Tag Archives: macbeth


The play, the play and the other play.


London is a wonderful playground, particularly if you love a good play. I was expecting to be wowed by my first theatre trip of the weekend and in so many ways I was. Eve Best’s Macbeth in the Globe, with it’s soaring violins, pounding drums, cacophony of creepy witches, sumptuous Jacobean costumes (finally a version which resists the urge to ‘modernise’) and genuinely terrifying Lady Macbeth (Samantha Spiro) whipped along at a tremendous pace. The hiss of Lady M entreating her husband to “screw your courage to the sticking place”, the mounting tension as Duncan’s body is discovered and all eyes turn to Macbeth (Joseph Millson), the arrogant majesty of his coronation as his wife physically shrinks under the weight of her gown and crown and the powerful presence of Banquo (Billy Boyd) stalking his former friend at the Banquet (even if this scene was otherwise played for laughs) carry us forward to the interval at a breathtaking pace.

The second half surges out of the blocks with the witches cauldron spewing forth the future in an instant, while echoes of Lady Macbeth threatening to pluck her nipple from her child’s boneless gums resonate as one of the witches gently lays a baby into Macbeth’s open childless arms and assures him that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”. All too soon we are drowning in palpable loathing and panic and fear as Lady Macduff realises that innocence is no protection against evil in this world; we experience the heartbreaking pause in the action as Macbeth receives news of his wife’s death; we hear the sickening crack as Macbeth’s head is snapped off his body and he lurches to the floor, and lose ourselves in the  haunting melody of the witches final song. All of these moments will stay with me.

So, too, will the unexpected moments of humour the cast so cleverly found in an otherwise, let’s face it, pretty bleak script. As they await Macduff, gone to awaken Duncan, Lennox’s ponderous, elaborate description of the turmoil in nature is met with Macbeth’s eye-rolling dry retort “twas a rough night” just to shut him up. As the nobles spill out of the banquet, one idiot stays behind to try and ease the awkwardness of the situation, but his clumsy spluttering of “better health” for the King is met with gales of laughter from the crowd and a disbelieving stare from the shattered Lady Macbeth. When Malcolm accuses himself of boundless lust, with some pretty funny thrusting and moaning, Macduff gestures to the standing crowd with the line “we have  willing dames enough” and Malcolm’s later sheepish admission “I am yet unknown to woman” brought the house down almost as uproariously as when Macbeth told the porter to get back in his box.

And yet something was awry. Part of the problem lay with my over-familiarity with the source material. For the first few scenes I was like a teenager at a One Direction concert, lip-syncing along to every line. But willing suspension of disbelief demands that you buy into the notion that the characters are spontaneously making this stuff up – which is difficult when every line is playing in your head before the character even opens their mouth.

The second problem lay not with me but with the play’s interpretation of Macbeth’s journey. I’ve always loved the way Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s journeys mirror each other in reverse – as she finds that she can no longer stop up the access and passage to remorse, he uncovers the very ruthlessness his wife believed him incapable of as the play began. But this vulnerability, this “milk of human kindness” is so rarely on show in Joseph Millson’s very edgy physical portrayal of this most complex of anti-heroes, that we don’t ever really get the sense of this being a journey from good to evil. I’ve always believed that the strength of this play lies in our ability to feel “horror, horror, horror” at his fall from grace, a horror so powerful that we bless ourselves and mutter ‘but for the grace of God go I’. Instead, we get a journey from sanity to insanity, a less moving, less profound, less frightening vista entirely. So when Macbeth began that most famous of soliloquies “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” I was devastated to hear him creep in a petty pace from word to word, as though he believed that inserting long pauses into the speech would be enough to create drama or pathos. It may have worked for others, it did not work for me and it made me sad to be in the Globe and yet so unmoved at this most emotional juncture in Shakespeare’s great tragedy.


The second play was play of another kind altogether, teasing my sister that I visit only as an excuse to go to the theatre; meeting up with Simon Pile, one of my fellow ADE’s to dream dreams of what might lie in store for Cinetivity, our six-strong creative conclave born in Cork; eating a leisurely lunch of chilli men and coconut ice-cream for desert; again teasing my sister and her lovely husband Kevin that I visit only to go to the theatre and then planning when I should come back and what shows I really can’t afford to miss and remembering, if ever I had forgotten, that she and I are kindred spirits really, even if our mutual obsession with work work work means we don’t connect as often as sisters should.


The final play, recommended by Simon (I am now eternally in your debt my friend) was a curious incident indeed. In life, sometimes, unexpected moments grab you by the throat and you are helplessly at their mercy, trapped in a spell of magic and enchantment and awe. And so it was last night with “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time“. I do not have a review to offer you. There is nothing to critique. I have only overflowing praise for a performance and production which amounted to a flawless piece of theatre. If somehow the planets align for you, go and see this play. It speaks so profoundly to our foibles and our flaws and to the tragic beauty of the human condition that I find myself even now stuck in a wonderful moment, reliving the experience with a pang of joy in my heart. Moments which “catch the heart off guard and blow it open” are rare in life and having so many of them in one weekend is blessing indeed.

So as the noise of a million connections reinserts itself into my life later today, I remember that in life it is always good to play.

And play.

And play.





Imagery in Macbeth (2)

This post is going to discuss BOTH language and imagery, rather than just pure imagery (which is limited to metaphors and similes, with a bit of symbolism thrown in for good measure). Taking into account the reasons why Shakespeare used poetic imagery while writing his dialogue (if you haven’t read Imagery in Macbeth part 1, click here) have a look at the quotes below, which are roughly grouped together by theme / image type. Also bear in mind that his use of language is broader than his use of ‘imagery’ and includes techniques like repetition, dramatic irony, allusion, symbolism, rhetorical questions etc.

Ask yourself what the IMPACT of each quote is on you:

  • does it help you to understand a character better?
  • does it create a particular atmosphere? (taking the place of special effects – lightning, fake blood, smoke machine, sound effects?)
  • does it emphasise one of the major themes in the play? how does it add to your understanding of this theme?
  • is the language / image itself just really clever, striking, memorable, profound, dramatic, disturbing, upsetting, ironic?

Obviously in an exam you’d only have the opportunity to discuss a fraction of the quotes I’ve included below. I’ve got scene references for some but not all of them!


  1. Fair is foul and foul is fair | Hover through the fog and filthy air” (augmenting earlier references to thunder, lightning and rain).
  2. Though his bark cannot be lost | Yet it shall be tempest tossed” Witches
  3. You should be women and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so” Banquo
  4. If you can look into the seeds of time | and say which grain will go and which will not | Speak to me then” Banquo
  5. Is this a dagger which I see before me | the handle towards my hand?
  6. 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! Make thick my blood; stop up the access and passage to remorse……… ………… Come, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, To cry ‘Hold, hold!‘ ” All of this is part of Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy in response to the news that Duncan will be paying a visit to her home (nice lady eh?)
  7.  “Never shake thy gory locks at me” Macbeth to Banquo’s ghost.
  8. This is the very painting of your fear” Lady Macbeth to her husband.
  9. “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble”. Witches (4.1.1)

Images of disguise and concealment (appearance vs reality):

  1. Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under’t” Lady Macbeth, 1, 5
  2. False face must hide what the false heart doth know” Macbeth, 1,7
  3. There’s daggers in men’s smiles. The near in blood, the nearer bloody” Donalbain 2, 3.
  4. Macbeth tells the murderers he hires to kill Banquo and Fleance that he is
  5. Masking the business from the common eye for sundry weighty reasons” 3,1
  6. He tells Lady Macbeth that they must “make our faces vizards to our hearts, disguising what they are” 3,2
  7. He admits “there’s not a one of them but in his house I keep a servant fee’d” 3,4
  8. The mask comes off when he resolves “henceforth the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand” 4,1

Clothing Imagery:

  1. The Thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me in borrowed robes?” Macbeth, 1,3
  2. 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, 1,7
  3. Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?” Lady Macbeth to Macbeth 1,7
  4. Adieu! Lest our old robes sit easier than our new” Macduff to Ross, 2,4
  5. Now does he feel his title hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief” Angus, 5,2

Blood Imagery:

  1. What bloody man is that?” Duncan, 1,3
  2. He unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops and fixed his head upon our battlements” Injured soldier 1,3
  3. I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guilt” Lady Macbeth
  4. Will all great Neptune’s oceans wash clear this blood from my hand? No this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine making the green one red” Macbeth
  5. A little water clears us of this deed” Lady Macbeth
  6. Here lay Duncan, his silver skin laced with his golden blood” Macbeth, ironically, explaining his murder of the grooms.
  7. Blood will have blood” Macbeth
  8. I am in blood stepp’d in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er” Macbeth
  9. My soul is too much charged with blood of thine already” Macbeth
  10. Out out damned spot” Lady Macbeth
  11. Who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him?” Lady Macbeth
  12. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” Lady Macbeth
Nature / Weather / Animal Imagery:
  1. “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” Macbeth
  2. “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 the brains out, had I so sworn as you
    Have done to this”  Lady Macbeth
  3. “The night has been unruly… lamentings heard i’ th’ air, strange screams of death…some say the earth was feverous and did shake” Lennox
  4. “His gashed stabs looked like a breach in nature” Macbeth
  5. “By the clock tis day and yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp” Ross
  6. “A falcon was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed” Duncan’s horses: “Tis said they ate each other” Old Man
  7. “They have tied me to a stake: I cannot fly | But bear like I must fight the course” Macbeth












Imagery in Macbeth (1)

Shakespeare’s tragedies, although they are plays, are written as a form of poetry. They contain lots of rhyme, lots of imagery and a rhythm called iambic pentameter. Basically this is a sentence made up of ten syllables. The second syllable is stressed each time so the rhythm becomes:

di|DUM  di|DUM     di|DUM  di|Dum  di|DUM

In|sooth  I | know   not |why       I | am    so| sad

It | wear ies | me        you | say       it |wear ies | you

If it doesn’t rhyme it’s known as ‘blank verse’. If it does rhyme then it’s just plain old iambic pentameter, occasionally with extra syllables or odd stresses here and there. Here’s an example from Macbeth:

“Hear it not Duncan; for it is a knell 

  That summons thee to heaven or to hell”

Anyway, the basic point is that Shakespeare had all of his characters speak in a very vivid and poetic way.

So why did he do it?

  1. Some critics have suggested that he was trying to make up for the fact that he didn’t have any special effects – lighting, smoke machines, sound effects. This makes sense if you consider that when the witches appear they set the scene saying they will meet again “in thunder, lightening or in rain” as they “hover through the fog and filthy air“. Thus vivid imagery is used to create atmosphere.
  2. A second reason he wrote poetically was because he was a poet and he wanted to show off. Word play was very popular back in the day, it was a way of showing off how clever you were.
  3. Thirdly, this may seem obvious to the point of it being completely stupid for me to even mention it, but this was an era with no photos, no TV, no cinema, no screens. Basically no moving images. The only static images were paintings and only rich people could afford them. Although artists had managed to develop perspective in their paintings during the renaissance (from about 1400 onwards), they didn’t have photocopiers and when Shakespeare was writing in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s the printing press was still a pretty expensive way to create books and pass on knowledge. Plus most people were still illiterate (they couldn’t read or write). So for the regular pleb on the street their only access to images was in their dreams or in the theatre. The only way you could plant images in someone’s head (outside of SHOWING them the thing in person) was by creating pictures using words. So people who could create vivid imagery using words were like OMG a really really big deal. Basically they were Gods. We don’t have the same respect for wordsmiths these days because if you want to show people something you can take a photo, or search google images, or film it on your phone, or make a movie. You get the idea.
  4. Finally, Shakespeare used images to illustrate his themes and to help his audience to understand his characters better.
Those are the main reasons why Shakespeare wrote his plays using dramatic, vivid and memorable imagery. There may be more reasons but I’m not a Shakespearean expert I’m just lil old me and that’s all I’ve got!



10 Q’s – Macbeth

To really get to grips with Macbeth’s character you must form your own personal opinions. Use these 10 questions to get to grips with how YOU feel about his personality. Remember there is no RIGHT interpretation there are only opinions backed up with quotes / examples.
  1. Valiant soldier or violent schemer at the beginning?
  2. Which factor is most influential: (a) Witches & their prophesy? (b) Vaulting ambition? (c) Lady Macbeth?
  3. Immediate & overpowering remorse – what’s that about?
  4. Why is he obsessed with killing Banquo? (oh yeah, and Fleance too)
  5. Has he completely lost it in the Banquet scene? (do you think the Ghost is real or imaginary?)
  6. How does he justify his decision to proceed down the path of evil?
  7. He visits the Witches for a second time. Why? How does he react?
  8. Explain his decision to murder Lady Macduff & children (increasingly erratic & illogical behaviour)
  9. What last vestiges of humanity, conscience, nobility, bravery do we see?
  10. Is he nothing more than a “dead butcher” or do we the audience feel differently about him at the end?
Helen Gardner describes Macbeth’s transformation as a path to damnation beginning at one extreme and ending at the other: “From a brave and loyal general, to a treacherous murderer, to a hirer of assassins, to an employer of spies, to a butcher, to a coward, to a thing with no feeling for anything but itself, to a monster and a hell-hound.
Personally I think this is a little simplistic.
Brave and loyal general” – yet even at the beginning there are disturbing undercurrents to his personality.
Treacherous murderer” – yes he’s a murderer, but one who is crippled by remorse.
A coward” – he refuses to surrender but only because he believes that to surrender would be cowardly.
A thing with no feeling for anything but itself” – why then is he so profoundly suicidal when he receives news of his wife’s death?
A hell-hound” – why does he try to avoid a fight with Macduff? Why do we still feel pity for him?
Anyway, it just goes to show, each person who sees the play brings a different interpretation of his character away with them.

Blame Game 5 – Macbeth


PHASE 5 = Battle with Malcolm’s army →Death

With ten thousand English troops Malcolm, Macduff and Siward go to fight Macbeth. Many Scottish nobles, thanes and soldiers abandon the tyrant Macbeth and switch sides. Meanwhile Lady Macbeth, driven insane with guilt and grief, sleepwalks and obsessively washes imaginary blood from her hands. When Macbeth receives news of her death he sinks into despair at the brevity and futility of life (Act 5, scene 5 soliloquy “Life’s but a walking shadow…”)

However, he vows to fight on as the other options – killing himself or surrendering would be dishonourable in his eyes. He remains over-confident until he learns that the troops have camouflaged themselves with wood from the Birnam forest and are moving toward Dunsinane. When Macbeth comes face to face with Macduff he learns that Macduff was removed from his mother’s womb, and was, thus, never born. Macduff kills Macbeth and Malcolm is returned to the throne. The forces of good regard Macbeth and his wife as a “dead butcher and his fiendlike Queen” but despite ourselves the audience feel a sense of loss at his death.

PHASE 5 – Defeat and Death

The Witches

Once the truth of their prophecies is revealed it is already too late – Macbeth has already committed himself to fighting “they have tied me to the stake I cannot fly but bearlike I must fight the course”. They thus achieve their aim – to bring evil and turmoil to Scotland, to corrupt an essentially good man and to disrupt the Great Chain of Being as ordained by God. However, ultimately good triumphs over evil and order is restored.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth no longer influences events. When Macbeth receives news of her death he reflects sadly on the brevity and pointlessness of human existence :

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
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”.

This does not however stop him from fighting: “Blow, wind! Come, wrack! At least we’ll die with harness on our back”.


Macbeth has nothing left to live for. His wife is dead, he finally accepts that the witches have played him for a fool, it’s too late for him to flee and so his soldierly instincts kick in and he id determined to die fighting – the old Macbeth would have viewed this as more honourable than committing suicide.


He finally accepts the inevitable. He will not live, he will not sire children to inherit the throne (his wife is dead), he should not have trusted the witches and now the only thing left that feels right for him to do is to fight to the death. He has nothing driving him on anymore – no ambition, no hope, no honour left to defend, no future left to look forward to “My way of life Is fall’n into the sere…And that which should accompany old age, As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have, but, in their stead, Curses, not loud but deep” but he has fought so hard for so long and has been so well trained as a soldier never to give up that he fights on, indifferent to his impending death.