AS and A Level: Macbeth

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The historical context surrounding 'Macbeth'

  1. 1 Macbeth was written in 1606 when Shakespeare was 42 years old. The acting company who would have performed the play was called the King’s Men and their patron was King James I who had come to the throne in 1603.
  2. 2 Macbeth was probably written to please the King; the setting of the play with specific scenes at Inverness, Scone, Fife and Dunsinane would have appealed to King James, who also ruled over Scotland.
  3. 3 King James had brought unity to Scotland and England when he came to the throne and this is referred to in Macbeth when the English, under Edward, and the Scottish, under Malcolm, are united to overthrow Macbeth.
  4. 4 In Macbeth Shakespeare reinforces the Divine Right of Kings, the idea that the power of the king is something that is granted by God and the murder of a king is a crime against God Himself. This links to King James as he had been threatened by an assassination attempt – the Gunpowder Plot.
  5. 5 To celebrate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot, a special medallion was made with the symbol of treachery on it: an image of a flower with a serpent lurking beneath it. There is a reference to this in the play when Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth to “look like the innocent flower/But be the serpent under it”.

The themes of 'Macbeth'

  1. 1 Witchcraft and the supernatural – The play opens with the witches who create an atmosphere of evil and disorder which sets the scene for Macbeth’s downfall. The witches’ prophecies control Macbeth’s actions through his own ambition and lead him to his destruction.
  2. 2 Concealing the truth – Throughout the play many characters put on metaphorical masks to hide their true nature, thoughts or feelings; Macbeth and Lady Macbeth hide their true selves, Banquo hides his mistrust of Macbeth, Malcolm pretends he is evil in order to test Macduff.
  3. 3 Ambition – Macbeth was driven by his own and Lady Macbeth’s ambition. They were not satisfied with being of high status as Lord and Lady but wanted more power and were driven on by the witches’ prophecies.
  4. 4 Order and disorder – Throughout the play there are references to unnatural things happening; the natural order of things is changed by the unnatural act of Macbeth killing the King. It starts with the thunder and lightning in the opening scene and then follows with the witches speeches of supernatural acts.
  5. 5 Manhood – Lady Macbeth calls on the spirits to unsex her to make her more like a man so that she will have the strength to carry out the murder of Duncan. She also questions Macbeth’s manhood when he is having doubts about killing Duncan.

Macbeth as a tragic figure

  1. 1 At the beginning of the play Macbeth has a position of great importance and comes from a noble background. He is well respected and admired by everyone, especially King Duncan.
  2. 2 Macbeth has a flaw in his character so that his virtues are turned to vices and he begins to lose self-control. The witches tell him that he will become King but he cannot wait for it to happen and so determines his own fate by killing Duncan, which then leads to other murders.
  3. 3 The witches and Lady Macbeth contribute to his downfall, but essentially he brings about his own destruction and ultimate death.
  4. 4 In the inevitable process of Macbeth’s downfall he causes the suffering of innocent people – Duncan, Banquo, Macduff’s family and possibly Lady Macbeth.
  5. 5 At the end of the play the audience feels pity for Macbeth because he was originally a good man but was tempted by the idea of kingship and power. If he had responded differently then he might have still achieved greatness.

228 AS and A Level Macbeth essays

  • Marked by Teachers essays 10
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  1. Marked by a teacher

    It is not only the heros character that feeds into the construction of a tragedy; external events also play a part. Does either one of these components have, in your opinion, an overriding influence on Macbeth, or do they make an equal contr

    4 star(s)

    A generally well-structured essay which tackles the question effectively and guides the reader through the argument. The writer shows the ability to comment perceptively on the play as a whole,…

    • Essay length: 1795 words
    • Submitted: 01/08/2011
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Val Shore 27/02/2012
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Equivocation in Macbeth

    4 star(s)

    This student has shown a thorough understanding of this important aspect of the play and has made their points clearly and eloquently. They have referred to the text and have…

    • Essay length: 872 words
    • Submitted: 15/02/2005
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Paul Dutton 07/06/2013
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Villain or victim? Is Macbeth a victim of external circumstances or a man solely driven by evil?

    4 star(s)

    This essay offers a thoughtful and at times subtle account of Macbeth's development in the play, and it makes a determined and effective effort to answer the question set. Another…

    • Essay length: 1804 words
    • Submitted: 11/07/2002
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Val Shore 17/07/2012
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Lady Macbeth character analysis

    3 star(s)

    Although too short, this is a good example of engaging with text using evidence, literary technique and analysis. However, there is much more to be explored about Lady Macbeth's character,…

    • Essay length: 504 words
    • Submitted: 02/07/2012
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Paul Dutton 07/06/2013
  5. Marked by a teacher

    Kingship in Macbeth

    3 star(s)

    This essay includes many valid points which need to be addressed individually and fully supported with appropriate references from the text. The essay would be improved by consideration of the…

    • Essay length: 1047 words
    • Submitted: 23/05/2012
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Laura Gater 17/04/2013
  6. Marked by a teacher

    Explore the impact of the witches in Act One Scenes One and Three

    3 star(s)

    The writer shows awareness of the importance of commenting in detail on language use, and successfully picks out such features as rhyme, simile, alliteration and onomatopoeia. However the essay is…

    • Essay length: 1481 words
    • Submitted: 02/07/2007
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Val Shore 01/01/2012
    • Awarding body: Not known/Not applicable
  7. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss the soliloquy in Act III, i. How does Shakespeare convey the change in Macbeth since the soliloquy in Act I, vii?

    3 star(s)

    Before setting pen to paper, detailed thought should be given to how to structure the essay. The question here seems to demand Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 3 sc i as…

    • Essay length: 1441 words
    • Submitted: 18/08/2006
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Val Shore 27/02/2012
  8. Marked by a teacher

    How does Shakespeare characterize the witches?

    3 star(s)

    There are a lot of good ideas and comments in this essay, but more thought needs to be given to how to structure, streamline and organise the information.
    Also more…

    • Essay length: 2783 words
    • Submitted: 31/03/2006
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Val Shore 27/02/2012
  9. Marked by a teacher

    Is Macbeth a Hero or a Butcher?

    3 star(s)

    This essay highlights the dangers of making a judgement before properly considering the evidence. The argument is quite powerfully presented but none of the complexities are acknowledged and the…

    • Essay length: 1018 words
    • Submitted: 29/03/2005
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Val Shore 27/02/2012
  10. Marked by a teacher

    How does Shakespeare present Macbeth in a way that allows us to feel sympathy for him?

    3 star(s)

    The writer has a range of valid points to make with reference to whether the audience can feel sympathy for Macbeth.
    However, the essay structure is rambling. The soliloquies are…

    • Essay length: 1180 words
    • Submitted: 28/08/2003
    • Marked by teacher: (?) Val Shore 17/07/2012

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • Explore the ways that witchcraft is presented in ''Macbeth'' and compare the way we may wish to present it today

    "In conclusion to this we can see that the witches knew what would happen once they had given the prophecies to Macbeth, however, they did not tell him what to do, therefore he acted out of his own intention and for his own personal benefit. This shows us that human nature, if provoked, can be destructive and can destroy that around us and should in all honesty be more feared than witchcraft itself. Even though, people in modern times are not frightened of witches and magic, it all comes back to hunger for power and money and that is how Macbeth came to become a murderous, over-ambitious man, because he feared that he would not become rich and powerful. So even though we are not still afraid of witches, we still kill for money and power, and this is an issue carried through from the 16th century and before, to today."

  • To What Extent Do Feel That Roman Polanski's Interpretation Of The Witches Is In Keeping With Shakespeare's Text?

    "After comparing and contrasting Roman Polanski's film version of Mac Beth to that of the original text. I have come to the conclusion that in Polanski interpretation he has indeed kept very much in line with the text. Polanski has added an even more cathartic feeling to the end of the play than already exists by using the fight scene, which shows that even though Mac Beth knows he is defeated and is going to die he does not surrender and fights like a true hero to the death. The changes he made to his film furthered the excellence that the play already possesses and they were very innovative and creative."

  • What is the role of the Witches and to what extent are they responsible for Macbeth's tragic end.

    "Knowing the information that Macbeth did the deed himself I have drawn the conclusion that because he was pressured into doing the murder I would say that he is the least responsible for his tragic end. I would say that Lady Macbeth is the next least responsible but she did not do the deed however she really pushed Macbeth to do it. The most responsible would be the witches as they first put the idea in his head and then say that he is invincible to all "woman born"."

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