Questions for Study with ideas for answers
Q: Macbeth is a tragedy. What causes the main character’s downfall?
Ideas: He was valiant on the battlefield, achieving decisive victories,
which secured Scotland’s safety. He expected a greater reward than Thane of Cawdor, and when King Duncan named his son instead of him as heir, he felt betrayed and wished revenge.
He became an instrument of fate.
The three weird sisters, servants of Hecate, told him his future, but blinded by ambition he only heard what he wished to know.
His wife was determined to better herself and her husband, and she
encouraged him to commit the first murder.
Once he became King, the power of this office corrupted him and he arranged
for a string of further murders, and he became a tyrant.
Therefore, the four main factors are: -
1. Revenge. 2. A tool of fate. 3. Ambitious wife. 4. Corrupted by power.
Q: Remembering that with all Shakespearean plays, the best
medium for appreciating the work is on the stage. Therefore, audible and visual aspects are as important as the dialogue. Give examples of both, which are integral parts of the play.
Ideas: Act I – Scene.i Right at the start of the play,
the audience sees lightning and hears thunder, and are introduced to the three witches. This creates the mood and atmosphere for this supernatural play.
Act I – Scene.v The principal female character, Lady Macbeth, is
introduced to the audience alone on the stage and becomes the focal point of the scene. Shakespeare wishes to create impact with this set, which is visually strong and powerful, matching the characterization
of Lady Macbeth.
Act I – Scene.vi Here Shakespeare wishes to show Macbeth’s stronghold,
Dunsinane, as a summer paradise. This is remarked upon by King Duncan when he first arrives. This is in stark contrast to the castle as described in Act II – Scene.i where the porter likens it to the gates of hell.
Act II – Scene.ii This scene revolves around the murder of King Duncan and
it is accompanied by a bell tolling, and the shrieking of an owl. Both these add to the suspense and tension regarding this evil deed.
Act II – Scenes.ii and iii There is an ominous knocking at the castle gate
symbolizing the outside world seeking justice or vengeance for the evil murder of the King.
Act III – Scene.iv This scene takes place in complete darkness except for
the lantern held by the murderers of Banquo.
During the struggle, the light is extinguished, and one of the murderers says, “Who did strike out the lights?” This symbolizes the life of Banquo being struck out, and in the darkness Fleance escapes.
Act V – Scene.i This scene deals with the madness of Lady
Macbeth. The actress playing the part relies heavily on visual aids such as an agitated state, and the continual wringing and washing of hands to remove imagined blood. She also has a candlelight
continually by her, this being the only light on stage, and in the dialogue she refers back to the knocking at the gate.
Act V – Scene.v Lady Macbeth’s death is marked by the shrieking of women
Throughout the play, Malcolm’s army is accompanied by colorful flags, drums
and trumpets, when they enter and exit, thus heralding the good side. The scenes involving the witches, signifying evil, are accompanied by thunder and lightning.
The most visual scene concerns Macbeth’s second visit to the witches, where
the director can allow his imagination to have free reign in dealing with the various apparitions that appear on stage.
Q: What causes Lady Macbeth to decline into madness?
Ideas: At the start of the play, Lady Macbeth is clearly the stronger and
more dominant partner of the marriage.
She does not hesitate to act on the witches’ prophecy, and she encourages her husband to murder the King. She goads him to do the deed and covers for him when he starts to fall apart after the murder. She returns the knives to the scene and smears the guards with blood so that they will be suspected.
From this point on, Macbeth becomes the stronger partner. He turns
into a monster, killing numerous people, and Lady Macbeth realizes that she is responsible for this transformation.
She has lost the hero and turned her husband into a tyrant. She is herself shocked at her husband’s brutality. She is also unable to sleep, and she feels guilty for her actions. This eventually leads to her suicide.
Q: What are the supernatural elements of ‘Macbeth’?
Ideas: The witches, or three weird sisters, are the main supernatural
forces within the play. They provide Macbeth and Banquo with a glimpse of their future.
Macbeth decides to act positively regarding these premonitions, whereas Banquo remains passive, realizing that they are from an evil source.
The dagger shows Macbeth the way to the King’s quarters.
Again it is an evil instrument and encourages Macbeth to pursue the crime.
Banquo’s ghost appears at the empty place set aside for Banquo during
Macbeth’s feast. It causes him to act strangely and casts doubts amongst Macbeth’s followers.
The old man in Act II – Scene.iv is a commentator and interprets events that
have just happened. This is a common feature in Shakespeare’s plays, and these commentators can be found in various forms, but all perform the same function.