s ghost haunts Macbeth. His The first prophecy is immediately
conscience begins to trouble him. fulfilled. Macbeth becomes Thane of
The second prophecy is fulfilled when Worried by the third prophecy,
Macbeth becomes king after he murders Macbeth arranges for Banquo and his
Duncan and Duncan‟s sons flee. His wife son, Fleance, to be killed. Fleance
taunted Macbeth until he agreed to do this. escapes.
Lady Macbeth, once strong and urging her Macbeth orders the deaths of Lady
husband on, finds her conscience will not let Macduff and her children after he finds
her sleep. She begins to lose her reason and out that Macduff has gone to join
finally suicides as Malcom‟s army approaches. Duncan‟s son, Malcom, to gather an
army to fight against him.
Macbeth feels confident about the outcome of He finally realises he is defeated when,
the coming battle until he sees Birnam Wood face to face with Macduff in battle,
approaching. Macduff tells him he was “from his
mother‟s womb untimely ripped”.
Macduff kills Macbeth; Malcom becomes Macbeth seeks out the witches. Three
King of Scotland. more prophecies are made:
Macbeth is to be beware of
Macbeth will not be beaten till
Birnam Wood „comes‟ to
No-one born of woman can
What did Elizabethans believe and how are these beliefs reflected in the dominant
discourses of the play?
The Great Chain of Being – The Importance of Order.
Elizabethans believed that everyone and everything was arranged in a certain order. According to this
belief, God was the head of all things; the king was the head of state – the human head controlled all
bodily functions. The most humble form of plant life was superior to the highest mineral, gold. The oak
and the rose were the most superior plants. Animals were placed above plants. The king of the beasts
was the lion but man stood at the pinnacle of life on earth. He was, however, below the angles and God.
Even the angels had ranks from archangels to seraphs. HIERARCHY:
GOD cherubs archangels king church princes nobles man lion other animals oak and rose other plants
gold other minerals.
The idea was that all creation was linked, so that a disturbance in one dimension has echoes and
consequences in another. Any break in the Chain of Being upset the order of the universe and created
Man occupied a unique position in this hierarchy. He contained elements of the god-like higher orders
and the lower animal orders. He possessed reason, a god-like faculty, and passion, which he shared
with the animals. Attempts to move unnaturally off one‟s appropriate rung were viewed as a violation
of the natural order, especially if you aspired to rise unlawfully above your proper station in life,
Religious discourses of order and disorder are mobilised within the play Macbeth, reflecting
Elizabethan beliefs and attitudes. Macbeth is shown as violating the natural order. The consequence
of this for him is a descent into animal passion and the loss of his reason. The frequent comparisons
Shakespeare foregrounds between Macbeth and animals privilege this idea within the play. There is no
greater violation than the murder of a king, according to Elizabethan belief, and the murder of Duncan
is accompanied by a host of unnatural disturbances. It is unnaturally dark on the day following
Duncan‟s murder; Duncan‟s horses are said to have eaten each other; small birds attack and kill larger
ones. Shakespeare depicts the whole universe in chaos. Order is restored at the end of the play.
Malcolm not only restores political stability to Scotland; there is a restoration in cosmic harmony, as
suggested by the final words spoken in the play by the new king:
“- this, and what needful else/that calls upon us, by the grace of Grace/we will perform in measure,
time and place.”
Macbeth is a play which begins and ends with the restoration of order after rebellions. In between we
see the consequences of disorder. Shakespeare paints a bleak picture of the horror of political
disorder. This would have struck a chord with his audience who would remember the chaos of the
Wars of the Roses fought over the succession to the English throne and who were still worried about
who would follow the childless Elizabeth I to the throne of England.
How are discourses of order and disorder reflected in the play?
Structurally, the play moves from order, in the kingdom under King Duncan, to disorder, in the chaos
which is Macbeth‟s kingdom, back to the restoration of order under Duncan‟s son and rightful heir,
Act I, Scene i. – The witches.
1. Read the scene aloud several times in groups.
2. List all the words and phrases which connote evil and disorder.
3. Write down the two paradoxes which suggest that the world has become a place in which the
moral order has been reversed. How can a battle be both lost and won?
4. Read the critical commentary below then construct your own paragraph in answer to the
following: In what ways does Shakespeare mobilise discourses of order and disorder through
the opening scene of the play? How might these ideas be further promoted through the
performance of the scene?
The discourse of disorder and chaos which pervades much of the play is established by Shakespeare
through sound, movement, questions, paradoxes and symbolic references in the opening scene of the
play. Firstly, the directions suggest “thunder and lighting” contributing to the brooding atmosphere
and a sense of instability. The witches enter; contributing to the idea that disorder and anarchy are
abroad. This is because to Elizabethans they would have represented outcasts from society who see
their role as being to undermine the good and order represented by Duncan‟s kingdom. Their costumes
would represent their otherworldliness and disorderliness. They would be dressed in rags and usually
would be quite ugly and confronting to look at. They begin by asking a question which is also
destabilising for the audience, “When shall we three meet again/In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
They would swirl around the stage as the lines are spoken to emphasise their madness or supernatural
powers. Fog may be used to partly obscure them, adding to the dismal atmosphere. They speak in
paradoxes, arousing the audience‟s interest, “When the battle‟s lost and won”, and further establishing
a sense of chaos. In a subtle example of foreshadowing, there is a suggestion that they may not only
be speaking of the battles raging around them but also the battle for someone‟s soul, presumably
Macbeth‟s. They mention the heath, a desolate place outside the conventions of civilised, ordered
society. The notion of disorder is further reinforced when they admit that it is their familiars who
have summoned them, “Paddock calls”, rather than the normal summoning of the familiars by the
witches. They finish with another paradox which suggests that all is not as it seems in this world, “fair
is foul, and foul is fair”, a symbolic reference to imminent evil, establishing the mood and the main
concerns of the play.
Summary: How does the scene reflect religious discourses of disorder?
* “on the moor” - desolate, sterile, outside of society, uncivilised
* “thunder and lightning” - gloomy, unstable atmosphere, linked to evil and disorder
* Opens with question - “When shall we three meet again/ In thunder lightning or in rain?” - uncertainty
* quick question answer format - instability, interest and tension for audience.
* paradox, “When the battle‟s lost and won” - witches don‟t care which humans win or lose, no compassion, evil.
Could be talking ab out the battle for Macbeth‟s soul.
* “There to meet Macbeth” - he is linked to this desolate scene and the witches evil conspiracy, arouses audience‟s
curiosity. * “Paddock calls.” - inversion of the natural order wherein witches call familiars (disorder, chaos)
* “Fair is foul, and foul is fair;” - another paradox suggesting that the distinction between good and evil is becoming
blurred. Links to Macbeth‟s opening lines - link to theme of illusion and reality, all is not what it seems.
* “Hover through the fog and filthy air” - more evocation of gloomy atmosphere, filth suggests moral filth/evil.
* Visual elements - appearance of the witches, swirling movements, ragged clothing, fog - all signifying disorder.
* Auditory elements - sound of thunder, voices of witches (cackling, ugly).
Act I Scene ii. – Good King Duncan.
Scene 2 is in stark contrast to the preceding disordered scene in that it depicts a sense of order in
the kingdom under the guiding hand of King Duncan. This binary opposition between order and disorder
is the main organising principle underpinning the play with order obviously being privileged over
disorder. Shakespeare firstly demonstrates the order of Duncan‟s kingdom through the very ordered
and hierarchical entrance of the characters onto the stage. Duncan enters followed by his heir,
Malcolm; his second son, Donalbain; his chief advisor, Lennox; and then his attendants. This is an
orderly procession. The bloody sergeant is praised for his bravery as is Macbeth for his valorous
deeds. Duncan shows compassion for the wounded soldier, “Go, get him surgeons,” and bestows
Macbeth with the reward of Thane of Cawdor. He is a fair ruler meting out justice to those who
betray him. He condemns Cawdor to death for his treachery. The orderliness and rightness of
Du ncan‟s speech and actions would be emphasised by the regality of his costume and the respectful
behaviour of those around him toward his person. Therefore, in these two short scenes the religious
discourses of order and disorder dominate the writing with order the favoured option. Macbeth is to
be the link between the two forces - he is to be the destroyer of order in the kingdom, egged on by
the evil, disruptive witches. This connection is made in Scene iii. when the witches signal that they
have business with Macbeth.
Act I Scene iii. Macbeth meets the witches
Read 1.3.94-176 several times. Complete the following Three Level Guide activity.
Level 1: Literal Comprehension
Tick those statements which appear in the text. The statements may be worded differently, but they
must have the same meaning. Be ready to explain your reasons. Tick the statements which say what
the text says.
King Duncan has heard of Macbeth‟s bravery on the battlefield.
Macbeth is now Thane of Cawdor.
The previous Thane of Cawdor died nobly in battle.
The previous Thane of Cawdor was a traitor.
Macbeth‟s hair is scruffy and his heart is racing: he is not physically well.
The witches‟ prophecies cannot be bad; nor, though, can they be good.
Macbeth thinks he may become king without doing anything further.
Macbeth does not want to discuss the situation with Banquo.
Level 2: Inferential Comprehension
Tick those statements which can be inferred from the text. Tick the statements which mean the
same as the words of the text. Be ready to justify your choices.
Macbeth is not confused.
Banquo is fearful of the witches‟ prophecies.
Macbeth wishes to become king.
Macbeth knows in his own mind that he is going to murder Duncan.
Level 3: Evaluative Comprehension
Tick those statements which you think Macbeth would agree with.
These thoughts should not be made public.
The witches‟ prophecies are to be taken seriously.
The witches‟ prophecies are comforting.
Compare your ticks with those of your partner. If there is any disagreement, try to convince your
partner that you are right by referring to evidence in the text.
Questions Act I Scene iii. - Answer the following:
1. What has Macbeth decided to do by the end of this scene?
2. What references to evil and imagined violence and disorder can you find in the lines you
studied? List all the quotes which refer to evil beings, thoughts or evil actions.
3. What do you think he means when Macbeth says,
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise
And nothing is, but what is not.
It is fitting that the first lines uttered by Macbeth echo the witches “fair is foul”. He says, “So foul
and fair a day I have not seen” thus connecting him to the witches in a theatrical way. It is evident in
this scene that Macbeth is deeply effected by the witches prophecies, particularly by the prediction
that he will be king. Shakespeare establishes Macbeth‟s strong emotional reaction through his silence
after the predictions. Banquo notices Macbeth‟s reaction, “ Good sir, why do you start,..” and “he
seems rapt withall”. While Banquo fairly light heartedly responds to the witches with questions about
his own fate, Macbeth is abstracted. When he does speak, he does so seriously, almost imploring the
witches to give more information. He recognises the witches‟ propensity for evil - they are “upon this
blasted heath” - but something inside him responds to what they have to say. His dormant ambition
has been stirred and it is Macbeth, who becomes an active instrument of the witches, who plunges
Duncan‟s orderly kingdom into chaos and terror.
Act I Scene iv.
1. What signs are there in this scene that Duncan is a good and wise king and that his kingdom is an
Act I Scene v. - Macbeth and Lady Macbeth – Conflict Over Murder
4. Read Act I Scene V: Place appropriate words in the spaces.
We learn a great deal about Lady Macbeth in Act I Scene V. It is a very ...................... scene. In it we
see that Lady Macbeth is .............................. that Macbeth should become king. She wants Duncan
......................... and, at the same time, knows that Macbeth may be too ................................ to do away with
Duncan. Therefore, she ........................ him on to gain the crown. She e ven calls on ........................ to
make her monstrous and to give her the evil ....................... necessary to see to it that Duncan be
In this scene we see a very determined Lady Macbeth. She will not stray from her thought that
Duncan must be murdered. Macbeth is not sure. Choose the words and phrases from the scene to
complete the following.
A. List the words and phrases from Scene v. that show Lady Macbeth is determined that Duncan be
B. List the words and phrases from Scene v. that show Lady Macbeth fears Macbeth will not go
along with her ambitious plans.
C. List the words and phrases from Scene v. that show Macbeth is not as sure as Lady Macbeth
about the murder.
D. What evidence is there in this scene, especially in lines 41-57, that Lady Macbeth is challenging
the natural order in what she says? How might Elizabethan audiences be positioned to view her
Act I Scene vi. - To Kill a King?
1. Read Act I, Scene vi. Describe in your own words what happens.
Act I Scene vii – The debate: This is one of the most significant scenes in the play. In a room
in his castle Macbeth is debating with himself whether he will kill Duncan or not. There are many
arguments against the murder; only his “vaulting ambition” urges him to do it. He decides that he
cannot kill the king, who is his kinsman and his guest, and when Lady Macbeth comes in, he tells her
that they will proceed no further. With a series of strong appeals and reproaches, Lady Macbeth
stiffens her husbands courage and determination (“ But screw your courage to the sticking plate/ And
we‟ll not fail”); at last he agrees to carry through their plan to slay Duncan in a way that will make the
king‟s grooms appear guilty of the murder. It is especially in this scene that we see some of the
potential good in Macbeth in his loyalty as he struggles with the foulness of his ambition. He knows
that Duncan has been a good ruler, and he is greatly concerned about the consequences of killing him.
He reveals this in his first true soliloquy, the second of a series of crucial speeches (the long aside in
Scene 3 was the first) in which he must choose a decisive course of action. Much of Macbeth‟s tragic
stature is revealed in these speeches.
However, there is something cowardly in Macbeth‟s arguing with himself, a petty sort of bargaining
with his own fear and conscience, a situation which should be beneath that of a great warrior. In the
third part of the soliloquy, in which Duncan‟s virtues so awe Macbeth that he can no longer
contemplate the murder, Macbeth‟s character rises in our estimation. He realised that it is ambition -
only that - which drives him on. The poetry is very powerful in this soliloquy. It embodies an agony of
decision in which all the forces of nature and the supernatural seem to take part. Everyth ing at
stake in the play comes together dramatically here. Lady Macbeth enters, apparently disturbed that
Macbeth has left the king‟s table. She will have none of his procrastination and excuses and she will
not accept him wanting to enjoy his new honours awhile longer before he murders the man who
bestowed them upon him. Thus she strikes him where he is most vulnerable. She insults Macbeth‟s
courage and his manhood and applies the necessary spur that Macbeth himself lacks. Macbeth is so
awed by his wife and what she says that he overcomes his fear. Lady Macbeth‟s persuasiveness has
produced new courage in her husband and that courage, he says, is manly enough to commit murder. He
agrees to his wife‟s plan, plunging the kingdom into chaos and disorder.
Questions Act I Scene vii:
1. Macbeth hesitates to murder Duncan for several reasons. Closely read the soliloquy and list the reasons for
Macbeth‟s hesitation. What does Macbeth suggest will be the consequences of the assassination? List these under
two headings: „earthly consequences‟ and „heavenly consequences‟.
2. What do you understand by, “ If it were done, when „tis done, then „twere well /it were done quickly”?
3. What are Macbeth‟s reasons for not wanting to kill Duncan? Write one paragraph including quotations where
4. How are Macbeth‟s qualms overcome? How does Lady Macbeth convince Macbeth to go through with the plan?
What arguments does she use? Use quotes in your answer.
5. “False face must hide what false heart doth know”. What is your assessment of Macbeth‟s character at the end
of this scene? (One paragraph)
Act II, Scene i. – Is this a dagger which I see before me?
1. Macbeth has an hallucination in which he sees a dagger. What kinds of imagery does Shakespeare use in
Macbeth‟s soliloquy (lines 41-69) to suggest that the natural order is to be disrupted and that evil is abroad?
Act II Scene ii.- The fatal deed
Lady Macbeth waits in the courtyard for her husband who is committing the murder of Duncan. A
shaken Macbeth appears and informs her that he has done the deed. She is horrified to discover that
her husband did not leave the bloody daggers at the murder scene and he refuses to go back to
Duncan‟s chamber. As Lady Macbeth leaves to return the daggers, a loud knocking is heard. When she
rejoins Macbeth, they retire to their bedchamber to make it appear that they have been sleeping.
1. Why couldn‟t Macbeth say “Amen” when the guards said, “God bless us!”? (line 37) What does this tell us about
the nature of his crime?
2. What is Macbeth‟s frame of mind after the murder? What does he fear? How does he feel about what he has
Act II Scene iii. – O horror! Horror! Horror!
Macbeth greets Lennox and Macduff at the gate. Macduff leaves to rouse the king. A horrified
Macduff reports that the king has been murdered. The crime is blamed on the guards, and Macbeth
kills the guards out of supposed rage and loyalty for the king. Malcolm and Donalbain decide to flee
the country for their own safety.
1. Read Lennox‟ speech lines 50- 60. List the images of disharmony in nature foregrounded by
Shakespeare to privilege the idea that the murder is unnatural.
Act II Scene iv. – A Dark Day
An old man and Ross, recounting the unnatural events that transpired during the night of Duncan‟s
murder, are joined by Macduff who informs them that suspicion of the murder has fallen on the king‟s
two sons. It is believed that Malcolm and Donalbain hired the two guards to do the deed. Macbeth has
been chosen as the new king. Ross leaves to attend the coronation but Macduff chooses to return
home to Fife instead.
1. The Elizabethans believed that when the natural order of the universe is violated at the highest
level (such as through the assassination of a king), the natural world is thrown into chaos and reflects
this violation through events such as comets, earthquakes, famine, disease and eclipses etc. What
strange occurrences do Ross and the old man report on?
Act III, Scene i. – Worry about Banquo
Banquo, although he suspects that Macbeth has attained the crown through foul play, is heartened by
the witches‟ prophecy that he himself will father a line of kings. Macbeth appears and learns of
Banquo‟s plans for the day. Macbeth orders Banquo not to miss the banquet that evening. Alone,
Macbeth is reminded of the prophecy concerning Banquo‟s line. He persuades two murderers to kill
Fleance and Banquo.
Macbeth is troubled, even though he is king, “To be thus is nothing;/but to be safely thus.” Above all
he wants his position to be a safe one. He fears what might lie ahead.
In detail outline:
1. What/who Macbeth is afraid of.
2. Why he is afraid.
“Come fate into the list,/And champion me to the utterance.” It appears that Macbeth wishes to
“change” the witches‟ prophecy about Banquo.
3. What are the prophecies he wishes to change?
4. What is the plan Macbeth comes up with to do this?
5. Which do you think is the worse crime morally speaking: the murder of Duncan or the murder of
Banquo? Give reasons for your answer.
Act III, Scene iv. – The Banquet Scene
1. Which words and phrases taken from the beginning of the scene show that the banquet begins in an
2. What is the first sign that Macbeth is not playing the appropriate role as a host and king?
3. What happens at the banquet to completely destabilise Macbeth? How does he behave?
4. How does Lady Macbeth respond to Macbeth‟s strange behaviour? What does she mean when she
says to the assembled lords, “ Stand not upon the order of your going,/ But go at once.”
5. This scene well symbolises the movement of the kingdom from order to disorder. The banquet opens
in an orderly fashion but the news that Fleance is not dead and the appearance of the ghost send
Macbeth into a fevered mental state. The scene ends in disarray. Read the commentary below then
write your own well-formed paragraph in answer to the following: In what ways does the Banquet
Scene help to mobilise discourses of order and disorder in the play?
Critical commentary: The religious discourses of order and disorder are further examined in the
scenes after the murder of Duncan. Macbeth‟s betrayal of Banquo is followed by the banquet scene.
Here Shakespeare demonstrates the psychological results of this second murder through the
supernatural ghost and the exaggerated, disorderly behaviour of Macbeth. Macbeth ironically says
that he regrets Banquo‟s absence, only to be confronted by his ghostly form seated at the banquet
table. The ghost would appear on stage, the audience would see it and recognise it as a real threat to
Macbeth‟s sanity. The spectre unsettles Macbeth whose behaviour becomes quite bizarre. He calls
out to the ghost, “Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery hence!” startling his guests and forcing
Lady Macbeth to apologise for him. His deeds have come back to haunt him.
The religious discourses of order and disorder are also evident here. Shakespeare foregrounds this
symbolically through what is said at the beginning and the end of the banquet scene. The scene opens
with Lady Macbeth and Macbeth welcoming their guests in proper regal fashion. Macbeth says, in a
kingly way, “You know your own degrees, sit down; at first and last the hearty welcome.” He refers to
the positions held by each, the order in his kingdom. But the orderly nature of the evening is
disturbed by Macbeth‟s wild and exaggerated behaviour. When Lady Macbeth is forced to dismiss the
company, fearful of what Macbeth might reveal, she says, „stand not upon the order of your going‟. The
proper order of departure has been forgotten. The consequences of Macbeth‟s evil acts have bought
disorder into the world of the court as well as into the kingdom.
The Remainder of the Play
1. What further heinous crimes does Macbeth commit before he is murdered by Macduff?
2. What effect do these crimes have on his psychological state?
3. What happens to Lady Macbeth? Why?
Spoken Assessment Task: Eulogy
Macbeth‟s Eulogy – An Inquiry-Based Approach into the Values and Attitudes which
Underpin the Play
Core questions to consider in small groups before writing eulogy:
1. What makes a good man? What good qualities does Macbeth possess? Is there a difference
between a good man in Shakespeare‟s time and today?
2. What qualities does a good leader possess? What leadership qualities does Macbeth possess?
3. What made a good king in Elizabethan times? Which kingly characteristics does Macbeth
4. What makes a corrupted man? What kinds of behaviour constitute corruption? Which of these
traits does Macbeth display?
5. Morality means standards of conduct that are considered right. Is Macbeth a moral or an immoral
man? Is Macbeth a moral coward who simply could not face the consequences of his actions?
6. What is evil? Does it exist in the external world or only inside people? Did Elizabethans believe
that it existed in the external world? Is Macbeth evil or is he merely a man who made the wrong
7. What makes a brave or heroic man? In what ways was Macbeth brave and/or heroic? Consider
both the beginning and the ending of the play. How does his death compare with that of the Thane
8. Did Macbeth have a choice as to how he would behave after hearing the prophecies of the
witches? What different kinds of choices could he have made? Why did he make the choices he
9. How much are Macbeth‟s actions influenced by Lady Macbeth? Is Macbeth a better person than
10. What does Macbeth‟s indecision show you about his personality?
11. What makes an action fair? Did Macbeth treat people as they deserved to be treated? Did he do
people harm? Did he take into account everyone‟s interests? Who is treated unjustly in the play?
12. What makes a punishment a just one? Was Macbeth‟s punishment just? Why/why not?
Characteristics Evidence: What did he do? What did Quotations
Macbeth was a good
Macbeth was a brave
Macbeth was a moral
Macbeth was corrupted
Macbeth was influenced
by Lady Macbeth.
Preparing for Your Eulogy
What was Macbeth like? Did he have any redeeming qualities? How did his character change during
the course of his life? What do you think are the main causes of Macbeth's downfall? At the end of
the play Malcolm describes Macbeth as a „bloody butcher‟. Does this sum up how you see him in the
play? If Macbeth has a flaw in his character, what is it?
What was Macbeth’s motivation?
(i) The witches made him do it.
(ii) His wife made him do it.
(iii) He, alone, is to blame.
(iv) A combination of all three.
Which discourses will you be emphasising?
(i) Order and disorder
Was Macbeth’s death a just fate? Give reasons for your answer.
How far is he driven by his own ambition? Points to consider:
* We find out that „Macbeth‟ is brave in Act 1 Scene 2 (line 16) and that he is also the king‟s cousin.
Is it possible that he has got fed up with simply being a warrior?
* In Act 1 Scene 3 note Macbeth‟s willingness to believe the witches. Note the language used.
Banquo is more suspicious – „Things that do sound so fair‟
* Macbeth clearly feels that he has to kill Duncan – note the way he speaks and the language he
uses. Surely if he believed the witches he would allow fate to take its course. He clearly realises that
killing Duncan is an option. Note the use of the soliquy technique – allowing us to see his inner
thoughts. „Present fears…My thought, who murder is…‟
* In Act 1 Scene 4 Macbeth is able to be kind to the King, which shows his duplicity. Again note the
use of language. He admits that he is thinking of murder. Note the reference to astrology and the
supernatural. In Act 3 Scene 1 Macbeth shows his coldheartness by setting up the murder of Banquo,
he ensures the death of Lady MacDuff.
How far is he dominated by his wife? Points to consider:
* From the moment Lady Macbeth receives the letter from Macbeth she begins to plan the murder.
Note the language she uses – for example she talks about defeminising herself. She paints Macbeth as
a weak man. She resolves to persuade Macbeth to do it and asks for the strength to commit the
murder. Again look for images within the speech.
* Lady Macbeth uses various strategies for example praise. She plans the murder. She tells him
that he is not a man if he does not perform it. She encourages him.
* In the presence of his wife, Macbeth shows himself to be a weak man. She plans the murder for
Influenced by the witches? Points to consider:
* In Act 1 Scene 1 the witches are waiting for Macbeth, this seems to suggest that they have
something in mind – they are creatures of supernatural origin. What difference would it make to the
play if they were not there?
* The witches show themselves to be evil, for example they cause men‟s deaths.
* Remember the line „Fair is foul and foul is fair‟ – appearances are often deceiving.
* They don‟t tell Macbeth the whole truth.
* Banquo feels they might not be all they seem.
* In Elizabethan times witches were thought to be dangerous and servants of Satan.
* Macbeth seems almost to be hypnotised by what they tell him.
What is a Eulogy?
What a eulogy usually is: Ways your eulogy will slightly differ:
A eulogy is a formal dignified speech, You may be criticising as well as
which praises a person. It is also praising Macbeth.
known as a funeral speech and is
most often delivered by a friend,
relative or colleague at the funeral
service of the deceased.
The audience must be able to Adopt a sincere tone.
recognize that what you say is The audience must be able to
honest. recognise the qualities as being
The audience must be able to relate those reflected in the play.
to the qualities you mention. You may also need to outline some of
Outline the good points of the his flaws and defects depending on
deceased – in their character, their your reading of his character.
personality traits, in the way they You need to refer to the manner of
related to other people, in their his death in order to show your
actions. understanding of the in/justice in
Mention some of their weaknesses in the circumstances surrounding the
order to maintain the honesty and death of the protagonist.
integrity of both the speaker and Smoothly integrate at least 6
the deceased. quotations.
A touch of humour may be added if
its purpose is to illustrate something
of the life of the person.
If the manner of death has been a
violent one, it is not usually
mentioned but accepted as common
The introduction conveys the full Introduction should also present
name and other relevant personal your hypothesis I.e. your favoured
information. reading position.
The body of the speech expands on The body of the speech should refer
the qualities of the person. closely to the events in the play,
The conclusion ends the eulogy with showing your understanding of the
public thanks for the life of the protagonist‟s motivation in behaving
deceased. as he did at significant moments in
the play and your understanding of
the discourses mobilised in the play.
Eulogies are spoken using the first person (I), second person (you) and third person (he, she,
they) points of view. Use the past tense. E.g. Was, were etc
Be logical – work chronologically through Macbeth‟s life/the play. Being logical, having a
definite beginning, middle and end will help you fulfil criteria 1: Exploiting the patterns and
conventions of the eulogy genre.
ADOPT A DEFINITE READING POSITION. Use cohesive links which suggest definite
opinions and strong modality so that your reading position is strong and clear. E.g. definitely,
certainly, it is true, it is clear, I have no doubt, there is little doubt etc This will help you
fulfil criteria 8: Demonstrating with subtlety and complexity the position he/she adopts as a
read r and criteria 5: making discerning use of cohesive ties to emphasise ideas and connect
parts of the eulogy.
Refer in detail to the events of the play. Choose 3-4 really significant events/moments in
Macbeth‟s life and provide insight into his motivation, speech and behaviour. Refer to things
he and others said. (Don‟t forget that you can comment not only on what he says and does but
also on what he thinks. Refer to Macbeth‟s values, attitudes and beliefs. The soliloquies are
important to our understanding of Macbeth‟s motivation.) This will help you fulfil criteria 2, 3
and 9: Selecting and synthesising substantial, relevant subject matter and Substantiating
reading position with well-balanced and relevant quotes and evidence from the play and
Evaluating how cultural assumptions, values, attitudes and beliefs underpin texts.
Stay in role – remain serious and dignified. If you giggle or falter you will be marked down.
Criteria 4: Successfully and convincingly exploiting the role assumed for this presentation.
Time the speech: 4-5 minutes per student (Deviations of more than one minute will be
penalised 1/3 of a grade.) Careful planning and timing will assist you to speak at the correct
pace. If you know your speech is too long you will rush and be marked down for criteria 7
which pertains to spoken features.
Use sophisticated, appropriate vocabulary. E.g. avoid simple monosyllabic words like „good‟ and
„bad‟. Criteria 6: Exploiting an extensive range of apt vocabulary.
Use cohesive ties: Criteria 5.
One of the central criteria for marking analytical essays and other texts such as feature articles and
eulogies is the student‟s proficiency in the use of cohesive links. Cohesion is the means by which text
structure „comes together‟. There are seven conjunctions that are used most often: and; but; yet; or;
nor; so; for. But there are many other conjunctions, as well as adjectival and adverbial phrases and
clauses that give your writing cohesion. Here are some of them:
above all for example meanwhile then
for instance moreover though
for this reason more specifically thus
admittedly to sum up
afterwards further (more) nevertheless
also hence nonetheless
while this is so
although however not only, but also
as a result if this be granted not surprisingly
at the same time in addition not until then
besides in conclusion obviously
certainly indeed of course
in fact one... two
clearly only then
curiously enough in particular
on the contrary
consequently in order that
on the other hand
earlier in short otherwise
even if instead provided
even though in summary rather
finally it might be thought similarly
first... second later since this is so
following this many a case like this
As well you can use the repetition of a key word, often found in the topic, and reference
words such as that, each, both, it and their, all of which are pronouns and all of which help
promote cohesion and support the logical development of your ideas. The effect of these
words will to a large degree depend upon the context of their use. However, it is possible, on
a very general level, to describe cohesive ties in terms of the following primary functions:
• To indicate alternatives: or; either; on the other hand; nevertheless; though ...
• To indicate cause: as a result; because; therefore; so; since this is so;
• To indicate a conclusion: to sum up; finally; thus; as this is the case; so ..
• To indicate contrast: however; instead; moreover; nevertheless; on the other
• To indicate coordination: accordingly; and; similarly; not surprisingly ...
• To indicate inclusion: clearly; specifically; likewise; for example; to illustrate ...
• To indicate inference: thus; latter; if this is so; respectively; former ...
• To indicate sequence: afterwards; earlier; finally; firstly ... secondly; since ...
Preparing for your Eulogy.
1. Read the eulogy task sheet and criteria sheet carefully.
2. Read any model eulogies provided.
3. Re-read all notes provided.
4. Decide on your preferred reading of Macbeth‟s motivation. You could prepare a
eulogy which adopts one or more of the following reading positions:
Macbeth as a brave warrior.
Macbeth as the victim of supernatural forces, the witches, fate.
Macbeth as a man who is unduly influenced by an ambitious wife.
Macbeth as an ambitious man who tries to rise above his station in life by illegal
Macbeth as a moral coward.
Macbeth as a man who loves his wife too much.
Macbeth as a bloodthirsty warrior.
Macbeth as a flawed tragic hero.
5. Identify relevant scenes and quotations to use as substantiation of your reading
6. Plan and write eulogy before exam week.
7. Rehearse and time!
“Macbeth is a tale told by a genius, full of soundness and fury, signifying
many things” – James Thurber, American humorist 1894-1961.
Macbeth’s Character – Some Different Readings
1. Courage, Strength, a Good General?
* He is co-leader with Banquo of Duncan‟s army
* He is spoken of more frequently than Banquo so must be his senior.
* There is a detailed description of his personal powers and generalship in Act I, scene ii. Much is
made of his bravery in the opening segments of the play. (This contrasts with his deterioration as the
plot progresses and makes the tragedy of his downfall more effective.)
Read Act I Scene ii. Lines 9-25 beginning “Doubtful it stood….” In what ways does this demonstrate
Macbeth‟s bravery in battle and leadership qualities? In what ways could we read this speech
resistantly as an indictment of Macbeth‟s qualities or a hint of things to come?
* Lady Macbeth appeals to him through his manhood, knowing he cherishes a manly image of himself. “
When you durst do it, then you were a man…” (Act I Scene vii line 54)
* As he becomes degraded, he loses some of his fearlessness but his old courage and strength show
themselves in his fight with young Siward and in the early part of his fight with Macduff. He says,
“Why should I play the Roman fool and die/On mine own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes do
better upon them.” He will fight to the death even though he knows the odds are greatly stacked
2. A Moral Coward?
He changes his mind six times before murdering Duncan! What does this show of Macbeth, the man?
Is he an essentially good man who has been tempted by the witches or is he a weak and potentially evil
man who is having trouble making up his mind? He is brave when it comes to action but when he starts
thinking he hesitates and fears and has to be goaded into action by his wife.
(i) He had made up his mind to it straight after meeting the witches by imagining the murder. “ My
thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, shakes so my single state of man that function is
smotherd in surmise and nothing is but what is not.” (Act I Scene iii. line 151 ff)
(ii) The prophecy that he will be King makes him decide to leave it to fate. “ If chance will have me
King why, chance may crown me without my stir.” (Act I Scene iii. line 156 ff)
(iii) Duncan‟s announcement that Malcolm is to be his successor presents a difficulty which he must
(iv) He has a change of heart before he reaches home. “Let not light see my black and deep
desires.” (Act I Scene iv. line 58.)
(v) His wife attempts to persuade him that the murder can be done safely if Macbeth lets her manage
events. “ You shall put this night‟s great business into my dispatch, which shall to all our nights and
days to come gives solely sovereign sway and masterdom.” (Act I Scene v. lines 74-77)
(vi) He leaves the banquet and decides not to do it after listing to himself all the reasons for sparing
Duncan. He says to Lady Macbeth, “ We will proceed no further in this business.” (Act I Scene 7 line
(vii) He is goaded by Lady Macbeth to make up his mind finally to do the murder. “I am settled, and
bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat.” (Act I Scene 7 lines 88-89)
* He fears Banquo because he recognises a moral courage in him which he, himself lacks. Banquo kept
his “bosom franchised and allegiance clear.”
He hated and feared Macduff too because he felt his own “genius rebuked” by Macduff‟s moral
* He does not show a single example of moral uprightness in the play.
* Does not fear the moral consequences of sin. “We‟d jump the life to come,”.
* His whole story after the death of Duncan is one of continuous moral degradation. He is in a savage
frenzy when he plans the murder of Macduff‟s family.
* There can be no doubt that Macbeth had entertained the idea of being king some day. His success in
battle would have served to intensify his ambition.
* It seems that the though of murder had already occurred to him, “My thought, whose murder yet is
* When Macbeth “starts at the fair sounding” predictions of the witches it is because they have
startled him by putting his thoughts into actual words. His “rapt” behaviour, his wish, “Would they had
stayed” and his brooding over the prophecy all seem to indicate his keen interest in becoming king.
* The witches prophecy only encourage his ambitions to become king, they don‟t cause it.
* He confesses “vaulting ambition” that will carry him to murder Duncan now that Duncan has
circumvented fate by naming Malcolm as his successor.
* Lady Macbeth‟s speech (Act 1, Scene 5) sums up her husband‟s character very early in the play. It
reveals that Macbeth was a very ordinary man whose ambition was great and who wished to stand well
with the world. But he was unprincipled and refrained from wrong-doing only from custom or fear of
being found out. It is his unprincipled ambition and his crimes to attain that ambition that make the
theme of this great tragedy.
Read Lady Macbeth’s speech. What are the main points she is making about Macbeth’s
4. Superstitious and Imaginative?
* Macbeth‟s power and his successes make him imagine himself as king.
* His imagination, controlled neither by moral consideration nor by education make him a ready victim
to the tempting prophecies of the witches. Banquo is not so susceptible, he is more cautious.
* Before the murder his” function/Is smother‟d in surmise” (I, 3, 141) when he allows his imagination
to roam uncontrolled.
* His imagination and superstition are also shown in his sighting of the “air drawn dagger” and in the
hysteria of fear which seizes him after the murder of Duncan.
* Most importantly he sees the ghost of Banquo at the banquet. The mental excitement created made
him reveal much that he would have liked to remain unknown, and in this way he has tened his ruin
* When circumstances became difficult he clung to the prophecies even when circumstances showed
how misleading they were. He allowed the prophecies to give him a false sense of security.
* The more intense his excitement, the more vivid and intense does his language become to mirror the
emotional strain of the scene.
5. Loves his Wife?
* He shares his joys with her - he sends her a letter describing the witches‟ prophecies.
* He accepts her guidance and advice and consults her concerning his plans.
* He is affectionate towards her using terms of endearment, “my dearest love”.
* He keeps his plan to murder Banquo and Fleance to himself so she won‟t have to share the strain.
* Once she had launched him on his career of crime, Lady Macbeth loses control of Macbeth.
* Once the saviour of his country (“ worthy gentleman” etc) he follows h is murder of Duncan with
the quick murder of the two sleepy grooms.
* He does not need to be urged to the deed in planning the murder of Banquo and Fleance.
* His degradation carries him to the level where he vents his savage frenzy upon the innocent heads
of Macduff‟s family, including small children.
* Scotland suffers from his boundless cruelty:” Sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air, are
made, not mark‟d.”
* He becomes distrustful, “ There‟s not a one of them but in this house I keep a servant fee‟d”.
* He becomes cruel and treacherous; the voice of conscience in him has gone; he no longer hesitates to
follow the course of evil.
* But the tragedy is still tragedy because he reveals that he is suffering a living hell in the midst of
fears, amongst those that hate him and dare not show it, he is not sleeping well. His punishment is as
great as his crimes.
How is Macbeth Punished?
* Macbeth‟s ambition leads him to believe the prophecies; it is this belief that brings his downfall.
* He murders Duncan and Macduff kills him.
* He murders Macduff‟s family and his own wife commits suicide.
* He is also punished psychologically through the fear and sleeplessness he experiences after the
murder of Duncan.
Structure of the Play
* It has no complicating subplots; every incident and every speech relates to Macbeth.
* The introduction to the play occurs in the first two scenes.
* The rising action of the play begins with Macbeth‟s meeting of the witches and the climax is reached
with the murder of Banquo.
* The falling action begins with the escape of Fleance and continues on through the banquet scene, the
arousing of Macduff and the retreat to Dunsinane. The conclusion charts the catastrophes that engulf
Lady Macbeth and then Macbeth.
Exercise: Draw a diagram of the narrative structure of the play. Do you agree that
the climax occurs with the murder of Banquo?
Macbeth – A Dominant Reading
(adapted from R.S. White in Macbeth: Horizons Studies in Literature)
According to the most common reading of the play, Duncan is the saintly, wise and legitimate king of
war-torn Scotland. Macbeth, motivated by the three witches, plays out a destiny which leads him to
kill the good king to further his own personal ambitions. In this he is encouraged by his even more
ambitious wife. Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne, flees to England to meet up with the king of
England. He is joined there by Macduff who flees Scotland in terror of his life. Because Macbeth‟s
accession is illegal and violent, disrupting order in the kingdom, his reign is destined to be bloody and
he inevitably turns into a paranoid tyrant, killing all potential enemies such as Banquo and Macduff‟s
wife and children. Lady Macbeth is wracked during her sleep by her guilty conscience and eventually
suicides. Macbeth fears no human enemy when resistance to him turns into a military siege, until the
twin prophecies of the witches come about – trees from Birnum Wood come to Dunsinane and Macduff
reveals that he was a caesarean birth. At this point, Macbeth‟s power is at an end and he is
unceremoniously beheaded by Macduff. Malcolm returns to be crowned “by the grace of God” as
legitimate king to reinstate peace and order which his father Duncan had stood for before the savage
disruption of Macbeth‟s rule. The play is therefore a warning to all who would ambitiously reach above
their station on the Great Chain of Being and dare to kill a rightful king. Like the other great
Shakespearean tragedies, it is also a play which stresses the importance of an ordered world in which
every element has its rightful place. When order is destroyed the impetus of the plot is on restoring
the chaotic world to order and harmony.
Another dominant reading:
Tragedy in simple terms means the hero dies. The tragic hero is usually of very high standing. He must
oppose some conflicting force, either external or internal. He also may have a tragic flaw or an excess
of some character trait which leads to his downfall. Because of his status this usually leads to the
downfall of others as well. Often an essentially good character is killed because of a flaw or because
of evil in others. Under this reading, Macbeth‟s flaw is his ambition. It leads him to murder Duncan
and leads to chaos within the kingdom and ultimately to Macbeth‟s own death. This reading does not
challenge the dominant reading above.
A resistant reading:
For Terry Eagleton, a Marxist literary critic, the witches are outcasts, living on the fringe of society
in a female community, at odds with the male world of "civilization," which values military butchery.
The fact that they are female and associated with the natural world beyond the aristocratic
oppression in the castles indicates that they are excluded „others‟. Their equality in a female
community declares their opposition to the masculine power of the militaristic society. They have no
direct power, but they have become expert at manipulating the self-destructive contradictions of
their military oppressors. They see Macbeth's destruction as a victory of a sort: one more viciously
individualistic, aggressive male oppressor has gone under. Macbeth‟s destruction can thus be read as a
victory for the oppressed and marginalised in a militaristic and patriarchal society. Under this reading,
order is not restored – the witches are still at large perhaps preparing to cause more havoc in the
world of men.
Another Reading of Macbeth’s Character:
Harrison, G.B. Shakespeare‟s Tragedies.
Nor is Macbeth in the truest sense a deep tragedy. Macbeth cannot be considered to be a good man or
a sympathetic character. The best that can be said for him is that he is sensitive and imaginative, and
utters his sentiments with fine eloquence. It is doubtless some excuse that he is dominated by a wife
who is without any moral sense, who is utterly ruthless, and so lacking in imagination that she finds
high satisfaction in the prospect of t he murder of her king who is also her guest. Macbeth is less
simple minded. He knows not only that he is committing a wrong which nothing can justify, but that he
will receive his punishment even in this world, whatever may await him in the next. To mortal sin thus
he adds immortal stupidity. At the end of the play we do not so much pity Macbeth as his victims.
Macbeth is half-frightened, especially after the witches‟ first prophecies. His character, as built up in
his first appearance, is just as his wife afterwards so accurately analyses, a man toweringly but
timidly ambitious. Indeed, if there is a tragedy in Macbeth, it is one of common moral cowardice, for
he has none of that utter lack of conscience which would make him a mere villain and he has not got
the strength to stand up to his wife. Only to those who believe in predestination can Macbeth be a
tragic victim. These would believe that the witches and fate determine all events in Macbeth‟s life. To
those who believe in free will he is a wanton murderer, and his offence is made worse by the fact that
he knows he is doing the wrong thing.
After the banquet scene Macbeth is an entirely different man. The whole direction of the play
changes and the position of Macbeth and his wife suddenly change. “What is the night?” he asks, and
from that instant Macbeth is changed. After this point he needs neither prompting nor assistance,
and he sees no more ghosts. With this change, Lady Macbeth fades into insignificance. Macbeth has
completely degenerated from the ambitious hero who saved Scotland, even from the sensitive
murderer who hesitated to kill Duncan because the deed itself was foul. He has lost all sense of pity;
and if he cannot kill Macduff, he can at least destroy all that Macduff holds dear.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
HOMEWORK EXERCISE 1: Macbeth Cloze Exercise
King Duncan hears how ……………….. has been a brave warrior and a loyal servant to the King.
Duncan gives Macbeth the title of Thane of ……..…… as reward for his services. The old
Thane of …………….. is killed for being a traitor.
On their way back from battle, Macbeth and Banquo meet the ……………… who tell Macbeth
that he will become the new Thane of Cawdor and also the new ……… of Scotland. The weird
sisters also tell Banquo that his sons will be ……….. in years to come. Macbeth not sure
whether this is true but he is soon told by a messenger that he is now the new ……………………..
This seems like the first part of the prophecy has come true.
Macbeth has told his wife, ………….………….., about the witches predictions. She is excited
about becoming queen, but fears that Macbeth is not ……………….. enough to kill Duncan. When
Macbeth arrives home she tries to …………………………………………………. and Macbeth agrees with
Duncan arrives at ……………. castle and is greeted. They hold a feast and most people get
drunk. Macbeth is ………………. about killing Duncan and decides to abandon his plan. Macbeth
believes that Duncan is a ……….. king. Duncan has said lots of ………………………. about Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth is …………. that Macbeth has abandoned his plan to kill ………….. and calls him a
coward and tells him that he is not a man. Macbeth decides to go through with the plan to
murder Duncan. He sees an imaginary …………. before his eyes. Macbeth creeps into
……………………….. in the middle of the night and …………………..…… in cold blood. Lady Macbeth
sees the daggers in Macbeth's hands and rushes back to …………………….. ……………………
Macduff arrives at the castle and discovers ……………………………… and raises the alarm.
Duncan's son, …………………, quickly leaves Scotland because he might be …………….. for killing his
father. Macduff does not …………… Macbeth.
Macbeth is ………………………..of Scotland. He decides that he must kill ……………. and his son
because ………………………….. and order two …………….. to carry out the job. However, the
………………. escapes. Macduff is really upset about ……………. escaping.
Macbeth has a banquet and sets a place at the table for ……………, knowing full well that he
has been murdered. However, he sees the gory ghost of ……………. coming towards him. His
guests think that he might be going……… and become suspicious of him.
Macduff is now sure that Macbeth has murdered Duncan and decides to join ………………. in
England and raise an army of ………………. Englishmen to kill Macbeth.
Macbeth orders his henchmen to kill Macduff's ……….………………. and this act disgusts his
followers, who start to desert him. Macbeth decides to pay the ………….. another visit and
they tell him that Banquo's children will still be the future …………… of Scotland. They also
tell him that no-one born of ……………….. will ever be able to kill him and that he will never die
until the forest of …………….. comes to ……………. Macbeth thinks that this will ……………………….
and decides to carry on as normal.
Lady Macbeth has gone ……… and talks in her sleep about …………..…………. A messenger tells
the king that the wood is on its way to ………………. and Macbeth is …………………
When the army arrive at the castle Macbeth …………. many men because he believes that no-
one can kill him. However, Macduff tells Macbeth that he was not born of woman because
………………………………………………………… and they fight. Macbeth is …………….. by Macduff and his
……….. is put on a pole for everyone to see.
WORD LIST FOR THE BLANK SPACES:
Mad; witches; worried; Macbeth; Duncan's corpse; unsure; Dunsinane; his mother gave birth
to him by caesarean; the fleance; kills; killed; fleance; head; ten thousand; crowned king;
Cawdor; Lady Macbeth; angry; kings; Banquo; mad; Malcolm; king; kings; Cawdor; good things;
witches; Thane of Cawdor; dagger; suspected; Dunsinane; Burnham; plant them on the
servants; wife and children; washing blood from her hands; Banquo; Dunsinane; henchmen;
trust; might become a king; murders him; Duncan's room; good; Duncan; ambitious;
Macbeth's; persuade him to kill Duncan; Banquo; woman; never happen; Malcolm.
This Macbeth synopsis was found free at www.englishresources.co.uk
© 2000 Copyright English Resources, all rights reserved
Who said these things about Macbeth, and why? It may be Macbeth himself, or another character.
brave Macbeth - well he deserves that name (sc. 2, l. 16)
O valiant cousin! worthy gentleman! (sc. 2, l. 24)
A drum! A drum!
Macbeth doth come. (sc. 3, l. 30)
Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair? (sc. 3, l. 51)
New honours come upon him,
Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould
But with the aid of use. (sc. 3, l. 144)
From hence to Inverness
And bind us closer to you. (sc. 4, l. 42)
Stars hide your fires!
Let not light see my black and dark desires. (sc. 4, l. 50)
I do fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness ... (sc. 5, l. 15)
Look like the innocent flower
But be the serpent under it. (sc. 5, l. 63)
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more, is none. (sc. 7, l. 46)
Is this a dagger that I see before me? (sc. 1, l. 33)
I go, and it is done; the bell invites me. (sc. 1, l. 62)
This is a sorry sight. (sc. 2, l. 21)
Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!' (sc. 2, l. 35)
A little water clears us of this deed. (sc. 2, l. 67)
O yet I do repent me of my fury,
That I did kill them (sc. 3, l.107)
Thou hast it now: King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the weird women promised; and I fear,
Thou play'dst most foully for it. (sc. 1, l. 1)
Banquo, thy soul's flight
If it find heaven, must find it out tonight (sc. 1, l. 142)
Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck
Till thou applaud the deed (sc. 2, l. 45)
The table's full (sc. 4, l. 46)
Thou canst not say I did it; never shake
Thy gory locks at me (sc. 4, l. 50)
What man dare, I dare (sc. 4, l. 99)
I pray you speak not, he grows worse and worse (sc. 4, l. 119)
By the pricking of my thumbs
Something wicked this way comes (sc. 1, l. 44)
Then live, Macduff: what need I fear of thee? (sc. 1, l. 82)
This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues,
Was once thought honest. (sc. 3, l. 12)
Now does he feel
His secret murders sticking on his hands. (sc. 2, l. 16)
I have lived long enough. (sc. 3, l. 22)
I'll fight till from my bones my flesh be hack'd (sc. 3, l. 32)
How does your patient, doctor? (sc. 3, l. 37)
The queen, my lord, is dead. (sc. 5, l. 16)
They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly. (sc. 7, l. 1)
Turn, hell-hound, turn! (sc. 7, l. 32)
Lay on, Macduff,
And damn'd be him that first cries 'Hold, enough!' (sc. 7, l. 64)
this dead butcher (sc. 7, l. 98)
This resource sheet was found free at www.englishresources.co.uk
© 1999 English Resources, all rights reserved