Category Archives: 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.

Blame Game 4 – Macbeth


PHASE 4 = Witches #2 → Murder Lady Maduff & kids

Macbeth goes to see the witches again to learn his fate. They tell him to beware Macduff; that he will not be defeated until Birnam wood moves to Dunsinane; and that Macbeth will not be killed by someone born of a woman. Macbeth takes all of these signs to mean that he is invincible. Meanwhile, Macduff, a Scottish noble who suspects that Macbeth murdered Duncan, has gone to England to get help to reclaim the throne instead of attending the Banquet. In England Macduff and Malcolm, the rightful heir, ban together to fight Macbeth. When Macbeth learns of Macduff’s treachery, (Act 4, scene 1 – soliloquy “from this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand”) he sends murderers to Macduff’s home to kill his wife and children. When Macduff hears of this, his resolve to kill Macbeth grows even stronger.

PHASE 4 – Bloody Tyrant

 The Witches

This time Macbeth seeks them out rather than the other way around. Their prophecies are designed to make him feel invincible but it appears as if the witches cannot actually lie to him (after all they do reveal a show of eight Kings with Banquo at the end implying that Fleance will one day ascend to the throne). Thus they can only equivocate (deliberately mislead without actually lying) but they do so brilliantly and lead him on to his destruction.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is entirely absent from this section of the play.


Macbeth realises that Duncan’s sons are not going to quietly disappear. Now that they have the support of Macduff and King Edward’s army, they are bound to attempt an invasion of Scotland and Macbeth has been such a bloody tyrant as King that he cannot rely on the support of his subjects.


Instead of turning to his wife for advice or comfort, he returns to see the witches once more. Initially they give him good news – unless a forest walks and a man is not of woman born, he will not be defeated. He begins to feel invincible. However, they then give him bad news (his children will not be Kings) and he finally admits that he should not trust them “infected be the air whereon they ride and damned all those that trust them”. Nonetheless, as he did at the start of the play he hears only what he wants to hear, choosing to ignore all evidence that his defeat in inevitable. He loses it at this point. The more events spin out of his control, the more he lashes out at those around him and this is particularly evident in his decision to have the wife, children and servants of Macduff murdered.

Blame Game 3 – Macbeth


Phase 3 = Murder of Banquo Banquet Scene

In order to secure the throne for his descendants, he must kill Banquo, the other army general, and Banquo’s son (Act 3, scene 1 – soliloquy “To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus”) because the witches’ told Macbeth that Banquo’s descendants would have the throne after Macbeth. So Macbeth sets a trap and hires murderers to kill Banquo and his son, but Banquo’s son escapes. Shortly after Banquo is killed on his way to a banquet at Macbeth’s palace, Macbeth is haunted by Banquo’s ghost. In the middle of the banquet he sees the ghost of the murdered man and makes a scene in front of the Scottish lords. This outburst makes the lords suspicious although Lady Macbeth tries to play it off as just an illness that Macbeth has.

PHASE 3 – Protecting the Throne

 The Witches

The prophesy the Witches gave to Banquo now starts to haunt Macbeth “to be thus is nothing but to be safely thus – our fears in Banquo stick deep”.

Lady Macbeth

 This next section of the play effectively proceeds without her. She has to ask a servant to tell the King that she wants a word with him. She is full of despair because they have sacrificed their peace of mind and what they have gained (the throne) is meaningless because they cannot enjoy it “Nought’s had, all’s spent, Where our desire is got without content”. However she conceals her depression from her husband instead trying to lift his spirits “Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done”. He still confides honestly in her “o full of scorpions is my mind dear wife” but he no longer includes her in the decision-making process “be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck, til thou applaud the deed” perhaps to protect her? Perhaps because he no longer feels he needs her input. However, she proves vital in the Banquet scene, doing her utmost to excuse his odd behaviour “Sit worthy friends: my lord is often thus and hath been from his youth… the fit is momentary” and then when it becomes clear that Macbeth cannot control himself sending them away before he ruins everything “Stand not upon your the order of your going but go at once”


Once you are King you can get away with anything. Macbeth has no trouble hiring murderers to kill Banquo & his son, convincing them that Banquo wronged them. He’s the King – whether they believe him or not they must obey. However, as ruler you need the support of your nobles. Macbeth cannot force Macduff to attend his coronation feast. He may be using underhanded tactics to spy on his subjects (“there’s not one of them but in his house I keep a servant fee’d”) but this is not likely to inspire loyalty, nor is his erratic behaviour at the feast going to do him any favours.


Macbeth very rapidly loses his moral compass – he freely admits that Banquo is a good man who does not deserve to die “in his royalty of nature reigns that which would be feared” but Macbeth didn’t allow this to stop him when it came to killing Duncan so he’s not going to let it stop him now. He really has transformed remarkably quickly into a selfish ruthless murderer. However, we do get a glimpse of his inner torture when he echoes his wife’s envy of Duncan who is now at peace “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”. Once you start to feel jealous of those who are dead it’s just one short step to feeling suicidal yourself but Duncan is presumably in heaven whereas they are in hell, now and for all eternity! The banquet scene is proof of something Macbeth himself suspected before he ever killed Duncan – the idea of karma, that what goes around comes around “bloody instructions….return to plague the inventor”. Macbeth may be selfish and ruthless but he is also vulnerable, tortured, paranoid and terrified that he is losing his mind.