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Reference Guide

Macbeth - Reference Guides

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• Born 1564; died 1616
• Playwright, actor, and poet
Author of 37 plays and 152 sonnets
• Plays are divided into the early plays (e.g., The Taming of the Shrew),
the comedies (e.g., Twelfth Night), the histories (e.g., Henry V),
the tragedies (e.g., Macbeth), the problem plays (e.g., Measure for
Measure), and the romance plays (e.g., The Winter’s Tale)
• Plays were performed in court and in public theaters (e.g., The Globe)
• Protagonist dies while defeating antagonist
Tragic hero is mislead by his/her hamartia (e.g., tragic flaw)
• Revenge tragedies involve murder and a quest for vengeance
• Tragic hero is of high moral worth, making the downfall much more tragic for
the audience
The play is considered by some to bring bad luck
• Many accidents and deaths have occurred during running of play
• Battle scenes make the acting more dangerous
• Saying Macbeth aloud is a bad omen
Act I Introduction • Characters, setting, situation, and central themes
are introduced
Act II Development/rising action • Macbeths encounters with the
Witches and the murder of Duncan
Act III Climax • Occurs in the physical middle of the play
(e.g., Act III, Scene 3) with the murder of Banquo
Act IV Denouement/falling action • Fleance escapes, the banquet
goes awry, and Macduff seeks revenge on Macbeth
Act V Conclusion • Battle ensues; Macbeth is slain and Malcolm is
crowned king
Macbeth has a classic rise and fall development
• Each scene contributes to the central action of the story
Macbeth Thane of Glamis, later Thane of Cawdor, and eventually
becomes King of Scotland • Protagonist and tragic hero
Tragic flaw is his ambition, which leads to his murder
of the king • Brave and loyal in the beginning of the
play (e.g., he defends Duncan by killing Macdonwald)
• Hailed as a hero and is given the title Thane of
Cawdor • His actions are spurred on by his vaulting
ambition • He believes in the supernatural and in
prophecy • He hesitates greatly before deciding to kill
Duncan • Turns disloyal and kills the king • Depends
greatly on support and ideas from Lady Macbeth, who
serves as his wife and accomplice • Jealous of noble
Banquo • Becomes untrustworthy according to his
subjects • He dies in the final foreseen battle with
Macduff, his nemesis (“Life’s but a walking shadow, a
poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the
stage...) (Act V, Scene 5)
Duncan King of Scotland; father of Malcolm and Donalbain
Antagonist in the play • He is quick to reward honor
and loyalty to his subjects (e.g., he bestows a title upon
Macbeth as a reward for protecting him) • He is blind
to the threat of Macbeth’s treachery • A gracious
Duncan makes an ideal guest in Macbeth’s castle
A well-liked, virtuous king • Catalyst for Macbeth’s
tragic mistake • Belief in the goodness of people is his
eventual downfall
Lady Macbeth Wife to Macbeth • Integral to the murder plot
She encourages Macbeth to seize the kingship
throughout the play • She shows great strength and
efficiency in preparing the guards for the eventual
murder (i.e., she drugs them) • Believes in Macbeths
ambition, yet fears that he may be too passive to kill
Duncan (Yet do I fear thy nature: It is too full o’ the
nature of human kindness To catch the nearest way...”)
(Act I, Scene 5) • Acts as driving force behind
Macbeths upward climb • Forcefully chides Macbeths
manhood to spur him on
Banquo A thane of Scotland; father of Fleance • A foil to
Macbeth • Historically linked to King James I
• He is exposed to the same temptations as Macbeth,
yet he remains loyal and noble • Defends Duncan
against Norwegian attack with Macbeth • Not envious
of Macbeth’s achievements • Suspects Macbeth of foul
play (Act III, Scene 1) but he does not act on his
knowledge • Partially responsible for his own death due
to his naïveté and his passivity
Macduff Thane of Fife • Nemesis of Macbeth • He only plays a
small part in the early part of the play • He does not
keep his suspicions to himself (“O, horror, horror, horror!
Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee!”)
(Act II, Scene 3) • Loyal, clear-headed, and
strong-willed • He does not attend Macbeth’s
coronation • Kills Macbeth as an act of vengeance for
the murder of his wife and family
Lady Macduff Wife to Macduff and the mother of his children
She loves her husband deeply • She is developed as
a foil to Lady Macbeth • She is portrayed as a
compassionate woman as seen with her children
Her assassination is the catalyst for Macduff’s
revenge and Macbeth’s death
Three Witches/ Three women with supernatural powers and their
The Weird Sisters leader • They represent the combined powers of evil,
and Hecate magic, and the supernatural world • They prophesize
truths about Macbeth and his imminent future, as well
as the truth about other events • They use their
mystical powers in order to create apparitions
(“Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn The
power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm
Macbeth...”) (Act IV, Scene 1) • They serve to drive the
plot by using suspense and riddles that must be solved
They are proven to be all-knowing and accurate
Malcolm Son of Duncan • A man of action (e.g., when his father
is murdered, he escapes immediately to find safety in
England) • He is named as his father’s heir and the
rightful successor to the throne • He possesses a
cautious nature (i.e., he does not attack right away)
• He suspects Macduff and he must be convinced of
his innocence • He eventually joins forces with Macduff
against Macbeth • He is crowned King at the
conclusion of the play
Donalbain Son of Duncan • He is both decisive and quick to
respond (e.g., when Duncan is murdered, he escapes
to Ireland)
Fleance Son of Banquo • Quick, young, and agile • He outruns
the murderers while they attack Banquo • He survives
Macbeths murder plot • He is prophesied to be king in
the future, as Banquo’s heir
Ross A thane of Scotland • Delivers messages in the play
• Reports to Duncan, Macbeth, Macduff, and Siward
• He seems to be kind and good-hearted; determined
by his actions • He remains loyal to Macbeth until after
the banquet
Siward and Earl of Northumberland; father to young Siward
young Siward • Loyal fighters in Malcolms English troops against
Macbeth • Young Siward is passionate and confronts
Macbeth on the battlefield • Young Siward is slain;
Siward’s death serves to encourage Macbeth thatnone
of woman born“ can harm him
Lennox A thane of Scotland • He plays only a small role in the
main action • He switches allegiances away from
Macbeth to Malcolm’s side to assist invasion of
Macbeth • He observes his surroundings with irony and
Angus, Caithness, Thanes of Duncan • Noble supporters of Duncan
Menteith They observe Macbeth’s strange behavior at the
banquet and do not see Banquo’s ghost
Written in 1606-1607
• Dubbed The Scottish Play due to superstitions
• Follows the tragic story of a man tempted against morality to commit murder
for his own gain
• Based upon the murders of King Duff (967 A.D.) and Duncan (1040-1057)
from Scottish history
Similar storyline to Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and
Ireland (1587)
• Most of the play takes place in Duncans palace at Forres and in Macbeth’s
castle at Inverness in Scotland
• Other locations include Macduff’s castle at Fife, a cavern, a heath, Birnam
Wood, the countryside at Dunsinane, and the palace courts and halls
• Play begins at midnight, during a thunderstorm
• Takes place in just over two months, as represented on stage, with three
Day 1 Act I, Scenes 1-3
Day 2 Act I, Scenes 4-7
Day 3 Act II, Scenes 1-4
Interval 1-2 weeks
Day 4 Act III, Scenes 1-6
Day 5 Act IV, Scene 1
Day 6 Act IV, Scene 2
Interval 7-10 days
Day 7 Act IV, Scene 3
Act V, Scene 1
Interval 1-2 weeks
Day 8 Act V, Scenes 2-3
Day 9 Act V, Scenes 4-8
• Order in palace scenes contrasts with unruly outdoors
• Macbeth’s plot lurks within the order of Duncan’s court in Acts 1 and 2
Acts 3 and 4 depict the chaos of Macbeths tyranny and the battle
• Macbeth’s internal struggle
• Damnation vs. salvation
• Macduff’s revenge
Apparition of the bloody baby (e.g., Act IV, Scene 1)
• Loyalty to Duncan
• Parallel betrayals of Macdonwald and Macbeth
• Switched allegiances of Lennox and other Scottish Thanes
• Light and dark imagery are used for symbolic meaning
• Darkness is associated with evil
Whiteness depicts innocence
• Lady Macbeth accuses her husband of being unmanly
• She calls on spirits for strength (“...unsex me here Come to my woman’s
breasts And take my milk for gall...”)
• She plays the traditional dominant male role of initiator in plan
Weird Sisters are bearded; male characteristics
• Macbeth seems loyal; however, he kills the king
• References to “disguise” are made
• False facial expressions emphasize the disparity between the inner and outer
selves (False face must hide what the false heart doth know”)
• Pathetic fallacy is used to mirror events with the elements
Three Witches represent the supernatural (e.g., the apparitions, predictions)
• Banquos ghost
All the prophecies of the Witches are realized
• Used as technical plot device, propelling the story forward
• Macbeth’s tragic flaw
• Motivation for evil
• Observed in Lady Macbeth
• Neutralizes Macbeth’s morals and conscience
• Macbeth possesses free will, yet his doom is unavoidable
• There is an understanding of the consequences, yet there is a persistence
with evil deeds
• Cannot pronounce the word “Amen” (“Wherefore could I not pronounce
• Play has been modified over the years (e.g., 1667 version included dancing
and singing)
• David Garrick played Macbeth in 1774; legendary hit
• Edmund Kean (1814) used an elaborate set (i.e., cliff, gallery, castle)
• Modern versions have been staged on subway grates and empty stages
Elizabethan Stage Conventions
• Murders usually took place off stage
Verbally created theater (i.e., few stage effects, no painted scenery)
Women did not act until after 1660 (i.e., young men played the women)
Just the Facts
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