Macbeth Revision Booklet

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Macbeth Revision
Context & Historical Context
Shakespeare was writing for the theatre during the reigns of two monarchs, Queen Elizabeth I
and King James I. The plays he wrote during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, such as A
Midsummer Night's Dream, are often seen to embody the generally happy, confident and
optimistic mood of the Elizabethans. However, those he wrote during James's reign, such as
Macbeth and Hamlet, are darker and more cynical, reflecting the insecurities of the Jacobean
period. Macbeth was written the year after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Philosophical
Religious thinkers in the Middle Ages had upheld the idea of 'The Great Chain of Being'. This was
the belief that God had designed an ordered system for both nature and humankind within
which every creature and person had an allotted place. It was considered an offence against
God for anyone to try to alter their station in life. After death, however, all would be raised in
the kingdom of heaven, if they respected God's will. Since royal rank was bestowed by God, it
was a sin to aspire to it. This doctrine ­ a convenient one for King James ­ was still widely held in
Shakespeare's day.
The popularity of Macbeth:
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's best known plays. There are all sorts of reasons for this
but perhaps the main one is that the basic story still strikes a chord with modern
audiences. It is a bloodthirsty tale of ambition, and the evils we will go to in order to get
what we want. We follow the central character, Macbeth, as he plots and kills in order to
become king. And as soon as he is crowned, we watch as his world falls apart around
him.
Characters:
Macbeth:
Brave and valiant soldier , ready to die for his king, Duncan.
However, the prophecies of the witches have a powerful effect on him, especially
when he learns the first has come true, and he becomes the Thane of Cawdor. He
thinks more and more about being king, and he is easily persuaded to agree to
murder Duncan.
However, he often appears weak - he starts to have visions, he asks lots of
questions, he cannot make a decision and never really seems sure of himself. For
instance, he panics just after the murder and has to rely on his wife to find an alibi.
Later in the play he appears to be more in control and less reliant on his wife. For
instance, he plans to murder Banquo without even telling his wife. He also ignores
his visions and makes decisions quickly, giving orders rather than asking questions.
At times he is full of confidence but he is also distant and seems to ignore the death
of his wife. When he realises he will also die, he 'will not yield' and fights to the very
end ­ defiant?

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Because we first hear of Macbeth in the wounded captain's 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-doubt--the prediction that he will be king brings
him joy, but it also creates inner turmoil. These three attributes--bravery, ambition,
and self-doubt--struggle for mastery of Macbeth throughout the play.…read more

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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 Macbeth's remarkable strength
of will persists through the murder of the king--it is she who steadies her husband's nerves
immediately after the crime has been perpetrated.…read more

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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.…read more

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Good and Evil: Are a potent source of conflict within M. Not only do we have the
overtly evil presence of the witches and the domineering LM, but we also have the
deeply divided M himself. The noble, valiant and loyal soldier of the early scenes is
tempted by the visions of future personal glory conjured by the witched and comes
increasingly under their influence.…read more

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By way of contrast, when faced by the resemblance between sleeping Duncan
and her father, LM finds herself struck with horror at the reality of murder and
cannot act. Similarly, in the wake of killing the king, M walks away with the bloody
murder weapons in his hands as he is stupefied by the physical horror of his action.
Unchecked Ambition:The main theme of Macbeth--the destruction wrought when
ambition goes unchecked by moral constraints--finds its most powerful expression in the
play's two main characters.…read more

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Guilt: One of Shakespeare's reasons for writing the play was to illustrate the terrible
consequences of murdering a king. Shakespeare shows the murderers of a king
tormented by their own guilt and driven to their doom.
Macbeth also shows his guilt - he is unsure before the murder and regrets it
immediately after.
Lady Macbeth is the opposite - she seems to show no guilt at the time and even
talks about how 'a little water' cleans away the blood.…read more

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Duncan's son Malcolm is depicted as the perfect king. In his testing of Macduff, he
lists the "king-becoming graces", such as justice, verity, temperance, mercy,
lowliness etc., showing his awareness of how a king should be. He has his father's
noble character but without Duncan's fatal flaw of gullibility. He tells Macduff that
he is aware Macbeth has tried to entice him back to Scotland to his death, and
shrewdly tests Macduff for signs of being a dishonest flatterer .…read more

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Horror scenes physical: provide the crowd with deep inward feelings ­ pleasing the
horror genre audience ­ VISUAL! (Slaughtering of Macduff's family).
Terror ­ physiological: Internal terrorsecho the terrors
of regicide, murder of children,
the meddling of supernatural forces in the world of man.Terror echo's horror.
A world devoid of God ­ Thee is a notable absence of any Church figures in the play.…read more

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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.
Violence:
Macbeth is a famously violent play.…read more

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