STUDY QUESTIONS FOR MACBETH
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1. What historical events help date the composition of Macbeth pretty exactly?
2. For what theater did Shakespeare write Macbeth? How was Shakespeare able to operate this particular theater?
3. Name four ways in which performances at the Blackfriars differed from performances at the Globe?
4. In what way did writing Macbeth help Shakespeare's career? Given the nature of the play, why was that unusual?
5. Why is the play considered a history? Why is it considered a tragedy?
6. How did the attitude toward history differ in Shakespeare's day from our own? What was the purpose of history in Shakespeare's day? How did kings use history?
7. What was Shakespeare's primary historical source for Macbeth? Why was this material flawed?
8. What were three reasons Shakespeare changed historical material for his plays?
9. What was the Gunpowder Plot and why was it so important in English history?
10. Name five historical facts we know about the real King Macbeth?
11. How were Scottish kings selected in the time of the real King Macbeth?
12. How and when did the Stuarts become the royal family of Scotland?
13. Who was Banquo in reality and where did he come from? What purpose did he serve?
14. Why did Mary, Queen of Scots, have to flee Scotland? What problems did she cause Elizabeth I of England?
15. As king of England, what was James' political agenda? How did Shakespeare advance that agenda in writing Macbeth?
16. How did Shakespeare show Banquo's complicity in the death of King Duncan? Why?
17. What was Elizabeth's attitude toward religious differences? What was James' attitude?
18. Who was Guy Fawkes? Who was Henry Garnet? Why is Garnet associated with "equivocation"?
19. What are some of the indirect references to the Gunpowder Plot found in Macbeth?
20. Why was King James especially interested in witches?
21. How did Holinshed's attitude toward Macbeth differ from Shakespeare's? How does Shakespeare's account of Macbeth's reign differ from Holinshed's in five ways?
22. Where did Shakespeare get the details of Macbeth's murder of Duncan?
23. Why doesn't the audience cheer the death of Macbeth at the end of the play?
24. What is the "symbiotic relationship of evil" between Macbeth and his wife?
25. How and why did the superstition about this play arise in the English theater?
Act I, scene 1
26. Find two examples of equivocation (apparent paradoxes) in this scene.
27. Where does the idea of witches in a small agricultural village come from?
28. What were the basic differences between English and Scottish witches?
29. Who are "Graymalkin" and "Paddock" and why are they important?
30. What's unusual about the form of the meter and rhyme in the verse of this scene?
Act I, scene 2
31. Who are King Duncan's major enemies listed in this scene? How many major battles were fought on this particular day?
32. Find at least one example of foreshadowing in this scene of events later in the play.
33. According to this scene, what supernatural power was responsible for making Macbeth the Thane of Cawdor?
Act I, scene 3
34. Find an example of English witch behavior in this scene. Find an example of Scottish witch behavior. Explain the magical numerology in the scene.
35. What is the limitation on the power of the witches shown in this scene?
36. How do the references to human body parts evoke the connection with the Gunpowder Plot? How does Shakespeare use the word "weird" in the play?
37. What is Macbeth's physical reaction to the witches' prophecies? What does that reaction imply about Macbeth's state of mind?
38. How does Macbeth's first line in this scene connect him with the witches?
39. What was unusual about the physical appearance of the witches?
40. What do the witches tell Macbeth to do about the prophecies about his future?
41. How does Banquo's reaction to the witches differ from Macbeth's reaction? How does the final prophecy to Banquo relate to King James?
42. Do Macbeth and Banquo initially believe the witches after they disappear?
43. What motif, a repeated theme that runs throughout the play, is introduced at line 109?
44. What are the three different levels of awareness in this scene? How are they shown on stage? What is an "aside" or "soliloquy" and where is it used in this scene?
45. Why does Banquo warn Macbeth about his becoming Cawdor?
46. What does Macbeth assume the witches want him to do? How does his inner conflict express itself in an equivocation?
47. What does Macbeth description of his inner turmoil between lines 134 -- 143 suggest that he has been thinking about before the arrival of the witches?
48. What alternative course of action does Macbeth briefly consider at line 144? Why doesn't he pursue this course later in the play?
49. What's the significance of his final reflections at lines 146 -- 147? Where else in the play does Macbeth express similar sentiments? Why does it fit his character?
Act I, scene 4
50. What are three parallels between the old Thane of Cawdor and Macbeth?
51. What is ironic about King Duncan's wishing he could "find the mind's construction in the face" at line 13? Where else in the scene do we see this sense of irony?
52. What proposed action by Duncan seems to force Macbeth to act? How does Duncan's proposed action relate to the English royal tradition?
53. How does Macbeth evoke the idea of the night at line 50 following? Why?
Act I, scene 5
54. Why did Macbeth write a letter to his wife about the witches and their predictions?
55. What does Lady Macbeth propose to do about the contents of the letter?
56. Why is it that as soon as Lady Macbeth finishes reading the letter, she starts to find possible obstacles to the fulfillment of the prophecies?
57. What does Lady Macbeth believe will keep her husband from being successful? Is she correct in her assessment? How does she propose to help him succeed?
58. What event for Macbeth is similar to the news of Duncan's imminent arrival for Lady Macbeth?
59. What is the most important pronoun used in this scene from line 40 -- 74?
60. Why does Lady Macbeth ask the spirits to "unsex me here"? How is her evocation of the night similar to her husband's?
61. In this scene what does Macbeth commit himself to do? Why is he so reluctant to speak? What does she agree to do?
Act I, scene 6
62. What is the dramatic purpose of this scene?
Act I, scene 7
63. In the first 28 lines of this scene, who does Macbeth envision will carry out the murder? What will be the consequence of such a murder?
64. What key word is missing in the first 28 lines indicating a form of denial on Macbeth's part? What word reminds the audience of the Gunpowder Plot?
65. In the first 28 lines, what ability does Macbeth have to consider his actions that sets him apart from his wife? What four arguments does Macbeth raise against killing Duncan?
66. In lines 35 -- 44 what three arguments does Lady Macbeth raise to force Macbeth to reconsider his decision?
67. How does she use his writing the letter to psychologically pressure him? What has happened since he wrote the letter that has made his actions easier?
68. What is the most powerful image she can think of to force her husband to act? Why is the image especially effective in manipulating Macbeth?
69. Explain three different ways for Lady Macbeth to say line 59, "We fail"? What does she propose to do to aid the assassination attempt?
70. How does the relationship between the two of them change in the last 11 lines of the scene? What is the "Snively Whiplash" effect at the end of the scene? What purpose does it fulfill?
Act II, scene 1
71. What are four different dramatic purposes in the first 30 lines of this scene?
72. What is Macbeth's ambiguous reaction to the idea of the witches, between lines 22 -- 27? What is he asking Banquo here indirectly?
73. Where in the soliloquy about the hallucination of the dagger does the description change? Why? How does Macbeth explain the hallucination?
74. What's unusual about the images in the evocation of the night in this scene?
75. Why does Shakespeare end the dialogue in this scene with a rhymed couplet?
Act II, scene 2
76. What happened to the dominant pronouns in the last three scenes?
77. What does Shakespeare use in this scene in place of showing the actual murder?
78. Why didn't Lady Macbeth go ahead and murder Duncan when he was asleep?
79. In lines 13 -- 21 why does Shakespeare use such short lines?
80. Describe what Macbeth heard when he descended the stairs? How is he able to generate such powerful hallucinations? How does his wife react to his experience?
81. Explain the reference to "these hangman's hands" at line 27.
82. Explain how Macbeth has indeed "murdered sleep" in the rest of the play.
83. Dramatically and psychologically, what is the significance of the knocking at the gate at line 56?
84. How does Macbeth show us the power of his imagination in describing washing his hands? How does Lady Macbeth describe the same action?
85. Explain the significance of "To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself" at 72.
Act II, scene 3
86. What game does the Porter play as he goes to answer the door?
87. Explain the connection between the Porter's game and the Gunpowder Plot?
88. Explain how the first 22 lines of the scene provide comic relief while at the same time reminding us of what has happened.
89. How does Shakespeare create suspense in this scene between lines 55 -- 65?
90. What is the significance of the events described by Lennox at line 56 -- 63?
91. What's unusual about the way Macduff describes Duncan's murder at 66 --82? In what other play do we see a similar use of language to distance the audience from the emotional effect of a tragedy we already know about?
92. Give two different motivations for what Macbeth says at lines 93 --98.
93. Why does Macbeth kill the grooms? What is the psychological effect of his action?
94. Give two different explanations for Lady Macbeth fainting at line 120.
95. Why do Malcolm and Donalbain flee Scotland? Why do they go to different places?
Act II, scene 4
96. Identify three "unnatural events" which happened in the aftermath of Duncan's death.
97. What does Macduff's absence from the coronation of Macbeth suggest?
Act III, scene 1
98. What is Banquo's curious moral position in the play? What does he know that no one else does? What does he do about this knowledge?
99. What are three reasons for Macbeth wanting Banquo killed?
100. Identify different ways that Macbeth manipulates the two murderers. Who else in the play manipulates another to get him to commit a murder?
Act III, scene 2
101. What is Lady Macbeth's state of mind at the beginning of this scene? How does it change when her husband enters? Why?
102. Why doesn't Macbeth tell his wife about his plan to have Banquo killed?
103. In this scene both Macbeth and his wife have the same attitude toward Duncan. What is it?
104. Why does Macbeth tell Lady Macbeth to pay particular attention to Banquo at the feat that night?
105. Explain the meaning of "Light thickens" at line 50.
Act III, scene 3
106. Who is the third murderer? Where did he come from? Why is he there?
Act III, scene 4
107. What's the purpose of the dinner party?
108. According to the murderer where on his body was Banquo stabbed?
109. What reason does Lady Macbeth give at line 55 for her husband's strange behavior? How does she attempt to shake her husband out of his delusion?
110. In his speech at line 75 how does Macbeth place the murder in a historical sense? What is his frustration in this situation?
111. What specific line causes Lady Macbeth to break up the party? Why?
112. Why does Macbeth decide to go back to the three witches? What powerful image describes Macbeth's dilemma in the last 10 lines of this scene?
113. What does Macbeth mean by "My strange and self-abuse"?
Act III, scene 5
114. Who is Hecate and what does she say is man's greatest enemy?
Act III, scene 6
115. How is the perspective of this scene different from that of most of the other scenes?
116. Why does Lennox use such heavy-handed irony or sarcasm in this scene?
117. What part of King James' political agenda does Shakespeare push in this scene?
Act IV, scene 1
118. Identify the familiars of the witches in the opening three lines.
119. What do the geographical origins of the ingredients of the witches' broth tell us about the scope of their evil?
120. What is the meaning of "toil" in the line "Double, double, toil and trouble."?
121. What does Macbeth mean when he "conjures" the witches at line 50? What is he willing to sacrifice in order to get what he wants from the witches?
122. What is the connection between each of the apparitions and the prophecy which the apparition delivers?
123. What is the connection between the "Show of Eight Kings" at line 112 and King James I? Where does Uncle Bill believe the actors came from who played the eight kings in the initial performance? What was the significance of the glass?
Act IV, scene 2
124. What is the major dramatic irony behind this scene?
125. What insight do Macduff's son and wife provide about the struggle of morality in the world?
Act IV, scene 3
125 Give two reasons why Malcolm is suspicious of Macduff. What does Malcolm do to test his suspicions?
126 In lines 140 -- 160 what is being described? What connection does this strange event have with James I?
127 Explain the difference in the language Macduff uses to express his grief at the death of his family with the language he uses to express his grief at the death of Duncan in Act II, scene 3, lines 66 -- 82.
Act V, scene 1
128. Find in Lady Macbeth's lines different references to six previous events in the play.
129. For Lady Macbeth in this scene what is the equivalent of Macbeth's line about the ocean washing the blood off his hands in II, 2?
Act V, scene 2
130. What image that's found throughout the play does Caithness use to describe Macbeth's fury which makes him incapable of acting rationally at line 13 -- 16 and again in Angus' lines at line 20 --22?
Act V, scene 3
131. Where in this scene does Macbeth reveal his real inner despair? What's the source of his loss of hope?
Act V, scene 5
132. In Macbeth's famous speech, lines 17 -- 28 what is the source of his despair? Identify four major images in this speech.
133. Explain the source of the lines "Out, out, brief candle!/ Life's but a walking shadow."
134. How does what happens after Macbeth's speech of despair demonstrate that he was wrong in his conclusion?
135. Why does Macbeth decide to continue to fight at the end of this scene?
Act V, scene 8
136. Why does Macbeth choose to fight even after he discovers the truth about Macduff? What parallel exists between Macbeth and Young Siward?
137. What does Malcolm do after he is proclaimed king that actually is part of James' political agenda?
138. Why doesn't the audience cheer as the characters on stage do when Macbeth's killed?
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