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Study Guide Of Macbeth

Plot Overview
T HE PLAY BEGINS with the brief appearance of a trio of witches and then moves to a military camp, where the Scottish King Duncan hears the news that his generals, Macbeth and Banquo, have defeated two separate invading armiesone from Ireland, led by the rebel Macdonald, and one from Norway. Following their pitched battle with these enemy forces, Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches as they cross a moor. The witches prophesy that Macbeth will be made thane (a rank of Scottish nobility) of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland. They also prophesy that Macbeths companion, Banquo, will beget a line of Scottish kings, although Banquo will never be king himself. The witches vanish, and Macbeth and Banquo treat their prophecies skeptically until some of King Duncans men come to thank the two generals for their victories in battle and to tell Macbeth that he has indeed been named thane of Cawdor. The previous thane betrayed Scotland by fighting for the Norwegians and Duncan has condemned him to death. Macbeth is intrigued by the possibility that the remainder of the witches prophecythat he will be crowned kingmight be true, but he is uncertain what to expect. He visits with King Duncan, and they plan to dine together at Inverness, Macbeths castle, that night. Macbeth writes ahead to his wife, Lady Macbeth, telling her all that has happened. Lady Macbeth suffers none of her husbands uncertainty. She desires the kingship for him and wants him to murder Duncan in order to obtain it. When Macbeth arrives at Inverness, she overrides all of her husbands objections and persuades him to kill the king that very night. He and Lady Macbeth plan to get Duncans two chamberlains drunk so they will black out; the next morning they will blame the murder on the chamberlains, who will be defenseless, as they will remember nothing. While Duncan is asleep, Macbeth stabs him, despite his doubts and a number of supernatural portents, including a vision of a bloody dagger. When Duncans death is discovered the next morning, Macbeth kills the chamberlainsostensibly out of rage at their crimeand easily assumes the kingship. Duncans sons Malcolm and Donalbain flee to England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that whoever killed Duncan desires their demise as well. Fearful of the witches prophecy that Banquos heirs will seize the throne, Macbeth hires a group of murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. They ambush Banquo on his way to a royal feast, but they fail to kill Fleance, who escapes into the night. Macbeth becomes furious: as long as Fleance is alive, he fears that his power remains insecure. At the feast that night, Banquos ghost visits Macbeth. When he sees the ghost, Macbeth raves fearfully, startling his guests, who include most of the great Scottish nobility. Lady Macbeth tries to neutralize the damage, but Macbeths kingship incites increasing resistance from his nobles and subjects. Frightened, Macbeth goes to visit the witches in their cavern. There, they show him a sequence of demons and spirits who present him with further prophecies: he must beware of Macduff, a Scottish nobleman who opposed Macbeths accession to the throne; he is incapable of being harmed by any man born of woman; and he will be safe until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Castle. Macbeth is relieved and feels secure, because he knows that all men are born of women and that forests cannot move. When he learns that Macduff

has fled to England to join Malcolm, Macbeth orders that Macduffs castle be seized and, most cruelly, that Lady Macduff and her children be murdered. When news of his familys execution reaches Macduff in England, he is stricken with grief and vows revenge. Prince Malcolm, Duncans son, has succeeded in raising an army in England, and Macduff joins him as he rides to Scotland to challenge Macbeths forces. The invasion has the support of the Scottish nobles, who are appalled and frightened by Macbeths tyrannical and murderous behavior. Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, becomes plagued with fits of sleepwalking in which she bemoans what she believes to be bloodstains on her hands. Before Macbeths opponents arrive, Macbeth receives news that she has killed herself, causing him to sink into a deep and pessimistic despair. Nevertheless, he awaits the English and fortifies Dunsinane, to which he seems to have withdrawn in order to defend himself, certain that the witches prophecies guarantee his invincibility. He is struck numb with fear, however, when he learns that the English army is advancing on Dunsinane shielded with boughs cut from Birnam Wood. Birnam Wood is indeed coming to Dunsinane, fulfilling half of the witches prophecy. In the battle, Macbeth hews violently, but the English forces gradually overwhelm his army and castle. On the battlefield, Macbeth encounters the vengeful Macduff, who declares that he was not of woman born but was instead untimely ripped from his mothers womb (what we now call birth by cesarean section). Though he realizes that he is doomed, Macbeth continues to fight until Macduff kills and beheads him. Malcolm, now the King of Scotland, declares his benevolent intentions for the country and invites all to see him crowned at Scone.

Character List
Macbeth: Ambitious army general in Scotland. His hunger for kingly power, fed by a prophecy of three witches, causes him to murder the rightful king, Duncan I of Scotland, and take his place. Macbeth presents a problem for the audience in that he evokes both sympathy and condemnation; he is both hero, in a manner of speaking, and villain. Lady Macbeth: Wife of Macbeth, who abets his murder. Her grandfather was a Scottish king who was killed in defense of his throne against the king who immediately preceded King Duncan I. On the surface, she appears ruthless and hardened, but her participation in the murder of Duncan gnaws at her conscience and she goes insane, imagining that she sees the blood of Duncan on her hands. Duncan I: King of Scotland. Malcolm, Donalbain: Sons of King Duncan. Malcolm, the older son, is the Prince of Cumberland. He becomes King of Scotland (as Malcom III) at the end of the play. Banquo: Army general murdered on Macbeth's orders to prevent Banquo from begetting a line of kings, as predicted by the three witches whom Macbeth and Banquo encounter on a heath. Banquos ghost later appears to Macbeth.

Three Witches: Hags who predict Macbeth will become king. Shakespeare refers to the three witches as the weird sisters. Weird is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word wyrd, meaning fate. Thus, the witches appear to represent fate, a force that predetermines destiny. The Greek poet Hesiod (8th Century B.C.) was the first writer to represent fate as three old women. These three hags were actually goddesses. Clotho was in charge of weaving the fabric of a person's life. Lachesis determined a person's life span and destiny. Atropos cut the threads of the fabric of life when it was time for a person to die. No onenot even the mightiest godcould change the decisions of the Fates. Collectively, the Greeks called them Moirae. Latin speakers referred to them as Parcae. The given name Moira means fate. Hecate, Witch 4: Mistress of the witches' charms and queen of Hades. She is the fourth witch in the play (or the fifth for those who believe Lady Macbeth, in view of her invocations of evil, is a witch.) Macduff: Scottish nobleman and lord of Fife who is known for his wisdom and integrity. He becomes Macbeth's enemy. He and Macbeth cross swords at the end of the play. Lady Macduff: Wife of Macduff. She is murdered on Macbeths orders. Son of Macduff: One of the Macduff children who are murdered on Macbeths orders. Lennox, Ross, Menteith, Angus, Caithness: Scottish noblemen Fleance: Son of Banquo. Siward: Earl of Northumberland, general of the English forces. Young Siward: Son of Siward. Seyton: Officer attending Macbeth. Sweno: King of Norway during the war against Scotland. Sweno, referred to in Act I, Scene II, has no speaking part in the play. English Doctor: He treats the King of England (who does not appear in the play) for an illness while Macduff and Malcolm are at the kings palace planning the overthrow of Macbeth. Scottish Doctor: Doctor who attends Lady Macbeth during her descent into madness. Soldier Porter Old Man Gentlewoman: Lady Macbeth's attendant. First Apparition: A head with arms. This apparition, conjured by the witches, warns Macbeth to beware of Macduff.

Second Apparition: : A bloody child. This apparition, conjured by the witches, tells Macbeth that no one born of woman can kill him. Third Apparition: : A crowned child holding a tree. This apparition, conjured by the witches, tells Macbeth that no one can defeat him until a forest, Birnham Wood, marches against him. Macbeth is heartened, believing it is impossible for a forest to march. Sinel: Macbeth's deceased father. Macbeth refers to him in Act I, Scene III, when he says, "By Sinel's death I know I am Thane of Glamis. . ." (1. 3. 75). Minor Characters: Lords, gentlemen, officers, soldiers, murderers, attendants, and messengers.

Analysis of Major Characters

Because we first hear of Macbeth in the wounded captains account of his battlefield valor, our initial impression is of a brave and capable warrior. This perspective is complicated, however, once we see Macbeth interact with the three witches. We realize that his physical courage is joined by a consuming ambition and a tendency to self-doubtthe prediction that he will be king brings him joy, but it also creates inner turmoil. These three attributesbravery, ambition, and self-doubtstruggle for mastery of Macbeth throughout the play. Shakespeare uses Macbeth to show the terrible effects that ambition and guilt can have on a man who lacks strength of character. We may classify Macbeth as irrevocably evil, but his weak character separates him from Shakespeares great villainsIago in Othello, Richard III in Richard III, Edmund in King Learwho are all strong enough to conquer guilt and self-doubt. Macbeth, great warrior though he is, is ill equipped for the psychic consequences of crime. Before he kills Duncan, Macbeth is plagued by worry and almost aborts the crime. It takes Lady Macbeths steely sense of purpose to push him into the deed. After the murder, however, her powerful personality begins to disintegrate, leaving Macbeth increasingly alone. He fluctuates between fits of fevered action, in which he plots a series of murders to secure his throne, and moments of terrible guilt (as when Banquos ghost appears) and absolute pessimism (after his wifes death, when he seems to succumb to despair). These fluctuations reflect the tragic tension within Macbeth: he is at once too ambitious to allow his conscience to stop him from murdering his way to the top and too conscientious to be happy with himself as a murderer. As things fall apart for him at the end of the play, he seems almost relievedwith the English army at his gates, he can finally return to life as a warrior, and he displays a kind of reckless bravado as his enemies surround him and drag him down. In part, this stems from his fatal confidence in the witches prophecies, but it also seems to derive from the fact that he has returned to the arena where he has been most successful and where his internal turmoil need not affect himnamely, the battlefield. Unlike many of Shakespeares other tragic heroes, Macbeth never seems to contemplate suicide: Why should I play the Roman fool, he asks, and die / On mine own sword? (5.10.12). Instead, he goes down fighting, bringing the play full circle: it begins with Macbeth winning on the battlefield and ends with him dying in combat.

Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeares most famous and frightening female characters. When we first see her, she is already plotting Duncans murder, and she is stronger, more ruthless, and more ambitious than her husband. She seems fully aware of this and knows that she will have to push Macbeth into committing murder. At one point, she wishes that she were not a woman so that she could do it herself. This theme of the relationship between gender and power is key to Lady Macbeths character: her husband implies that she is a masculine soul inhabiting a female body, which seems to link masculinity to ambition and violence. Shakespeare, however, seems to use her, and the witches, to undercut Macbeths idea that undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males (1.7.7374). These crafty women use female methods of achieving powerthat is, manipulationto further their supposedly male ambitions. Women, the play implies, can be as ambitious and cruel as men, yet social constraints deny them the means to pursue these ambitions on their own. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband with remarkable effectiveness, overriding all his objections; when he hesitates to murder, she repeatedly questions his manhood until he feels that he must commit murder to prove himself. Lady Macbeths remarkable strength of will persists through the murder of the kingit is she who steadies her husbands nerves immediately after the crime has been perpetrated. Afterward, however, she begins a slow slide into madnessjust as ambition affects her more strongly than Macbeth before the crime, so does guilt plague her more strongly afterward. By the close of the play, she has been reduced to sleepwalking through the castle, desperately trying to wash away an invisible bloodstain. Once the sense of guilt comes home to roost, Lady Macbeths sensitivity becomes a weakness, and she is unable to cope. Significantly, she (apparently) kills herself, signaling her total inability to deal with the legacy of their crimes.

The Three Witches

Throughout the play, the witchesreferred to as the weird sisters by many of the characterslurk like dark thoughts and unconscious temptations to evil. In part, the mischief they cause stems from their supernatural powers, but mainly it is the result of their understanding of the weaknesses of their specific interlocutorsthey play upon Macbeths ambition like puppeteers. The witches beards, bizarre potions, and rhymed speech make them seem slightly ridiculous, like caricatures of the supernatural. Shakespeare has them speak in rhyming couplets throughout (their most famous line is probably Double, double, toil and trouble, / Fire burn and cauldron bubble in 4.1.1011), which separates them from the other characters, who mostly speak in blank verse. The witches words seem almost comical, like malevolent nursery rhymes. Despite the absurdity of their eye of newt and toe of frog recipes, however, they are clearly the most dangerous characters in the play, being both tremendously powerful and utterly wicked (4.1.14). The audience is left to ask whether the witches are independent agents toying with human lives, or agents of fate, whose prophecies are only reports of the inevitable. The witches bear a striking and obviously intentional resemblance to the Fates, female characters in both Norse and Greek mythology who weave the fabric of human lives and then cut the threads to end them. Some of their prophecies seem selffulfilling. For example, it is doubtful that Macbeth would have murdered his king without the push given by the witches predictions. In other cases, though, their prophecies are just remarkably accurate readings of the futureit is hard to see Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane as being self-fulfilling in any way. The play

offers no easy answers. Instead, Shakespeare keeps the witches well outside the limits of human comprehension. They embody an unreasoning, instinctive evil.

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Corrupting Power of Unchecked Ambition

The main theme of Macbeththe destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral constraintsfinds its most powerful expression in the plays two main characters. Macbeth is a courageous Scottish general who is not naturally inclined to commit evil deeds, yet he deeply desires power and advancement. He kills Duncan against his better judgment and afterward stews in guilt and paranoia. Toward the end of the play he descends into a kind of frantic, boastful madness. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, pursues her goals with greater determination, yet she is less capable of withstanding the repercussions of her immoral acts. One of Shakespeares most forcefully drawn female characters, she spurs her husband mercilessly to kill Duncan and urges him to be strong in the murders aftermath, but she is eventually driven to distraction by the effect of Macbeths repeated bloodshed on her conscience. In each case, ambitionhelped, of course, by the malign prophecies of the witchesis what drives the couple to ever more terrible atrocities. The problem, the play suggests, is that once one decides to use violence to further ones quest for power, it is difficult to stop. There are always potential threats to the throne Banquo, Fleance, Macduffand it is always tempting to use violent means to dispose of them.

The Relationship between Cruelty and Masculinity

Characters in Macbeth frequently dwell on issues of gender. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband by questioning his manhood, wishes that she herself could be unsexed, and does not contradict Macbeth when he says that a woman like her should give birth only to boys. In the same manner that Lady Macbeth goads her husband on to murder, Macbeth provokes the murderers he hires to kill Banquo by questioning their manhood. Such acts show that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth equate masculinity with naked aggression, and whenever they converse about manhood, violence soon follows. Their understanding of manhood allows the political order depicted in the play to descend into chaos. At the same time, however, the audience cannot help noticing that women are also sources of violence and evil. The witches prophecies spark Macbeths ambitions and then encourage his violent behavior; Lady Macbeth provides the brains and the will behind her husbands plotting; and the only divine being to appear is Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. Arguably, Macbeth traces the root of chaos and evil to women, which has led some critics to argue that this is Shakespeares most misogynistic play. While the male characters are just as violent and prone to evil as the women, the aggression of the female characters is more striking because it goes against prevailing expectations of how women ought to behave. Lady Macbeths behavior certainly shows that women can be as ambitious and cruel as men. Whether because of the constraints of her society or because she is not fearless enough to kill, Lady Macbeth relies on deception and manipulation rather than violence to achieve her ends.

Ultimately, the play does put forth a revised and less destructive definition of manhood. In the scene where Macduff learns of the murders of his wife and child, Malcolm consoles him by encouraging him to take the news in manly fashion, by seeking revenge upon Macbeth. Macduff shows the young heir apparent that he has a mistaken understanding of masculinity. To Malcolms suggestion, Dispute it like a man, Macduff replies, I shall do so. But I must also feel it as a man (4.3.221223). At the end of the play, Siward receives news of his sons death rather complacently. Malcolm responds: Hes worth more sorrow [than you have expressed] / And that Ill spend for him (5.11.1617). Malcolms comment shows that he has learned the lesson Macduff gave him on the sentient nature of true masculinity. It also suggests that, with Malcolms coronation, order will be restored to the Kingdom of Scotland.

The Difference between Kingship and Tyranny

In the play, Duncan is always referred to as a king, while Macbeth soon becomes known as the tyrant. The difference between the two types of rulers seems to be expressed in a conversation that occurs in Act 4, scene 3, when Macduff meets Malcolm in England. In order to test Macduffs loyalty to Scotland, Malcolm pretends that he would make an even worse king than Macbeth. He tells Macduff of his reproachable qualitiesamong them a thirst for personal power and a violent temperament, both of which seem to characterize Macbeth perfectly. On the other hand, Malcolm says, The king-becoming graces / [are] justice, verity, temprance, stableness, / Bounty, perseverance, mercy, [and] lowliness (4.3.9293). The model king, then, offers the kingdom an embodiment of order and justice, but also comfort and affection. Under him, subjects are rewarded according to their merits, as when Duncan makes Macbeth thane of Cawdor after Macbeths victory over the invaders. Most important, the king must be loyal to Scotland above his own interests. Macbeth, by contrast, brings only chaos to Scotlandsymbolized in the bad weather and bizarre supernatural eventsand offers no real justice, only a habit of capriciously murdering those he sees as a threat. As the embodiment of tyranny, he must be overcome by Malcolm so that Scotland can have a true king once more.

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the texts major themes.

Visions and hallucinations recur throughout the play and serve as reminders of Macbeth and Lady Macbeths joint culpability for the growing body count. When he is about to kill Duncan, Macbeth sees a dagger floating in the air. Covered with blood and pointed toward the kings chamber, the dagger represents the bloody course on which Macbeth is about to embark. Later, he sees Banquos ghost sitting in a chair at a feast, pricking his conscience by mutely reminding him that he murdered his former friend. The seemingly hardheaded Lady Macbeth also eventually gives way to visions, as she sleepwalks and believes that her hands are stained with blood that cannot be washed away by any amount of water. In each case, it is ambiguous whether the vision is real or purely hallucinatory; but, in both cases, the Macbeths read them uniformly as supernatural signs of their guilt.

Macbeth is a famously violent play. Interestingly, most of the killings take place offstage, but throughout the
play the characters provide the audience with gory descriptions of the carnage, from the opening scene where the captain describes Macbeth and Banquo wading in blood on the battlefield, to the endless references to the bloodstained hands of Macbeth and his wife. The action is bookended by a pair of bloody battles: in the first, Macbeth defeats the invaders; in the second, he is slain and beheaded by Macduff. In between is a series of murders: Duncan, Duncans chamberlains, Banquo, Lady Macduff, and Macduffs son all come to bloody ends. By the end of the action, blood seems to be everywhere.

Prophecy sets Macbeths plot in motionnamely, the witches prophecy that Macbeth will become first thane of Cawdor and then king. The weird sisters make a number of other prophecies: they tell us that Banquos heirs will be kings, that Macbeth should beware Macduff, that Macbeth is safe till Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, and that no man born of woman can harm Macbeth. Save for the prophecy about Banquos heirs, all of these predictions are fulfilled within the course of the play. Still, it is left deliberately ambiguous whether some of them are self-fulfillingfor example, whether Macbeth wills himself to be king or is fated to be king. Additionally, as the Birnam Wood and born of woman prophecies make clear, the prophecies must be interpreted as riddles, since they do not always mean what they seem to mean.

Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Blood is everywhere in Macbeth, beginning with the opening battle between the Scots and the Norwegian invaders, which is described in harrowing terms by the wounded captain in Act 1, scene 2. Once Macbeth and Lady Macbeth embark upon their murderous journey, blood comes to symbolize their guilt, and they begin to feel that their crimes have stained them in a way that cannot be washed clean. Will all great Neptunes ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? Macbeth cries after he has killed Duncan, even as his wife scolds him and says that a little water will do the job (2.2.5859). Later, though, she comes to share his horrified sense of being stained: Out, damned spot; out, I say . . . who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? she asks as she wanders through the halls of their castle near the close of the play (5.1.3034). Blood symbolizes the guilt that sits like a permanent stain on the consciences of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, one that hounds them to their graves.

The Weather
As in other Shakespearean tragedies, Macbeths grotesque murder spree is accompanied by a number of unnatural occurrences in the natural realm. From the thunder and lightning that accompany the witches appearances to the terrible storms that rage on the night of Duncans murder, these violations of the natural order reflect corruption in the moral and political orders.

The climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Macbeth occurs, according to the first definition, when Macbeth murders Duncan and becomes king. According to the second definition, the climax occurs in the final act when Macduff corners and kills Macbeth.

Imagery: Darkness
Shakespeare casts a pall of darkness over the play to call attention to the evil deeds unfolding and the foul atmosphere in which they are taking place. At the very beginning of the play, Shakespeare introduces an image of dark clouds suggested in the words spoken by the First Witch: When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning, or in rain? (1. 1. 3-4) Near the end of the third scene in Act I, Banquo foreshadows the terrible events to come with an allusion to the witches as instruments of darkness that sometimes speak the truth in order to bring their listeners to ruin. Banquo says that oftentimes, to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray s [betray us] In deepest consequence. (1. 3. 133-137) Lady Macbeth later entreats blackest night to cloak her when she takes part in the murder of Duncan, saying: 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. (1. 5. 43-46) Late at night in Inverness Castle, after the King Duncan goes to bed and the Macbeths make final plans for his murder, Banquo and Fleance meet in a courtyard within the castle walls while a servant holds a torch. Their conversation centers on the blackness of the night and on sleep: BANQUO How goes the night, boy? FLEANCE The moon is down; I have not heard the clock. BANQUO And she goes down at twelve. FLEANCE I taket, tis later, sir. BANQUO Hold, take my sword. Theres husbandry in heaven; Their candles are all out. Take thee that too. A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, And yet I would not sleep: merciful powers, Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature Gives way to in repose! In his analysis of the images of darkness in Macbeth, Shakespearean scholar A.C. Bradley writes: It is remarkable that almost all the scenes which at once recur to memory take place either at night or in some dark spot. The vision of the dagger, the murder of Duncan, the murder of Banquo, the sleep-walking of Lady Macbeth, all come in night-scenes. The witches dance in the thick air of a storm, or, 'black and midnight hags' receive Macbeth in a cavern. The

blackness of night [makes] the hero a thing of fear, even of horror; and that which he feels becomes the spirit of the play."Quoted in Eastman, A.M., and G.B. Harrison, eds. Shakespeare's Critics: From Jonson to Auden. Ann Arbor, Mich.: U of Michigan, 1964 (Pages 238-239)

Imagery: Blood
Shakespeare frequently presents images of blood in Macbeth. Sometimes it is the hot blood of the Macbeths as they plot murder; sometimes it is the spilled, innocent blood of their victims. It is also blood of guilt that does not wash away and the blood of kinship that drives enemies of Macbeth to action. In general, the images of bloodlike the images of darknessbathe the play in a macabre, netherworldly atmosphere. Here are examples from the play: Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood. (Speaker, Lady Macbeth: 1. 5. 48-51) Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. .............................[ellipsis of seven lines] And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, Which was not so before. There's no such thing: It is the bloody business which informs Thus to mine eyes (Speaker, Macbeth: 2. 1. 44-60) MACBETH...Will all great Neptune's7 ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas in incarnadine8, Making the green one red. LADY MACBETH...My hands are of your colour; but I shame To wear a heart so white. (2. 2. 75-80) To Ireland, I; our separated fortune Shall keep us both the safer: where we are, There's daggers in men's smiles: the near in blood, The nearer bloody. (Speaker, Donalbain: 2. 3. 137-140) In their analysis of the images of blood and darkness in Macbeth, Shakespearean scholars K.L. Knickerbock and H. Willard Reninger write: The very title of Macbeth conjures up the dense, suffocating metaphoric climate of primeval evil, darkness, blood, violated sleep, and nature poisoned at its source."Interpreting Literature. 4th ed. New York: Holt, 1969 (Page 854).

Imagery: Adam and Eve

Critic Maynard Mack and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud both noticed that Lady Macbeth resembles Eve in her eagerness to tempt Macbeth to eat of forbidden fruit (in this case, murder) and that Macbeth resembles Adam in his early passivity. Supporting their views are these two passages in Act 1, Scene VII, in which Lady Macbeth goads her wavering husband:

.........First Passage: Lady Macbeth tells her husband it is cowardly to hesitate like a scared cat.

..................Art thou afeard ..................To be the same in thine own act and valour ..................As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that ..................Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life, ..................And live a coward in thine own esteem, ..................Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,' ..................Like the poor cat i' the adage? (1. 7. 45-51)

.........Second Passage: Lady Macbeth challenges her husband to be a man.


.................. What beast was't, then, ..................That made you break this enterprise to me? ..................When you durst do it, then you were a man; ..................And, to be more than what you were, you would ..................Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place ..................Did then adhere, and yet you would make both: ..................They have made themselves, and that their fitness now ..................Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know ..................How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: ..................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. (1. 7. 55-67)

Imagery: Ambition
Raging ambition drives Macbeth to murder. After the witches play to his ambition with a prophecy that he will become king, he cannot keep this desire under control. He realizes that Duncan is a good kinghumble, noble, virtuous. But he rationalizes that a terrible evil grips him that he cannot overcome. .................. I have no spur

..................To prick the sides of my intent, but only ..................Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself ..................And falls on the other. (1. 7. 27-30)

The Real Macbeth

Macbeth was an 11th Century Scot who took the throne in 1040 after killing King Duncan I, his cousin, in a battle near Elgin in the Moray district of Scotland. Of his reign, Fitzroy MacLean has written the following: "Macbeth appears, contrary to popular belief, to have been a wise monarch and to have ruled Scotland successfully and well for seventeen prosperous years. In 1050 we hear that he went on a pilgrimage to Rome and there [lavished money to the poor]." (Work cited: MacLean, Fitzroy. A Concise History of Scotland. New York: Beekman House, 1970, Page 23.) In 1057, Duncan's oldest son, Malcolm, ended Macbeth's reign by killing him in battle and later assuming the throne as Malcolm III.

What Was a Castle?

.......Many of the scenes in Macbeth are set in a castle. A castle was a walled fortress of a king or lord. The word castle is derived from the Latin castellum, meaning a fortified place. Generally, a castle was situated on an eminence (a piece of high ground) that had formed naturally or was constructed by laborers. High ground constructed by laborers was called a motte(French for mound); the motte may have been 100 to 200 feet wide and 40 to 80 feet high. The area inside the castle wall was called the bailey. Some castles had several walls, with smaller circles within a larger circle or smaller squares within a larger square. The outer wall of a castle was usually topped with a battlement, a protective barrier with spaced openings through which defenders could shoot arrows at attackers. This wall sometimes was surrounded by a water-filled ditch called a moat, a defensive barrier to prevent the advance of soldiers, horses and war machines. At the main entrance was a drawbridge, which could be raised to prevent entry. Behind the drawbridge was a portcullis [port KUL is], or iron gate, which could be lowered to further secure the castle. Within the castle was a tower, or keep, to which castle residents could withdraw if an enemy breached the portcullis and other defenses. Over the entrance of many castles was a projecting gallery withmachicolations [muh CHIK uh LAY shuns], openings in the floor through which defenders could drop hot liquids or stones on attackers. In the living quarters of a castle, the king and his family dined in a great hall on an elevated platform called a dais[DAY is], and they slept in a chamber called a solar. The age of castles ended after the development of gunpowder and artillery fire enabled armies to breach thick castle walls instead of climbing over them.

Glossary of Animals and Animal Parts in Witches' Brew (Act IV, Scene I)
Adders Fork Forked tongue of an adder, a poisonous snake. Baboons Blood Blood of a fierce monkey (genus, Papio) with long teeth. Blindworm Legless lizard common in Great Britain. When fully grown, it is usually about a foot long. Eye of Newt Eye of a type of salamander (an amphibian with a tail) that spends part of its time in the water and part of its time on land. The young newt (larval stage) is called an eft. It is bright red with black spots. The adult newt is generally olive green with red spots circumscribed with black spots. In mythological tales, the salamander was a creature that was said to be able to live in fire.

Fillet of Fenny Slice of a snake that inhabits fens (swamps, bogs). Gall of Goat Gallbladder of a goat. Lizard Reptile with four legs. Examples are the iguana, the chameleon, and the gecko. Maw and Gulf of Ravined Salt-Sea Shark: Stomach of a hungry (ravined) shark. Owlets Wing Wing of a baby owl. Scale of Dragon Scales (overlapping plates covering the body) of a dragon, a mythological flying reptile of gigantic size. Tigers Chaudron Tigers intestines or guts. Toad Hopping amphibian, resembling a frog, with short legs and rough skin. Unlike a frog, which has moist skin, a toad has dry skin. Toe of Frog Toe of an amphibian with webbed feet and strong hind legs for leaping. Unlike a toad, a frog has moist skin. Tooth of Wolf Fang of a wolf, a canine that lives in the wilds. Wool of Bat Fur or hair of a bat, the worlds only flying mammal. A bat can weigh up to three pounds and fly at speeds up to 60 miles an hour. Although literature often portrays bats as sinister, evil creatures, they are beneficial to humankind because their insect diet eliminates many annoyingand dangerouspests.

Key Facts

The Tragedy of Macbeth

William Shakespeare Play


Tragedy English 1606, England First Folio edition, 1623




John Heminges and Henry Condell, two senior members of Shakespeares theatrical company


Dark and ominous, suggestive of a world turned topsy-turvy by foul and unnatural Not applicable (drama) The Middle Ages, specifically the eleventh century Various locations in Scotland; also England, briefly





The struggle within Macbeth between his ambition and his sense of right and wrong; the struggle between the murderous evil represented by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the best interests of the nation, represented by Malcolm and Macduff

Macbeth and Banquos encounter with the witches initiates both conflicts; Lady Macbeths speeches goad Macbeth into murdering Duncan and seizing the crown.

Macbeths murder of Duncan in Act 2 represents the point of no return, after which Macbeth is forced to continue butchering his subjects to avoid the consequences of his crime.

Macbeths increasingly brutal murders (of Duncans servants, Banquo, Lady Macduff and her son); Macbeths second meeting with the witches; Macbeths final confrontation with Macduff and the opposing armies

The corrupting nature of unchecked ambition; the relationship between cruelty and masculinity; the difference between kingship and tyranny

The supernatural, hallucinations, violence, prophecy Blood; the dagger that Macbeth sees just before he kills Duncan in Act 2; the


weather The bloody battle in Act 1 foreshadows the bloody murders later on; when Macbeth thinks he hears a voice while killing Duncan, it foreshadows the insomnia that plagues Macbeth and his wife; Macduffs suspicions of Macbeth after Duncans murder foreshadow his later opposition to Macbeth; all of the witches prophecies foreshadow later events.

1. Who kills Macbeth? (A) Macduff (B) Banquo (C) Lady Macbeth (D) Malcolm

2. How many men reign as king of Scotland throughout the play? (A) 1 (B) 2 (C) 3 (D) 4

3. Whom does Lady Macbeth frame for the murder of Duncan? (A) Malcolm and Donalbain (B) Duncans drunken chamberlains (C) The porter (D) Macbeth

4. Who kills Banquo? (A) Macduff (B) Fleance (C) Macbeth (D) A group of murderers hired by Macbeth

5. Which of the following best describes Lady Macbeths death? (A) She dies offstage. (B) She sleepwalks off of the palace wall. (C) She declares her own guilt and stabs herself with a knife. (D) Macduff slays her in revenge for his own wifes murder.

6. Who discovers Duncans body? (A) Lennox (B) Ross (C) Macduff (D) Donalbain

7. Whom does Macbeth see sitting in his chair during the banquet? (A) himself

(B) Banquos ghost (C) Duncans ghost (D) Lady Macbeth

8. What vision does Macbeth have before he kills Duncan? (A) He sees a floating head urging him to spill blood. (B) He sees a bloody axe lodged in Duncans brow. (C) He sees a pale maiden weeping in the moonlight. (D) He sees a floating dagger pointing him to Duncans chamber.

9. With whom are the Scots at war at the beginning of the play? (A) Norway (B) Denmark (C) Poland (D) Finland

10. Which nations army invades Scotland at the end of the play? (A) Norway (B) France (C) England (D) Finland

11. Who is the goddess of witchcraft in the play? (A) Aphrodite (B) Hecate (C) Minerva (D) Mordred

12. Who kills Donalbain? (A) Macbeth (B) Malcolm (C) A group of murderers hired by Macbeth

(D) No one

13. What happens to Lady Macbeth before she dies? (A) She is plagued by fits of sleepwalking. (B) She is haunted by the ghost of Duncan. (C) She sees her children killed in battle. (D) She sees her children killed by Macbeth.

14. Who kills Lord Siwards son? (A) Duncan (B) Lennox (C) Macbeth (D) Ross

15. Where are Scottish kings crowned? (A) Edinburgh (B) Scone (C) London (D) Dunsinane

16. Why is Macduff able to kill Macbeth despite the witches prophecy? (A) He kills the witches first. (B) He receives a charm from Grinswindle. (C) He is a powerful warlock himself. (D) He was born by cesarean section.

17. Where is Duncan killed? (A) In the battle with Norway (B) In his bedchamber at Macbeths castle (C) In his bedchamber at Forres (D) At Birnam Wood

18. Who flees Scotland to join Malcolm in England? (A) Donalbain (B) Ross (C) Macduff (D) Lennox

19. What was the weather like the night Duncan was murdered? (A) Stormy and violent (B) Calm and placid (C) Foggy and ominous (D) It was a night like any other night, according to Lennox

20. Who kills Lady Macbeth? (A) Macbeth (B) Macduff (C) Lady Macduff (D) Lady Macbeth

21. Who flees Scotland immediately after Duncans death? (A) Macbeth (B) Malcolm and Donalbain (C) Fleance (D) Lennox

22. Who jokes that he works at hell gate? (A) Macbeth (B) Macduff (C) The porter (D) Duncan

23. What title is Macbeth given after his victory described in Act 1? (A) Thane of Cawdor

(B) Thane of Ross (C) King of Scotland (D) Prince of Cumberland

24. Who tells Macduff that his family has been killed? (A) Donalbain (B) Macbeth (C) Lady Macduff (D) Ross

25. How does Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane? (A) By magic (B) Through an earthquake (C) It doesnt (D) Malcolms army hides behind cut-off tree branches

Study Questions
1. Characterize the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. If the main theme of Macbeth is ambition, whose ambition is the driving force of the playMacbeths, Lady Macbeths, or both?

2. One of the important themes in Macbeth is the idea of political legitimacy, of the moral authority that some kings possess and others lack. With particular attention to Malcolms questioning of Macduff in Act 4, scene 3, try to define some of the characteristics that grant or invalidate the moral legitimacy of absolute power. What makes Duncan a good king? What makes Macbeth a tyrant? 3. An important theme in Macbeth is the relationship between gender and power, particularly Shakespeares exploration of the values that make up the idea of masculinity. What are these values, and how do various characters embody them? How does Shakespeare subvert his characters perception of gender roles?

Essay In Macbeth True Is False and Fair Is Foul

By Michael J. Cummings 2006

.......The world of Macbeth is a world of contradiction. Good is bad. True is false. Light is dark. .......In the opening scene of the play, the three witches introduce the contrary nature of this world with two paradoxes. First, while ending a meeting, they agree to reconvene when the battles lost and won (1. 1. 7). Then they warn the audience that fair is foul, and foul is fair (1. 1. 14). In Scene II, the nobleman Ross informs King Duncan that a trusted lord, the thane of Cawdor, is a traitor who conspired with the enemy. In other words, the fair Cawdor is foul. After ordering Cawdor executed, the king confers his title on Macbeth, the hero of the battle. Macbeth, of course, goes on to commit an even more heinous crime, murder. .......Why is the world of Macbeth topsy-turvy? Because it reflects the world at large as it really isnot a monolith of white or black but an amalgam of both. It is good and evil, innocent and guilty, honest and treacherous. It is a world of sun and clouds, of calm and storm, of cold and warmth. In Macbeth, Shakespeare holds up a mirror that reflects not only the outward substance of man but also his conflicting inner essence. This mirror reveals glory as blood-stained, safety as dangerous, friends as inimical. .......In our own age, we can see the truth of Shakespeares thesis. For example, critics of the Iraq War say the U.S. won it but lost it, echoing the words of the witches. Clintons second term as U.S. president was fair (in terms of the economy) and foul (in terms of the sex scandal that led to his impeachment). And consider that it is sometimes the upright clergyman who swindles his TV viewers, the caring mother who drowns her children, the harmless neighbor who takes a gun to work and opens fire, and the respected politician who, though personally opposed to abortion, votes in favor of it. Fair is foul, and foul is fair. .......When the witches predict that Macbeth will become king and that Banquo will beget a line of kings, both men react by speaking contradictions reflecting caution and confusion. Banquo says that oftentimes, to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray s [betray us] In deepest consequence. (1. 3. 134-137) Macbeth observes that the prophecy is neither favorable nor unfavorable, although he admits it unnerves him: This supernatural soliciting Cannot be ill, cannot be good: .......................................................... If good, why do I yield to that suggestion Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, Against the use of nature? Present fears Are less than horrible imaginings: My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, Shakes so my single state of man that function Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is But what is not. (1. 3. 142-154) The final words of his responsenothing is but what is notsum up Shakespeares theme of contradiction. Unfortunately, the ambitious Macbeth ignores cannot be good in favor of cannot be ill and bends his mind toward murdering the king. But he is full of doubt, full of fears. .......Enter Lady Macbeth. Excited by the prospect that the throne of Scotland is within a daggers

reach, she becomes the ultimate paradox: a ruthless, hell-bent man-woman brimming with testicular gall and machismo. In one of the most chilling soliloquies or speeches in all of literature, she prays to be hardened into a remorseless killer: ................................Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood; Stop up the access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts, And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers, Wherever in your sightless substances You wait on nature's mischief! 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!' (Act I, Scene V, Lines 43-57) .......When Macbeth arrives home and discusses the murder plot with Lady Macbeth, she advises him to look like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under t (1. 5. 63-64). .......After King Duncan arrives at the door of Macbeths castle, he comments on the tranquillity and peacefulness of the setting while, inside, a whetted dagger awaits him. Before admitting the king, Lady Macbeth further prods her husband: Away, and mock the time with fairest show: / False face must hide what the false heart doth know (1. 7. 94-95). .......In other words, look fair but be foul. .......And so, in the night, they murder the king. In the morning, when Macduff knocks at the door, the porter responds tardily and explains that he and his friends were up late drinking. The observations he makes about the effects of drinking are humorous, providing the audience momentary relief from the tension of the previous scenes. But even this comic interlude continues the theme of paradox, as the porters dialogue demonstrates when he tells what drinking causes: Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance: therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him. (2. 3. 9) .......Moments later, when Macduff walks to Duncans bedroom, unaware that the king has been murdered, he tells Macbeth, I know this is a joyful trouble to you (2. 3. 22). Joyful trouble is an oxymoron/paradox that is also ironic, inasmuch as Macbeth is anything but joyful. He answers with irony: The labor we delight in physics [heals] pain (2. 3. 24). .......After Macduff discovers the dead body and alerts the kings entourage, Macbeth kills the kings guards, blaming them for the murder. But the kings sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, suspect Macbeth as the culprit and fear that they will ultimately come under suspicion. In Act II, Scene III, Malcolm says, using oxymoron/paradox: What will you do? Let's not consort with them: To show an unfelt sorrow is an office Which the false man does easy. I'll to England. (2. 3. 134-136) Outside, an old man and Ross discuss (in Act II, Scene IV) strange events: Day has turned to night, an owl has killed a falcon, and horses have broken free of their stalls to roam the countryside. ROSS...Ah, good father, Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man's act, Threaten his bloody stage: by the clock, 'tis day, And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp:

Is't night's predominance, or the day's shame, That darkness does the face of earth entomb, When living light should kiss it? OLD MAN...'Tis unnatural, Even like the deed that's done. On Tuesday last, A falcon, towering in her pride of place, Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd. ROSS...And Duncan's horsesa 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. OLD MAN...'Tis said they eat each other. (2. 4. 7-23) .......The play continues to present contradictions, reversals, and impossibilities that become possible. In the witches cavern, an apparition of a bloody child tells Macbeth that no one born of a woman can harm him. Then another apparition, a crowned child, tells him that he cannot die unless the trees of Birnam Wood march against him. But Birnam Wood does march against Macbethin the form of soldiers using foliage as camouflage. And a man not born of woman, Macduffwho, Macbeth discovers, was delivered in a cesarean birthconfronts Macbeth and slays him. Macduff then hails Malcolm as the new king of Scotland.