Tag Archives: macbeth

Macbeth in performance

NOTE: This article was originally published in the Irish Independent Written Word Supplement, March 2014.


There is an oft repeated cliché that plays are meant to be performed on a stage, not dissected in a classroom. Like so many clichés, there’s more than a grain of truth to this idea. Shakespeare wrote to entertain. His plays are filled with intrigue, betrayal and bloodshed and these features come to life more fully embodied in the flesh, rather than read on a page.

Yet an either / or debate pitting performance and close reading of the text against each other misses the point entirely. Students should both study the play and see the play! So the question really becomes, in what order?

Your experience of a play undoubtedly matters. The emotions you feel as the drama unfolds should not be ignored or discarded or dismissed. In fact, one of the most common examination questions on the Shakespearean play asks you to trace your fluctuating levels of sympathy for the central characters, so tune in to your human visceral response as Lady Macbeth imagines dashing her child’s brains out on the flagstone; as Macbeth cries out in horror “full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife”; and as Lady Macduff so piteously begs for mercy as her killers advance. As the tension rises and the stakes become ever higher; as their mental state unravels and ultimately things fall apart because the centre cannot hold and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. You should feel adrenaline coursing through your veins.

But, like it or not, sometimes the Shakespearean language is a road block to this level of connection. For many students, seeing the play ‘blind’ is an exercise in futility.

So let’s consider the other option: you study the play first, then you go see it performed.

This works well for two reasons. First of all, you know what the hell is going on! When you hear that Macbeth “unseamed” some bugger “from the nave ‘to the chops”, you have the mental image of him slicing someone open already hideously clear in your mind. You can bask in the dramatic irony of Lady Macbeth being addressed as an “honoured hostess” even as she plots Duncan’s murder and almost cringe at her confident assertion that “a little water clears us of this deed” because you are aware of her imminent psychological collapse. Knowing the play in advance deepens your experience of seeing it performed, even if it does admittedly deprive you of the tense anticipation of wondering what will happen next.

Secondly, you can disagree with the way the actors interpret the characters. They may play a character or scene differently to how you imagined it in your mind’s eye. This feeling, the feeling ‘that’s not how I’d play that scene’ is incredibly powerful and extremely valuable in clarifying your interpretation of both the characters and the play itself. Conversely, if you see the play before you study it, the version of each character presented to you by the actors is very difficult to dislodge from your mind. Their interpretation becomes the ‘truth’ of the character and may shut down debate, which is the last thing you want! Ultimately you are searching for the version of each character that makes the most sense to you personally, even if others might disagree.

Once upon a time, seeing three different versions of the play before sitting the exam was pretty difficult, but nowadays with youtube at your fingertips, theatre companies like Second Age and Cyclone Rep performing the leaving cert play annually and many different film versions to choose from, this isn’t such a tall order anymore.

So how does this help you to prepare for the exams?

It helps a lot, if you know what to do! Select a scene. It could be the Banquet scene, the sleepwalking scene, or Macbeth’s famous soliloquy “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”. Go to youtube and compare the different levels of sympathy you feel depending on who’s delivering the lines. Re-watch pivotal scenes until you know which version fits your sense of how that scene should be performed. Now you know how you would play that character if you were acting in the play. Ultimately what you view as the ‘truth’ of that character should become clearer in your mind.

Let me illustrate with an example. Last summer, I saw Joseph Millson play Macbeth in the Globe in London. He’s about 40 but he looks younger. He’s tall, very good looking and has a commanding physical presence on stage. He interpreted Macbeth as an ambitious power-hungry noble, determined to prove his manliness to his wife. However, he rarely gave us any convincing glimpse of the “milk of human kindness” in his personality. He showed remorse for the murder of Duncan but his horror hinged on madness and his determination not to get caught was emphasised far more than any self-loathing. Hence, when he delivered his “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy, I found it hard to connect emotionally to his despair because I had never fully connected to him emotionally in the early scenes of the play. I was frankly quite glad when he was eventually defeated by Macduff.

I’ve also seen Patrick Stewart’s BBC version of Macbeth from 2010. His Macbeth is older, in his late 50’s at least and there is an insecurity to his character, a desperation to prove to his glamorous yet ruthless young wife that she has not made a mistake in marrying a man so much older than her. His pitiful panic, confusion and palpable fear following the murder of Duncan is profoundly disturbing for the audience, as is his gradual transformation from puppet in his wife’s schemes to a cold hearted murderer. When he delivers his “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy, he is looking down upon her dead body and his utter contempt for life is frightening to behold. His portrayal of Macbeth is edgy and unsettling, filling the audience with conflicting emotions as we are torn between sympathy and disgust in a film which plays havoc with our emotions and leaves us utterly exhausted by the end.

Finally, I recently saw Macbeth performed in a classroom in our school by Cyclone Rep Theatre Company, with Marcus Bale in the central role. He plays a Macbeth slightly younger than his wife, who is eager to please and quite easily manipulated. His immediate remorse is heartfelt and his transformation never feels fully complete despite the horrific deeds he engineers. Thus when he delivers his soliloquy, there is pain as well as numb despair as he observes that life “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. His interpretation of Macbeth was, for me, the most authentic of the three.

Seeing each of these performances allowed me to clarify that it is the human face of Macbeth’s character, despite his disturbing embrace of evil, that makes me choke back tears every time I hear that soliloquy. This perhaps says as much about me as it does about the play; about my blind determination to believe ultimately in the goodness of human nature, despite all the evidence to the contrary this play presents.

I believe it also helps to experience live theatre in a really intimate space. Film versions are always observed at one remove, and the Globe is a large open air space with the stage on high, which places the actors at a certain distance. By contrast, having the actors pacing the floor so close you could reach out and touch them really heightens the drama and establishes a connection to the characters that youtube can never provide!

Compelling Drama 3

Following a double class today, and in anticipation of a class tomorrow on Othello in which we’ll be examining what makes the play such “compelling drama”, it became clear to me that a more in depth analysis of what exactly my “10 features of compelling drama” mean might be helpful, before asking students to apply these concepts to a specific example.

So here goes:

1. Atmosphere – tension – suspense – foreshadowing

Definition = the atmosphere is the prevailing mood, the feelings which exist on the stage, between the characters. Any kind of conflict between them will create tension. Wondering what will happen next creates suspense. Dropping hints about what may lie in the future is foreshadowing – we can’t see it clearly, it is but a shadow, but we do have a feeling of foreboding, of dread.

Example = most horror movies begin with a tense, foreboding atmosphere, usually at nighttime, often aided by eerie silence, creaky sound effects or bad weather – rain, thunder, lightening – anything that makes it hard to see clearly which freaks most people out!

Effect = the mood on stage will have a strong impact on the audience. If it’s tense, we’ll feel tense. If it’s awkward, we’ll feel that awkwardness sitting in the audience. If something funny happens, we’ll join in with laughter.

2. Momentum. Sense of inevitability as the plot unfolds

Definition – momentum refers to the idea that the pace of events gathers speed as the plot unfolds, somewhat like a snowball getting bigger and moving faster as it rolls down a hill. It can start to feel like there is no going back, no way of slowing or stopping the chain of events which has been set in motion. When this happens, the audience get caught up in the action and can feel simultaneously frustrated and exhilarated by the seeming inevitability of the events. This is particularly true of tragedy where the downfall of the tragic hero appears almost impossible to avert.

Example: In Love/Hate, which opens with the murder of Darren’s brother, as each of his scumbag mates gets gunned down, it seems inevitable that he is heading inexorably towards his own annihilation and that this downfall is in many ways unavoidable.

Effect: A lively pace holds our attention, sweeps us up in the action and keeps the adrenaline pumping. It also provides a contrast for the quieter, more reflective moments, often reserved for the delivery of soliloquies.

3. High stakes – characters stand to win & lose a lot

Definition: If I stroll into the kitchen and  feel torn between apple pie and crisps, this is not a high stakes choice. There will be no consequences so it doesn’t matter what I decide. But imagine if I was a super model (yup, the world’s shortest, stumpiest super model!) then this decision would suddenly be more significant, particularly if I had recently lost out on a job because I had gained a few pounds. Of course, there are some decisions that are inherently high stakes no matter who’s making them – the decision to lie is a high stakes decision, particularly if there’s a strong possibility that I’ll get caught. The bigger the lie, the higher the stakes. Ultimately there is no higher stakes decision than the decision to kill a person and the consequences are permanent. In almost all of Shakespeare’s great tragedies – Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet (but notKing Lear) the central character grapples with the decision of whether or not to kill another human being. High stakes choices indeed!

Example: Macbeth decides to kill the King and his crime (regicide) has horrific consequences for himself, his marriage, his country and his future. Hamlet hesitates whether or not to avenge his father’s murder and his procrastination leads to the unnecessary deaths of his true love, her father, Hamlet’s mother and a few more along the way! Othello, torn between his love for his wife and his faith in Iago’s loyalty, chooses wrongly and is led blindly down an evil path of revenge on those who have done no wrong. The consequences, as we shall see, are horrific.

Effect: In life, we all fear making the wrong choices, taking the wrong path and then suffering the consequences forever. We fear remorse, regret, despair, yet these is no guarantee in any decision we make that we are making the right one. Seeing the effect, for good or ill, of major life choices on the central characters of any drama, often reminds us that we are all flawed and human and that what they are going through we might one day end up going through ourselves.

4. Honestly from the central characters. Confiding darkest secrets in us

Definition: the absolute definition of honesty in a play are the moments when we get to see the inner workings of the central characters heart and mind. It’s not until we know what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling that we come to really know and understand them.

Example: In Shakespeare, soliloquies are used to give us this privileged insight into their innermost thoughts and emotions. In “Philadelphia, Here I Come”, the two sides of the one character, Public Gar and Private Gar are used to help us get closer to the inner workings of his psyche. In “Dancing At Lughnasa”, the narrator, Michael as an adult, provides a commentary on his childhood that offers an insight into his character whilst all the while reminding us that how he saw things was not necessarily how others experienced that summer.

Effect: Because we have a direct line to the central characters brain, we understand their motivations, we sympathise with them and feel a connection to them, often despite their bad behaviour. However, this connection can be problematic. Often we feel like shouting out panto-style at them to STOP! And we feel implicated in their bad behaviour, even though we have nothing to do with it, we’ve also done nothing to stop it (I know, I know, what are we going to do, stand up and start shouting at the actors on the stage? Lol!). The best way I can explain this is as follows: imagine a student of mine – let’s call her Jane – takes a dislike to me (I know! Inconceivable right?) and decides to slash the tires on my car. Her friend, Tarzan, quite likes me as a teacher and knows that I have an important hospital appointment after school, but is afraid to get Jane in trouble so says nothing. If Jane then goes ahead and slashes my tires, even though Tarzan didn’t plan this evil deed, or have anything to do with carrying it out, he will feel implicated in the crime because he knew about it and did nothing to stop it! Hopefully that makes sense!

5. Emotional & psychological conflict & complexity 

Definition: The characters must seem like real people and real people are complex. We experience floods of conflicting emotions simultaneously and are often torn between two courses of action, which in turn causes conflict in our minds, in our psyche. If things get really bad, this mental and emotional conflict may drive us to madness or despair.

Example: as I eat chocolate cake, I feel satisfied, smug, content, greedy, guilty and gluttonous all at once – making me emotionally complex. There is a psychological conflict going on inside me as I indulge in my deep desire for chocolate but also feel shame and possibly frustration at my inability to control my impulses, particularly if it’s January and I’m trying to lose the weight I put on over Christmas. The ironic thing about this psychological conflict is that I may then go much further down this dodgy path, binging on the entire cake, instead of backing off for my own good. You see this in Shakespeare’s characters all the time, where they make one mistake and then they just keep making it again and again. That’s because human beings are complex (aka dopey!) and do not necessarily learn from their mistakes, or at least often by the time they do it’s too late!

Effect: We find complex characters believable and fascinating, which in turn helps us to buy into their story. You’ll often hear plays, films and novels criticised for having “one dimensional characters” which means they are flat and unrealistic and dull.

6. Battle between good & evil (internal as well as external)

Definition: Seeing a battle between good & evil unfold never goes out of fashion but audiences are weird. Sometimes we root for the villain (Walter White in Breaking Bad) because they are more interesting and compelling than the ‘good’ characters. This is why really good writers ensure that this battle often occurs within the central character, rather than between superheroes and ‘baddies’.

Example: Internally a character is often torn between doing what is right and doing what they want – think for a moment of those cartoons where a good angel perches on one shoulder offering advice, and an evil little devil sits on the other shoulder tempting the host to ignore his conscience and follow his desires. We find this endlessly fascinating because we too are often torn between doing what is right and what is enjoyable (often doing the wrong thing is fun and doing the right thing is dull dull dull!)

Effect: similar to one of the examples given above, a battle between good and evil often reminds us that we must decide whether we are a force for good or evil in the world. The internal battle reminds us that we are all flawed and human and that what they are going through we might one day end up going through ourselves. But it also reminds us that it’s ok to feel torn, that nobody’s perfect, which is nice to be reminded of every now and again!

7. Audience in privileged position – we know more than other characters

Definition: If I’m sitting in the audience, and I know something that one or more of the characters on stage doesn’t know, then I’m in a privileged position. If I could jump up on stage (but breaking the fourth wall – the illusion of this being ‘reality’ – is frowned upon so don’t so it!) I’d be able to tell them vital information which might completely change their behaviour and ultimately, their life!

Example:  We know in Othello that Iago is a sick, twisted, sadistic little monkey who cannot be trusted but crucially no-one else in the play knows this!

Effect: We feel knowledgable and powerful. We understand what’s going on on a much deeper level than most of the characters and this makes us feel superior to them. However, we often nonetheless avoid judgement because we have seen the central character’s innermost thoughts and feelings to arrive at this position of superior knowledge, so we sympathise with them and recognise that the other characters couldn’t possibly have arrived at the same depth of knowledge without this opportunity to spy on the inner workings of the central characters’ brain.

8. Dramatic irony

Definition 1: Irony can be created when we, the audience, know something that the characters do not and they say something ‘ironic’ but only we can see the irony

Example: Characters in Othello keep commenting how honest and trustworthy Iago is.

Definition 2: Irony can be created when the opposite of what characters expect to happen, happens. This reversal of expectations is ironic because it’s so far from what they thought would be the case.

Example: Lady Macbeth at the start of the play believes that “a little water clears us of this deed” – that they can wash the blood off and that will be that. Ironically, later on, we see her obsessively washing her hands, saying “what will these hands n’er be clean”. It’s ironic that the physical blood is gone but her conscience is so fraught that she’s hallucinating blood stains that aren’t there. This situation is the exact opposite of what she predicted / expected.

Effect: we feel smart when we identify irony! We may also feel sympathy for the characters who are stuck in the ironic situation, but it depends whether or not we feel they caused it themselves (in which case they deserve their dose of situational or dramtic irony. If it’s not their fault though, we;ll probably feel sorry for them – and also perhaps frustrated that they can’t SEE the irony!

9. Poetic justice

Definition: Justice is where evil is punished. The punishment should fit the crime. Poetic justice is where the punishment is so fitting and so appropriate that we get an intense feeling of satisfaction out of the situation.

Example: If I steal your lunch and eat it, and then I get food poisoning from the very lunch I stole, that’s poetic justice. If I cheat on my husband and catch a sexually transmitted disease, that’s poetic justice.

Effect: The audience get a smug satisfaction out of seeing someone get what they deserve in a way which kind of makes it their own fault. It reassures us that the universe is on the side of good. In truth though, it’s called poetic justice, becuase you see it in stories far more often than you see it in real life! I hate to break it to you but in the real world the baddies often get away with their crime!


Definition: Have you ever wondered why you like horror movies? Or violent video games (even though you’re not a violent person in real life)? Or Eastenders (it’s so bloody miserable and depressing all the time)? Or books that make you cry (I’m not a fan of “PS I Love You” but many of my – female – students love it)?

Some people suggest that we like all of these things because they’re not real. We can experience scary things in a fantasy way without putting our ‘real’ self in danger -the fear/rage/depression/sadness leave us as soon as we switch our brains off from the movie/video game/telly/book.

This process of temporarily experiencing negative emotions and then ‘cleansing’ them is known as catharsis.

Example: I was horrified watching the final scene of Breaking Bad but I was also relieved that evil had been defeated and I was glad I hadn’t ever had to make the terrible decisions Walter White did to protect his family.

Effect: We enjoy this process because it helps us to lose ourselves in someone else’s life for a while (if our own life sucks) or to appreciate how good we have it (if our own life is better than what we’ve just watched) when the movie/video game/telly/book ends.

[This list is not exhaustive. After I’d written it I began to think about other reasons we might find the play fascinating and dramatic. So my no.11 = relevance (e.g. Macbeth’s a tyrant. We’ve still got a few of them in the modern world; we’re still seeing innocents murdered in Syria & back in 2011 we witnessed the toppling of the Egyptian dictator Mubarak in the Arab Spring, thanks to a popular uprising – not unlike the events described in Macbeth, except Mubarak is still alive – not in prison but under house arrest. They didn’t chop his head off! So, watching a drama but connecting what’s happening on stage to what’s happening in the real world – or personally in your own life – is a really powerful reason a person might find a play compelling/fascinating & dramatic).

My no. 12 = emotional resonance (often with a character we connect to what they are going through. This resonance creates empathy – a much stronger emotion than sympathy – and we feel compelled to continue watching as events unfold because we are now invested in their emotional journey. I guess a weaker version of this explains why we often keep watching ‘the X-factor’, or ‘I’m a Celebrity’ long after it’s even remotely interesting, because we feel we’ve gotten to know the ‘characters’ on the show and want to see how it all works out for them). Anyway, my point is, my list of 10 features of Compelling Drama could easily be 12, and there are probably more I haven’t even thought of!]

Compelling Drama (Macbeth)

Macbeth blood

Last class Friday evening isn’t the most productive time to have Leaving Cert English, but we did start looking at the question “Macbeth contains many scenes of compelling drama” – discuss.

Compelling means “captivating” “irresistible” “commanding attention” –  in other words, you feel like you can’t look away. So which scenes pique our interest, demand our absolute attention, suck us in and make us perch on the edge of our seats or weep uncontrollably?

If your answer is “none, it’s a shite play” then stop reading now. Go have a cup of tea and know that I am trying my best not to judge you for your failure to appreciate the genius of Shakespeare.

If your answer is “hmm, I’m not sure” or even better “I know, I know! Pick me!“, by all means read on.

I had earlier googled a couple of scenes I think are particularly compelling in the play but I’ve since revised this list in my head to include some new ones:

1. Opening scene:

This is basically your classic horror movie opening. There’s “thunder, lightening..rain” & a looming battle, all introduced to us by a gang of hideous witches. Scarier, granted, for a superstitious Shakespearean audience than for us – after all, they lived in the era of the inquisition & counted burning witches at the stake as one of their top viewing passtimes of a Saturday! These evil creatures “hover through fog & filthy air” but this is no innocent game of quidditch; they are planning some serious mayhem! They plant the notion that they will meet Macbeth upon the heath which rouses our curiosity. This is a compelling start, particularly for those who are happy to enter the space that all theatre demands – the “willing suspension of disbelief“.

However, if the idea of witches is enough to make you giggle, you may want to scratch this one off your list of compelling scenes in Macbeth.

2. Macbeth’s soliloquy where he contemplates killing Duncan

I wanted to find a version of this which was convincing but not so over-the-top dramatic that it makes you roll your eyes. I failed. I’m plonking this one here so you get a sense of the drama of the moment but imho, this guy has overdone it. If he toned it down, made it less hand-on-heart-sincere, and more like a slightly (as opposed to completely) unhinged guy talking to himself out loud, it would be more to my taste!

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcI_xtsiUps]

This soliloquy is tense and compelling and rather like listening in on someone in the confessional box. Here is this guy who we’ve been told is “full of the milk of human kindness” battling with his conscience and confiding his innermost thoughts and fears in us. He examines in arrestingly honest terms the depth of his desire, admitting that if he could do it and get away with it on earth he’d “jump the life to come“. Imagine wanting something so badly you’d give up the prospect of eternal life to have it? He also accepts that committing this crime of regicide would be utterly wrong, as “this Duncan hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office that the angels will plead out trumpet tongued against the deep damnation of his taking off“. This image of angels trumpeting the alarm if Duncan is murdered is so vivid that we’re not surprised when he concludes that he can’t get way with it. Picturing the reaction to the crime as angels “blow the horrid deed in every eye that tears would drown the wind”  is enough to make him reconsider.

3. Lady Macbeth’s manipulation of her husband

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fe5uRWnzUig]

I defy anyone to watch this and not think “what a bitch!”. Even if afterwards we factor in her determination to help her husband fulfil his potential and partially excuse her behaviour, when you first see how vicious and determined and manipulative she is in this scene you cannot help but be shocked and horrified and kind of in awe of her complete and utter ruthlessness. If I was Macbeth I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to withstand being called effeminate & a coward & disloyal & a liar! Her best line here – the most compelling & shocking line of the play so far if you ask me – is where she proclaims ““I have given suck, and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me – I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed his brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this” Ouch! She’d apparently kill her own child before she’d break a promise to her husband! This woman is a genius at emotional and psychological manipulation. The cow!

4. The Banquet Scene

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaIfPfZ7C5s]

Why is this compelling? Well, because this is supposed to be the greatest moment of his life – the Banquet to celebrate his coronation as King. It’s what he’s dreamed of and hoped for and even, ultimately, killed for. And now here he is and instead of honour and glory, there are blood-soaked killers at the door and the ghost of the man he just had murdered appears before him, also covered in blood, haunting him, accusing him. “Never shake thy gory locks at me” Macbeth screams at thin air. Talk about awkward! God love his poor wife trying to keep the party going…

Poor Macbeth! When what you expect turns out to be the complete opposite of what actually happens, this is called dramatic irony, caused by a reversal of expectations. [If you’re not sure that you understand irony, and for the best explanation of irony I’ve ever seen, click on this link]. In the case of Macbeth, it’s also poetic justice; poetic because he deserves to suffer, rather than celebrate, as he settles onto the throne that should never rightfully have been his. He doesn’t belong in this role so it’s fitting that he never manages to fit the role either!

No-one else in the room can see Banquo’s ghost so either Macbeth is insane or those who return from the dead only appear to those they wish to communicate with. Either way, it’s pretty awkward for the assembled guests who try not to stare and probably look at their feet, their hands, their plates – anywhere but at their psychotic newly crowned King who’s acting like a total lunatic.

Is it any surprise that the rumours about Macbeth are openly discussed in the scenes which immediately follow the banquet? I doubt many of the nobles liked him anyway – he’s been spying on them (“there’s not one of them but in his house I keep a servant fee’d“) so they may have been staying quiet up to this point out of fear, but now that he’s been publicly humiliated and one of their own – Banquo – has been murdered, they’re not likely to put up with him for too much longer. The first chance they get, they’ll turn on him.

This scene is utterly compelling for the audience because we the audience now feel that his downfall is inevitable. Everyone suspects him, so it’s surely only a matter of time before he is openly challenged and defeated! Now that’s compelling drama. We just sitting in the audience waiting to see how and when his downfall will occur. If we’re secretly enjoying his misery, the feeling we’re experiencing is schadenfreude. Watch this video for an explanation of what this word means:

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55fzXL3uc1s]

5. The murder of Lady Macduff & her children

This clip has a bit of a lip sync problem but I think it captures the innocence of the victims quite well.

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8X5TR8768c]

There are a couple of things worth nothing here. This is the first time we have witnessed the murder of innocent women and children in the play. Banquo may have been innocent of any wrong-doing, but he did represent a threat to Macbeth. Here we see the complete disintegration of any remaining morality in Macbeth. He’s willing to wipe out entire families simply because the head of the household has not attended his coronation banquet. As an audience we also cringe in horror at the sadism of the killers. Who does this? Who makes a mother watch while her child’s throat is slit? This is the moment where we really question our allegiance and start to hope Macbeth gets caught. This scene also provides Macduff with a deeply personal motive for going after Macbeth (his political motive was already quite strong, evident when he lamented “bleed, bleed, poor country“) and this is turn will create even more poetic justice when Macduff finally confronts Macbeth.

6. Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Eb2t-fXD8E]

Do I need to explain why it’s compelling drama to watch Lady Macbeth disintegrate, unconsciously revealing her innermost secrets, torn apart by remorse, ravaged by guilt and caught in the grip of a hideous O.C.D as she feverishly attempts to scrub out the “damned spot” which has become an inescapable reminder of the evil which she earlier invited into her life? Here is dramatic irony at it’s most dramatic as we witness the completion of her transformation from arrogant architect of evil (“a little water clears us of this deed“) to but a tragic shadow of her former self (“all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand“).

7. Macbeth’s soliloquy “Out Out”

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8t6Qb5sZXo]

So here is the man who believed that if only he could become King and get away with it, all his worldly ambitions would be achieved and he would live happily ever after. Now, he’s telling us that life is a farce, a joke, a meaningless “tale told by an idiot“.  The depth of his despair, the power of his words, the suicidal intention behind them and the fact that he realises too late that it was all for nought all make this a compelling speech but most of all, it is the fact that it is delivered immediately after he receives news of his wife’s death – this is what makes this scene so awful. His “dearest partner of greatness”. the woman he would rather kill for than disappoint, is dead, and he is so far gone, so filled with despair, that he reacts not with tears or anguish or denial but with calm acceptance and an acknowledgement that there was nothing left for them to live for anyway. How the mighty have fallen…

Of course, when the tragedy is over and he’s dead and she’s dead and we’re still alive, we also experience the wonderful catharsis* of knowing that human beings really can f*ck up really badly, but hey, it wasn’t us, we’re fine, so off we go into the night, determined not to kill anyone on our way home, cause if we didn’t know it before, we all know it now – that can only end badly!!!


*Catharsis =

Have you ever wondered why you like horror movies? Or violent video games (even though you’re not a violent person in real life)? Or Eastenders (it’s so bloody miserable and depressing all the time)? Or books that make you cry (I’m not a fan of “PS I Love You” but many of my – female – students love it)?

Some people suggest that we like all of these things because they’re not real. We can experience scary things in a fantasy way without putting our ‘real’ self in danger -the fear/rage/depression/sadness leave us as soon as we switch our brains off from the movie/video game/telly/book.

This process of temporarily experiencing negative emotions and then ‘cleansing’ them is known as catharsis. We enjoy this process because it helps us to lose ourselves in someone else’s life for a while (if our own life sucks) or to appreciate how good we have it (if our own life is better than what we’ve just watched) when the movie/video game/telly/book ends.


As an aside, this video popped up while I was searching youtube. I’ve always had a bit of a thing for Ethan Hawke and now this is making me want to go see it on Broadway… wishful thinking as it finished on the 12th January. Wish I’d googled it before Christmas, you never know what Santa might have delivered!

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9rfd1R7AmA]

Lady Macbeth Jigsaw

Recently, I decided there were 3 things I’d really like all of my students (not just those who always get A’s) to understand about essay writing. They were

STANCE – you have to take up a position, interpret events, offer an opinion. The same facts can lead to different conclusions for different people (mostly agree, balanced view, mostly disagree)

STRUCTURE – you must create tightly woven paragraphs, with depth, flow and sophistication. See the “perfect paragraph project” for a simplified version of this idea.

SEQUENCE – for character and theme essays you’ll probably follow the chronological order of the play. You don’t have to, but it probably helps to follow the order in which events unfold. Also, starting with the murder of Lady Macduff, then jumping back to Duncan’s murder, then hopping to the sleepwalking scene and then back to the Banquet scene wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, now would it? The danger here is that you need to avoid telling the story. ONLY include details relevant to answering the question.

(WARNING: certain questions require a non-chronological response, for example “Relevance to a Modern Audience” or “Shakespeare’s play offers a dark and pessimistic view of human nature” because each paragraph will most likely focus on a different character or theme or scene).

To teach these concepts, I came up with the following lesson, designed for a double class period:

Below you’ll find 15 paragraphs on Lady Macbeth all mixed up in no particular order. 

5 of them, arranged in the correct sequence, create an essay which takes a very positive interpretation of her motivations and behaviour.

5 of them, arranged in the correct sequence, create an essay which takes a balanced view of her motivations and behaviour.

5 of them, arranged in the correct sequence, create an essay which basically slates her! 

I didn’t include introductions or conclusions – I felt that would makes the ‘jigsaw‘ too easy.

I gave the fifteen paragraphs, out of sequence, to my Leaving Certs. I asked them to decide which 5 paragraphs belonged in the positive essay; the balanced essay; and the negative essay. (Thus they were reading for a specific purpose)

Then they had to arrange them in the correct order. As they completed the exercise, I gave them a photocopy of each essay in the correct sequence so they could check the correct order and see how they’d done.

Next I asked them to highlight any words/phrases or ideas they didn’t understand and I explained what they meant. (Again, reading for a specific purpose)

Their next challenge was to figure out what the essay title was!

Finally, I gave them 3 essay titles. For homework they had to select one and write an essay as a response.

Here are the essay titles I gave them:

Lady Macbeth is the architect of her own downfall” – Discuss

We feel little pity for Lady Macbeth in the early stages of the play, but as her remorse grows, so does our sympathy for her” – Discuss

Lady Macbeth is motivated by selfish ambition and lacks a moral conscience” – To what extent do you agree with this assessment of her character?

Below you’ll find the paragraphs in mixed up sequence:


Lady Macbeth did not make a positive first impression on me. She sees nagging as a form of bravery, vowing to “chastise [Macbeth] with the valour of [her] tongue” and views kindness as a weakness, criticising her husband for being “too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way”. This moral confusion and inability to distinguish between right and wrong makes her in some ways similar to the witches who claim that “fair is foul and foul is fair”. However, unlike them, evil does not come easily to her – she knows she will need help to behave in an immoral way, hence her demand “come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts…. fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty”. Furthermore, she may be doing the wrong thing but she’s doing it for the right reasons: she is utterly devoted to her husband. She knows he wants to be King but may not be willing to do what she feels is necessary to realise this goal (“thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition but without the illness should attend it”)  and hates the thought that he might live to regret his inaction in the face of the prophecy. Thus, although I don’t approve morally of Lady Macbeth’s behaviour I found it easy to understand her, to empathise with her motivation and thus to like her somewhat despite her flaws.


From the very first moment she appeared on stage, Lady Macbeth struck me as a manipulative, domineering wife with zero moral conscience. She immediately jumps to the conclusion that they will have to engage in acts of “direst cruelty” in order for Macbeth to become King, despite the fact that her husband never suggests that they use violence to achieve “what greatness is promised”.  This evil streak is further evident in her commentary on her husbands’ personality: she views his humanity and empathy as negative traits, describing that fact that he is “too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” as a weakness. Her eagerness to “pour my spirits in [Macbeth’s] ear”, her willingness to be possessed by evil spirits (“come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here…”) and her delight in embracing the darkness (“come thick night and pall thee in the funnest smoke of hell”) are all to me strong evidence of her fundamentally immoral outlook and domineering personality. I certainly would not like to be married to her. 


Lady Macbeth’s reaction to Macbeth’s letter about the witches prophesy introduced me to a devoted wife who will go to any lengths to help her husband achieve his potential. Her belief that her husband is “too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” and lacks the ruthlessness necessary to fulfil his ambitions is what drives her on. She is determined to “chastise [him] with the valour of [her] tongue” because she hates the idea that her husband will one day look back on his life and feel as if he let opportunities for greatness pass him by. It’s also clear that Lady Macbeth in not inherently evil – she in no ways relishes the idea of committing the sin of regicide. In fact, she knows she will need to be possessed in order to see it through, hence she proclaims “come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty”. Thus, my initial reaction to Lady Macbeth was quite positive: here was a woman willing to do whatever it took to support her husband in achieving his dream of one day becoming King.


Whilst some critics point to Lady Macbeth’s failure to carry out the actual murder, this does not endear her to me. Duncan’s coincidental similarity to her father (“Hath he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t”) is not enough to make her re-consider their plan. She fakes comforting words (“these deeds must not be thought of after these ways; so, it will make us mad”) to try and snap Macbeth out of his reverie but in my opinion she is motivated entirely by self-interest here – she doesn’t want them to get caught. Her lack of compassion reappears as she lambasts her husband for bringing the murder weapon from the crime scene (”infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers”) and without hesitation, she returns to Duncan’s chamber to “gild the faces of the grooms” with blood, thus framing them for the murder. She will do whatever it takes to get away with murder, including her false fainting spell, designed to draw attention away from Macbeth. She is a selfish, ruthless, immoral individual whose lack of empathy or remorse is best summed up in her flippant remark “a little water clears us of this deed”. As you can see, I do not like this woman, nor do I buy into the notion that she is guiltless simply because she did not “bear the knife [herself]”.  


However, ultimately I found myself devastated to witness her intense suffering during the sleepwalking scene, and this I took as proof that despite her significant flaws, I had grown fond of her. I found her horror as she relived their crimes (“the Thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now?”) and her devastating realisation she would never again be free of this guilt (“All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”) truly heartbreaking. She made a mistake and this mistake destroyed her, her marriage, her happiness and her future. Thus I liked her despite her flaws, yet I could nonetheless understand why Malcolm described her as a “fiend-like queen” given the havoc and destruction wrought upon Scotland by her and Macbeth’s crimes.


This devotion to her husband is again evident when she convinces him to murder Duncan. Although her tactics are quite manipulative (suggesting he doesn’t truly love her if he doesn’t keep his promise) Lady Macbeth is once again concerned only for the regret he will feel if he backs out now. She warns him that he will have to “live a coward in thine own esteem” forever and worries about the negative impact this would have on his self-esteem. Her obsession with Macbeth’s future happiness is actually quite easy to understand. Firstly, she loves her husband. Secondly, she knows that he is deeply ambitious. Thirdly, it’s possible that she feels guilty that she has not provided him with a living heir; after all, a woman’s role in this era was primarily to get married and produce children. We know they have had at least one child (“I have given suck and know how tender tis to love the babe that milks me”) who, for reasons unknown, has died. It is possible that she feels guilty that she has failed to fulfil his dream to be a father and this in turn has made her doubly determined to see him achieve his other life’s goal, which is to be King. She may be convincing him to do the wrong thing, but she is doing it for good reasons and as a result I could not help but like her. 


The sleepwalking scene is generally highlighted as the moment of greatest empathy and connection between the audience and Lady Macbeth but I personally found myself unmoved by her suffering. Yes, she is reliving their crimes, which is no doubt unpleasant, but she also reminds us here of her part in convincing Macbeth to kill Duncan (“Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier and afeard?”) and of her filthy smearing of his royal blood on the chamberlains (“Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”). In this context, is it any surprise that she asks the question “what will these hands ne’er be clean?In my opinion, it is about time that the horror of her crimes registered with her properly, but it stretches the bounds of human empathy too far to expect me to feel pity for this “fiend-like queen”.



My fondness for Lady Macbeth increased tenfold when her intense remorse finally surfaced. She learns too late that “a little water” will be wholly inadequate to clear them of this deed as she realises that “noughts had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content”. I empathised with her deep suffering as she began to envy Duncan’s peaceful sleep of death, observing sadly “tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy”. Yet she conceals her inner turmoil from her husband, pretending that everything’s fine so that he won’t worry about her. Her desire to comfort and protect him never wanes as she advises him that “things without all remedy should be without regard”. Even as he pushes her away (“Be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck”) she continues to protect him, both during the banquet (“Sit worthy friends, my lord is often thus and hath been since his youth”) and afterwards (“You lack the season of all natures, sleep”). Her humanity has never been more evident and my sense of her as an essentially good, if misguided woman, was strengthened even further here.


Lady Macbeth’s humanity is briefly evident when she finds herself unable to murder Duncan and this glimpse of a conscience (“Hath he not resembled my father as he slept I had done’t”) made me like her a lot more. Her desire to help her husband (“these deeds must not be thought of after these ways; so, it will make us mad”) and save him from insanity is touching, as is her naive belief that they will be able to simply forget their crime (“a little water clears us of this deed”) and move on with their new life as King and Queen. However, just as I was starting to like her, she lambasted her husband for bringing the murder weapon from the scene of the crime (”infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers”) and without hesitation, she returned to Duncan’s chamber to “gild the faces of the grooms” with blood, thus framing them for the murder. Once again I found myself on a roller-coaster, unsure how to feel about the Machiavellian yet vulnerable Lady Macbeth.



Immediately prior to Duncan’s murder, Lady Macbeth’s behaviour is bullying, manipulative and quite shocking, making it difficult for us to like her. She mocks her husband, demanding dismissively “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?”; emotionally blackmailing him by suggesting that he doesn’t really love her if he backs out; painting a horrific picture of a future filled with self-loathing (“and live a coward in thine one esteem”) if he passes up this opportunity; calling his manliness into question (“when you durst do it, then you were a man”) and most disturbingly of all, describing in vivid detail how she would commit infanticide – would pluck her nipple from her beloved child’s suckling mouth and dash his brains out on the floor – rather than break a promise to her husband. However, all of this is motivated by her love for her husband and her awareness of his ‘vaulting ambition’. I also found myself feeling very sorry for her when I discovered that she had given birth to and lost a child. Hence, almost despite myself, I found myself quite liking this determined forceful woman who would let nothing get in the way of her husband achieving his ambition.



Lady Macbeth finally begins to realise that evil actions have very real consequences (“nought’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content”) but this was not sufficient to make me actually like her. Yet again her focus was entirely on her own happiness, and I found it particularly twisted that she would have the cheek to ‘envy’ Duncan (“tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy”) because he is ‘safe’ in death. I’m sure given the choice he would have swapped death for life in a heartbeat – but Lady Macbeth did not give him the option to live and now she has the gall to suggest that he’s better off dead! Her utterly selfish desire to protect her own power and position is again evident in the Banquet scene. She first blames Macbeth’s erratic behaviour on epilepsy and when it becomes clear that this is an inadequate explanation, she dismisses their guests unceremoniously “stand not upon the order of your going but go at once”. Combined with her sarcastic mockery of Macbeth (“Why do you make such faces? You look but on a chair”), I found Lady Macbeth an utterly contemptible character with few, if any, redeeming characteristics.


Even in the moment where Duncan is murdered, Lady Macbeth’s humanity is in evidence. She gets the chamberlains drunk, yet when it comes to committing a truly evil deed, she does not have what it takes to murder an old man in his bed, commenting sadly that Duncan “resembled [her] father as he slept”. Once there is no going back, yet again her wifely concern surfaces as she tries to shake Macbeth out of his trance insisting “these deeds must not be thought after these ways; so, it will make us mad”. She is naive in believing that “a little water clears us of this deed” but naivety is not a trait I normally associate with evil people and her fainting spell may well have been genuine shock when faced with the reality of their crime. Alternatively, even if her faint was fake, it was nonetheless inspired by a desire to protect her husband, lest anyone get suspicious following his admission that he killed the chamberlains. Thus, despite her immoral scheming, I continue to see her humanity and like her as a person. 


The ultimate testament to Lady Macbeth’s character comes in the moments before her suicide. In the sleepwalking scene, I found her guilt as she relives their crimes (“The Thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now?”) and ultimately recognises that she will never again view herself as anything but a killer (“All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”) truly heartbreaking. She made a mistake and this mistake destroyed her, her marriage, her happiness and her future. I liked her despite her flaws,  was devastated to hear that she “by self and violent hands took off her life” and could never see her as Malcolm did, as nothing more than a “fiend-like queen”


My negative impression of her was further strengthened when she bullied Macbeth into agreeing to murder Duncan. She mocked her husband, demanding dismissively “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?”; emotionally blackmailing him, suggesting that he doesn’t really love her if he backs out; painting a horrific picture of a future filled with self-loathing (“and live a coward in thine one esteem”) if he passes up this opportunity; calling his manliness into question (“when you durst do it, then you were a man”) and most disturbingly of all, describing in vivid detail how she would commit infanticide (would pluck her nipple from her beloved child’s suckling mouth and dash his brains out on the floor) rather than break a promise to her husband. Her manipulation of him was so profound, so morally bankrupt and so effective that within minutes she had transformed him saying “we shall proceed no further in this business” to moments later agreeing to kill Duncan “I am settled and bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat”. How anyone could like this woman or defend her behaviour is absolutely baffling to me.


Lady Macbeth’s remorse, when it surfaces, does help us to like her, yet her failure to confide her doubts and fears in her husband is a frustrating aspect of her personality that lessens our fondness for her. She admits to us that “nought’s had, all’s spent where our desire is got without content” and that she would rather be dead like Duncan (“tis safer to be that which we destroy”) than living the hellish uncertainty she now inhabits (“than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy”), terrified at any moment that they will get caught. However, her pretence that everything is fine (“what’s done is done”) and later, during the banquet, her scorn for her husband’s suffering (“this is the very painting of your fear”…. “Shame itself! Why do you make such faces? You look but on a chair”) made me waver in my affection for her. Every time I find a reason to like her, she provides me with a very good reason not to.



Remember, there are no introductions or conclusions but you MUST include both.

Finally, the essay title was the very simple “Lady Macbeth is not a likeable character” – Discuss.

Macbeth Jigsaw

I’ve used this twice now and it works pretty well as a revision tool.

Here’s what to do:

1. Print off Plot Phase One. Cut it up into strips, then try to put it back together in order.

2. Repeat for Plot Phase 2, 3, 4 & 5.

Here’s how I’ve done it with my class (bear in mind that my desks are in clusters, not rows):

Students work in groups of 3 ideally. So if there are 30 in the class, you’ll need to print off 10 sets, to be cut into jigsaws. Also print off ten extras of each plot phase – this is what you’ll hand them to check their answers as they complete each ‘jigsaw’. The advantage of this, rather than projecting the answers up on to the whiteboard is that each group can work at their own pace and self-assess as they go.

WARNING: this cutting up into jigsaws bit can be quite time consuming. Perhaps ask some first years for help at lunch time – they love cutting stuff up!



PLOT PHASE ONE from Witches opening scene to Macbeth’s decision to murder Duncan

  • WITCHES = CORRUPT Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air


  • MACB = TRUSTED WARRIOR “brave Macbeth” “O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman”


  • MACB = VIOLENT “unseamed him from the nave to th’chops & fixed his head upon our battlements”


  • DUNCAN = DECISIVE go pronounce his present death and with his former title greet Macbeth


  • WITCHES = LIMITED POWERS “though his bark cannot be lost yet it shall be tempest tossed”


  • PROPHESY to MACBETH “All hail to thee… that shalt be King hereafter”


  • BANQUO Q’s MACBETH‘s reaction Why do you start & seem to fear things which do sound so fair?”


  • BANQUO ASKS 4 PROPHECY “speak to me then who neither beg nor fear your favours nor your hate”


  • PROPHESY to BANQUO “Thou shalt get Kings though thou be none”


  • MACBETH’s NEW TITLE “Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?”


  • BANQUO’s WARNING “oftentimes to win us to their harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles to betray us in deepest consequence”


  • MACBETH’s TEMPTATION soliloquy no. 1 “why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs against the use of nature?”


  • MACBETH RESISTS TEMPT “If chance will have me King why chance may crown me without my stir”


  • DUNCAN RE: APPEARANCES “there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”


  • DUNCAN REWARDS LOYALTY to Macbeth “More is thy due than more than all can pay. I have begun to plant thee and will labour to make thee full of growing”. To Banquo “thou hast no less deserved. Let me infold thee & hold thee to my heart” to which Banquo replies “there if I grow the harvest is your own”.


  • DUNCAN’s HEIR “we will establish our estate upon our eldest Malcolm”


  • MACBETH’s REACTION TO HEIR NEWS “This is a step on which I must fall down or else o’er-leap for in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires”


  • LADY MACBETH RECEIVES LETTER “my dearest partner of greatness”


  • LADY M’s soliloquy “yet do I fear thy nature, it is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it”… “hie thee hither that I may pour my spirits in thine ear and chastise thee with the valour of my tongue…”


  • LADY M requests help! “Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty”


  • DUNCAN ARRIVES “this castle hath a pleasant seat” “our honoured hostess” “fair & noble hostess”


  • MACBETH TEMPTED AGAIN soliloquy no. 2 “if this blow might be the be-all and the end-all we’d jump the life to come. But…we still have judgement here..” “He’s here in double trust, first as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed; then as his host who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself” …“I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent but only vaulting ambition”


  • DUNCAN = GREAT KING Macbeth’s tribute, soliloquy no. 2 “This Duncan hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead out trumpet-tongued against the deep damnation of his taking off”



We will proceed no further in this business. I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people which would be worn now in their newest gloss not cast aside so soon” – Macbeth

Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?”… “From this time such I account thy love”… “live a coward in thine own esteem” – Lady M

I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none” – Macbeth

When you durst do it then you were a man” … “I have given suck, and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me – I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed his brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this” – Lady Macbeth

If we should fail?” – Macbeth

We fail. But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail” – Lady Macbeth

False face must hide what the false heart doth know” – Macbeth


 PLOT PHASE TWO from Duncan’s murder to announcement that Macbeth will be the next King.

  • BANQUO’S DREAMS “A heavy summons lies like lead upon me and yet I would not sleep. Merciful powers restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose”


  • MACBETH SEEKS ALLIES “if you shall cleave to my consent when tis it shall make honour for you” Banquo is determined not to compromise either his honour or his loyalty to Duncan and resolves to keep his “bosom franchised and allegiance clear”.


  • MACBETH HALLUCINATES soliloquy 3“is this a dagger which I see before me?…. Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going” … “Hear it not Duncan for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell”


  • LADY M = ACCOMPLICE not killer! “Hath he not resembled my father as he slept I had done’t”


  • MACBETH’s REMORSE “Methought I heard a voice cry ‘sleep no more, Macbeth doth murder sleep’” “I’ll go no more, I am afraid to think what I have done” “Will all great neptune’s oceans wash this blood clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine making the green one red” … “To know my deed ’twere best not know myself”


  • LADY M FRAMES CHAMBERLAINS She tries to shake him out of his trance”These deeds must not be thought after these ways, so it will make us mad” but later loses patience with him “Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers. …I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal” “A little water clears us of this deed”


  • PORTER = COMIC RELIEF describes himself as a “porter of hell gate” and jokes that drink provokes “nose-painting, sleep and urine”. It both provokes and unprovokes lechery “it provokes the desire but it takes away the performance… makes him stand-to and not stand-to” (this bit’s accompanied by rude hand gestures).


  • DISORDER IN NATURE Lennox arrives with MAcduff to rouse the King and (before discovering the King’s murder) describes a terrible storm “the night has been unruly: … our chimneys were blown down … lamentings heard i’ the air, strange screams of death… some say the earth was feverous and did shake”.


  • MACDUFF RESPONDS TO DUNCAN’s MURDER “O horror! horror! horror! Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee!” … “Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope the Lord’s anointed temple”


  • LADY M RESPONDS “Woe, alas! What in our house?” Banquo, picking up on the stupidity of her remark rebukes her saying “too cruel anywhere”. After Macbeth admits to killing chamberlains she faints.


  • MACBETH RESPONDS “Had I but died an hour before this chance I had lived a blessed time” … and admits to stabbing the chamberlains “Yet I do repent me of my fury that I did kill them”


  • BANQUO RESPONDS “Let us meet and question this most bloody piece of work, to know it further… In the great hand of God I stand and thence against the undivulged pretence I fight of treasonous malice”


  • MALCOLM & DONALBAIN RESPOND Malcolm“to show an unfelt sorrow is an office which the false man doth easy. I’ll to England”. Donalbain “To Ireland, I… There’s daggers in men’s smiles; the near in blood the nearer bloody”


  • NATURE IN TURMOIL Ross describes an eclipse, something a Shakespearean audience wouldn’t have understood “by the clock tis day and yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp”. Old Man replies “a falcoln was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed”. Ross responds “Duncan’s horses turned wild in nature” and Old Man reports “tis said they ate each other”.


  • MACDUFF SUSPECTS MACBETH He mentions that “those that Macbeth hath slain” are accused; that suspicion has been put upon the King’s sons because they have fled; and decides to return home to Fife rather than attend Macbeth’s coronation, even though he knows this will be interpreted as a deliberate snub.


 PLOT PHASE THREE from Banquo’s temptation & murder to the end of the Banquet scene.

  • BANQUO’s TEMPTATION “Thou hast it all, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all, as the weird women promised; and I fear thou play’dst most foully for’t” … “May they not be my oracles as well, and set me up in hope?”


  • MACBETH PLOTS BANQUO’s MURDER “Ride you this afternoon? … Is’t far you ride? … Fail not our feast … Goes Fleance with you?” “To be thus is nothing but to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo stick deep and in his royalty of nature reigns that which would be feared” To the murderers: “Both of you know Banquo was your enemy” … “Masking the business from the common eye for sundry weighty reasons”


  • LADY MACBETH’s REMORSE to a servant: “Say to the King I would attend his leisure for a few words”. “Nought’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content: Tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy” YET when Macbeth enters she pretends that everything’s fine: “Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done”.


  • MACBETH’s PARANOIA & MENTAL DISTURBANCE “we have scorched the snake not killed it” he & L M “sleep in the affliction of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly”. He also envies Duncan as “nothing can touch him further” & concludes “better be with the dead whom we to gain our peace have sent to peace than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy” “O, full of scorpions is my mind dear wife”


  • MARITAL AFFECTION BUT LACK OF HONEST COMMUNICATION Lady M “Gentle my lord…be bright and jovial among your guests tonight” M “So shall I love” Lady M “What’s to be done?” Macbeth “Be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck till thou applaud the deed”.


  • BANQUO’s MURDER “O treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly! Thou mayst revenge”.


  • BANQUET SCENE MACBETH “I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in to saucy doubts and fears” “Thou canst not say I did it: never shake thy gory locks at me”. In a calm moment he proposes a toast “ drink tot he general joy of the whole table and to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss: Would he were here!” after which Banquo’s ghost appears again. “Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery, hence!”.


  • BANQUET SCENE LADY MACBETH “Sit worthy friends: my lord is often thus and hath been from his youth” “This is the very painting of your fear” “Stand not upon the order of your going but go at once”


  • AFTER THE BANQUET “It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak” “I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er” Lady M “You lack the season of all nature’s sleep” Macbeth “Come we’ll to sleep”


  • MACBETH AS RULER “How say’st thou that Macduff denies his person at our great bidding?” “There’s not a one of them but in his house I keep a servant fee’d”


PLOT PHASE FOUR from Witches apparitions to murder of L. Macduff & Macduff’s reaction.


  • HECATE’s PREDICTION “he shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear his hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace and fear”


  • LENNOX CRITICISES MACBETH he observes that “the gracious Duncan was pitied of Macbeth: marry he was dead and the right-valiant Banquo walked too late”. He’s not buying the official story of how they died. He openly criticises Macbeth’s reign when he comments that “’cause he failed the tyrant’s feast, I hear, Macduff lives in disgrace”.


  • LORD & LENNOX LAMENT SCOTLAND’s DEMISE He places all his hopes in Macduff’s visit to England to the “pious Edward” & Malcolm. The Lord hopes they will march against Macbeth & end the starvation, insomnia & violence sweeping the nation (“give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights, free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives”). Lennox prays “a swift blessing may soon return to this our suffering country under a hand accursed!”


  • WITCHES APPARITIONS (2nd prophecies)1st apparition an armed head “Beware Macduff”; 2nd apparition a bloody child “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”; 3rd apparition, a child with a tree in his hand “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him”. Final apparition, a show of eight kings, and Banquo last. Macbeth reacts with horror “will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?”


  • MACBETH CRITICISES WITCHES “infected be the air whereon they ride, and damned all those that trust them”


  • MACBETH RESOLVES TO ACT ON IMPULSE & DESIRE ignoring his conscience “from this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand”. Soliloquy 5.


  • MACBETH DECIDES TO MURDER MACDUFF’s FAMILY “The castle of Macduff I will surprise, seize upon Fife, give to the edge of his sword his wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls that trace him in his line”.


  • LADY MACDUFF CRITICISES HER HUSBAND for leaving her alone and unprotected “His flight was madness. … He loves us not, he wants the natural touch”


  •  ROSS DEFENDS MACDUFF “he is noble, wise, judicious, and best knows the fits of the season” and blames circumstances “cruel are the times… when we hold rumour from what we fear yet know not what we fear”


  •  LADY MACDUFF & HER CHILDREN ARE MURDERED She refuses to tell them the whereabouts of her husband. Her son’s dying words are “he has killed me mother. Run away I pray you”


  •  MACDUFF VISITS MALCOLM “each morn new widows howl, new orphans cry; new sorrows strike heaven on the face” but Malcolm is suspicious “This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues, was once thought honest; you have loved him well; he hath not touched you yet”. Malcolm fears Macbeth is using Macduff to lure him back to Scotland. He knows that “a good and virtuous nature may recoil in an imperial charge” (Macduff may be just obeying orders!)


  • MACDUFF & MALCOLM DESCRIBE SCOTLAND’s SUFFERING Macduff is devastated that Malcolm won’t lead an army against Macbeth“bleed, bleed, poor country! Great tyranny… goodness dare not check thee”. Malcolm knows how bad things are “I think our country sinks beneath the yoke; it weeps, it bleeds, & each new day a gash is added to her wounds” & admits he has “offer of goodly thousands” from Edward to lead an army against Macbeth.


  •  MACDUFF & MALCOLM’s DESCRIPTION OF MACBETH AS KING “Not in the legions of horrid hell can come a devil more damned in evils to top Macbeth” (Macduff). “I grant him bloody, luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, sudden, malicious, smacking of every in that has a name” (Malcolm).


  •  MALCOLM TESTS MACDUFF’s LOYALTY & PATRIOTISM by claiming that he he will make a terrible King. He accuses himself of being lustful, greedy, and lacking in all the king-becoming graces.


  •  MALCOLM’s LIST OF KINGLY VIRTUES “justice, verity, temperance, stableness, bounty, perseverence, mercy, lowliness, devotion, patience, courage, fortitude” but claims he has none of them.


  •  MACDUFF IS HORRIFIED “Fit to govern! No, not to live” “Thy royal father was a most sainted King”

THEY PREPARE TO INVADE SCOTLAND Macduff is distraught with news of his family’s slaughter “All my pretty ones? Did heaven look on and would not take their part?” Malcolm advises Macduff to “let grief convert to anger. Blunt not the heart, enrage it”. He feels certain they will secure victory “the night is long that never finds the day”


 PLOT PHASE FIVE from sleepwalking scene to Malcolm’s first address as King of Scotland.


  • LADY MACBETH RELIVES THEIR CRIMES “Out, damned spot” “The Thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now? What will these hands n’er be clean?” “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”. The doctor comments “This disease is beyond my practice” “Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles”


  • MACBETH DISCUSSED BY ADVANCING ARMY “some say he’s mad; others, that lesser hate him, do call it valiant fury” “Now does he feel his title hang loose upon him like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief”.


  •  MACBETH: DEFIANT, DEPRESSED, RUTHLESS, CONCERNED “Bring me no more reports, let them fly all” Soliloquy 6“I am sick at heart. I have lived long enough… and that which should accompany old age, as honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have” “I’ll fight til from my bones my flesh be hacked” “Hang those that talk of fear”“How does your patient doctor?”


  •  MACBETH RESPONDS TO LADY MACBETH’S DEATH Prior to the news he claims”I have almost forgot the taste of fear” “I have supped full with horrors”. However, he delivers a profoundly beautiful nihilistic soliloquy on the pointlessness of human existence when told“The Queen, my lord, is dead”:

“There would have been a time for such a word.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing”


  •  MACBETH REMAINS DEFIANT They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly, but bear-like I must fight the course”. He kills Young Siward rather than surrender or commit suicide “why should I play the Roman fool and die on mine own sword?”


  •  MACDUFF KILLS MACBETH Macduff: “Turn hell-hound, turn!” Macbeth: “Get thee back, my soul is too much charged with blood of thine already” Macduff: “Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped” Macbeth: “I will not yield to kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet”




  •  MALCOLM DELIVERS HIS FIRST SPEECH AS KING Malcolm demonstrates his skill as a leader. He

1. rewards loyalty“My thanes and kinsmen henceforth be earls”,

2. calls home those in exile,

3. sums up his view of the defeated royals as “this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen, who tis thought, by self and violent hands took off her life”

4. Calls on “the grace of God” to help him perform his duties as King &

5. Invites all present to Scone for his coronation.