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An Interactive Study Guide. THINKING ABOUT MACBETH. Click the mouse to continue. What’s in This Study Guide?. Home. Introduction to Macbeth. Main Menu. Macbeth – The Basics. Macbeth was written in 1606 , the last of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies ( Hamlet , Othello , King Lear ).

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macbeth the basics
Macbeth – The Basics
  • Macbeth was written in 1606, the last of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, King Lear).
  • Shakespeare was in his early 40’s, a mature playwright with an established reputation.
  • The source of Macbeth is Holinshed’s Chronicles of Ancient British History, used frequently by Shakespeare as a plot source.
  • Macbeth is a more complex morality play, focusing on a man who faces a choice between good and evil, and chooses evil.
  • However, Macbeth is more than a one-dimensional villain. He is a believable human being who gives in to the temptation of ambition.

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Introduction to Macbeth

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macbeth the text
Macbeth – The Text
  • There is only one definitive version of Macbeth – the First Folio.
  • The First Folio is a collection of 36 of Shakespeare’s plays prepared by two of his colleagues 7 years after his death.
  • It is considered the most reliable text of many of the plays, which also existed in “bad” quarto versions.

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Introduction to Macbeth

macbeth the text1
Macbeth – The Text
  • Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays.
  • Macbeth also contains several unanswered plot questions:
    • Who was the 3rd murderer?
    • What happened to Fleance and Donalbain?
    • Did the Macbeths have children?
    • Did Lady Macbeth commit suicide?
  • Some scholars theorize that there are missing scenes.
  • The scenes with Hecate (III, 5 & IV, 1) were probably added after Shakespeare’s death for the purpose of entertaining the audience.

Three Witches, Henry Fuseli

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Introduction to Macbeth

the great chain of being
The Great Chain of Being
  • Shakespeare’s audience believed in a great Chain of Being that determined the natural order of events.
  • The chain was a series of hierarchical links with God at the top.
  • Each level of the chain had its own hierarchy, with the king at the top of the human level.
  • Disruptions in the chain could also disrupt the laws of nature and cause bizarre events to occur.

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Introduction to Macbeth

macbeth and king james i
Macbeth and King James I
  • Aspects of the play were calculated to flatter King James, who ascended the throne in 1603 after Queen Elizabeth died.
  • James had authored Demonology in 1597 and was intensely interested in the supernatural.
  • James was a descendant of the historical Banquo.
  • The line of kings in IV, 1 suggests that the Stuart line will continue indefinitely.

King James I, Paulus Van Somer

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Introduction to Macbeth

quiz act i click the hand for an answer
Quiz: Act IClick the hand  for an answer.
  • Why did King Duncan strip the Thane of Cawdor of his title and give it to Macbeth? 
  • What prophecies did the witches make regarding Macbeth? 
  • What prophecies did the witches make regarding Banquo? 
  • How does Lady Macbeth react to the witches' prophecies and the idea of killing the king? 

Macbeth Quizzes

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slide11

Why did King Duncan strip the Thane of Cawdor of his title and give it to Macbeth? Click anywhere to show answer.

The Thane of Cawdor betrayed King Duncan and deserted to the rebel army during the battle.   

Macbeth fought heroically in the battle, killed the rebel leader, MacDonwald, and helped win the day for Duncan's army.

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slide12

What prophecies did the witches make regarding Macbeth? Click anywhere to show answer.

He will be Thane of Glamis. (a title he will inherit from his father)

He will be Thane of Cawdor.

He will be king.

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slide13

What prophecies did the witches make regarding Banquo? Click anywhere to show answer.

The witches predicted his children would be kings.

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How did Lady Macbeth react to the witches' prophecies and the idea of killing the king? Click anywhere to show answer.

Lady Macbeth is enthusiastic about obtaining the power that goes with the kingship.  She fears that her husband does not have enough ambition to accomplish their (her?) goals.  

When she hears that the King will visit their castle, she calls on spirits to "unsex" her, and allow her masculine nature to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the king's visit.  When Macbeth arrives at the end of the scene, she urges him to appear innocent while planning the murder of the king.

Macbeth Quizzes

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quiz act ii click the hand for an answer
Quiz: Act IIClick the hand  for an answer.
  • Describe the vision that Macbeth sees on the way to Duncan’s chamber to commit the murder. 
  • What part of the murder plan did Lady Macbeth have to carry out herself because her husband could not? 
  • Who is the Porter and what is his purpose in the play? 
  • Which character discovers the dead king and reports it to the others? 
  • What do Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, decide to do after the murder and why? 
  • What do Ross and the old man discuss in Act II, Scene 4, regarding the events of the night before? 

Macbeth Quizzes

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slide16

Describe the vision that Macbeth sees on the way to Duncan’s chamber to commit the murder. Click anywhere to show answer.

In a scene that abounds with evil and terrifying sounds, Macbeth sees a “bleeding dagger” that seems to lead him on to Duncan’s chamber.

This image emphasizes the horror of the deed Macbeth is about to commit. It also demonstrates Macbeth’s state of mind. Although he is terrified, he is determined to commit the murder. Furthermore, he has already being tormented by his own conscience.

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slide17

What part of the murder plan did Lady Macbeth have to carry out herself because her husband could not? Click anywhere to show answer.

Instead of leaving the bloody daggers with the guards, Macbeth still has them with him after the murder.

Lady Macbeth returns the daggers to the King’s chamber herself and smears the drugged guards with Duncan’s blood.

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slide18

Who is the Porter and what is his purpose in the play? Click anywhere to show answer.

The Porter is the gatekeeper at Macbeth’s castle. He is drunk and pretends to be the keeper of Hell Gate.

The Porter scene provides some needed comic relief between the emotional murder scene and the discovery of the murder, but the Porter’s jokes also sound some of the important themes in the play—growth and fertility, ill-fitting clothing, and equivocation (double meanings).

Macbeth Quizzes

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slide19

Which character discovers the dead king and reports it to the others? Click anywhere to show answer.

Macduff

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slide20

What do Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, decide to do after the murder and why? Click anywhere to show answer.

Both sons decide to flee Scotland. Malcolm will go to England, and Donalbain, to Ireland.

Fearing that they may be the next victims, they decide not to trust anyone at the castle.

“This murderous shaft that’s shot hath not yet lighted.”

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slide21

What do Ross and the old man discuss in Act II, Scene 4, regarding the events of the night before? Click anywhere to show answer.

The old man cannot remember a stranger night. The daytime is as dark as night, and strange events have occurred in nature. A falcon was killed by a mousing owl, and Duncan’s horses, normally well-behaved, turned wild, broke out of their stalls and “ate each other.”

This conversation emphasizes the disorder in nature caused by the murder of a king.

Macbeth Quizzes

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quiz act iii click the hand for an answer
Quiz: Act IIIClick the hand  for an answer.
  • Why did Macbeth have Banquo killed? 
  • What instructions did Lady Macbeth give her husband before the banquet? 
  • What news did the murderer bring Macbeth at the beginning of the banquet scene? 
  • Explain what happened to disrupt the banquet scene and cause Lady Macbeth to send the guest home early. 

Macbeth Quizzes

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slide23

Why did Macbeth have Banquo killed? Click anywhere to show answer.

In his soliloquy, Macbeth says he fears Banquo because he is wise and has the character of a king.

He also resents the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s sons will be kings and his will not. He fears that he has killed a king for the benefit of Banquo’s sons.

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slide24

What instructions did Lady Macbeth give her husband before the banquet? Click anywhere to show answer.

She criticizes him for keeping alone and brooding about the crime. “What’s done is done…”

When Macbeth tells her that he is tormented by bad dreams, she tells him to put aside such thoughts and reminds him to be bright and jovial among his guests at the banquet.

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slide25

What news did the murderer bring Macbeth at the beginning of the banquet scene? Click anywhere to show answer.

The murderer appears at the beginning of the banquet scene to inform Macbeth that Banquo has been killed, but his son, Fleance, has escaped.

Macbeth focuses on this flaw in the plan that he thinks will cause his downfall. Actually, he is succumbing to his own guilt.

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slide26

Explain what happened to disrupt the banquet scene and cause Lady Macbeth to send the guests home early. Click anywhere to show answer.

Banquo’s ghost enters the banquet and sits in Macbeth’s place. When the other guests ask Macbeth to sit, he says the table is full and speaks directly to the ghost to defend himself. None of the other guests can see the ghost, which is consistent with the Elizabethan belief that a ghost could appear to its murderer. Lady Macbeth explains that his behavior is due to an affliction he has had since his youth.

After the ghost appears a second time and Macbeth goes into another fit, Lady Macbeth dismisses the guests.

Macbeth Quizzes

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quiz act iv click the hand for an answer
Quiz: Act IVClick the hand  for an answer.
  • Describe the three apparitions shown to Macbeth in Scene 1. 
  • Describe the vision shown to Macbeth after the three apparitions, and explain its meaning. 
  • Who are Macbeth’s next victims, shown in Scene 2? 
  • How does Malcolm test Macduff’s loyalty in Scene 3? 
  • What news does Ross deliver to Malcolm and Macduff at the end of Scene 3? 

Macbeth Quizzes

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slide28

Describe the three apparitions shown to Macbeth in Scene 1. Click anywhere to show answer.

The first apparition is an “armed head” that warns Macbeth to “Beware Macduff.”

The second apparition is a “bloody child” who tells Macbeth that “none of woman born” shall harm him.

The third apparition is a “child crowned” holding a tree branch, who tells him he will not be defeated until Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane Castle.

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slide29

Describe the vision shown to Macbeth after the three apparitions, and explain its meaning. Click anywhere to show answer.

In response to Macbeth’s question “shall Banquo's issue ever /Reign in this kingdom?” the witches show Macbeth a line of eight kings.

The last king in the line is Banquo, appearing as he did in the banquet scene. The last king holds a mirror, which seems to indicate that Banquo’s line will continue indefinitely.

Scholars believe this was a compliment to King James and his line, but it is also clearly meant to emphasize the fertility of Banquo’s line, contrasted with Macbeth’s barrenness.

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slide30

Who are Macbeth’s next victims, shown in Scene 2?Click anywhere to show answer.

Macduff’s entire family – his wife, children and servants.

Macbeth Quizzes

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slide31

How does Malcolm test Macduff’s loyalty in Scene 3? Click anywhere to show answer.

Malcolm says that after Macbeth is defeated, Scotland will be worse off with him as king. He goes on to describe in detail all of his bad qualities – he would lust after women, he would try to steal the property and wealth of his noblemen, and he would cause chaos and disorder in the country and the universe.

When Macduff says that such a king would not be fit to govern, or to live, Malcolm is relieved to see his reaction and explains that he was forced to test his loyalty because he had to make sure he wasn’t one of Macbeth’s agents.

Macbeth Quizzes

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slide32

What news does Ross deliver to Malcolm and Macduff at the end of Scene 3? Click anywhere to show answer.

Ross tells Macduff that his castle was attacked and his family murdered.

Macbeth Quizzes

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quiz act v click the hand for an answer
Quiz: Act VClick the hand  for an answer.
  • What is Lady Macbeth doing during the sleepwalking scene, and what does it reveal about her character? 
  • The 3rd apparition told Macbeth that he would not be defeated until Birnam Wood came to the castle. Explain how this happened. 
  • What youth is Macbeth’s final victim, and what is the dramatic significance of the scene? 
  • Who killed Macbeth? Explain why he was not “borne of woman.” 

Macbeth Quizzes

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slide34

What is Lady Macbeth doing during the sleepwalking scene, and what does it reveal about her character? Click anywhere to show answer.

She is reliving the murder of King Duncan and continually trying to wash imaginary blood off her hands.

The scene reveals her intense inner guilt. She cannot forget the murder of the king; it tortures her subconscious.

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slide35

The 3rd apparition told Macbeth that he would not be defeated until Birnam Wood came to the castle. Explain how this happened. Click anywhere to show answer.

When Malcolm’s army reaches Birnam Wood (outside Macbeth’s castle), he orders his soldiers to disguise themselves with tree boughs so the enemy will not be able to gauge their true numbers.

When Macbeth sees the disguised soldiers advancing, it appears that Birnam Wood is moving toward the castle.

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slide36

What youth is Macbeth’s final victim, and what is the dramatic significance of the scene? Click anywhere to show answer.

Young Siward is killed by Macbeth in V, 7. He is the son of one of the English nobleman who has joined Malcolm’s army.

The scene serves to remind the audience of Macbeth’s evil and murderous nature. Young Siward is another of the “children” in the play and a reminder of the next generation that will eventually defeat Macbeth.

Young Siward’s final words are, “Thou liest, abhorred tyrant!” As a representative of the next generation, he sees through Macbeth’s lies and deceptions and accurately characterizes the nature of Macbeth’s kingship.

Macbeth Quizzes

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slide37

Who killed Macbeth? Explain why he was not “borne of woman.” Click anywhere to show answer.

Macduff killed Macbeth and then beheaded him.

Technically, Macduff was not “borne of woman” because he was delivered prematurely through a surgical procedure something like a modern Caesarian section. When he tells Macbeth that he was not “borne,” but rather “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb, Macbeth realizes he has been tricked again, and curses the "fiends" (witches) who use words in a "double sense." 

Macbeth Quizzes

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act i quotes who said it and why is it important click the hand for an answer
Act I QuotesWho said it, and why is it important?Click the hand  for an answer.
  • “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” 
  • “If you can look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow and which will not, Speak then to me.” 
  • “The Thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me In borrowed robes?” 
  • “Look like th’ innocent flower, But be the serpent under ’t.”
  • “Fair and noble hostess, We are your guest tonight.” 
  • “He’s here in double trust: First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, Strong both against the deed.” 

Macbeth Quotes

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who said it and why is it important
Who said it, and why is it important?
  • “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” Click anywhere to show answer.

This is the witches’ chant in the opening scene and one of the main themes of the play – the confusion between good and evil, or between appearance and reality. Things that seem to be fair (good) are sometimes foul (evil), and visa versa.

When Macbeth takes the witches predictions as fact, he is confusing foul with fair (evil with good).

He and Lady Macbeth use the same technique on Duncan and their other victims. They pretend to be good, while planning evil deeds.

Macbeth Quotes

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who said it and why is it important1
Who said it, and why is it important?
  • “If you can look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow and which will not, Speak then to me.” Click anywhere to show answer.

After the witches predict that Macbeth will become king, Banquo asks them to predict his future.

The image of grain growing from a seed is the first of many growth and fertility images associated with Banquo. This image relates directly to the witches’ response to his question—his children will be kings. It also contrasts him sharply with the childless and barren Macbeths.

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who said it and why is it important2
Who said it, and why is it important?
  • “The Thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me In borrowed robes?” Click anywhere to show answer.

This is Macbeth’s response when Ross announces that the king has bestowed this title on Macbeth. Macbeth doesn’t yet know about the Thane of Cawdor’s treason and execution.

This is significant because it confirms one of the witches’ predictions and leaves Macbeth wondering if their other prediction (that he will be king) will also come true.

This is the first instance of clothing imagery in the play. Shakespeare uses ill-fitting or borrowed clothing to refer to false appearances and unearned or undeserved titles.

Macbeth Quotes

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who said it and why is it important3
Who said it, and why is it important?

“Look like th’ innocent flower, But be the serpent under ’t.” Click anywhere to show answer.

This is Lady Macbeth’s advice to her husband when she finds out that King Duncan will be visiting their castle. She advises her husband to put on a false appearance of hospitality and friendliness while hiding their real intentions (murder).

The serpent, or snake, is a classic symbol of evil.

Macbeth Quotes

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who said it and why is it important4
Who said it, and why is it important?

“Fair and noble hostess, We are your guest tonight.” Click anywhere to show answer.

King Duncan greets Lady Macbeth when he arrives at Inverness (Macbeth’s castle). The two important words here are “fair” and “guest.”

We have already been told by the witches that “fair” is actually “foul”; however, Duncan does not know this and will be murdered because he is unable to distinguish between good and evil, appearance and reality.

Even if Duncan were not the King, Macbeth had an obligation to protect a guest in his house.

Macbeth Quotes

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who said it and why is it important5
Who said it, and why is it important?

“He’s here in double trust: First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, Strong both against the deed.” Click anywhere to show answer.

In a soliloquy in Scene 7, Macbeth expresses his doubts about killing the king. First, he is Duncan’s kinsman, since all the Scottish noblemen were thought to be related. Secondly, he is Duncan’s subject, and as such, should be protecting him from danger.

Macbeth’s use of the word “double” is interesting, especially in a play where double meanings are so important.

Macbeth Quotes

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act ii quotes who said it and why is it important click the hand for an answer
Act II QuotesWho said it, and why is it important?Click the hand  for an answer.
  • “I see thee still;And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of bloodWhich was not so before.” 
  • “Had he not resembledMy father as he slept, I had done 't.” 
  • “A little water clears us of this deed: How easy it is then!” 
  • “O, yet I do repent me of my furyThat I did kill them.” 
  • “To Ireland, I; our separated fortuneShall keep us both the safer.” 

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who said it and why is it important6
Who said it, and why is it important?

I see thee still;And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of bloodWhich was not so before. Click anywhere to show answer.

In Macbeth's famous "bleeding dagger" soliloquy, he imagines a bloody dagger leading him to Duncan's chamber.  This is one of many "imaginary" bloody images in the play, which ironically are often more frightening than more realistic on-stage blood. 

This scene may also be evidence that Macbeth has an overactive imagination--later in the play his "visions" play an important role.

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who said it and why is it important7
Who said it, and why is it important?

“Had he not resembledMy father as he slept, I had done 't.” Click anywhere to show answer.

Lady Macbeth has just returned from placing the daggers in the king's chamber. 

While waiting for her husband to commit the murders, she explains that she would have killed the king herself, had he not resembled her father.

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who said it and why is it important8
Who said it, and why is it important?

“A little water clears us of this deed: How easy it is then!” Click anywhere to show answer.

After the murder, Macbeth fears that he will never be able to wash the blood from his hands.  In this quote, his wife assures him that it will take only "a little water" to clear them of the deed.  

Although she seems unemotional in this scene, she will later reveal that the murder affected her much more than she indicates, and this comment will come back to haunt her (literally) in the famous sleepwalking scene in Act V.

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who said it and why is it important9
Who said it, and why is it important?

“O, yet I do repent me of my furyThat I did kill them.” Click anywhere to show answer.

Macbeth explains why he killed the king's guards. He could not control his anger.  This deed immediately arouses the suspicion of Macduff.

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who said it and why is it important10
Who said it, and why is it important?

“To Ireland, I; our separated fortuneShall keep us both the safer.” Click anywhere to show answer.

Donalbain (Duncan's son) tells his brother Malcolm that he will travel to Ireland.  They realize it's not safe for them in Scotland, and agree to separate.  Malcolm will go to England.

Macbeth Quotes

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act iii quotes who said it and why is it important click the hand for an answer
Act III QuotesWho said it, and why is it important?Click the hand  for an answer.
  • “They hailed him father to a line of kings.Upon my head they placed a fruitless crownAnd put a barren scepter in my gripe...” 
  • “Most royal sir, Fleance is 'scaped.” 
  • “Thou canst not say I did it.  Never shakeThy gory locks at me. ” 
  • “Thou hast it now: King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,As the weird women promised, and I fearThou play'dst most foully for't “ 
  • “This is the very painting of your fear...When all's done, you look on but a stool.” 

Macbeth Quotes

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who said it and why is it important11
Who said it, and why is it important?

“They hailed him father to a line of kings.Upon my head they placed a fruitless crownAnd put a barren scepter in my gripe...” Click anywhere to show answer.

In a soliloquy at the end of Scene 1, Macbeth expresses his fears about Banquo.  

Macbeth is deeply troubled by the witches' prediction that Banquo will be the father of kings, while his reign is childless.  This precedes the scene in which Macbeth engages the murderers to kill Banquo and Fleance.

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Who said it, and why is it important?

“Most royal sir, Fleance is 'scaped.” Click anywhere to show answer.

One of the murderers reports this news to Macbeth during the famous banquet scene.  

The presence of the bloody murderer at Macbeth's formal banquet is a visual reminder to the audience of the evil that lurks behind Macbeth's kingship.

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Who said it, and why is it important?

“Thou canst not say I did it.  Never shakeThy gory locks at me. ” Click anywhere to show answer.

Macbeth startles his guests during the banquet scene by speaking directly to Banquo's ghost, which no one except Macbeth can see.

Macbeth has had visions before in the play (remember the bloody dagger that led him to Duncan), and he will see apparitions when he visits the witches again in the next Act.  While the ghost may be a figment of his imagination, Elizabethans also believed that the ghost of one who was murdered could appear only to the murderer.

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who said it and why is it important14
Who said it, and why is it important?

“Thou hast it now: King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,As the weird women promised, and I fearThou play'dst most foully for't “ Click anywhere to show answer.

In a soliloquy, Banquo realizes that all the witches' predictions have come true for Macbeth, but he fears that Macbeth "play'dst most foully" in order to become King.

Banquo's use of the word "foully" is interesting.  As one of the foils to Macbeth in the play, he can distinguish between "fair and foul" and not be tempted by the latter.

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Who said it, and why is it important?

“This is the very painting of your fear...When all's done, you look on but a stool.” Click anywhere to show answer.

Lady Macbeth berates Macbeth after he disrupts the banquet with his vision of Banquo's ghost.  She says the visions are the product of his fearful mind.

Macbeth Quotes

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act iv quotes who said it and why is it important click the hand for an answer
Act IV QuotesWho said it, and why is it important?Click the hand  for an answer.
  • “Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be untilGreat Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hillShall come against him. ” 
  • “Why do you show me this? A fourth! Start, eyes!What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?” 
  • “From this momentThe very firstlings of my heart shall beThe firstlings of my hand.” 
  • “Thou li'st, thou shag-eared villain!” 
  • “Nay, had I pow'r, I shouldPour the sweet milk of concord into hell,Uproar the universal peace, confoundAll unity on earth. “ 

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who said it and why is it important16
Who said it, and why is it important?

“Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be untilGreat Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hillShall come against him. ” Click anywhere to show answer.

The third apparition is a child wearing a crown, holding a tree branch. 

He tells Macbeth that he won't be defeated until Birnam Wood (the forest near Macbeth's castle) comes to Dunsinane Hill (location of Macbeth's castle).

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Who said it, and why is it important?

“Why do you show me this? A fourth! Start, eyes!What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?” Click anywhere to show answer.

This is Macbeth’s reaction when he is shown a vision of a line of kings after the three apparitions. The last one in the line is holding a "glass" (a mirror).  The visual effect of seeing the line of kings reflected in the mirror suggests that the line goes on forever. 

To Macbeth, the vision means that Banquo's line will rule far into the future.  Macbeth is again reminded of his "barren reign," since he has no children to inherit his title.

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Who said it, and why is it important?

“From this momentThe very firstlings of my heart shall beThe firstlings of my hand.” Click anywhere to show answer.

At probably his most evil moment in the play, after seeing the witches' visions, Macbeth vows to commit evil deeds without considering the consequences first.  

Notice that Macbeth no longer broods about the moral implication of his actions, as he did earlier in the play.  Later in this speech he specifically plans to surprise Macduff's castle and kill his wife and children, and again vows to act on it before his "purpose cools."

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Who said it, and why is it important?

“Thou li'st, thou shag-eared villain!” Click anywhere to show answer.

This is Young Macduff's response when the Murderer calls his father a traitor.  Macduff's son shows his bravery by standing up to the murderer and attempting to protect his mother.

Young Macduff recognizes the murderer's lie; he is a representative of the next generation that can tell the difference between truth and lies, the generation that will ultimately defeat Macbeth.

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who said it and why is it important20
Who said it, and why is it important?

“Nay, had I pow'r, I shouldPour the sweet milk of concord into hell,Uproar the universal peace, confoundAll unity on earth. “Click anywhere to show answer.

Macolm tests Macduff's loyalty in Scene 3 by pretending that he would be a more evil king than Macbeth.  In this quote, he says if he had the power, he would destroy the natural unity and throw the universe into chaos.  

Macduff is shocked, as Elizabethan audiences would have been, by the notion of disrupting the natural order of the universe, but his reaction assures Malcolm that he is a good man.  Malcolm invites him to join forces with him and Siward to overthrow Macbeth.

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act v quotes who said it and why is it important click the hand for an answer
Act V QuotesWho said it, and why is it important?Click the hand  for an answer.
  • “Let every soldier hew him down a boughAnd bear't before him” 
  • “...infected mindsTo their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets.More needs she the divine than the physician.” 
  • “Turn, hell-hound, turn!“ 
  • “She should have died hereafter;There would have been a time for such a word.” 
  • “Despair they charm...Macduff was from his mother's womb untimely ripped.” 

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who said it and why is it important21
Who said it, and why is it important?

“Let every soldier hew him down a boughAnd bear't before him” Click anywhere to show answer.

Malcolm's army is in Birnam Wood, the forest outside Macbeth's castle.  Malcolm instructs his soldiers to cut tree branches and hold them in front of them as they march to disguise their presence.  

The visual effect of the soldiers marching, holding tree branches, is of the forest marching toward the castle.  This explains the ironic meaning of the third vision shown to Macbeth by the witches--a child crowned (Malcolm) holding a tree branch told Macbeth he wouldn't be defeated until Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane (Macbeth's castle).

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who said it and why is it important22
Who said it, and why is it important?

“...infected mindsTo their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets.More needs she the divine than the physician.” Click anywhere to show answer.

The doctor is speaking to the gentlewoman after hearing Lady Macbeth in the famous sleepwalking scene. He realizes she is revealing guilty secrets that are destroying her mind.  When he says she needs "the divine" more than "the physician," he's saying that doctor would be less useful to her than a priest, who can forgive her sins.

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who said it and why is it important23
Who said it, and why is it important?

“Turn, hell-hound, turn!“ Click anywhere to show answer.

Macduff, speaking to Macbeth when he finally catches up with him on the battlefield in Act V.  In a sense, Macduff has been pursuing Macbeth ever since the knocking on Macbeth's castle door in Act 2.  This scene is the culmination of his pursuit.

Macbeth has been referred to in increasingly animalistic terms in Act V.  Macduff's use of "Hell-hound" vividly emphasizes Macbeth's viciousness, evil, and imminent damnation.

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who said it and why is it important24
Who said it, and why is it important?

“She should have died hereafter;There would have been a time for such a word.” Click anywhere to show answer.

Macbeth is reacting to the news that his wife is dead.  Later it is revealed that she may have taken her own life, a concern of the doctor's when he observed her sleepwalking.  

"She should have died hereafter" can be taken two ways: (1) She would have died at some later time, or (2) It would have been more convenient for her to die at a later time.  In either case, Macbeth reacts to this heavy news with very little emotion.  He senses the end of his own life, and his next lines are his most famous--the "Tomorrow" soliloquy, in which he describes human life in bleak terms: "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

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who said it and why is it important25
Who said it, and why is it important?

“Despair they charm...Macduff was from his mother's womb untimely ripped.” Click anywhere to show answer.

Macduff gives Macbeth this news during their final confrontation in Act V.  Macbeth is at first reluctant to fight Macduff, feeling some guilt over having slaughtered his family and also assured that his life is charmed since he cannot be harmed by any man "borne of woman." 

Macduff, however, informs Macbeth that he was "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb (a surgical procedure we refer to today as a Caesarian section).  Therefore, he was not technically "borne" of woman.  Macbeth realizes that he has again been tricked by a technicality in the witches' visions, and finally agrees to fight Macduff, sensing his imminent doom but vowing to go down fighting.

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macbeth
Macbeth
  • Macbeth is first portrayed in the play as a courageous, loyal , though somewhat brutal, warrior.
  • When he meets the witches, his ambition to be king is revealed.
  • In spite of his ambition, Macbeth is consumed by self-doubt:
    • He's here in double trust;First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,Who should against his murderer shut the door,Not bear the knife myself. (I, 7)

Charles Kean as Macbeth, 1858

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macbeth 2
Macbeth 2
  • At the end of Act I, Macbeth is pulled in two directions:
    • The witches predictions, two of which have come true, tempt him to obtain the kingship.
    • His conscience dictates that he must be loyal to the king as a subject and kinsman.
  • Macbeth needs Lady Macbeth to convince him to commit the murder of the king.
  • But screw your courage to the sticking-place,And we’ll not fail.  (I, 7)

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macbeth 3
Macbeth 3
  • Later in the play, Macbeth acts ruthlessly on his own, vowing to not let himself be distracted by moral doubts:
    • …from this momentThe very firstlings of my heart shall beThe firstlings of my hand. (IV, 1)
  • Lady Macbeth has no knowledge of the murders of Banquo and the Macduff family.
  • Macbeth feels secure after hearing the witches’ predictions:
    • He will not be harmed until Birnam Wood marches to Dunsinane Castle
    • He will not be harmed by any man “born of woman.”

Thomas Keene in Macbeth, 1884

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macbeth s conscience
Macbeth’s Conscience

Though Macbeth acts more and more ruthlessly over the course of the play, Shakespeare suggests that he is plagued by inner guilt.

? Is the bleeding dagger a figment of Macbeth’s imagination?

? Does Banquo’s ghost appear to Macbeth, or is it a product of his guilty conscience? (Elizabethans believed that the ghost of a murdered person could actually appear to the murderer.)

? Some scholars suggest that Macbeth’s second meeting with the witches in Act IV occurs in his imagination. What are the implications of this theory?

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the death of macbeth
The Death of Macbeth
  • At the end of the play, Macbeth is alone.
    • His wife has died.
    • His soldiers are deserting him.
    • He is surrounded by his enemies.
  • He is ultimately tricked by the double meanings in the witches’ prophecies.
  • Although defeated, he vows to die on the battlefield fighting, rather than surrender or commit suicide.
  • The final battle with Macduff is a reminder of his Macbeth’s bravery on the battlefield that began the play.

Macbeth and the Witches

Henry Fuseli

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lady macbeth
Lady Macbeth
  • In Act I, Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to kill the king when he is overcome by fear and doubt. After the murder, she dismisses his guilt as weakness. When he cannot wash the blood off his hands, she says:
    • “A little water clears us of this deed: How easy is it then!” (II, 2)
  • Lady Macbeth becomes increasingly isolated from her husband as the play progresses. He plans the murders of Banquo, the Macduff family, and others, without her knowledge.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

John Singer Sargent

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lady macbeth 2
Lady Macbeth: 2
  • In the famous sleepwalking scene (Act V, Scene 1), Lady Macbeth reveals that she is consumed by inner guilt.
  • The audience realizes that the fearless tenacity she showed earlier in the play was merely a false appearance. While sleepwalking, she continually tries to wash imaginary blood off her hands:
    • “Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” (V, 1)

Based on the psychological deterioration of Lady Macbeth, what do you think Shakespeare is saying about the nature of evil and its effect on an individual?

?

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lady macbeth 3
Lady Macbeth: 3
  • Lady Macbeth seems to reverse roles with Macbeth as the play progresses.
    • Before the banquet, tells Macbeth not to worry so much:
      • “What’s done is done.” (III, 2)
    • During the sleepwalking scene, as she tries to wash the blood from her hands:
      • “What’s done cannot be undone.” (V, 1)

?

  • What conclusions can you draw about Lady Macbeth based on these two contrasting quotes?

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the death of lady macbeth
The Death of Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth probably committed suicide because she was overcome by guilt, but Shakespeare decided to leave this in doubt.

At the end of the play, Malcolm sums up the Macbeths and reports this news:

  • …this dead butcher and his fiendlike queen,Who, as ‘tis thought, by self and violent handsTook off her life.

?

  • Why did Shakespeare leave this in doubt at the end of the play?

Lady Macbeth, Johann Heinrich Füssli

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the witches
The Witches
  • Shakespeare seems to have made the witches purposely ambiguous.
    • On the one hand, their words and appearance suggest they are evil.
  • However, Shakespeare also uses them to symbolize Fate.
  • In Greek mythology, the Fates were represented as three sisters who wove, measured and then cut the thread of life at the moment of death.

Three Witches from Macbeth (Orson Welles, 1948)

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the witches 2
The Witches 2

Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air. (I, 1)

  • The witches end the first scene by sounding one of the play's major themes -- ambiguity.
  • Macbeth takes place in an ambiguous world where things are not what they seem, where everything is doubtful, a world in which one might easily mistake foul (evil) for fair (good).  
  • The inability to distinguish fair from foul, or good from evil, will affect all the major characters in the play.

? How does Shakespeare use language to subtly refer to this theme throughout the play?

(Look for instances of the words "double" and "doubt,"  which emphasize the double-sided, or ambiguous, nature of life.)

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the witches 3
The Witches 3

How to interpret the witches is one of the many questions in the play.

  • Do they purposely set evil events in motion?
  • Are they simply predicting what will happen?
  • Would Macbeth have killed the king without their predictions?

The Three Witches from Macbeth

Alexandre-Marie Colin, 1827

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banquo
Banquo
  • Banquo is the major foil to Macbeth in the play.
    • A foilis a character in literature that contrasts with another character, usually the protagonist, in order to emphasize the personality traits of the latter.
      • Banquo is less willing to believe the witches’ predictions than Macbeth.
      • Unlike Macbeth, he resists the temptations of evil.
      • Banquo has children; Macbeth does not.
  • When Macbeth no longer trusts Banquo, he has him brutally murdered.
    • Banquo’s son, Fleance, who was also a target of the murderers, escapes unharmed.

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banquo 2
Banquo 2
  • If you can look into the seeds of time… (I, 3)
    • With this speech to the witches, Banquo begins a pattern of images that will be associated with him throughout the play.
    • Many of the images associated with Banquo relate to plant growth, but others are more generally concerned with fertility and the propagation of life.
  • Figuratively, Banquo “lives on” after his murder:
    • Banquo’s ghost appears during the Banquet scene (III, 4) to haunt his murderer (or is the ghost a figment of Macbeth’s imagination?).
    • Since Banquo’s son, Fleance, escapes from the murderers, he will live on to perhaps fulfill the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s sons will be kings.

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the ghost of banquo
The Ghost of Banquo

Thou canst not say I did it: never shake

Thy gory locks at me.

III, 4

Macbeth Seeing the Ghost of Banquo, Théodore Chassériau

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duncan
Duncan
  • The virtuous king of Scotland who is murdered by the Macbeths.
  • Macbeth has second thoughts before the murder because of Duncan’s reputation as a good and benevolent king:
    • Besides, this DuncanHath borne his faculties so meek, hath beenSo clear in his great office, that his virtuesWill plead like angels… (i, 7)
    • And pity…Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,That tears shall drown the wind. (i, 7)

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duncan 2
Duncan 2
  • Shakespeare also emphasizes, sometimes subtly, Duncan’s inability to see through false appearances.
  • Duncan was betrayed by the first Thane of Cawdor, whom he trusted.
    • Ironically, he will also be betrayed by the next Thane of Cawdor (Macbeth).
  • Duncan greets Lady Macbeth in I, 6:
    • Fair and noble hostess,We are your guest to-night.
  • The audience is reminded of the witches’ chant in I,1:
    • Fair is foul, and foul is fair…

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duncan1
Duncan

Had he not resembledMy father as he slept, I had done't.

II,2

Lady Macbeth, George Cattermole

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malcolm
Malcolm
  • The son of King Duncan and heir to the throne.
    • After the murder, Malcolm escapes to England, where he eventually unites with Macduff to return to Scotland and defeat Macbeth.
  • Malcolm represents the next generation in Scotland who will defeat Macbeth.
    • He leads an army of “unrough youths” against Macbeth in Act V.
  • Malcolm restores the natural order at the end of the play by claiming the throne.

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macduff
Macduff
  • Macduff is a Scottish nobleman who suspects Macbeth early in the play and eventually joins Malcolm’s army to defeat him.
  • Macduff’s wife, children and servants are killed by Macbeth’s agents
  • Macduff kills Macbeth in Act V after informing him that he was not technically “borne of woman”:
    • Macduff was from his mother's wombUntimely ripp'd. (V, 8)
  • With the death of Macbeth, Macduff helps to restore Malcolm to the throne, rid Scotland of Macbeth’s evil, and avenge the deaths of his wife and family.

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the porter
The Porter
  • The Porter is the gatekeeper at Macbeth’s castle who greets Macduff and Lennox when they arrive after the murder.
  • While drunk, the porter pretends to be the keeper of Hell Gate, welcoming sinners into Hell.
  • Provides comic relief between two scenes of high tension (the murder of the king and the discovery of the murder).

?

Why is the Porter’s role-playing (as the keeper of Hell Gate) appropriate for this scene?

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lady macduff
Lady Macduff
  • Although Lady Macduff appears in only one scene in the play (IV, 2), Shakespeare uses it to contrast the pleasant domestic life of the Macduffs with the depravity of the Macbeths.
    • Lady Macduff begins the scene bantering playfully with her son.
    • Shakespeare skillfully presents them as innocent, sympathetic characters so that the audience will care when they are brutally murdered.
    • The murder of Macduff’s family is a reminder of the goodness that Macbeth’s evil reign is destroying.

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macduff s son
Macduff’s Son
  • Macduff’s young son appears in only one scene (IV, 2).
    • He and his mother are victims of Macbeth’s agents, who surprise Macduff’s castle and murder his wife, children and servants.
  • Macduff’s son is another example of the children in the play who see through Macbeth’s false appearances.
    • When the murderer calls Macduff a traitor, his son proclaims:
      • Thou liest, thou shag-hair'd villain!
    • This next generation can see the truth behind Macbeth’s lies.
  • The onstage murder of a child is purposely shocking to the audience and a reminder of the extent of Macbeth’s depravity.
    • In the 19th century, this scene was often adjusted to be less shocking. In some productions, Macduff’s son was carried offstage and the murder was left to the audience’s imagination. Very often, the entire scene was cut.

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fleance
Fleance
  • Fleance is Banquo’s son. He escapes when the murderers sent by Macbeth kill his father.
  • Fleance is one of the important children in the play:
    • Like Malcolm and the “unrough youths” who make up the army that marches against Macbeth, he represents the next generation that Macbeth does not control.
  • Since he is never mentioned again in the play after he escapes from the murderers, he also represents one of the many unanswered questions in the play.

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siward
Siward
  • Siward is an English nobleman who fights with Malcolm’s army in the final battle against Macbeth.
    • Siward vows to either fight or be beaten by Macbeth:
    • Do we but find the tyrant's power to-night,Let us be beaten, if we cannot fight. (V, 6)
  • When told of the death of his son (Young Siward) in the battle, Siward praises his bravery as a soldier who had his injuries on the front (rather than on the back while he was retreating).
    • Had I as many sons as I have hairs,I would not wish them to a fairer death. (V, 8)
  • Siward is another foil to Macbeth.

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young siward
Young Siward
  • Although Young Siward is killed by Macbeth in the final battle, he also represents the next generation of “children” who are gathering to defeat Macbeth.
  • Like Macduff’s son, he sees through the lies of Macbeth:
    • Thou liest, abhorred tyrant; with my swordI'll prove the lie thou speak'st. (V, 7)
  • The death of Young Siward is another reminder of Macbeth’s evil.

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donalbain
Donalbain
  • Donalbain is the younger son of King Duncan and Malcolm’s brother
  • Donalbain escapes to Ireland after the king’s murder, afraid that he and Malcolm may be the murderer’s next targets.
  • After Act II, Donalbain does not appear again in the play. His disappearance is one of the many unanswered questions in the play.

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hecate
Hecate
  • Hecate or Hekate is a Greco-Roman goddess associated with magic, witches, ghosts, and crossroads.
  • The scenes with Hecate (III, 5 & IV, 1) were probably interpolated and not written by Shakespeare.
    • The verse scheme is different from the earlier witch scenes, and the quality of the language is not consistent with the rest of the play.
    • Scenes were probably added for the entertainment of the audience.

Hecate, Greek goddess of the crossroads; drawing by Stephane Mallarmé in Les Dieux Antiques, nouvelle mythologie illustrée in Paris, 1880

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seyton
Seyton
  • Seyton is Macbeth’s servant. He appears in Act V, as Macbeth’s castle is surrounded by Malcolm’s army.
  • Seyton informs Macbeth of the death of Lady Macbeth, prompting the famous “Tomorrow” soliloquy:
    • Seyton: The Queen, my lord, is dead.
    • Macbeth: She should have died hereafter.
  • As Macbeth repeatedly calls out Seyton’s name , Shakespeare uses wordplay (Seyton-Satan) to remind the audience of Macbeth’s evil nature and to suggest his impending destruction at the hands of his enemies.

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animals
Animals
  • Shakespeare uses animals to emphasize the disruption to the natural order caused by the murder of the king.
  • The night of the murder is filled with the sounds of animals:
    • I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. (II, 2)
  • The day after the murder, Ross and an old man discuss the events of the night before:
    • A falcon, towering in her pride of place,Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd. (II, 4)
    • Because the falcon is usually the predator, this image reflects the king’s murder in nature: A superior is attacked and killed by an inferior or subordinate.
    • And Duncan's horses……Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,Contending 'gainst obedience, as they would makeWar with mankind. (II, 4)

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animals 2
Animals - 2
  • The witches are associated with animals:
    • Their “familiars” are animal companions – Graymalkin (cat) and Paddock (toad).
  • The brew they concoct in IV, 1 has several animal references:
    • Fillet of a fenny snake……Eye of newt and toe of frog,Wool of bat and tongue of dog,Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,Lizard's leg and owlet's wing. (IV, 1)
  • Animal references related to Macbeth increase in the play as he becomes more vicious and animalistic, associating himself more closely with the supernatural, and perhaps evil, realm of the witches.

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animals 3
Animals - 3
  • After learning that Fleance has escaped from the murderers, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth:
    • O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife! (III, 2)
  • At the end of the play, Macbeth compares himself to a bear in a bear-baiting contest :
    • They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,But, bear-like, I must fight the course. (V, 7)
  • When Macduff confronts Macbeth in the final battle, he refers to him in animalistic terms:
    • Turn, hell-hound, turn! (V, 8)

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bear baiting
Bear Baiting
  • Bear-baiting was popular in England until the nineteenth century.
  • Arenas for this purpose were called bear-gardens, consisting of a circular high fenced area, the "pit", and raised seating for spectators.
  • A post would be set in the ground towards the edge of the pit and the bear chained to it, either by the leg or neck.
  • A number of well-trained hunting dogs would then be set on it, being replaced as they tired or were wounded or killed.

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birds ravens and martlets
Birds – Ravens and Martlets
  • Shakespeare uses birds throughout Macbeth to enhance characters.
  • Lady Macbeth’s famous “raven” speech emphasizes her dark nature and evil plans:
    • The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements. (I, 5).
    • The raven is a symbol of ill omen and death.
  • In the next scene, Banquo comments on the martlet, a kind of swallow that builds nests on the walls of tall buildings:
    • This guest of summer,/The temple-haunting martlet...Hath made his pendant bed and procreant cradle.   (I, 6)
    • The nesting martlet, like Banquo, is associated with children/family/fertility, a sharp contrast to the dark and ominous raven.

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birds owls and crows
Birds – Owls and Crows
  • Shakespeare also uses bird references to reflect the action of the play and emphasize themes.
    • The night of the murder, Lady Macbeth hears an owl shriek (“the fatal bellman”), as if announcing Duncan’s death.
    • The day after the murder, a falcon is killed by a mousing owl, reflecting the unnatural murder of the king by a subordinate.
    • When Macduff arrives at the castle, he remarks that the obscure bird (the owl) / Clamour'd the livelong night.  (II,3)
    • After arranging for Banquo’s murder, Macbeth associates himself with the crow…Night’s black agents (III, 2) that hunt and kill in the dark.

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birds the macduffs
Birds – the Macduffs
  • Lady Macduff begins her only scene (IV, 2) accusing her husband of not remaining in Scotland to protect his family.
    • …for the poor wren, / The most diminutive of birds, will fight, / Her young ones in her nest, against the owl. (IV, 2)
  • Lady Macduff playfully pretends that her husband is dead and asks her son how he will live without a father:
    • As birds do, mother. (IV, 2)
    • Lady Macduff implies that he would be trapped as a bird because he would be too stupid to avoid common bird traps, a foreshadowing of his (and her) imminent murders.
  • When Macduff is informed that his family has been murdered, he describes Macbeth as a bird of prey and his family as chickens:
    • All my pretty ones? / Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? / What, all my pretty chickens and their dam / At one fell swoop? (IV, 3)

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blood
Blood
  • In the second scene of the play, a bloody sergeantappears on stage to report news of the battle to King Duncan.
    • This is the first of many instances of visual blood in the play.
  • Shakespeare also includes several instances of imaginary blood, as well as multiple verbal references to blood.
  • Blood represents the central crime of the play, the murder of Duncan, but it also represents the guilt of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
  • In Act II, Scene 1, Macbeth imagines a “bloody dagger” leading him to Duncan’s chamber.

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blood 2
Blood - 2
  • During the murder scenes (Act II, 1-2), Macbeth emerges from Duncan’s chamber, his hands covered in blood, carrying the bloody knives he used to kill the king.
  • In a powerful image, Macbeth describes trying to wash his hands in the ocean, but instead of his hands being cleansed, the blood turns the entire ocean red:
    • Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand! No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.

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blood the banquet scene
Blood – The Banquet Scene
  • The famous Banquet Scene (III, 4) provides several examples of blood imagery, almost all of it representing Macbeth’s guilt.
    • At the beginning of the scene, the murderer appears to report that Banquo is dead. Macbeth comments to him: “There’s blood upon thy face.”
    • The murderer responds that it’s Banquo’s blood, and Macbeth says, “'Tis better thee without than he within.” (It’s better that Banquo’s blood is outside of you rather than inside of him.)
    • Symbolically, Macbeth’s bloody deed has appeared to disrupt his feast.
    • The murderer describes Banquo as having “twenty trenched gashes on his head.”This is the way Banquo’s ghost will appear to Macbeth later in this scene.

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blood banquet scene 2
Blood – Banquet Scene 2
  • At the end of the Banquet Scene, Macbeth repeats the word “blood” three times in the same line: “It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood.”
  • Macbeth ends the Banquet Scene with one of his most chilling images:
    • “I am in blood Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er.”
    • Macbeth describes himself as wading through a river of blood. He is halfway across, and it is just as easy to continue as it is to turn around and go back.

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blood act iv scene 1
Blood – Act IV, Scene 1
  • In Act IV, Scene 1, Macbeth returns to the witches for further information.
  • Before Macbeth arrives, the witches are putting ingredients into a cauldron to create a charm for Macbeth:
    • Two of the ingredients are “baboon’s blood” and “sow’s blood that hath eaten her nine farrow.”
    • One of the apparitions shown to Macbeth is “a bloody child” that warns Macbeth:
      • “Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth.”
    • Macbeth does not realize that the appearance of the apparition contains a clue to its meaning, and he falsely concludes that no man alive can harm him.

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blood the sleepwalking scene
Blood – The Sleepwalking Scene
  • Lady Macbeth’s famous “Sleepwalking Scene” provides the play’s most memorable example of imaginary blood.
    • During the scene, Lady Macbeth continually tries to wash the blood from her hands that only she can see.
    • The imaginary blood in this scene is a symbol of her intense guilt, and it reminds the audience of the murder scene when she told her husband “a little water clears us of this deed.”
      • Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?
      • Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!

Recurring Images in Macbeth

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children
Children
  • The repeated references to children in Macbeth emphasize the contrast between the childless Macbeths and the next generation that will end his evil reign .
    • Almost all of Macbeth’s foils in the play have children: Duncan, Macduff, Banquo, Siward.
  • Although the Macbeths are childless in the play, Lady Macbeth inexplicably claims that she’s knows what it’s like to have a baby:
    • I have given suck, and know / How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me.
  • However, to prove her bravery to her husband, she is willing to kill her own baby, rather than go back on her word:
    • I would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you / Have done to this.

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children the witches
Children – the Witches
  • The witches are associated with several horrifying images of children in the play:
  • In the brew they prepare for Macbeth, they include:
    • Finger of birth-strangled babe / Ditch-deliver'd by a drab. (IV, 1) (the finger of a baby delivered in a ditch by a prostitute and strangled after birth)
  • Later in the same scene, two of the three apparitions shown to Macbeth are children:
    • A “bloody child”tells him that “no man borne of woman/ Shall harm Macbeth.”
    • Macbeth does not realize that the image contains a clue to the double meaning of the prophecy.
  • A “child crowned” with a tree in his hand predicts that Macbeth won’t be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane (Macbeth’s castle).
    • Again, the image contains a clue to the double meaning of the prophecy.

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children the macduffs
Children – the Macduffs
  • Macduff’s son is one of the important children in the play.
    • His onstage murder was shocking to the audience. (It has sometimes been moved offstage or even cut from productions as too offensive to the audience.)
  • Macduff’s son bravely defends his father when Macbeth’s agent calls him a traitor:
    • Thou liest, thou shag-hair'd villain! (IV, 2)
    • Like many of the other “next generation” opponents, Macduff’s son sees through Macbeth’s lies.
  • Later in the scene, Ross tells Macduff:
    • Your castle is surprised; your wife and babes / Savagely slaughter'd. (IV, 3)
    • Macduff’s reaction to the news of his family’s murder:
    • He has no children. (IV, 3)
    • Macduff will not be able to avenge the murder on the childless Macbeth.

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children malcolm s army
Children – Malcolm’s Army
  • At the end of the play, Shakespeare emphasizes that Macbeth is defeated by an army led by the next generation, in some ways an army of children.
    • The army is led by Malcolm, son of Duncan.
    • Lennox points 0ut that among the soldiers:
      • …there is Siward's son, / And many unrough youths that even now / Protest their first of manhood (V, 2)
      • “Unrough youths” were soldiers too young to grow beards, probably teenagers.
  • In the final scene, Macbeth understands the double meaning of the apparition of the bloody child:
    • …for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth (IV, 1)
  • when he learns that:
    • Macduff was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd. (V, 8)

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clothing
Clothing
  • In Act I, Scene 3, when Ross informs Macbeth he has been given the title of the Thane of Cawdor (as the witches predicted), Macbeth responds:
    • “The Thane of Cawdor lives: Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?”
    • This is the first reference to ill-fitting clothing that Shakespeare will use to emphasize that Macbeth has a title he does not deserve. This will be even more true after he becomes King.
  • Later in the same scene, Banquo points out that Macbeth’s new title, like new clothes, does not seem to fit him yet:
    • “New honors come upon him, Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mold, But with the aid of use.”  (I, 3). 

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clothing 2
Clothing - 2
  • In Act V, Angus, one of the noblemen of Scotland, uses a powerful image of ill-fitting clothing that emphasizes Macbeth’s unsuitability as king:
    • “Now does he feel his title Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe Upon a dwarfish thief.”
    • The visual effect is a dwarf trying to wear a giant’s robe, a ridiculous image that shows how Macbeth is viewed by the other Scottish nobles.
  • Shakespeare’s use of ill-fitting clothing imagery also relates to the theme of appearance vs. reality.
    • Since Macbeth did not acquire the role of king legally, he is a fake posing as a king by wearing royal robes.

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light and darkness
Light and Darkness
  • After Malcolm is named heir to Duncan’s throne, Macbeth fears his own murderous thoughts in an aside:
    • Stars, hide your fires, / Let not light see my black and deep desires. (I, 4)
  • In the next scene, Lady Macbeth echoes this image, asking “thick night” to disguise her murderous intentions:
    •  Come, thick night, / And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, / That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, / Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, / To cry "Hold, hold!" (I, 5)
    • The night of the murder, Banquo remarks on the darkness of the night:
    •  There's husbandry in heaven; / Their candles are all out. (II, 1)

?

This is the kind of night both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wanted. Is Shakespeare suggesting that Fate is playing a role?

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light and darkness 2
Light and Darkness - 2
  • Darkness is also associated with the witches:
    •  …you secret, black, and midnight hags! (IV, 1) 
  • The day after the murder of the king, Ross describes the day as strangely dark:
    • by the clock, 'tis day, And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp (II, 4)
    • Darkness strangling the “travelling lamp” (the sun) during the day is the reverse of the normal.
    • This is another disruption in the natural order that occurs as a result of the king’s murder.
    • The darkness associated with the witches and the supernatural has become dominant after the murder of the king.

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light and darkness 3
Light and Darkness - 3
  • Ironically, at the end of the play, Lady Macbeth, who once summoned the darkness, is afraid of the dark and demands that a lighted candle be by her bedside at all times.
    • Gentlewoman: Why…she has light by her continually; 'tis her command. (V, 1)
  • After Macbeth learns of his wife’s death, he refers to life pessimistically in his “tomorrow” speech as the meaningless repetition of time:
    • And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!  (V, 5)
    • Here Macbeth uses light to emphasize the briefness of life, knowing that his defeat and certain death are imminent.

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sleep
Sleep
  • The night of the murder, Banquo tells Fleance:
    • A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, / And yet I would not sleep. (II, 1)
  • Macbeth is unable to sleep and imagines a bleeding dagger leading him to Duncan’s chamber:
    • Now o'er the one half-world / Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse / The curtain'd sleep (II, 1)
  • After the murder, Macbeth hears a voice telling him that he will never sleep again:
    • Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more!Macbeth does murder sleep," the innocent sleep,Sleep that knits up the ravell'dsleave of care,The death of each day's life… (II, 2)

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sleep 2
Sleep - 2
  • Immediately after the murder, when Macbeth hears the knocking at the castle gate, he wishes it could wake the dead Duncan:
    • Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst! (II, 2)
  • In Act III, Macbeth admits that he is no longer able to sleep and envies the peaceful sleep of the dead Duncan.
    • …both the worlds suffer, Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep In the affliction of these terrible dreams That shake us nightly… (III, 2)
    • Duncan is in his grave; After life's fitful fever he sleeps well. (III, 2)

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sleep 3
Sleep - 3
  • At the end of the banquet scene, Lady Macbeth attributes her husband’s vision to his lack of sleep:
    •  You lack the season of all natures, sleep. (III, 4)
  • Ironically, Lady Macbeth is also unable to sleep as a result of the murder.
    • In the famous sleepwalking scene, she relives the murder of Duncan, unable to wash the imaginary blood from her hands and cleanse her guilt.
    • Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why, then, 'tis time to do't.—Hell is murky! … Yet who would have thought the old  man to have had so much blood in him? (V, 1)
    • What's done cannot be undone.—To bed, to bed, to bed! (V, 1)

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appearance vs reality
Appearance vs. Reality
  • Fair is foul, and foul is fair. (I, 1)
  • The witches end the first scene of the play by sounding one of the play's major themes – ambiguity (doubtfulness or uncertainty; having more than one meaning.)
  • Macbeth’s first words in the play: So fair and foul a day I have not seen. (I, 3)
  • This play takes place in an ambiguous world where things are not what they seem, where everything is doubtful, a world in which one might easily mistake foul (evil) for fair (good).  
      • …nothing is but what is not. (III, 1)
  • The witches themselves may be interpreted in two ways.  Are they evil, or do they represent Fate by predicting the future? 
  • The inability to distinguish fair from foul, or good from evil, will affect all the major characters in the play.

Themes in Macbeth

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appearance vs reality 2
Appearance vs. Reality - 2
  • Macbeth and Lady Macbeth cover their evil thoughts and deeds with a “fair” appearance:
    • “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under ‘t.” (I, 5)
    • “False face doth hide what false heart doth know.” (I, 7)
  • When Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s castle, he remarks that it “hath a fair and pleasant seat.” Ironically, it will be the place of his death.
  • In III, 4, Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty by pretending that he would be a worse king that Macbeth. Unlike Macbeth, he uses a false appearance for a good purpose.

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appearance vs reality 3
Appearance vs. Reality - 3
  • Appearance vs. reality is used against Macbeth by the witches when they show him the apparitions in IV, 1:
    • The bloody child tells him he can be harmed by “none of woman borne.” Since all men are born of women, Macbeth concludes that he is invincible, but there is a hidden meaning in the apparition’s words.
    • The child crowned holding a tree branch tells Macbeth that he will not be defeated until “Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him.”Again Macbeth assumes his life is charmed, since he is sure this will never happen. Again, he is tricked by a hidden meaning.
    • Both apparitions instill in Macbeth a false sense of security that is turned against him when the real meaning of their words became apparent.

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appearance vs reality 4
Appearance vs. Reality - 4
  • The characters who represent the next generation all seem to see through the false appearances of Macbeth.
    • Immediately after the murder, Malcolm and Donalbain flee because they see the “daggers in men’s smiles.” (II, 3)
    • When a murderer calls Macduff a traitor in IV, 2, Macduff’s son says, “Thou liest…”
    • “Young” Siward uses the same phrase to Macbeth in V, 7. “Thou liest…”
    • The generation that replaces Macbeth is better able to distinguish appearances from reality.

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fate vs free will
Fate vs. Free Will
  • Macbeth can be interpreted in either of two ways:
    • Macbeth is man who consciously chooses evilover good, and this brings about his downfall.or
    • Macbeth is fated to kill the king, and he has no choice in the events that take place.
  • Your interpretation of the play will depend on your interpretation of the witches:
    • They represent fate. (The Fates in Greek mythology were three sisters who spun the thread of life, measured it, and cut it off at the point of death.)or
    • They represent evil. With Lady Macbeth, they plant the seeds of evil in Macbeth’s already ambitious mind.

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guilt
Guilt
  • At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is plagued with moral doubts about killing the king, and Lady Macbeth is resolved to commit the deed regardless of the consequences.
    • Macbeth: If we should fail?Lady Macbeth: We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we'll not fail. (I, 7)
  • By the end of the play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have reversed roles.
    • Macbeth has few doubts about killing Banquo and his son, the Macduff family, and other perceived enemies.
    • Lady Macbeth is tortured by a guilty conscience to the extent that she cannot sleep and eventually commits suicide.

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disruption in the natural order
Disruption in the Natural Order
  • Shakespeare’s audience believed that the murder of a king could disrupt the Chain of Being and cause the laws of nature to go haywire.
  • The morning after Duncan is killed, Ross describes strange events that occurred the previous night:
    • By the clock, 'tis day, And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp… (II, 4)
    • The king was often compared to the sun in Shakespeare’s time. In this image, the murder of the king is reflected in nature. The travelling lamp (the sun) is strangled by the dark night associated with the Macbeths.
  • The old man describes another bizarre occurrence in nature:
    • …On Tuesday last, /A falcon, towering in her pride of place, /Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd.
    • The murder of the king is again reflected in nature, as a powerful falcon is killed by a mousing owl, usually its prey.

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disruption in the natural order 2
Disruption in the Natural Order - 2
  • Ross goes on to describe more strange events:
    • And Duncan's horses—a thing most strange and certain— Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,  Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out, Contending 'gainst obedience, as they would make  War with mankind. (II, 4)
    • Minions here can mean a dependent or subordinate or a favorite.
    • Though the horses were Duncan’s favorites, they rebelled and made war on their master. The murder of the king is again reflected in nature.
    • Old Man:  'Tis said they eat each other. (II, 4)

?

  • The horses who rebelled against their master are destroyed when they devour each other. How does this relate to the Macbeths?

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disruption in the natural order 3
Disruption in the Natural Order - 3
  • In III, 4, Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty by pretending that he would be an evil king.
    • When he describes himself as lustful and greedy, Macduff acknowledges that these are bad qualities, but tolerable. However, Malcolm goes further, saying:
    • Nay, had I power, I should Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell, Uproar the universal peace, confound All unity on earth.
    • The destruction of unity and order is something that Macduff cannot tolerate:
    • Fit to govern! No, not to live. O nation miserable…
    • With this reaction, Macduff passes Malcolm’s loyalty test and joins his forces to overthrow Macbeth in Scotland.

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disruption in the natural order 4
Disruption in the Natural Order - 4
  • When Macbeth is defeated and Malcolm claims the throne, Shakespeare emphasizes the restoration of the natural order.
    • and what needful else That calls upon us, by the grace of Grace, We will perform in measure, time and place. 
    • At the end of the play, the audience has witnessed the restoration of natural moral law.

Macduff displaying Macbeth’s severed head in Act V.

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slide137
Time
  • Shakespeare uses references to time to draw a distinction between the Macbeths and those aligned against them.
    • Macbeth and Lady Macbeth attempt to rush events to suit their own purposes.
    • When Lady Macbeth greets Macbeth in Act I, she says:
    • Thy letters have transported me beyond This ignorant present, and I feel now The future in the instant. (I, 5)
    • Later in this scene, she advises her husband:
    • To beguile the time,/Look like the time…… look like the innocent flower,/But be the serpent under't. (I, 5)

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time 2
Time - 2
  • By the end of the play, life has become meaningless to Macbeth, and time is an empty progression of events ending in death.
  • When Macbeth is informed of his wife’s death, he responds:
    •  She should have died hereafter;  There would have been a time for such a word. (V, 5)
    • This somewhat ambiguous line, Macbeth regrets that there is no time left to mourn the death of his wife.
  • Macbeth focuses on the theme of time to express the depths of his despair in his “tomorrow” speech:
    • Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time… (V, 5)

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time 3
Time - 3
  • When Macduff enters carrying Macbeth’s severed head in Act V, he declares to Malcolm:
    • Hail, king! for so thou art. Behold, where stands The usurper's cursed head: the time is free. 
  • With Macbeth dead and the rightful king restored to the throne, the natural progression of time has also been restored.
  • Malcolm uses the word “time” three times in his final speech, emphasizing the restoration of the natural order.
    • and what needful else That calls upon us, by the grace of Grace,  We will perform in measure, time and place.  (V, 9)

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YouTube Videos - Macbeth

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  • Scenes 1-3. From TV production of Macbeth, 1983. Nicol Williamson as Macbeth.
  • From Macbeth, directed by Roman Polanski, 1971:
    • The Witches (I, 1)
    • Banquet Scene (III, iv)
    • Macbeth’s Visions (IV, 1)
  • Act I, Scene 7 – Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell, 1961
  • Sleepwalking Scene (V, 1) – Judy Dench as Lady Macbeth
  • “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy , Trevor Nunn production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Ian McKellen as Macbeth, 1979.
  • Trailer, Throne of Blood. Japanese adaptation of Macbeth directed by Kurosawa, 1957.
  • “Voodoo” Macbeth - Newsreel of Orson Welles' all-black adaptation of Macbeth. Produced by the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project .

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macbeth i 1 3
Macbeth: I, 1-3

From TV production of Macbeth, 1983

Nicol Williamson as Macbeth

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The Witches – Act I, Scene 1

From Macbeth, directed by Roman Polanski, 1971

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The Banquet Scene – III, iv

From Macbeth, directed by Roman Polanski, 1971.

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Macbeth’s Visions – IV, 1

From Macbeth, directed by Roman Polanski, 1971.

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Act I, Scene 7

From Macbeth, Sean Connery and Zoe Caldwell, 1961.

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Lady Macbeth – Sleepwalking Scene

Judy Dench, 1978

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Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…

Ian McKellen, "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,“ Trevor Nunn production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, 1979.

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throne of blood 1957
Throne of Blood, 1957

Throne of Blood, 1957

Japanese adaptation of Macbeth directed by Kurosawa

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Orson Welles’ “Voodoo” Macbeth

Orson Welles' all-black adaptation of Macbeth,produced by the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project. 

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essay topics
Essay Topics
  • Agree or disagree:“Macbeth is basically a victim of the witches and his wife. If he had not been influenced by them, he would not have become evil.”
  • Discuss gender roles and power as an important theme in Macbeth.
  • Analyze the character of Lady Macbeth. How important an influence is she over Macbeth’s evil actions? How does she change over the course of the play?
  • Analyze the relationship of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. How does it change over the course of the play?
  • Analyze the theme of doubt, ambiguity and double meanings in the play. Explain why this theme has relevance today.

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essay topics 2
Essay Topics - 2
  • Discuss Macduff, Banquo and Malcolm as foils to Macbeth. How are they different from him? How are they like and different from each other? In what ways do they enhance Macbeth’s character by contrast?
  • Write about any specific idea that recurs in the play, and explain how it contributes to the overall meaning of the play. Suggestions: children, plants, clothing, light/darkness, time, ambition, blood, birds, guilt, order/chaos, unnatural events.
  • According to Aristotle (a Greek philosopher), a tragedy involves the fall of a person of significance due to a flaw in his/her character. The purpose of a tragedy is to arouse the emotions of pity and fear and thus to produce in the audience a catharsis (a purifying or cleansing) of these emotions.

Does Macbeth fit Aristotle’s definition of a tragedy?

  • Write 3-5 diary entries for either Macbeth or Lady Macbeth for the days preceding and following the murder of the king.

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the end
The End

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