AS and A Level: Macbeth essays

Meet the team of inpirational teachers who mark our essays

find out about the team

Join Marked by Teachers to get help from over 80 teachers and 180,000 essays

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.

192 AS and A Level Macbeth essays

  • Marked by Teachers essays 10
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 8
  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)

    Also blurred are the lines between what is truly 'good' or 'evil', and if we can truly take any comfort in either of these terms. From the outset of Macbeth, we are told of the power of the eponym on the battlefield, and of the way he 'unseams' enemy soldiers, which immediately signifies his aggression, and hints at the possibility of an 'unseam'd' mind; indeed, Shakespeare uses just that same graphic vocabulary to describe the violence of the act - "unseam'd him from the knave to th'chops" - giving an impression of extreme violence, beyond that which is necessary.

    • Length: 1795 words
  2. Marked by a teacher

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

    4 star(s)

    Angus awakens Macbeth to the idea by telling him of the Thane of Cawdor's downfall and Macbeth's first thought is of the future, 'The greatest is behind.'. This shows Macbeth's eagerness to be King, indeed it is at the forefront of his mind and he seems hurt and amazed when Malcolm is appointed as Duncan's successor '...That is a step On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap', And already his flaw, his relentless ambition is evident. Yet Macbeth's nobility and honour stands in the way of his aspirations.

    • Length: 1804 words
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Lady Macbeth character analysis

    3 star(s)

    Just like witches, she wants to control people's lives, especially the life of Macbeth. She works her way through by repeatedly belittling and emasculating him. Lady Macbeth is sly, selfish, and manipulative because she finds an approach to change Macbeth's decision about the regicide by using emotive arguments to refute his logic. At first, Macbeth remains thoughtful: "I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition."

    • Length: 504 words
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Kingship in Macbeth

    3 star(s)

    He is described as a sainted king by Macduff in Act 4 scene 3. Duncan places a lot of trust upon his soldiers and they are very loyal as we see in the bleeding captain fighting against mercenaries and Macbeth says himself his loyalty and service to Duncan is sufficient for his reward and also says ''he hath honoured him of late'' and the essence of Duncan's good nature creates doubts in Macbeth with regards to the murder and Lady Macbeth has also experienced this kindness, a large diamond received for been a good hostess.

    • Length: 1047 words
  5. Marked by a teacher

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

    3 star(s)

    King James was petrified of witches, but also very interested in them and even wrote his own book about them. The amount of information which we get from Scene one is also something to consider as it is such a small scene. To begin with, let us look at the atmosphere which Shakespeare has made at the beginning of the play. He uses thunder to immediately grab the audience's attention and to make them silent. The thunder also makes a connection to the witches, as they were known for being the creators of bad weather.

    • Length: 1481 words
  6. 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)

    In this soliloquy, he is yet, "th'innocent flower" and moreover, he displays his judiciousness as a brave warrior by contemplating the consequences of murdering the King: something Lady Macbeth does not bother to do in her attempt to convert her husband into a sinister character. In addition, Shakespeare uses euphemism to give the impression that Macbeth is keeping the murder covert by avoiding using the actual word, 'murder'. Instead, he uses words such as "this blow" and "the deed" to camouflage the murder, even from his own conscience because it is so dreadful.

    • Length: 1441 words
  7. Marked by a teacher

    How does Shakespeare characterize the witches?

    3 star(s)

    Some people thought that the witches were devils, appearing as hags. Devils, as was thought, could not predict the future, but they could make specific prophecies, having a greater knowledge of people's ways, than people themselves. In this view the devils adopt the form of hags to scare Banquo and Macbeth, yet at the same time to encourage them to believe in the existence of supernatural power. However, this display of extraordinary power should have caused the two men to distrust them, and to ignore their prophecies.

    • Length: 2783 words
  8. Marked by a teacher

    Is Macbeth a Hero or a Butcher?

    3 star(s)

    A 'butcher', in this context, is someone who kills people cruelly without feeling guilt or remorse - something which Macbeth is a clear example of. Macbeth's actions at the start of the play are already depicted as barbaric. When the Captain describes the battle between Macbeth and the rebel Macdonwald, he claims that Macbeth split Macdonwald open "from the nave to the chops." This is clearly a gruesome way of killing someone. While a Jacobean audience may not have found this too revolting, a modern audience would certainly find Macbeth's actions unacceptable.

    • Length: 1018 words
  9. Marked by a teacher

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

    3 star(s)

    However it is Malcolms perspective which is only an opinion from the outside, which he has every reason to believe that Macbeth is a butcher as he has killed Malcolms family. However, we have a different opinion to Malcolm because we have a different view about Macbeth as we have an insight into what he is thinking through his soliloquies. There are many points in the play where Shakespeare creates sympathy for Macbeth. I felt that most sympathy was created in scene 5.

    • Length: 1180 words
  10. Many students have trouble following the events in Macbeth and interpreting Shakespeares complex language. The dark comedy Scotland, PA relates the story in an understandable manner

    She couldn't remember an employee's name, annoyingly calling him 'Richard,' and wore beautiful clothing, while the employees wore ugly, orange uniforms. Additionally, in both versions, Macbeth falls under pressure. In persuading her husband, Lady Macbeth uses her eloquence to achieve her greedy means, while Bet cunningly employs her charming looks. Macbeth also lets the witches/hippies guide him, albeit he suspects that they aren't the best advisors. It must be admitted that Scotland, PA did lose some of Macbeth's themes by switching the time setting.

    • Length: 1828 words
  11. Character Analysis of Macbeth

    'I have no spur' he states, 'to prick the sides of my intention, but only vaulting ambition' this clarifies that he is very ambitious almost to the point that it might harm his own interests in the future which inevitably happens leading to his downfall. Another good example of his unstable ambition is when the three weird sisters begin to address him with title such as ''Thane of Cawdor'' and tell him that he ''shall be King hereafter'' following this we very quickly see his interest in these equivocal prophecies ''stay you imperfect speakers'' , this conveys that maybe he

    • Length: 2418 words
  12. Macbeth is a monster - In the light of this comment consider Shakespeares presentation of Macbeth in the play.

    Here, Shakespeare summons a viscerally violent image of Macbeth wading in a river or lake of 'blood' before having him casually dismiss it as 'tedious'; the contrast of surreal horror and offhand flippancy highlighting what would appear to be Macbeth's complete lack of empathy. Combine this with the fact that, in the context of production, Macbeth's regicide would have represented one of the greatest possible breaches not only of judicial but of moral code, and his fate as a character seems sealed.

    • Length: 809 words
  13. Macbeth - Analysis of Fear. In Macbeth, it is evident of how fear can affect any character.

    Out of fear and without thinking straight, Macbeth has slain the grooms of Duncan in order to deprive them of a chance to justify themselves. The over-exaggerated passion displayed by Macbeth, as well as the amplified account of his courage, fired up the rising suspicions of Macbeth's true intentions in the incident. His fear of getting caught and accused of Duncan's death only further enhanced his fear of Banquo, who was beginning to doubt the justice behind Macbeth's new status.

    • Length: 1164 words
  14. Describe how Macbeths decision to kill King Duncan has brought about change within his character

    This quote by the three witches' is a promise on Macbeth's future. This false promise plants a dark hope within Macbeth. Through the witches' visit, we can identify that Macbeth is not only a man of honour, but also a man who also holds great ambition. "Stay, you imperfect speakers. Tell me more." This quote by Macbeth clearly notifies how the witches visit starts Macbeth's growing ambition to become the next King of Scotland. After Macbeth's return from the battle, Macbeth is soon named the 'Thane of Cawdor'. With Macbeth titled the Thane of Cawdor, the promise of the witches begins to seem so realistic for him, therefore he starts to be pushed by an ambitious idea that he could become king.

    • Length: 1070 words
  15. Macbeth - Notes on Elements of the Gothic in the play.

    * Transformation * Macbeth is promoted to Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan, the audience have yet to meet Macbeth when Duncan makes this decision thus an impression of Macbeth as an honourable man is formed. The significance of this promotion is that Macbeth goes through a transformation from a brave soldier to a higher ranking, and more noble, position. * Macbeth's dramatic change in character is amplified in act 3 scene one as he attempts to annihilate Banquo, his close friend who he held in high respect at the start of the play.

    • Length: 604 words
  16. Macbeth Scene analysis. Act 3 Scene 4 is a prominent scene in demonstrating the plays overall themes including how supernatural and superstitious themes affect human behaviour

    Act 3 Scene 4 is a prominent scene in demonstrating the play's overall themes including how supernatural and superstitious themes affect human behaviour and how power can lead to many forms of corruption. In this scene, Macbeth hosts a feast in honour of Banquo, who Macbeth has plotted to kill. While making the toast, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo. Lady Macbeth attempts to mask the situation with false excuses for Macbeth's sudden burst of madness. Shakespeare uses this scene as a tool to represent the character development of Macbeth and uses visual imagery to illustrate the key messages.

    • Length: 958 words
  17. Free essay

    Macbeth. To what extent do you find the plays ending satisfactory?

    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-doubt-the prediction that he will be king brings him joy, but it also creates inner turmoil. Shakespeare uses Macbeth to put through how ones 'vaulting ambition' could have woeful effects upon their future actions. Macbeth gets caught in a web of lies and vile acts of murder in which he brings about his own demise.

    • Length: 869 words
  18. The violence in the play is excessive and therefore ineffective. Is this view of "Macbeth" accurate?

    However, violence can be seen as effective, bringing in many factors, such as that of the supernatural elements. Shakespeare exposes us to a dark setting, an apt imagery for the evil occurrences that shall come. Macbeth's famous soliloquy at the beginning of this act introduces an important theme: visions and hallucinations caused by guilt. Macbeth's trepidation about the murder is echoed by several portentous sounds and visions, the famous hallucinatory dagger being the most striking. The "dagger of the mind" that Macbeth sees is not "ghostly" or supernatural so much as a manifestation of the inner struggle that Macbeth feels as he contemplates the regicide; 'the dagger come toward my hand?'

    • Length: 1224 words
  19. In William Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, the protagonist, Macbeth, becomes a tragic hero as a result of suffering from a fatal flaw that eventually leads to his own death. Macbeth possesses many characteristics of a tragic hero,

    It is Macbeth's bravery that easily wins him the trust and love of King Duncan. By defending his nation and having no fear for his own life, Macbeth, in the king's eyes, deserved the title of Thane of Cawdor. Because Macbeth is already crowned with the title of Thane of Glamis, his new title, Thane of Cawdor makes him more noble than he already is. "What he hath lost, Macbeth hath won" (I, ii, 68). This means that Macbeth is worthy of receiving his new title, and that what the former Thane has lost - his life and his title - Macbeth has won or gained.

    • Length: 1220 words
  20. During the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare temptation plays a notable role in most violent acts. One may have the self-awareness to know their action is bad, however, the temptation causes ambition that overleaps ones true conscience.

    As Macbeth contemplates the thought of murdering Duncan he maintains awareness. Macbeth is Duncan's "Kinsman and his subject" (I, vii, 13-14). Macbeth knows that if he murders Duncan he would murder his cousin, the king. Macbeth is also the Kings "host" (I, vii, 13-14) Macbeth would also take advantage of having the king as his guest. The act would violate all his values. Lady Macbeth resents the way Macbeth reflects about executing the murder. She tells Macbeth that he is a "Coward" because he is indecisive in his decision considering the act is immoral (I, vii, 47).

    • Length: 832 words
  21. Macbeth as a fallen hero. Two paths lay in front of Macbeth, two choices, and inevitably Macbeth chose the path of power and immorality.

    Love for his wife, his kingdom and truly his king whom he was considered "his kinsman", "his subject". A man who was recognized as "brave Macbeth", who's skills and courage were compared to "Bellona's bridegroom", the god of war, to show that Macbeth himself surpassed any man, and was only equal to that of a god himself. But, not only were his fighting skills impeccable, but his will to sacrifice, as he is compared to "another Golgotha". That in fact he is not only fighting for himself, but fighting for his people, his country and the king; the king who sat in "his great office".

    • Length: 1681 words
  22. Macbeth; A Tragic Hero

    At the beginning of the story, Macbeth is returning from Scotland after winning the war for Duncan. This shows that he is a noble person; one of the requirements of tradgedy. The prophecy told by the witches to Macbeth was the very beginning of Macbeth's downfall. They told him that he would be Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glamis and eventually King of Scotland. "All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Glamis! All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Cawdor! All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!" (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 48). This immediately sparked the corruption in Macbeth due to his curiousity and faith in what the witches said.

    • Length: 742 words
  23. Macbeth. The value system that Macbeth has adopted by the end of the play is one of nihilism. This is conveyed through his indifferent delivery of the absence of meaning in life, and muted response to his wifes death.

    This introduction to Macbeth's character effectively distinguishes him as a 'good guy', or in other words, the protagonist of the play. One of the first paradoxes spoken by Macbeth occurs in Act I scene III, following the fulfillment of the witches' first prophecy-that Macbeth shall be Thane of Cawdor-. "This supernatural soliciting/Cannot be ill; cannot be good." (Act I scene III line 130) By this Macbeth is saying that the recent abnormal events (the appearance of the witches and their first prophecy being fulfilled immediately)

    • Length: 881 words
  24. Early in the play, the other characters portray Macbeth as a hero and a brilliant warrior, even before he has made an appearance. Shakespeare uses this to his advantage

    From this we see the other characters opinions are followed through as we can clearly see how great and bold warrior he is. From this it helps me admire his great courage and patriotism. When Macbeth meets the three witches after returning from the battle with his best friend Banquo, he is told three prophesies: he will become, Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glamis and also to become King. Macbeth knows that the Thane of Glamis has been killed and that he will inherit the title, but the Thane of Cawdor is still alive so surely he could not be.

    • Length: 1546 words
  25. Will of Macbeth

    He is able to formulate his own thoughts, with no background influence. He has free will at last. Earlier in the play, Macbeth's partner Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to commit murder and fulfill his ambition. The three witches and their Queen influence Macbeth's decisions through the use of predictions as well as the supernatural. Lastly, the three apparitions conjured by the witches play a very crucial role in establishing Macbeth's fate through their deceptively uplifting prophecies. Due to these negative and overwhelming influences, Macbeth essentially holds no sense of free will.

    • Length: 1659 words

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"."

Marked by a teacher

This essay has been marked by one of our great teachers. You can read the full teachers notes when you download the essay.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review on the essay page.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review under the essay preview on this page.