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A Walk Through "Macbeth"

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Marist High School: English Dept. GCSE English - A Walk Through "Macbeth" -The following notes will help guide you through this superb play. "Macbeth" is dominated by its protagonist: consequently, these notes are designed to focus on aspects of his character plus any characters (or incidents) who affect his decisions. -Where there are scenes of lesser importance, the notes will merely outline the plot. -Significant quotations, the evidence to back up one's opinions, will be pointed out. Brief explanations for some of the selected pieces of text are provided. -Quotations use line references from the Oxford New Clarendon edition. Act I, scene i The Three Witches gather on the blasted heath amid thunder and lightning. In this very short scene, the tone is set by introducing a murky, evil underworld. They agree to meet with Macbeth. Note: their words "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" are actually echoed in Macbeth's very first words (l.38). Already, a link between them is beginning to be established. Act I, scene ii Quick change of location. This keeps us on our toes. The plot is moving quickly. Reports come to King Duncan of the battles. Scottish traitors, Macdonwald and the Thane of Cawdor, have attacked the King's armies. So has the King of Norway. The King's cousin, Macbeth, has slain Macdonwald. Then, Macbeth went on to defeat the other two. Duncan now sends Ross to give the title of Thane of Cawdor to Macbeth. Sergeant: For brave Macbeth, - well he deserves that name (l.16) Duncan: O, valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman! (l.24) Act I, scene iii Back to the Witches! They meet both General Macbeth and General Banquo right after the battles. Macbeth is greeted with three titles: Thane of Glamis (which he is), Thane of Cawdor (he will be) and "king hereafter" (l.50). Banquo notices right away that the news makes Macbeth "start" so that "...he seems rapt withal" (l.57). ...read more.


It will be the "fatal entrance of Duncan" (l.38). She prays a black prayer to the "murdering ministers" (l.47) of the spirit world. She wants them to "unsex" her (l.40) - i.e. remove her female compassion - in order to "fill me from the crown to the toe top full / Of direst cruelty" (ll.41-42). When she sees Macbeth in the flesh, she greets him like he's the king already. In l.60, she tells him Duncan will never wake up the next day. This troubles Macbeth. She tells him to change his worried face (which can be read like a book) and to look innocent. At this point, she will do the murder - it's "this night's great business" (l.67). Act I, scene vi The King arrives at Inverness Castle, as does Banquo. Referring to Macbeth, the King says "we love him highly" (l.29) and will continue to reward him. Lady Macbeth is all smiles. Act I, scene vii Inverness Castle. A major soliloquy (i.e. a speech given to the audience which reveals his inner mind). Slipping away from the banquet, Macbeth ponders on the benefits of murder. He fears that having killed he would have to go on killing. He knows there are solid reasons against regicide. 1) He is his "kinsman and his subject" (l.13). 2) He is his host, too, a person who should defend his guest, "Not bear the knife myself" (l.16). 3) Duncan has been a good ruler. Macbeth knows full well that Duncan's death would be a "deep damnation" (l.20) for the killer. He has no "spur to prick the sides of my intent" (ll.25-26) except that his "Vaulting ambition" (l.27) keeps getting in the way. Just as his will is flagging, Lady Macbeth spurs him on. She hates to hear the words "We will proceed no further in this business" (l.31). She rips into him, accusing him of being a coward! ...read more.


Still repentant, Macbeth says "To know my deed 'twere best not know myself" (l.74). Act II, scene iii At first, only briefly, a comic scene. The porter makes jokes about the feast and being drunk. He refers to these gates as the gates of hell. (That would make Macbeth the Devil.) Opening the gates, Macduff and Lennox enter. They have come for the King. Macduff discovers the King's body: he says "the lord's anointed temple" has been broken into (l.50). All is confusion. Lady Macbeth pretends she's just awoken. Malcolm and Donaldbain, the King's sons, soon arrive. Macbeth puts on a great act. He relates how he saw the grooms, the (his!) bloody daggers by them, and so killed them in a fit of rage. The others are both perplexed stunned by his gruesome, hasty deed. It truly shocks Lady Macbeth. She faints and is carried out. (Perhaps the spirits answered her 'unsex me here' speech by not listening to her. Note: From this moment on, her importance both in the play and in the life of her husband diminishes.) Following Banquo's advice, the lords agree to meet to discuss what should be done next. Malcolm and Donaldbain are scared. They smell treachery. Whoever killed their father could and probably would do it to them. "There's daggers in men's smiles" (l.125). Malcolm flees to England. Donaldbain goes to Ireland, hopefully safer going in separate journeys. One should survive. Act II, scene iv Ross discusses recent events with an old man. After the regicide, the heavens seem troubled with men's acts: "darkness does the face of the earth entomb" (l.8). We learn that a big falcon was killed by a smaller bird (like Duncan by Macbeth). The King's horses turned savage, even eating each other. Nature itself, affected by the terrible crime, is greatly disturbed. Macduff speaks cautiously with Ross. Ross says that suspicion has fallen on the two princes who have fled. However, you can tell Macduff suspects Macbeth since Macbeth has got the crown. Macduff will not go to the coronation. (Macbeth will remember this slight.) (End of Act II) ...read more.

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