English Literature: Macbeth (CGP Revision Guide)

  • Created by: lilyemma
  • Created on: 05-03-17 17:48

Character: Macbeth I

MACBETH

Macbeth is ambitious but easily lead astray:

  • Macbeth is a strong warrior who fights bravely in battle.
  • He's ambitious - he wants to become King of Scotland and will do anything to make this happen, even commit murder.
  • However, he's got a conscience and often doubts whether he's doing the right thing. He spends a lot of time feeling guilty.
  • Language: The way Macbeth speaks reflects his state of mind. He asks a lot of questions when he's feeling uncertain or guilty: 'Whence is that knocking? / How is't with me, when every noise appals me?'. At the start and end of the play, his language is more certain and confident: 'Stars, hide your fires', 'I will not yield'.

Macbeth is:

  • Ambitious - 'I have no spur/ To ***** the sides of my intent, but only/ Vaulting ambition'
  • Brave - 'brave Macbeth - well he deserves that name'
  • Guilty - 'Will all great Neptune's oceon wash this blood/ Clean from my hand?
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Character: Macbeth II

He's a brave hero...:

  • At the start of the play, Macbeth is described as a 'valiant' warrior. Rosse compares him to 'Bellona's bridegroom' - he's saying that Macbeth is like Mars, the god of war.
  • Macbeth's brave actions impress the King, who names him Thane of Cawdor. This title shows that the King recognises Macbeth's 'personal venture' (how bravely he fought) and loyalty.
  • Macbeth seems most comfortable on the batllefield. When he's fighting, he doesn't have to worry about his guilty conscience and the morality of his actions.
  • Macbeth dies in battle too - he fights 'bear-like' to the end, even though he knows he's doomed. He's determined to 'try the last' and says he 'will not yield'
  • Writer's Techniques - Structure: By the end of the play, Macbeth's come full circle - he's returned to being the brave solider he was in Act 1. This contrasts with the middle of the play, where he seems weak and uncertain.

... and a brutal murderer.:

  • Macbeth's brave but he's also a cold and calculating killer. He murders Duncan because he wants to be King. He also has Macduff's family and Banquo killed because he's worried about losing his position.
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Character: Macbeth III

  • Macbeth is influenced by the people around him. He lets Lady Macbeth persuade him to kill Duncan because he wants to become King - his ambition is stronger than his morality.
  • At the end of the play, Macduff calls Macbeth a 'hell-hound' and Young Siward calls him 'abhorred tyrant' - Macbeth's violent ambition has ruined his noble characteristics.
  • Theme - Fate and Free Will: When Macbeth says 'I am settled and bend up/ Each corporal agent to his terrible feat', it sounds like he's making a deliberate decision to kill Duncan. Later, he says he didn't have control over his actions because he's just a 'poor player' who's controlled by fate (or he could be trying to make himself feel less guilty about his crimes).

He struggles with his conscience:

  • Macbeth has a strong sense of right and wrong. He worries about the consequences of his actions because there's 'judgement' on earth and 'deep damnation' after death. This makes his actions more shocking.
  • He's reluctant to kill Duncan, who has 'honoured' him, and says 'We will proceed no further in this business'. He sounds confident, as if he's made up his mind - Macbeth recognises that Duncan trusts him as his 'kinsman' and that as Duncan's 'host' he has a duty to protect him.
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Character: Macbeth IV

  • Once he's killed Duncan, Macbeth swings between killing anyone who threatens his position as king and moments of despair when he struggles with terrible guilt.
  • His guilty conscience makes him imagine things: > Immediately after killing Duncan he hears a voice saying, 'Macbeth does murder sleep'. > After arranging for Banquo to be murdered, he sees Banquo's ghost at the feast and almost gives himself away. Lady Macbeth thinks he's hallucinating.
  • By the end of the play, Macbeth seems world-weary and cynical - he no longer seems to feel guilty, because he thinks that a person's actions don't matter and that life means 'nothing'.
  • Theme - Kingship: Macbeth knows that Duncan is a good king - 'clear in his great office' and that killing him would damage Scotland. Macbeth places his own desires above the love of Scotland - this hints that he'll be a bad King.

He's easily influenced:

  • Lady Macbeth greatly influences Macbeth - he wouldn't kill Duncan if it wasnt for her. Macbeth acts because he doesn't want to be seen as unmanly or a 'coward'.
  • Lady Macbeth's influence over Macbeth declines after Duncan's murder - once he's murdered Duncan, the other murders seem to come more easily to Macbeth, so he acts alone.
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Character: Macbeth V

  • He's also influence by the supernatural: > The first time he meets the Witches, he trusts them straightaway, saying 'Two truths are told'. However, Banquo is suspicious of them and thinks they want to 'win us to our harm'. > He sees a dagger that leads him to Duncan's room. > As the Witches' prophecies start to come true. Macbeth's belief in them increases. He begins to rely more heavily on what they say, and panics when their prophecies are fulfilled unexpectedly.
  • Writer's Techniques - Symbolism: Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to kill Duncan by suggesting that he'll be 'more the man'. Throughout the play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth link masculinity with strength and courage.
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Character: Lady Macbeth I

LADY MACBETH:

Lady Macbeth is cruel and ruthless:

  • Lady Macbeth is Macbeths wife - she's an important character because she influences Macbeth, especially at the start of the play. She's ambitious and doesn't mind committing terrible crimes to get what she wants.
  • Lady Macbeth changes over the course of the play. At the beginning, she's dominant and confident - she persuades Macbeth that killing Duncan is the best thing to do.
  • Once Macbeth has committed murder, Lady Macbeth is slowly driven mad by guilt. Macbeth distances himself from her and she kills herself because she can't live with what they've done.

Lady Macbeth is:

Cruel - 'And fill me from the crown of the toe topfull / Of direst cruelty'

Cunning - 'look like th'innocent flower,/ But be the serpend under 't'

Disturbed - 'she is troubled with thick coming fancies'

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Character: Lady Macbeth II

She is very ambitious:

  • Lady Macbeth is just as ambitious as Macbeth - when she gets his letter, she immediately assumes that they need to kill Duncan. She's more ruthless than her husband.
  • Theme - Good and Evil: Lady Macbeth says that Macbeth is 'too full o'th' milk of human kindness' - she thinks his goodness makes him a 'coward' and stops him from achieving his ambitions.
  • She thinks that no ordinary woman could plan this murder. That's why she appeals to the spirit world to 'unsex' her and fill her with the 'direst cruelty'
  • Lady Macbeth knows her husband's weak spot, she uses his ambition and fear of being seen as a coward to manipulate him into killing Duncan.
  • Writer's Techniques - Symbolism: Lady Macbeth links masculinity to strength and violence but Shakespeare shows that women can be just as ruthless and cold-hearted as men.

She's clever and quick-witted:

  • Lady Macbeth is the one who comes up with the cunning plot to drug Duncan's servants and frame them for the murder. This shows that she's clever as well as cruel and heartless.
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Character: Lady Macbeth III

  • When Duncan's murder is discovered, Lady Macbeth faints. This could be a pretencec, which clearly draws attention away from the unconvincing speech that Macbeth is making. Lady Macbeth also covers Macbeth's strange behaviour when he thinks that he sees Banquo's ghost. She's the one in control of the situation.
  • Theme - Reality and Appearances: If Lady Macbeth only pretends to faint, she's taking advantage of the way women were viewed at the time. She's using the stereotype of a weak woman overcome by shock to hide the reality of her cruel, cold-hearted nature.

Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth to explore gender and power::

  • At first, it's Macbeth who struggles with his guilty conscience. By the end of the play, Lady Macbeth is driven mad by guilt.
  • She starts sleepwalking. The doctor calls this a 'great pertubation in nature' because her mind is so disturbed that it's affected her ability to sleep soundly.
  • Language: The way Lady Macbeth speaks reflects her state of mind - at the beginning, she speaks confidently in verse. By the end, her speech is made up of mad ramblings and repititions - 'Come, come, come, come, give me your hand'. It shows that she has lost all self-control.
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Character: Lady Macbeth IV

  • In her sleep, she keeps washing her hands in hope that she can wash away her feelings of guilt just as easily as the blood after Duncan's murder: 'Out, damned spot!'
  • Guilt and isolation affect Lady Macbeth so much that she kills herself - she can't live with what she's done.
  • Writer's Techniques - Symbolism: Sleepwalking was thought to be unnatural in Shakespeare's time - sleep is the 'blam of hurt minds', so the fact that Lady Macbeth can't sleep peafcefully emphasises her madness.

The Macbeths' marriage is intense:

  • Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's relationship changes. At the beginning their marriage seems loving and passionate - Macbeth calls Lady Macbeth 'my dearest partner of greatness'.
  • As the play develops, it becomes clear that Lady Macbeth dominates Macbeth - she manipulates him into killing Duncan and covers up his strange behaviour when he sees Banquo's ghost.
  • As Macbeth reveals less about his plans to his wife, Lady Macbeth becomes increasingly anxious and alone. Even though she's domineering at the beginning, she can't cope without her husband.
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Character: Duncan I

Duncan's kind, but too trusting:

  • Duncan's the King at the start of the play. He's a kind and generous man who rewards loyalty - he hands out honours to Macbeth and Malcolm.
  • Nobody has a bad word to say about Duncan - even Macbeth says that 'his virtues / Will plead like angels'.
  • Duncan's flaw is that he's too trusting. He trusts Macbeth and doesn't suspect he's plotting to kill him, and he describes the treacherous Thane of Cawdor as a 'gentleman on whom I built / An absolute trust'. However, Duncan can be firm when needed - he executes the Thane of Cawdor when he betrays him.

Duncan is:

  • kind: 'let me enfold thee / And hold thee to my heart'
  • trusting: 'There's no art / To find the mind's construction in the face'
  • a good king: 'So clear in his great office'
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Character: Duncan II

He's an example of a good king:

  • Shakespeare presents Duncan as a model king - he's kind, honest and fair.
  • Writer's Techniques - Symbolism: Duncan uses a lot of plant imagery - he says he will 'plant' Macbeth and make sure he is 'full of growing'. This shows how he nurtures his subjects.
  • Macbeth says that one of the reasons that he shouldn't kill Duncan is because he's a good leader with many 'virtues'. Macduff also calls him 'a most sainted king', reminding the audience that kings were thought to be chosen by God.
  • Duncan is kind, generous and trusting, and puts Scotland's needs ahead of his own. This contrasts with Macbeth, who is a bad king - he's a tyrant who's feared and hated. Macbeth puts his own selfish desires ahead of his country.
  • Theme - Kingship: In Act 4, Scene 3, Malcolm talks about what a good king should be like. He says a ruler should have 'stableness' and 'mercy' and 'justice' - qualities that Duncan has.

Duncan isn't like other menL

  • Duncan isn't a solider like Macbeth or Macduff - he's gentle and less aggressive. He doesn't fight himself, but sensibly sends his best solider to fight for him.
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Character: Duncan III

  • He's not afraid to be emotional - he shows 'drops of sorrow' because he's so happy and talks about his 'gentle senses' - this could be seen as unmanly.
  • Writer's Techniques - Symbolism: Duncan doesn't have the qualities that other characters associate with manlinessm but Shakespeare shows he's kind, fair and generous. This leads the audience to questions whether a good leader really needs to be a violent warrior.
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Characters: Malcolm and Donalbain I

Malcolm and Donalbain learn from their father's mistakes:

  • Malcolm is fair and honest, like his father. However, unlike Duncan, Malcolm and Donalbain are aware that they're in danger from those closest to them: 'There's daggers in men's smile, the near'r in blood, / The nearer bloody'. They have the common sense to flee Scotland after Duncan is murdered.
  • Malcolm learns that he should only trust pepole who have proved their loyalty - when Macduff visits him, Malcolm tests his loyalty by pretending to be a tyrant. He knows that even people who seem good can be evil - 'all things fould would wear the brows of grace'.
  • In the end Malcolm and Macduff make a good partnership because Macduff's experience gives Malcolm the confidence to take action.

Malcolm is...

  • wise - 'wisdom plucks me / from over-credulous haste'
  • honest - 'delight / no less in truth than life
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Characters: Malcolm and Donalbain II

Malcolm and Donalbain aren't impulsive:

  • Malcolm and Donalbain don't react to their father's murder immediately. Malcolm says that their sorrow is too 'strong' to act on it straight away. It shows that he's sensibe and unwilling to act wthout waiting for the right time.
  • They're annoyed that Macbeth is making grand speeches which should be made by Duncan's sons - Malcolm asks Donalbain, 'Why do we hold our tongues'
  • Theme - Reality and Appearance: Malcolm is more suspicious of false appearances than Duncan was - he says, 'To show an unfelt sorrow is an office / Which the false man does easy.' He's wary of people who seem fake, like Macbeth.

Malcolm develops into a good leader:

  • Malcolm becomes a confident leader. He earns the trust of the Scottish thanes, who say they will 'give obedience where 'tis truly owed'. They will follow Malcolm because he's the rightful King.
  • Malcolm eventually returns to Scotland with an army. He proves that he's clever by disguising the soldiers with branches, and leads his army to victory, which shows that he's a strong leader.
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Characters: Malcolm and Donalbain III

  • He rewards everyone who fought with him - like Duncan, he's generous to those who are loyal to him.
  • Themes - Kingship: Malcolm has many of the qualities that made Duncan a good Kind, but he's less naive than his father. This suggests that he'll eventually make a better King.
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Character: Banquo I

Banquo is more honourable than Macbeth:

  • Banquo is a thane, like Macbeth. He's there when the Witches first make their prophecies.
  • Banquo is praised for his courage in battle - just like Macbeth. However, while Macbeth is guided by his own selfish desires, Banquo has 'a wisdom that doth guide his valour'. This suggests that Banquo thinks before he acts and does what is right.
  • Like Macbeth, Banquo is ambitious and hopes the Witches' prophecies come true. He doesn't act on their predictions, so he represents the path Macbeth could have chosen. Banquo isn't corrupted by his ambition like Macbeth is, so he remains honourable.
  • Macbeth promises to 'honour' Banquo for his loyalty, but Banquo chooses  to keep his 'allegiance clear' - his conscience is more important to him than power and glory.

Banquo is..

  • BRAVE - 'that dauntless temper of his mind'
  • NOBLE - 'Noble Banquo, / That hast no less deserved'
  • WISE - 'The instruments of darkness tell us truths / Win us with honest trifles - to betray's'
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Character: Banquo II

Banquo doesn't trust the Witches:

  • Banquo behaves rationally, when he meets the Witches - he questions whether they are real and doesn't trust them. In contrast, Macebeth wants them to tell him more, and is 'rapt withal'.
  • Banquo tells the Witches that he 'neither beg nor fear/ Your favours', but he's still intrigued to hear what they have to say. He admits having 'dreamt last night of the three weird sisters', which suggest he's still thinking about his predictions.
  • Theme - Reality and Appearance: Banquo's aware that the Witches could be 'fantastical' and is perceptive enough to realise that they are 'instruments of darkness' that could 'win us to our harm'. He's more cautious about believing what he sees than Macbeth is.

He doesn't act to protect himself:

  • Banquo suspects that Macbeth murdered Duncan - 'I fear, / Thou play'dst most foully'. However, he doesn't act on his suspicions and instead reminds himself that he will be the 'father / Of many kings' - this shows that ambitious thoughts can distract even the most honourable characters.
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Character: Banquo III

  • Macbeth sees Banquo as a threat - he says that there's no one except Banquo 'whose being I do fear'. When Macbeth's hired killers surround him, Banquo's exclamation of 'O treachery!' shows that he didn't suspect that Macbeth would betray him.
  • Theme - Supernatural: Macbeth is haunted by Banquo's ghost which shows how guilty Macbeth feels about killing is honourable friend.
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Characters: The Macduffs I

Maccduff is honest and sincere...:

  • Macduff is a nobleman. He's honest and has integrity, so he acts as a contrastto Macbeth. He discovers Duncan's murder and is horrified by it.
  • Macduff doesn't go to Macbeth's coronation. This suggest that he is suspicious of Macbeth.
  • Writer's Techniques - Irony: Macduff is angry that, under Macbeth's new rule, 'New widows howl, new orphans cry'. This is ironic, as his wife and children have just been murdered.
  • Macduff has a strong sense of loyalty and love for his country. he doesn't like the way Macbeth rules, so he goes to England to persuade Malcolm to help = he exclaims 'O Scotland, Scotland!' which reflects his emotional turmoil about the scale of his country.
  • Macduff is brave - he fights and kills Macbeth, freeing Scotland from 'the tyrant'.

Macduff is..

  • NOBLE - 'this noble passion / Child of integrity'
  • A SOLDIER - 'I have no words: / My voice is in my sword'
  • EMOTIONAL - 'I must also feel it as a man'
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Characters: The Macduffs II

...but he puts his country before his family:

  • Macduff makes a mistake by going to England, leaving his wife and children unprotected. His decision shows his strong sense of justice, but also his lack of 'wisdom'.
  • When he finds out that Macbeth has had them murdered, he is overcome with grief. His reaction shows his disbelief: 'All my pretty ones? / Did you say all?'. In contrast with the other men who see emotions as a sign of weakness, Macduff says that he will 'feel' his grief 'as a man'. This shows that he sees the ability to show emotion as an important part of his masculinity.
  • Macduff kills Macbeth both to put the rightful heir on the throne and to avenge his family. He thinks that his wife and children will 'haunt' him until he kills Macbeth.

Lady Macduff can't understand her husband's actions:

  • When Macduff goes to England, Lady Macduff says that he lacks 'the natural touch' - she thinks his behaviour shows a lack of fatherly love.
  • Lady Macduf shows courage as she comforts her son, calling him 'Poor bird'. Her love and affection for him are clear. They speak in prose, which makes he scene seem natural and homely - the murders seem even more shocking and horrible.
  • Theme - Good and Evil: Lady Macduff's goodness and caring behaviour towards her son contrasts with Lady Macbeth's unnatural, evil desire - she says she'd kill her baby.
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Characters: The Witches I

The Witches have supernatural powers:

  • The Three Witches are also known as the Weird Sisters. They look like ugly women with beards, which suggests straight away that they're unnatural and evil.
  • The Witches can see the future - all their predictions come true eventually. They seem to act out of malice - they don't gain anything from their actions, they just like causing trouble.
  • They speak in short lines that rhyme. This sets them apart from the other characters. Lines like 'Eye of newt, and toe of frog, / Wool of bat, and tongue of dog' make them sound gruesome and evil.
  • Banquo isn't sure whether the Withes are real or imaginary - 'Are ye fantastical, or that indeed / Which outwardly ye show?' He's suspicious that their appearance is misleading.
  • Theme - Reality and Appearance: The Witches' line 'Fair is foul, and foul is fair' shows that nothing is as it seems in the play.

The Witches are...

  • EVIL - 'instruments of darkness'
  • AMBIGUOUS - 'This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill, cannot be good'
  • STRANGE - 'So withered and so wild'.
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Characters: The Witches II

They're evil, but they donm't tell Macbeth to murder Duncan:

  • The Witches are usually accompained by 'Thunder and lightning'. This makes the atmosphere dark and frightening.
  • They make prophecies but they never explain how they will happen. In this way, they take advantage of Macbeth's weakness (his 'Vaulting ambition') and use it to control his actions.
  • The Witches don't tell Macbeth to murder Duncan - but they do predict he'll be king, which pushes him to kill Duncan.
  • Theme - Fate and Free Will: Shakespeare doesn't make it clear whether the Witches are messengers of fate (so their prophecies are inevitable) or whether Macbeth could change his future.
  • The Witches confuse Macbeth using paradoxes - for example, telling him that Banquo will be 'Lesser than Macbeth, and greater'. By not being clear about what the future holds, they keep control of Macbeth.
  • Hecate is the goddess of witchcraft. She's angry at Macbeth's behaviour, so she uses the apparations to punish him. They trick him by making predictions that give him a false sense of security, such as 'none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth'. These predictions indirectly lead to his death.
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Other Characters I

There are some other noblemen...:

  • Lennox, Rosse, Menteith, Angus and Caithness are all thanes - Scottish noblemen. None of them are very significant characters. They're basically there to move the story along and show how power shifts during the play.
  • They comment on the big events of the play - eg: in Act 3, Scene 6, Lennox sarcastically says that Macbeth 'nobly' and 'wisely' killed Duncan's guards. This shows that he thanes suspect that Macbeth killed Duncan, and suggest that he's starting to lose power.
  • The thanes say that they will 'give obedience where 'tis truly owed' - in other words, they'll be loyal to whoever deserves it. They gradually start to question whether Macbeth is the rightful King, and start to resent his tyranny. By the end of the play they side with Malcolm and help him defeat Macbeth.
  • Rosse represents the noblement who comment on the action but are reluctant to put themselves in danger. He warns Lady Macbeth that 'cruel are the times' but makes an excuse to leave before the murderers arrive. This leaves Lady Macduff, who he calls his 'dearest coz', unprotected.
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Other Characters II

...and a few other minor characters:

  • The Porter appears in Act 2. He's a comic character - he talks about his drunken behaviour the night before, saying that drinking makes three things happen, 'nose-painting, sleep, and urine'. He provides a bit of light relief in between the darker, more tragic parts of the plot.
  • Cultural Context: In Shakespeare's time, most plays had a clown-like character to amuse the crowd. Usually the clown would be in one or two scenes and would make some rude jokes or silly comments.
  • Three Murderers appear in Act 3 - they're hired killers that Macbeth persuades to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. They kill Banquo but let Fleance escape. The Murderers show how ruthless Macbeth has become, and possinly that he's unwilling to commit more murders himself. They also kill Lady Macduff and her children on Macbeth's orders - this shows how desperate and cruel he is.
  • Siward is an English Lord. He's a great fighter and helps Malcolm defeat Macbeth in Act 5. He's got a son, Young Siward, who ia killed in battle by Macbeth.
  • Theme - Loyalty and Betrayal: Siward shows how important honour and bravery are to him by saying he's glad that his son died an honourable death and showed loyalty to Malcolm.
  • There are a few minor characters, such as the Doctors and the Gentlewoman who are with Lady Macbeth when she goes mad. They only have small parts but they help move the plot along and develop the themes of the play. 
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Theme: Ambition I

Ambition is the main theme in 'Macbeth':

  • Ambition motivates Macbeth to commit terrible deeds. It changes him from a 'valiant' soldier to a 'dead butcher'.
  • This play shows how ambition is dangerous because it can quickly spiral out of control. Mabeth considers the morality of killing Duncan for a long time but doesn't hesitate about killing Banquo.
  • Once Macbeth starts killing, he has to kill more people to get what he wants and to try and make his position secure. It shows that ambition can make people ruthless and selfish.
  • Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are eventually destroyed by their ambition, so the play can be read as a warning against ambition that isn't balanced by reason or morals.

Ambition is Macbeth's biggest weakness:

  • Ambition is Macbeth's 'fatal flaw'. He's a brave hero at the start - Duncan calls him 'noble' and Lady Macbeth says he 'wouldst not play false' to get what he wants.
  • Context - Tragedy: In Shakespeare's tragedies, the hero is usually a noble person with one main character flaw which leads to the downfall. This is their 'fatal flaw'.
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Theme: Ambition II

  • Character - Lady Macbeth: Lady Macbeth sees that there's a difference between being ambitious and acting on ambition. She says that Macbeth is 'not without ambition, but without / The illness should attend it'. She thinks that Macbeth isn't ruthless enough to take action to get what he wants.
  • Macbeth's reluctance to kill Duncan shows that he's moral, but his actions emphasise how strong his ambition is - his ambition makes him act against his morals.
  • It also makes him act against his better judgement. He knows that ambition often 'o'erleaps itself / And fails' - it can lead a person to aim too high so that they fail and lose everything. This foreshadows Macbeth's own tragic downfall. By the end of the play, Macbeth's lost everything and he dies an 'abhorred tryant'

Ambition can be good or bad:

  • Not all characters are corrupted by their ambition, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are. Ambition can be a positive thing if it's motivated by a desire to help others rather than you.
  • Malcolm and Macduff are ambitious for their country. They want to take Macbeth's power away from him, not for their own selfish desires but for the good of Scotland.
  • Banquo is ambitious for his sons once he's heard the Witches' prophecy. He wants them to be kings, but he doesn't act on the predictions in the violent way that Macbeth does.
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Theme: Loyalty and Betrayal I

Characters show loyalty through their actions:

There's a difference between the characters who say that they are loyal. (like Macbeth who talks about the 'loyalty' he owes Duncan even when he's plotting to kill him) and characters whose actions show their loyalty (like Macduff). The characters in 'Macbeth' show loyalty to different things:

  • COUNTRY - Macduff is loyal to Scotland. He chooses to go to England to ask Malcolm to defend his country instead of protecting his family. He'd rather leave Scotland than see it be ruled by a bad king.
  • KING - The thanes are loyal to Duncan because he's been a 'great' king. Macbeth gives Duncan 'service and loyalty' by fighting for him in Act 1.
  • BELIEFS - Banquo is loyal to his own sense of honour - he says that he will keep his 'allegiance clear'. He won't let ambition of the Witches' prophecies affect him.

When characters betray their loyalty, it's usually to pursue their own selfish desires.

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Theme: Loyalty and Betrayal II

Loyalty is rewarded, betrayal is punished...

  • Duncan has the old Thane of Cawdor executed for betraying him and rewards Macbeth's loyalty by giving him the title. The play has a circular structure - it ends with Macbeth being killed for betraying Scotland and Malcolm rewarding the thanes' loyalty.
  • Macbeth betrays his own sense of right and wrong. This eventually leads to his loss of self-worth and his death.
  • Loyalty and betrayal often go hand in hand, eg: Macduff's loyalty to Scotland leads him to betray his family.
  • Betrayal is often linked to power. Power (in the form of titles) can be given or taken away depending on a person's loyalty.

The Macbeths pretend to be loyal:

  • Macbeth is initially loyal to Duncan as 'his kinsman and his subject' - this makes it even more shocking when he puts his own desires ahead of his loyalty to the King.
  • Theme - Reality and Appearances: Lady Macbeth's two-faced nature helps her to betray Duncan - he trusts her as a 'Fair and noble hostess' and doesn't see her lust for power.
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Theme: Loyalty and Betrayal III

  • Lady Macbeth fakes an appearance of loyalty. She tells Duncan that she and Macbeth are 'Your servants ever', even though they're plotting his murder. It shows how easily she can pretend to be loyal.
  • Shakespeare juxtaposes Lady Macbeth's plotting to kill Duncan with her welcoming him into her castle. This develops her character and makes her murderous intentions more dramatic.
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Theme: Kingship I

A king didn't have to be the old king's son:

  • In the play, Macbeth suddenly becomes King, even though he's not the  heir to the throne. Duncan chooses his eldest son as his heir, but he makes Macbeth next in line after Malcolm and Duncan.
  • Historical Context: In Scotland at the time, the successor didn't have to be the King's eldest son, even though it often was.
  • Macbeth wins the throne by killing the King and framing Malcolm and Donalbain. Gradually, other characters realise Macbeth is not a true king.

Malcolm describes good rulers and bad rulers:

  • Duncan is an example of an ideal king - he's described as 'gracious' and inspires loyalty in his subjects, who see him as a 'most sainted king' and therefore the rightful ruler of Scotland.
  • In contrast, Macbeth is described as a 'tyrant' because he rules selfishly, using violence. He's rarely referred to as 'king' which shows that the other characters don't accept him as the true King.
  • In Act 4, Scene 3, Malcom describes good and bad kings:
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Theme: Kingship II

A BAD KING IS...

  • bloody, luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin that has a name
  • Malcolm is describing Macbeth's reign here - he's 'avaricious' because he's motivated by selfish greed. His lies make him 'false' and 'deceitful', and he's 'bloody' because he uses violence to keep control over his people.

A GOOD KING IS...

  • king-becoming graces, as justice, verity, temperance, stableness, bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, devotion, patience, courage, fortitude
  • Malcolm could be describing Ducan in this speech - Duncan shows 'temperance' in his calm, peaceful manner, 'lowliness' (being humble) in his gratefulness for loyalty, 'justice' when dealing with those who betray him and 'Bounty' in his generosity.

A good king should be holy:

  • Malcolm also says that a good ruler is holy - at the time people believed the King was appointed by God.
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Theme: Kingship III

  • The King of England, Edward, has a 'healing benediction' and uses 'holy prayers' to cure sick people. He's surrounded by 'blessings' that 'speak him full of grace'.
  • In contrast, Macbeth is 'devilish' - he commits murder and talks to evil witches. He's not the chosen King.
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Theme: Good and Evil I

Macbeth is a good man who does evil acts:

  • At the beginning of the play, Macbeth shows that he's a 'noble' person - he has the potential for greatness. Duncan recognises this and makes him Thane of Cawdor
  • Once he's tempted to give in to his ambition, Macbeth's goodness is overcome by his evil desires. It shows that even good people can be led astray by ambition and power.
  • Macbeth becomes increasingly evil as he becomes hardened to the many crimes he commits
  • The struggle for the crown of Scotland becomes a battle between good and evil. Macbeth is the evil 'tyrant' who must be killed before he destroys Scotland.

Evil is linked to gender:

  • Lady Macbeth links cruelty and aggression with masculinity. She wants the spirits to 'unsex' her and fill her with 'direst cruelty' - she thinks her femininity holds her back from taking violent actions.
  • Masculine ideas of evil focus on violence and bloodshed. Though she wants to be more like a man, Lady Macbeth relies on manipulation rather than action. She sees Macbeth's weakness and uses emotional blackmail to persuade him to commit evil.
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Theme: Good and Evil II

  • The Witches' gender is ambiguous. Banquo says that they 'should be women' but they have beards. Like Lady Macbeth they rely on manipulation rather than physical force.
  • Theme - The Supernatural: The Supernatural elements of the play are presented as evil and powerful. The Witches are linked to the devil - Banquo calls them 'devil' and Macbeth calls them 'fiends', which associates them with evil deeds.

Battles represent the conflict between good and evil:

  • Shakespeare uses battles to symbolise good and evil.
  • In the opening scene, there's a battle between Scotland and Norway - the enemy army is led by a traitor, 'merciless Macdonald', whose 'villanies of nature' show that he's evil.
  • Writer's Techniques - Imagery: Shakespeare emphasises the conflict between good and evil through religious imagery - Macbeth is described as 'cursed' and has a name 'More hateful' than the devil. In contrast, Young Siward is 'God's soldier' because he died fighting to defeat an evil 'tyrant'.
  • The play ends with a battle, this time against Macbeth. Malcolm's men have 'dear causes' and fight to 'dew the sovereign flower' - in other words, to restore the rightful King. Macbeth is an 'abhorred tyrant' who represents evil.
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Theme: The Supernatural I

The Witches are a supernatural force:

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Theme: The Supernatural II

Visions are supernatural signs of guilt:

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have visions which remind the audience of their terrible guilt:

  • ACT 2, SCENE 1: Macbeth sees a vision of a dagger just as he's about to kill Duncan. It's not clear whether it's leading him to Duncan or warning him against murder. It represents the 'bloody business' he's about to do.
  • ACT 3, SCENE 4: Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost, which gives him a 'strange infirmity'. Nobody else can see the ghost, which suggests that it's a sign of Macbeth's guilty conscience.
  • ACT 5, SCENE 1: Lady Macbeth is driven mad as she imagines that her hands will 'ne'er be clean' of Duncan's blood - her guilt is so great that she kills herself.
  • The visions are ambiguous - they could be real or imaginary.
  • The visions fill the characters who see them with feat. Macbeth is 'blanched with fear' by Banquo's ghost and his language is agitated and nervous: 'Prithee, see there! Behold, look, lo!'. His fear has made him lose control of his speech. Macbeth calls his own reaction a 'strange infirminty' - it links to other signs of madness at the play.
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Theme: The Supernatural II

Visions are supernatural signs of guilt:

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have visions which remind the audience of their terrible guilt:

  • ACT 2, SCENE 1: Macbeth sees a vision of a dagger just as he's about to kill Duncan. It's not clear whether it's leading him to Duncan or warning him against murder. It represents the 'bloody business' he's about to do.
  • ACT 3, SCENE 4: Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost, which gives him a 'strange infirmity'. Nobody else can see the ghost, which suggests that it's a sign of Macbeth's guilty conscience.
  • ACT 5, SCENE 1: Lady Macbeth is driven mad as she imagines that her hands will 'ne'er be clean' of Duncan's blood - her guilt is so great that she kills herself.
  • The visions are ambiguous - they could be real or imaginary.
  • The visions fill the characters who see them with feat. Macbeth is 'blanched with fear' by Banquo's ghost and his language is agitated and nervous: 'Prithee, see there! Behold, look, lo!'. His fear has made him lose control of his speech. Macbeth calls his own reaction a 'strange infirminty' - it links to other signs of madness at the play.
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Theme: The Supernatural III

  • Lady Macbeth's language when she sleepwalks in desperate, 'O, o, o!' and shows that she's disturbed by the vision of blood on her hands. The Doctor says that her heart is 'sorely charged' - he sees that the vision is the result of her guilty conscience.
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Theme: Reality and Appearances I

Appearances can be deceptive:

  • In Macbeth, characters often hide their thoughts and pretend to be something that they're not.
  • Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to appear to be good so nobody suspects that he plans to kill Duncan: 'look like th'innocent flower, But be the serpent under't (Act 1, Scene 5) -> The serpent links Lady Macbeth to Satan who tempted Adamn and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
  • Macbeth knows that he needs a 'fase face' to hide his murderous acts. However, when Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost, his face is 'the very painting' of his fear and betrays his feelings.
  • At first, Lady Macbeth has no trouble disguising her evil behaviour. She pretends to faint with shock when Duncan's death is discovered. However, her guilt becomes too great to hide and she starts sleepworking.

Meanings of words are unclear:

  • The Witches' chant 'Fair is foul, and foul is fair' suggest that things that appear good are actually evil.
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Theme: Reality and Appearances II

  • They use language to trick Macbeth and convince him of a false reality - they tell him that 'none of woman born' will harm him, which gives him the false confidence to fight to protect his reign.
  • Other chracters speak using paradoxes, eg: Macbeth says 'Nothing is/ But what is not'. These paradoxes create uncertainty - they show that nobody call tell what's real.

Some characters trust too much in appearances:

  • In a world full of deception and lies, characters suffer when they trust in appearances too much.
  • Duncan trusts Macbeth and dies for it, even though he made the same mistakes by trusting the disloyal Thane of Cawdor. When this happens. Duncan says 'There's no art / To find the mind's construction in the face' - he thinks that there's no way of telling what someone's really like.
  • Macbeth knows that reality and appearances don't always match up, but he completely trusts the Witches' prophecies. This leads to his downfall.
  • Appartions and visions seem real to the characters who see them, but they're a sign that the characters can't tell reality from appearance.
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Theme: Reality and Appearances III

  • In contrast, Malcolm is immediately sceptical that Duncan was murdered by his servants and suspects one of the thanes: 'To show an unfelt sorrow is an office / Which the false does easy'. His awareness of what 'false' men can do causes him to flee and probably saves his life.
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Theme: Fate and Free Will I

Fate is the opposite of free will:

  • Fate is the idea that everything has already been decided, so people can't change what happens to them.
  • Free will means that humans choose their own course of action, so their future is made up of the results of their choices.
  • If it's fate that everything happens was destined, then it's not Macbeth's fault that he murders Duncan. If free will exists, then Macbeth's own choices lead to downfall.
  • The play raises a lot of questions, but Shakespeare doesn't make it clear whether it's Macbeth's fate to kill Duncan.

You could say that Macbeth is doomed from the start...:

  • At times, Macbeth seems to believe in fate. After he hears the Witches' prophecy, he seems happy to let fate take its course - he believes that 'chance may crown me, / Without my stir' so he'll become King without doing anything to make it happen.
  • Character - The Witches: It's not clear whether the Witches are messengers of Macbeth's fate or whether their prediction inspires Macbeth to make bad choices.
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Theme: Fate and Free Will I

Fate is the opposite of free will:

  • Fate is the idea that everything has already been decided, so people can't change what happens to them.
  • Free will means that humans choose their own course of action, so their future is made up of the results of their choices.
  • If it's fate that everything happens was destined, then it's not Macbeth's fault that he murders Duncan. If free will exists, then Macbeth's own choices lead to downfall.
  • The play raises a lot of questions, but Shakespeare doesn't make it clear whether it's Macbeth's fate to kill Duncan.

You could say that Macbeth is doomed from the start...:

  • At times, Macbeth seems to believe in fate. After he hears the Witches' prophecy, he seems happy to let fate take its course - he believes that 'chance may crown me, / Without my stir' so he'll become King without doing anything to make it happen.
  • Character - The Witches: It's not clear whether the Witches are messengers of Macbeth's fate or whether their prediction inspires Macbeth to make bad choices.
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Theme: Fate and Free Will II

  • Character - Macbeth: You could say that Macbeth is doomed because of his 'fatal flaw'. If he wasn't so ambitious, he'd ignore the Witches and Lady Macbeth.
  • Lady Macbeth thinks that Macbeth is fated to be King - 'fate and metaphysical aid doth seem / To have these crowned withal'. Despite believing in fate, she decides Macbeth must act to make it happen.
  • By the end of the play, Macbeth says that life is 'a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage'. He feels that people are no more than actors playing a part who aren't in control of their lives.

...or that he acts out of his own free will:

  • Character - Macbeth: The captain says that Macbeth was 'disdained fortune' when he fought Macdonald - it shows that Macbeth killed Macdonald against the odds. It hints that Macbeth could've changed his actions if he'd wanted to.
  • At first, Macbeth makes a deliberate choice not to kill Duncan after he's considered the options: 'We will proceed no further'. He carefully weighs up the pros and cons, which suggests he's in control.
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Theme: Fate and Free Will III

  • Later, Macbeth acts on the Witches' prophecies despite Banquo's earlier warning that they're 'instruments of darkness'. Macbeth could do as Banquo does and accept the prophecies without acting.
  • Some of the prophecies are self-fulfilling - Macbeth only acts because he hears his future, so he causes it to happen. This suggests that he has free will.
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Theme: Fate and Free Will III

  • Later, Macbeth acts on the Witches' prophecies despite Banquo's earlier warning that they're 'instruments of darkness'. Macbeth could do as Banquo does and accept the prophecies without acting.
  • Some of the prophecies are self-fulfilling - Macbeth only acts because he hears his future, so he causes it to happen. This suggests that he has free will.
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