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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.

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  1. How does Shakespeare present the witches in an interesting and dramatic way?

    In my view it is clear that along with the fact that they are easily angered, they will also go out of their way to make sure that that person will not have an easy life. What this implies is their ability to effect people's lives, with powers. In turn we are made to believe that they have some influence from the Devil, or Hecat. This image of the Hecat is powerful, as in a way it is the root of Macbeth's downfall.

    • Word count: 2107
  2. Examine the Witches’ scenes, what do they add to the play?

    The Witches are grouped together and they talk about thunder, lightning, fog and filthy air 'When shall we three meet again, In thunder, lightning, or in rain?' The Witches tend to talk in rhymes which are like spells. This setting is dramatic for an opening and creates an eerie atmosphere and gets the attention of the audience. This dark setting produces a feeling of something important is going to happen. Darkness and the witches themselves are associated with evil. The Witches' language has a lot of rhythm, rhyme and alliteration in it 'Fair is foul, and foul is fair; hover through the fog and filthy air'.

    • Word count: 1571
  3. The role of the witches in Macbeth 1:1 and 1:3

    It was sometimes thought that the witches had the ability to reverse the natural order of things. This brings into the play idea of fate and the role with which it has in the play. We wonder if Macbeth ever had a chance of doing what was right after he met with the witches. It is however; more realistic to believe that Macbeth was responsible for his own actions throughout the play and in the end it was he who made the final decisions. The witches could foretell the future, they can add temptation, and influence Macbeth, but they can not control his destiny.

    • Word count: 1154
  4. The witches are an important supernatural element in the play. Explain how you would stage Act1 scenes 1 and 3, and how the part of Macbeth should be played to show his reaction to the witches?

    For the clothing, I would have both Macbeth and Banquo in soldier's uniform and the witches would have old, dirty, smelly rags on as I feel this would express some of their evilness. I would express the foul nature of the witches even more by having a couple of "Graymalkins" and "Paddok's" around their camp. The scene would finally be "spiced up with a darkness over the woods and a few trees swaying to show their power this scene is important for Macbeth as he finds out of what is about to happen to him.

    • Word count: 756
  5. In the opening scene of Macbeth, how does Shakespeare set the atmosphere for what will happen later in the play?

    Shakespeare draws on these superstitions when he uses the witches to set the scene at the opening of 'Macbeth'. It is believed that William Shakespeare wrote 'Macbeth' to be performed at the royal court to impress and flatter the new king. James 1 himself believed in witches and that his life was once threatened by them. The King, and the people of that time, could relate to 'Macbeth' because they were very religious and superstitious whilst also believing in the work of the devil. This stage in English history, and also in the history of drama and literature, was called the 'Jacobean' age.

    • Word count: 1064
  6. Consider the Ways In Which the Character of Macbeth Develops Over the Course of the Play and Analyze How Shakespeare Way of Writing Helps To Convey These Developments.

    Act 1 scene III Once he had seen the three witches he thought well maybe it could happen and he wanted to believe it. This is proved in this statement: The Prince of Cumberland! - That is a step On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires! Let not light see my black and deep desires; Act 1 scene IV He obviously now is looking to see how he can become king of Scotland.

    • Word count: 1143
  7. Explain in your own words exactly how Macbeth and Banquo react to their prophecies.Remember that their reactions change throughtout Act 1 Scene 3.You should provide short quotations to support what you say.

    (Act 1 Sc 3, Lines:51-52) Banquo then states that the witches told only Macbeth of his future, and asks them to foretell his future if it is possible,whether it is good or bad. This shows he may feel he is destined for great things as well as his friend, but he could be slightly jealous and is exceedingly curious, "If you can look into the seeds of time And say which grain will grow and which will not, Speak then to me."(Act 1 Sc3, Lines:56-58)

    • Word count: 1007
  8. The Film Versions of Macbeth

    Both certainly seem insane the further the drama progresses. The doubt Shakespeare portrays is a reflection of the thinking in his own society. The question of whether witchcraft is 'real' is still relevant today. Horror films reflect the popular belief that even in our modern world there may be more to witchcraft than we can understand. It is significant that Shakespeare opens his drama with the shadowy world of the witches. Their presence then continues to be felt throughout. Even though the first scene is brief, it is disturbing.

    • Word count: 1429
  9. How does Shakespeare’s presentation of the witches in Macbeth fit in with the expectations of the time?

    This makes it even more frightening for the audience. The next time the witches are seen is in scene three. They are on the moor and the weather is just as they said it would be. And Macbeth is on the moor as well, so then the audience will know that the witches possess psychic powers and will think that they are real witches and have all the powers. When they are seen by Macbeth they are performing some sort of ritual, which is what witches were believed to do - so again this makes the audience believe that these witches are real and possess all of the powers that people thought they had.

    • Word count: 1676
  10. My darling Macbeth

    I was so proud and would have done anything to help you succeed. I have always stood by you and wanted nothing but the best for you. It was my evil plan to kill the king and how we did it. When you declined I persuaded you by saying from this time, such I account thy love trying to make you change your mind, I have given suck.

    • Word count: 404
  11. Compare and Contrast the Two Video Versions of the opening scenes of “Macbeth” with the beginning of the actual Text.

    The heavy clouds signified evil. Then sounds from battle were shown as the titles of the film were displayed. Although the battle is not seen by the viewer, only sound effects. The evil spell is not mentioned at all at the start of the Freeston version of the play. The Freeston version starts with a warriors mask in the centre of the screen with the titles appearing in front of it and flames growing up behind it. The Film opens with the battle between Scotland and the Scottish Rebels, the battle scenes end with Macbeth killing the leader of the Rebels, Macdonwald.

    • Word count: 1453
  12. 'What do you learn about the Witches' aims in showing him the things they do? What kind of effect do various Apparitions have on Macbeth's state of mind?

    Some other ingredients were used to create the same affect : Scale of dragon. Dragons are believed to be harmful mythical creatures. Tooth of wolf is significant as the wolf uses its teeth to tear apart flesh. In the third witch's speech, parts of human beings join the horrifying brew. One of those ugly ingredients was the liver of a blaspheming Jew. This ingredient carries with it evil towards sacred things . Most unpleasant of all the ingredients was perhaps the 'finger of a birth strangled babe, ditch delivered by drab '. Prostitutes, in the time of Macbeth, were considered , to be sinful. The baby was a result of the mother's sinful behaviour.

    • Word count: 1033
  13. How did Shakespeare capture the audience’s interest in the first three scenes of Macbeth. Is his opening still successful with the audience 400 years later?

    The witches disappeared and Macbeth was told he was Thane of Cawdor; this news then fills Macbeth with fear. Shakespeare produced this play with the opening being of thunder and lightning, the thunder and lightning alone gives off a dramatic impact and grabs the audience's attention, it also represents evil with dramatic sound effects with an eerie sense to the play. It creates a supernatural atmosphere, which Shakespeare would have wanted. It introduces the play as a dark and dangerous play and the theme of evil is central.

    • Word count: 1390
  14. In what ways is Macbeth a tragic hero? Do you feel genuinely sorry for him?

    The fatal flaw that the main character would posses would be the downfall and death of the particular character. The audience are also meant to feel pity for the character and fear and a sense of wastage. Macbeth is a tragedy as it obeys these rules. The play begins with Macbeth as a general. He is a brave soldier with good qualities; he is in a position of trust. "For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name)." Macbeth has fought for his country and he is a hero. "O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman." Duncan, the king, is pleased with him too, he is in an elevated position therefore there is a chance of him becoming king.

    • Word count: 873
  15. The importance of the Witches in Macbeth

    The saga of witchcraft appears in the early 13th century. Before then, there are said to be no reports of anything similar, and there is even no report of a devil-like character being in existence! The earliest devils are seen to be horned, with a tail and hooves. This is a copy of the god Pan, which followers of Paganism worshiped. New ideas of Christian worship were being spread at the time, and the theory that God has licensed the Devil to do evil things, as a test to humanity, was one of the largest.

    • Word count: 977
  16. A Strong Will Deep Inside Your Heart

    He sees thee still, "and on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, which was not so before. There's no such thing: it is the bloody business informs thus to mine eyes." (II, i, 45-49) Guilty feelings of Macbeth confuse him whether to kill the king or not. This is a turning point where Macbeth finally decides to break the natural order, and kill king Duncan, which foreshadows the bloody event that will eventually happen later on in his life.

    • Word count: 985
  17. Analyse 3 scenes from ‘Macbeth’ and discuss how they contribute to the play as a tragedy

    The three scenes fit the pattern finally and without these scenes and Macbeth's soliloquy Macbeth may not have been given the title of a tragic hero. The play gives out a very strong moral message, that even though Macbeth achieved his ambition of becoming king of Scotland. That did not give him the happiness or satisfaction he thought he would have achieved. Act 1 Scene 3 is where the tragedy begins. The witches play a major part in the play.

    • Word count: 2704
  18. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, The Audience Recogise The Dramatic Importance Of The Weird Sisters. Discuss And Evaluate How Shakespeare Achieves This And How He Influences Directors.

    The witches say little but we learn a lot about them. The mood of the play is set here; even though the action doesn't start until the next scene. The supernatural forces in the opening of 'Macbeth' provides for much of the play's dramatic tension and the mounting suspense. 'When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or rain?' This is the opening line. It immediately catches the audience's attention and captures their imagination, as the supernatural world fascinated people in Elizabethan England. When the play was first performed and at the time that Shakespeare was writing it, witchcraft was a great enemy, people became captivated by these peculiar, suspicious witches.

    • Word count: 2305
  19. Lady Macbeth¡¯s letter

    My beloved one, you should praise your messengers who have brought the news of your glorious future to you. Though in appearance they may look like savages who roam the earth, their news is worth my love for you. When your interrogation began and they vanished to the Under World why was there surprise in your reaction? Surely you must have known when what needs to be done is done there is no need for lingering.

    • Word count: 498
  20. Compare the Characters of Macbeth and Banquo at the Beginning of the Play

    Macbeth and Banquo have been fighting battles, defending the King from Macdonald and a Norwegian King. They were victorious in both battles, resulting in people, including the King Duncan, admire and respect them. Macbeth's character is gradually built up during scene two and is portrayed as a hero before we actually see him. "Brave Macbeth - well he deserves that name." Another quote used is "Like valour's minion." This imagery makes Macbeth appear brave and strong and shows that people respect him and look up to him.

    • Word count: 554
  21. What Do We Learn About Macbeth in the Opening Chapters?

    We learn in scene two that Macbeth is a very brave man and a fearsome warrior. This contrasts with what we have seen in act one, so we do not yet know much about Macbeth. We do know however that he is to be made Thane of Cawdor after the current Thane is put to death for his treacherous ways.

    • Word count: 359
  22. Examine the dramatic impact and significance of the witches in Macbeth.

    They are also the first ones to mention Macbeth's name, which would make the audience want to know who Macbeth is and what the witches want with him. Other indications that they are witches are their references to "Graymalkin" and "Paddock", animals, which were thought to be demons in animal form. Their last words: "Fair is foul and foul is fair..." are important as Macbeth's first words echo this line, which could show a telepathic link between him and the witches, and this again would show supernatural and evil powers.

    • Word count: 1766
  23. Macbeth Comparison - the contrast between Macbeth and Banquo

    After receiving the prophecy, Banquo sees Macbeth ?start,? which shows that Macbeth flinches as he feels fear, suggesting he immediately imagines himself as king due to unnatural means. He also seems ?wrapt withal,? which suggests he is lost in thought and has fallen into a dreamy state of bliss. This brings about the theme of the corrupting power of unchecked ambition as Macbeth ambition to be king is great enough to make him think of cruel thoughts and render him into a trance.

    • Word count: 2076
  24. Shakespeare portrays the battle of good and evil as well as the fall of man through Macbeths actions.

    He has the first title from birth and has also gained the second title but he is not aware of this. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to convey this. Macbeth makes it clear that it is equally unlikely that he will gain Thane of Cawdor as it is that he will become king and therefor he associates the two titles. The idea of being king makes Macbeth very unsettled and he immediately thinks about usurpation and ?yields? to it showing that the great amount of power tempts him.

    • Word count: 1203
  25. Macbeth - the dilemma of whether to kill the King or not.

    He has the first title from birth and has also gained the second title but he is not aware of this. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to convey this. Macbeth makes it clear that it is equally unlikely that he will gain Thane of Cawdor as it is that he will become king and therefore he associates the two titles. The idea of being king makes Macbeth very unsettled and he immediately thinks about usurpation and ?yields? to it showing that the great amount of power tempts him.

    • Word count: 1576

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