Fear and the “dagger of the mind”

“Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain…” Macbeth’s situation is that, just as the three weird sisters predicted, his fondest wishes—his secret dreams of power—have all come true, but so have his darkest fears. Shakespeare’s preeminence as a dramatist rests in part on his ability to create vivid metaphors and images that embody simple and powerful human emotions. We are going to analyze the “banquet scene” to help understand how Shakespeare’s language dramatizes one such emotion: fear. The guiding question for this activity is: Why is Macbeth, whom we know to be brave and ruthless in battle, so afraid? How does Shakespeare dramatize Macbeth’s fear? 1. Using your handout copy of Act 3, scene 4, pay particular attention to the entrances and exits of the ghost. Can you tell, from his words, when and where Macbeth first sees the ghost? Make notes next to passages in which Shakespeare uses imagery, metaphor, and simile to reveal aspects of Macbeth’s psychology. 2. Do you think Macbeth actually sees a ghost or is the ghost a metaphor for something inside of him—like the ‘dagger of the mind’ referred to above? 3. How do you imagine Macbeth looking and behaving upon seeing the ghost? What are his facial expressions and body language? Do you think it makes a difference in his reaction to the ghost that we are told that Macbeth is no coward? 4. If you were to stage this scene, how might you set up the characters? Where would Macbeth be sitting? Would you show that there is actually a ghost? If you don’t show a ghost, where should Macbeth be looking? Where would the murderers stand when they speak with Macbeth? Where is Lady Macbeth in relation to her husband? 5. You will now perform a wordless version of Act 3, scene 4. The rules are: NO props, and NO speaking. All the emotion and action must be conveyed through facial expressions, gestures, body language, and movement. You WILL be performing this version for the class. 6. After watching the wordless version of Act 3, scene 4, revisit the guiding question for this activity: Why is Macbeth, whom we know to be brave and ruthless in battle, so afraid? How does Shakespeare dramatize Macbeth’s fear?

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