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The Folger Shakespeare

A Modern Perspective: Macbeth

By Susan Snyder

Coleridge pronounced Macbeth to be “wholly tragic.” Rejecting the drunken Porter of Act 2, scene 3 as “an interpolation of the actors,” and perceiving no wordplay in the rest of the text (he was wrong on both counts), he declared that the play had no comic admixture at all. More acutely, though still in support of this sense of the play as unadulterated tragedy, he noted the absence in Macbeth of a process characteristic of other Shakespearean tragedies, the “reasonings of equivocal morality.” 1

Indeed, as Macbeth ponders his decisive tragic act of killing the king, he is not deceived about its moral nature. To kill anyone to whom he is tied by obligations of social and political loyalty as well as kinship is, he knows, deeply wrong:

         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.                  ( 1.7.12 –16)

And to kill Duncan, who has been “so clear in his great office” (that is, so free from corruption as a ruler), is to compound the iniquity. In adapting the story of Macbeth from Holinshed’s Chronicles of Scotland, Shakespeare created a stark black-white moral opposition by omitting from his story Duncan’s weakness as a monarch while retaining his gentle, virtuous nature. Unlike his prototype in Holinshed’s history, Macbeth kills not an ineffective leader but a saint whose benevolent presence blesses Scotland. In the same vein of polarized morality, Shakespeare departs from the Holinshed account in which Macbeth is joined in regicide by Banquo and others; instead, he has Macbeth act alone against Duncan. While it might be good politics to distance Banquo from guilt (he was an ancestor of James I, the current king of England and patron of Shakespeare’s acting company), excluding the other thanes as well suggests that the playwright had decided to focus on private, purely moral issues uncomplicated by the gray shades of political expediency.

Duncan has done nothing, then, to deserve violent death. Unlike such tragic heroes as Brutus and Othello, who are enmeshed in “equivocal morality,” Macbeth cannot justify his actions by the perceived misdeeds of his victim. “I have no spur,” he admits, “To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition” ( 1.7.25 –27). This ambition is portrayed indirectly rather than directly. But it is surely no accident that the Weïrd Sisters accost him and crystallize his secret thoughts of the crown into objective possibility just when he has hit new heights of success captaining Duncan’s armies and defeating Duncan’s enemies. The element of displacement and substitution here—Macbeth leading the fight for Scotland while the titular leader waits behind the lines for the outcome—reinforces our sense that, whatever mysterious timetable the Sisters work by, this is the psychologically right moment to confront Macbeth with their predictions of greatness. Hailed as thane of Glamis, thane of Cawdor, and king, he is initially curious and disbelieving. Though his first fearful reaction ( 1.3.54 ) is left unexplained, for us to fill in as we will, surely one way to read his fear is that the word “king” touches a buried nerve of desire. When Ross and Angus immediately arrive to announce that Macbeth is now Cawdor as well as Glamis, the balance of skepticism tilts precipitously toward belief. The nerve vibrates intensely. Two-thirds of the prophecy is already accomplished. The remaining prediction, “king hereafter,” is suddenly isolated and highlighted; and because of the Sisters’ now proven powers of foreknowledge, it seems to call out for its parallel, inevitable fulfillment.

The Weïrd Sisters present nouns rather than verbs. They put titles on Macbeth without telling what actions he must carry out to attain those titles. It is Lady Macbeth who supplies the verbs. Understanding that her husband is torn between the now-articulated object of desire and the fearful deed that must achieve it (“wouldst not play false / And yet wouldst wrongly win,” 1.5.22 –23), she persuades him by harping relentlessly on manly action. That very gap between noun and verb, the desired prize and the doing necessary to win it, becomes a way of taunting him as a coward: “Art thou afeard / To be the same in thine own act and valor / As thou art in desire?” ( 1.7.43 –45). A man is one who closes this gap by strong action, by taking what he wants; whatever inhibits that action is unmanly fear. And a man is one who does what he has sworn to do, no matter what. We never see Macbeth vow to kill Duncan, but in Lady Macbeth’s mind just his broaching the subject has become a commitment. With graphic horror she fantasizes how she would tear her nursing baby from her breast and dash its brains out if she had sworn as she says her husband did. She would, that is, violate her deepest nature as a woman and sever violently the closest tie of kinship and dependence. Till now, Macbeth has resisted such violation, clinging to a more humane definition of “man” that accepts fidelity and obligation as necessary limits on his prowess. Now, in danger of being bested by his wife in this contest of fierce determinations, he accepts her simpler, more primitive equation of manhood with killing: he commits himself to destroying Duncan. It is significant for the lack of “equivocal morality” that even Lady Macbeth in this crucial scene of persuasion doesn’t try to manipulate or blur the polarized moral scheme. Adopting instead a warrior ethic apart from social morality, she presents the murder not as good but as heroic.

Moral clarity informs not only the decisions and actions of Macbeth but the stage of nature on which they are played out. The natural universe revealed in the play is essentially attuned to the good, so that it reacts to the unambiguously evil act of killing Duncan with disruptions that are equally easy to read. There are wild winds, an earthquake, “strange screams of death” ( 2.3.61 –69). And beyond such general upheaval there is a series of unnatural acts that distortedly mirror Macbeth’s. Duncan’s horses overthrow natural order and devour each other, like Macbeth turning on his king and cousin. “A falcon, tow’ring in her pride of place”—the monarch of birds at its highest pitch—is killed by a mousing owl, a lesser bird who ordinarily preys on insignificant creatures ( 2.4.15 –16). Most ominous of all, on the morning following the king’s death, is the absence of the sun: like the falcon a symbol of monarchy, but expanding that to suggest the source of all life. In a general sense, the sunless day shows the heavens “troubled with man’s act” ( 2.4.7 ), but the following grim metaphor points to a closer and more sinister connection: “dark night strangles the traveling lamp” ( 2.4.9 ). The daylight has been murdered like Duncan. Scotland’s moral darkness lasts till the end of Macbeth’s reign. The major scenes take place at night or in the atmosphere of the “black, and midnight hags” ( 4.1.48 ), and there is no mention of light or sunshine except in England ( 4.3.1 ).

Later in the play, nature finds equally fitting forms for its revenge against Macbeth. Despite his violations of the natural order, he nevertheless expects the laws of nature to work for him in the usual way. But the next victim, Banquo, though his murderer has left him “safe in a ditch” ( 3.4.28 ), refuses to stay safely still and out of sight. In Macbeth’s horrified response to this restless corpse, we may hear not only panic but outrage at the breakdown of the laws of motion:

                           The time has been

That, when the brains were out, the man would die,

And there an end. But now they rise again

With twenty mortal murders on their crowns

And push us from our stools. This is more strange

Than such a murder is.                           ( 3.4.94 –99)

His word choice is odd: “ they rise,” a plural where we would expect “he rises,” and the loaded word “crowns” for heads. Macbeth seems to be haunted by his last victim, King Duncan, as well as the present one. And by his outraged comparison at the end—the violent death and the ghostly appearance compete in strangeness—Macbeth suggests, without consciously intending to, that Banquo’s walking in death answers to, or even is caused by, the murder that cut him off so prematurely. The unnatural murder generates unnatural movement in the dead. Lady Macbeth, too, walks when she should be immobile in sleep, “a great perturbation in nature” ( 5.1.10 ).

It is through this same ironic trust in natural law that Macbeth draws strength from the Sisters’ later prophecy: if he is safe until Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane, he must be safe forever:

Who can impress the forest, bid the tree

Unfix his earthbound root? Sweet bodements, good!

Rebellious dead, rise never till the Wood

Of Birnam rise . . .                  ( 4.1.109 –12)

His security is ironic because for Macbeth, of all people, there can be no dependence on predictable natural processes. The “rebellious dead” have already unnaturally risen once; fixed trees can move against him as well. And so, in time, they do. Outraged nature keeps matching the Macbeths’ transgressions, undoing and expelling their perversities with its own.

In tragedies where right and wrong are rendered problematic, the dramatic focus is likely to be on the complications of choice. Macbeth, on the contrary, is preoccupied less with the protagonist’s initial choice of a relatively unambiguous wrong action than with the moral decline that follows. H. B. Charlton noted that one could see in Richard III as well as Macbeth the biblical axiom that “the wages of sin is death”; but where the history play assumes the principle, Macbeth demonstrates why it has to be that way. 2 The necessity is not so much theological as psychological: we watch in Macbeth the hardening and distortion that follows on self-violation. The need to suppress part of himself in order to kill Duncan becomes a refusal to acknowledge his deed (“I am afraid to think what I have done. / Look on ’t again I dare not”: 2.2.66 –67). His later murders are all done by proxy, in an attempt to create still more distance between the destruction he wills and full psychic awareness of his responsibility. At the same time, murder becomes a necessary activity, the verb now a compulsion almost without regard to the object: plotted after he has seen the Weïrd Sisters’ apparitions, Macbeth’s attack on Macduff’s “line” ( 4.1.174 ) is an insane double displacement, of fear of Macduff himself and fury at the vision of the line of kings fathered by Banquo.

Yet the moral universe of Macbeth is not as uncomplicated as some critics have imagined. To see in the play’s human and physical nature only a straightforward pattern of sin and punishment is to gloss over the questions it raises obliquely, the moral complexities and mysteries it opens up. The Weïrd Sisters, for example, remain undefined. Where do they come from? Where do they go when they disappear from the action in Act 4? What is their place in a moral universe that ostensibly recoils against sin and punishes it? Are they human witches, or supernatural beings? Labeling them “evil” seems not so much incorrect as inadequate. Do they cause men to commit crimes, or do they only present the possibility to them? Macbeth responds to his prophecy by killing his king, but Banquo after hearing the one directed at him is not impelled to act at all. Do we take this difference as demonstrating that the Sisters have in themselves no power beyond suggestion? Or should we rather find it somewhat sinister later on when Banquo, ancestor of James I or not, sees reason in Macbeth’s success to look forward to his own—yet feels it necessary to conceal his hopes ( 3.1.1 –10)?

Even what we most take for granted becomes problematic when scrutinized. Does Macbeth really desire to be king? Lady Macbeth says he does, but what comes through in 1.5 and 1.7 is more her desire than his. Apart from one brief reference to ambition when he is ruling out other motives to kill Duncan, Macbeth himself is strangely silent about any longing for royal power and position. Instead of an obsession that fills his personal horizon, we find in Macbeth something of a motivational void. Why does he feel obligated, or compelled, to bring about an advance in station that the prophecy seems to render inevitable anyway? A. C. Bradley put his finger on this absence of positive desire when he observed that Macbeth commits his crime as if it were “an appalling duty.” 3

Recent lines of critical inquiry also call old certainties into question. Duncan’s saintly status would seem assured, yet sociological critics are disquieted by the way we are introduced to him, as he receives news of the battle in 1.2. On the one hand we hear reports of horrifying savagery in the fighting, savagery in which the loyal thanes participate as much as the rebels and invaders—more so, in fact, when Macbeth and Banquo are likened to the crucifiers of Christ (“or memorize another Golgotha,” 1.2.44 ). In response we see Duncan exulting not only in the victory but in the bloodshed, equating honor with wounds. It is not that he bears any particular guilt. Yet the mild paternal king is nevertheless implicated here in his society’s violent warrior ethic, its predicating of manly worth on prowess in killing. 4 But isn’t this just what we condemn in Lady Macbeth? Cultural analysis tends to blur the sharp demarcations, even between two such figures apparently totally opposed, and to draw them together as participants in and products of the same constellation of social values.

Lady Macbeth and Duncan meet in a more particular way, positioned as they are on the same side of Scotland’s basic division between warriors and those protected by warriors. The king is too old and fragile to fight; the lady is neither, but she is barred from battle by traditional gender conventions that assign her instead the functions of following her husband’s commands and nurturing her young. In fact, of course, Lady Macbeth’s actions and outlook thoroughly subvert this ideology, as she forcefully takes the lead in planning the murder and shames her husband into joining in by her willingness to slaughter her own nurseling. It is easy to call Lady Macbeth “evil,” but the label tends to close down analysis exactly where we ought to probe more deeply. Macbeth’s wife is restless in a social role that in spite of her formidable courage and energy offers no chance of independent action and heroic achievement. It is almost inevitable that she turn to achievement at second hand, through and for her husband. Standing perforce on the sidelines, like Duncan once again, she promotes and cheers the killing.

Other situations, too, may be more complex than at first they seem. Lady Macduff, unlike Lady Macbeth, accepts her womanly function of caring for her children and her nonwarrior status of being protected. But she is not protected. The ideology of gender seems just as destructive from the submissive side as from the rebellious, when Macduff deserts her in order to pursue his political cause against Macbeth in England and there is no husband to stand in the way of the murderers sent by Macbeth. The obedient wife dies, with her cherished son, just as the rebellious, murderous lady will die who consigned her own nursing baby to death. The moral universe of Macbeth has room for massive injustice. Traditional critics find Lady Macbeth “unnatural,” and even those who do not accept the equation of gender ideology with nature can agree with the condemnation in view of her determined suppression of all bonds of human sympathy. Clear enough. But we get more blurring and crossovers when Macduff’s wife calls him unnatural. In leaving his family defenseless in Macbeth’s dangerous Scotland, he too seems to discount human bonds. His own wife complains bitterly that “he wants the natural touch”; where even the tiny wren will fight for her young against the owl, his flight seems to signify fear rather than natural love ( 4.2.8 –16). Ross’s reply, “cruel are the times,” while it doesn’t console Lady Macduff and certainly doesn’t save her, strives to relocate the moral ambiguity of Macduff’s conduct in the situation created by Macbeth’s tyrannical rule. The very political crisis that pulls Macduff away from his family on public business puts his private life in jeopardy through the same act of desertion. But while acknowledging the peculiar tensions raised by a tyrant-king, we may also see in the Macduff family’s disaster a tragic version of a more familiar conflict: the contest between public and private commitments that can rack conventional marriages, with the wife confined to a private role while the husband is supposed to balance obligations in both spheres.

Malcolm is allied with Duncan by lineage and with Macduff by their shared role of redemptive champion in the final movement of the play. He, too, is not allowed to travel through the action unsullied. After a long absence from the scene following the murder of Duncan, he reappears in England to be sought by Macduff in the crusade against Macbeth. Malcolm is cautious and reserved, and when he does start speaking more freely, what we hear is an astonishing catalogue of self-accusations. He calls himself lustful, avaricious, guilty of every crime and totally lacking in kingly virtues:

                Nay, had I power, I should

Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell,

Uproar the universal peace, confound

All unity on earth.                  ( 4.3.113 –16)

Before people became so familiar with Shakespeare’s play, I suspect many audiences believed what Malcolm says of himself. Students on first reading still do. Why shouldn’t they? He has been absent from the stage for some time, and his only significant action in the early part of the play was to run away after his father’s murder. When this essentially unknown prince lists his vices in lengthy speeches of self-loathing, there is no indication—except an exaggeration easily ascribable to his youth—that he is not sincere. And if we do believe, we cannot help joining in Macduff’s distress. Malcolm, the last hope for redeeming Scotland from the tyrant, has let us down. Duncan’s son is more corrupt than Macbeth. He even sounds like Macbeth, whose own milk of human kindness ( 1.5.17 ) was curdled by his wife; who threatened to destroy the whole natural order, “though the treasure / Of nature’s germens tumble all together / Even till destruction sicken” ( 4.1.60 –63). In due course, Malcolm takes it all back; but his words once spoken cannot simply be canceled, erased as if they were on paper. We have already, on hearing them, mentally and emotionally processed the false “facts,” absorbed them experientially. Perhaps they continue to color indirectly our sense of the next king of Scotland.

Viewed through various lenses, then, the black and white of Macbeth may fade toward shades of gray. The play is an open system, offering some fixed markers with which to take one’s basic bearings but also, in closer scrutiny, offering provocative questions and moral ambiguities.

  • “Notes for a Lecture on Macbeth ” [c. 1813], in Coleridge’s Writings on Shakespeare , ed. Terence Hawkes (New York: Capricorn, 1959), p. 188.
  • H. B. Charlton, Shakespearian Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), p. 141.
  • A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (London: Macmillan, 1904), p. 358.
  • James L. Calderwood, If It Were Done: “Macbeth” and Tragic Action (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), pp. 77–89.

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MidPacific Literature

  • May 3, 2019

Photo Essay: Macbeth Noir

There is a lot of symbolism in the play Macbeth...lots of shadows, dark deeds, and hiding the truth. Let's use black and white photography to capture the essence of that....

macbeth photo essay

1. Choose 9 iconic moments - the scenes that for you, are the most powerful. (this is called a "Literary 3 X 3"). Be sure to have at least 1 scene per act (there are 5 acts).

2. take photos that will illustrate these scenes or quotes. you are encouraged to think metaphorically as well as literally. stage them with drama get macro (close-up), 3. match your photos with textual evidence (the context, direct quote, and act/ scene reference), 4. use a noir filter (or other dramatic black and white treatment) for effect. option: use spot color on a black and white photo (such as red)., 5. compile the 9 images into a cohesive photo essay on your blog (you can post directly, make a collage, or use google slides)., 6. we will share all in class. you can view examples from the 11th grade ib class by checking out their blogs in "student work" and searching for "kokoro noir"., here is one done in piccollage, here's one done as a blog post with lots of staged photos, one that has a lot of metaphor, here is an example using the noir app:.

macbeth photo essay

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Macbeth – A* / L9 Full Mark Example Essay

This is an A* / L9 full mark example essay on Macbeth completed by a 15-year-old student in timed conditions (50 mins writing, 10 mins planning).

It contained a few minor spelling and grammatical errors – but the quality of analysis overall was very high so this didn’t affect the grade. It is extremely good on form and structure, and perhaps could do with more language analysis of poetic and grammatical devices; as the quality of thought and interpretation is so high this again did not impede the overall mark. 

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Macbeth’s ambition for status and power grows throughout the play. Shakespeare uses Macbeth as an embodiment of greed and asks the audience to question their own actions through the use of his wrongful deeds.

In the extract, Macbeth is demonstrated to possess some ambition but with overriding morals, when writing to his wife about the prophecies, Lady Macbeth uses metaphors to describe his kind hearted nature: “yet I do fear thy nature, / It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness”. Here, Shakespeare presents Macbeth as a more gentle natured being who is loyal to his king and country. However, the very act of writing the letter demonstrates his inklings of desire, and ambition to take the throne. Perhaps, Shakespeare is aiming to ask the audience about their own thoughts, and whether they would be willing to commit heinous deeds for power and control. 

Furthermore, the extract presents Macbeth’s indecisive tone when thinking of the murder – he doesn’t want to kill Duncan but knows it’s the only way to the throne. Lady Macbeth says she might need to interfere in order to persuade him; his ambition isn’t strong enough yet: “That I may pour my spirits in  thine ear / And chastise with the valour of my tongue”. Here, Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as a manipulative character, conveying she will seduce him in order to “sway “ his mind into killing Duncan. The very need for her persuasion insinuates Macbeth is still weighing up the consequences in his head, his ambition equal with his morality. It would be shocking for the audience to see a female character act in this authoritative way. Lady Macbeth not only holds control of her husband in a patriarchal society but the stage too, speaking in iambic pentameter to portray her status: “To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great”. It is interesting that Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth in this way; she has more ambition for power than her husband at this part of play. 

As the play progresses, in Act 3, Macbeth’s ambition has grown and now kills with ease. He sends three murders to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance, as the witches predicted that he may have heirs to the throne which could end his reign. Macbeth is suspicious in this act, hiding his true intentions from his dearest companion and his wife: “I wish your horses swift and sure on foot” and “and make our faces vizards to our hearts”. There, we see, as an audience, Macbeth’s longing to remain King much stronger than his initial attitudes towards the throne He was toying with the idea of killing for the throne and now he is killing those that could interfere with his rule without a second thought. It is interesting that Shakespeare presents him this way, as though he is ignoring his morals or that they have been “numbed” by his ambition. Similarly to his wife in the first act, Macbeth also speaks in pentameter to illustrate his increase in power and dominance. 

In Act 4, his ambition and dependence on power has grown even more. When speaking with the witches about the three apparitions, he uses imperatives to portray his newly adopted controlling nature: “I conjure you” and “answer me”. Here, the use of his aggressive demanding demonstrates his reliance on the throne and his need for security. By the Witches showing him the apparitions and predicting his future, he gains a sense of superiority, believing he is safe and protected from everything. Shakespeare also lengthens Macbeth’s speech in front of the Witches in comparison to Act 1 to show his power and ambition has given him confidence, confidence to speak up to the “filthy nags” and expresses his desires. Although it would be easy to infer Macbeth’s greed and ambition has grown from his power-hungry nature, a more compassionate reading of Macbeth demonstrates the pressure he feels as a Jacobean man and soldier. Perhaps he feels he has to constantly strive for more to impress those around him or instead he may want to be king to feel more worthy and possibly less insecure. 

It would be unusual to see a Jacobean citizen approaching an “embodiment” of the supernatural as forming alliance with them was forbidden and frowned upon. Perhaps Shakespeare uses Macbeth to defy these stereotypical views to show that there is a supernatural, a more dark side in us all and it is up to our own decisions whereas we act on these impulses to do what is morally incorrect. 

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William Shakespeare

  • Literature Notes
  • Major Themes
  • Macbeth at a Glance
  • Play Summary
  • About Macbeth
  • Character List
  • Summary and Analysis
  • Act I: Scene 1
  • Act I: Scene 2
  • Act I: Scene 3
  • Act I: Scene 4
  • Act I: Scene 5
  • Act I: Scene 6
  • Act I: Scene 7
  • Act II: Scene 1
  • Act II: Scene 2
  • Act II: Scene 3
  • Act II: Scene 4
  • Act III: Scene 1
  • Act III: Scene 2
  • Act III: Scene 3
  • Act III: Scene 4
  • Act III: Scene 5
  • Act III: Scene 6
  • Act IV: Scene 1
  • Act IV: Scene 2
  • Act IV: Scene 3
  • Act V: Scene 1
  • Act V: Scene 2
  • Act V: Scene 3
  • Act V: Scene 4
  • Act V: Scene 5
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  • Act V: Scene 7
  • Act V: Scene 8
  • Act V: Scene 9
  • Character Analysis
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Critical Essays Major Themes

The Fall of Man

The ancient Greek notion of tragedy concerned the fall of a great man, such as a king, from a position of superiority to a position of humility on account of his ambitious pride, or hubris . To the Greeks, such arrogance in human behavior was punishable by terrible vengeance. The tragic hero was to be pitied in his fallen plight but not necessarily forgiven: Greek tragedy frequently has a bleak outcome. Christian drama, on the other hand, always offers a ray of hope; hence, Macbeth ends with the coronation of Malcolm , a new leader who exhibits all the correct virtues for a king.

Macbeth exhibits elements that reflect the greatest Christian tragedy of all: the Fall of Man. In the Genesis story, it is the weakness of Adam, persuaded by his wife (who has in turn been seduced by the devil) which leads him to the proud assumption that he can "play God." But both stories offer room for hope: Christ will come to save mankind precisely because mankind has made the wrong choice through his own free will. In Christian terms, although Macbeth has acted tyrannically, criminally, and sinfully, he is not entirely beyond redemption in heaven.

Fortune, Fate, and Free Will

Fortune is another word for chance. The ancient view of human affairs frequently referred to the "Wheel of Fortune," according to which human life was something of a lottery. One could rise to the top of the wheel and enjoy the benefits of superiority, but only for a while. With an unpredictable swing up or down, one could equally easily crash to the base of the wheel.

Fate, on the other hand, is fixed. In a fatalistic universe, the length and outcome of one's life (destiny) is predetermined by external forces. In Macbeth, the Witches represent this influence. The play makes an important distinction: Fate may dictate what will be, but how that destiny comes about is a matter of chance (and, in a Christian world such as Macbeth's) of man's own choice or free will.

Although Macbeth is told he will become king, he is not told how to achieve the position of king: that much is up to him. We cannot blame him for becoming king (it is his Destiny), but we can blame him for the way in which he chooses to get there (by his own free will).

Kingship and Natural Order

Macbeth is set in a society in which the notion of honor to one's word and loyalty to one's superiors is absolute. At the top of this hierarchy is the king, God's representative on Earth. Other relationships also depend on loyalty: comradeship in warfare, hospitality of host towards guest, and the loyalty between husband and wife. In this play, all these basic societal relationships are perverted or broken. Lady Macbeth's domination over her husband, Macbeth's treacherous act of regicide, and his destruction of comradely and family bonds, all go against the natural order of things.

The medieval and renaissance view of the world saw a relationship between order on earth, the so-called microcosm , and order on the larger scale of the universe, or macrocosm. Thus, when Lennox and the Old Man talk of the terrifying alteration in the natural order of the universe — tempests, earthquakes, darkness at noon, and so on — these are all reflections of the breakage of the natural order that Macbeth has brought about in his own microcosmic world.

Disruption of Nature

Violent disruptions in nature — tempests, earthquakes, darkness at noon, and so on — parallel the unnatural and disruptive death of the monarch Duncan.

The medieval and renaissance view of the world saw a relationship between order on earth, the so-called microcosm, and order on the larger scale of the universe, or macrocosm. Thus, when Lennox and the Old Man talk of the terrifying alteration in the natural order of the universe (nature), these are all reflections of the breakage of the natural order that Macbeth has brought about in his own microcosmic world (society).

Many critics see the parallel between Duncan's death and disorder in nature as an affirmation of the divine right theory of kingship. As we witness in the play, Macbeth's murder of Duncan and his continued tyranny extends the disorder of the entire country.

Gender Roles

Lady Macbeth is the focus of much of the exploration of gender roles in the play. As Lady Macbeth propels her husband toward committing Duncan's murder, she indicates that she must take on masculine characteristics. Her most famous speech — located in Act I, Scene 5 — addresses this issue.

Clearly, gender is out of its traditional order. This disruption of gender roles is also presented through Lady Macbeth's usurpation of the dominate role in the Macbeth's marriage; on many occasions, she rules her husband and dictates his actions.

Reason Versus Passion

During their debates over which course of action to take, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use different persuasive strategies. Their differences can easily be seen as part of a thematic study of gender roles. However, in truth, the difference in ways Macbeth and Lady Macbeth rationalize their actions is essential to understanding the subtle nuances of the play as a whole.

Macbeth is very rational, contemplating the consequences and implications of his actions. He recognizes the political, ethical, and religious reason why he should not commit regicide. In addition to jeopardizing his afterlife, Macbeth notes that regicide is a violation of Duncan's "double trust" that stems from Macbeth's bonds as a kinsman and as a subject.

On the other hand, Lady Macbeth has a more passionate way of examining the pros and cons of killing Duncan. She is motivated by her feelings and uses emotional arguments to persuade her husband to commit the evil act.

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macbeth photo essay

Macbeth Essays

There are loads of ways you can approach writing an essay, but the two i favour are detailed below., the key thing to remember is that an essay should focus on the three aos:, ao1: plot and character development; ao2: language and technique; ao3: context, strategy 1 : extract / rest of play, the first strategy basically splits the essay into 3 paragraphs., the first paragraph focuses on the extract, the second focuses on the rest of the play, the third focuses on context. essentially, it's one ao per paragraph, for a really neatly organised essay., strategy 2 : a structured essay with an argument, this strategy allows you to get a much higher marks as it's structured to form an argument about the whole text. although you might think that's harder - and it's probably going to score more highly - i'd argue that it's actually easier to master. mainly because you do most of the work before the day of the exam., to see some examples of these, click on the links below:, lady macbeth as a powerful woman, macbeth as a heroic character, the key to this style is remembering this: you're going to get a question about a theme, and the extract will definitely relate to the theme., the strategy here is planning out your essays before the exam, knowing that the extract will fit into them somehow., below are some structured essays i've put together., macbeth and gender.


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  1. Photo Essay: Macbeth Noir. Choose 9 iconic moments

    3. Match your photos with TEXTUAL EVIDENCE (the context, direct quote, and Act/ Scene reference) 4. Use a NOIR filter (or other dramatic black and white treatment) for effect. Option: use spot ...

  2. Macbeth Photo Essay by Jennifer M. Brenda N. Jenny H., Maria V., and

    Macbeth Photo Essay by Jennifer M. Brenda N. Jenny H., Maria V., and EvaMarie M. ... Macbeth is king but Banquo doubts it is because of fate. Banquo doubts there is some corruption involved in these events. 2. Power "Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye, your hand, your tongue: look like the serpent under't."-Lady Macbeth (Act 1, Scene ...

  3. PDF Six Macbeth' essays by Wreake Valley students

    Level 5 essay Lady Macbeth is shown as forceful and bullies Macbeth here in act 1.7 when questioning him about his masculinity. This follows from when Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth to be ambitious when Macbeth writes her a letter and she reads it as a soliloquy in act 1.5.

  4. A+ Student Essay: The Significance of Equivocation in Macbeth

    A+ Student Essay: The Significance of Equivocation in Macbeth. Macbeth is a play about subterfuge and trickery. Macbeth, his wife, and the three Weird Sisters are linked in their mutual refusal to come right out and say things directly. Instead, they rely on implications, riddles, and ambiguity to evade the truth.

  5. A Modern Perspective: Macbeth

    A Modern Perspective: Macbeth. By Susan Snyder. Coleridge pronounced Macbeth to be "wholly tragic.". Rejecting the drunken Porter of Act 2, scene 3 as "an interpolation of the actors," and perceiving no wordplay in the rest of the text (he was wrong on both counts), he declared that the play had no comic admixture at all.

  6. Macbeth: Study Guide

    Macbeth by William Shakespeare, which is believed to have been written around 1606, is a timeless tragedy that delves into the corrosive effects of unchecked ambition. Set against the backdrop of medieval Scotland, the play follows the tragic downfall of Macbeth, at first a brave and honorable general. His fate takes a drastic turn when he ...

  7. Photo Essay: Macbeth Noir

    There is a lot of symbolism in the play Macbeth...lots of shadows, dark deeds, and hiding the truth. Let's use black and white photography to capture the essence of that.... 1. Choose 9 iconic moments - the scenes that for you, are the most powerful. (this is called a "Literary 3 X 3"). Be sure to have at least 1 scene per act (there are 5 acts). 2. Take photos that will illustrate these ...

  8. How to Write an Essay on Macbeth

    As you get started on an essay about Macbeth, you will want to reflect on the major characters, themes, and quotations that stand out and make the play the tragedy that it is. The major characters ...

  9. Macbeth Essays

    The Captain tells the King that 'brave Macbeth' (1.2.16) met the traitor Macdonald with his sword drawn and killed him in a very horrible and gory manner. Thus our first description of Macbeth is ...

  10. Macbeth

    Macbeth - A* / L9 Full Mark Example Essay. This is an A* / L9 full mark example essay on Macbeth completed by a 15-year-old student in timed conditions (50 mins writing, 10 mins planning). It contained a few minor spelling and grammatical errors - but the quality of analysis overall was very high so this didn't affect the grade.

  11. Macbeth: Critical Essays

    Get free homework help on William Shakespeare's Macbeth: play summary, scene summary and analysis and original text, quotes, essays, character analysis, and filmography courtesy of CliffsNotes. In Macbeth , William Shakespeare's tragedy about power, ambition, deceit, and murder, the Three Witches foretell Macbeth's rise to King of Scotland but also prophesy that future kings will descend from ...

  12. Shakespeare's Macbeth: Critical Essay

    As Macbeth approaches its tragic climax in Act Three, Scene Four, Shakespeare clarifies that Macbeth is not insane, but, rather, has become diseased. He achieves this key message through the display of Macbeth's breaking point to his accumulating fears. The scene's development of the motif of disease is critical to the story arc of the play ...

  13. Macbeth Photo Essay by Christian Ross

    Macbeth Photo Essay By Chris Ross Act 1, Scene 3 Act 1, Scene 3 This black cat, as a symbol of superstition, represents the supernatural encounter Macbeth and Banquo have with the 3 witches who deliver a prophecy promising that Macbeth will be thane of Glamis, thane of Cawdor, and

  14. Macbeth: Suggested Essay Topics

    4. Discuss Macbeth's visions and hallucinations. What role do they play in the development of his character? 5. Is Macbeth a moral play? Is justice served at the end of the play? Defend your answer. 6. Discuss Shakespeare's use of the technique of elision, in which certain key events take place offstage.

  15. Macbeth Photo Essay Assignment.docx

    Photo Essay Requirements: Title: Original and captivating - it should directly reflect the argument of your photo essay and the prompt selection. Introduction: Write an introductory paragraph with 5-8 sentences. You do not need a photo with this paragraph; it is optional. End this paragraph with your thesis statement. Photographs: Collect 5-6 photographs that represent your theme and/or ...

  16. Shakespeare's Macbeth essay, summary, quotes and character analysis

    Timeline. Master Shakespeare's Macbeth using Absolute Shakespeare's Macbeth essay, plot summary, quotes and characters study guides. Plot Summary: A quick review of the plot of Macbeth including every important action in the play. An ideal introduction before reading the original text. Commentary: Detailed description of each act with ...

  17. Macbeth

    Macbeth, tragedy in five acts by William Shakespeare, written sometime in 1606-07 and published in the First Folio of 1623 from a playbook or a transcript of one. Some portions of the original text are corrupted or missing from the published edition. The play is the shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies, without diversions or subplots.

  18. Macbeth

    Summary of Macbeth. The action begins on the eve of a battle between the Scottish army and a Norwegian rebellion, when the two famed generals of King Duncan, Macbeth and Banquo, meet three mysterious women (witches) that have previously cast a prophecy in a storm. For more analysis on Shakespeare's use of pathetic fallacy in Macbeth, check ...

  19. AQA English Revision

    The essay below uses this simple structure: An introductory paragraph to summarise an answer to the question. One paragraph about the extract. ... Macbeth goes on to "disdain fortune" - suggesting that he doesn't care what fortune has in store for him, and he "carves his own passage." The idea that he has enough inner strength to ...

  20. Macbeth Photo Essay by Parveen Chaggar on Prezi Next

    In this scene, we find Lady Macbeth sleepwalking through the castle, hallucinating and rubbing her hands together as if she is washing them. The 'spot' she is talking about is the imaginary blood she sees on her hands from the murders and other crimes she and her husband have been involved in. She is completely undone by guilt and descends into ...

  21. Macbeth Photo Essay by Katherine-Anne Templeman

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  22. AQA English Revision

    Strategy 2: A structured essay with an argument. This strategy allows you to get a much higher marks as it's structured to form an argument about the whole text. Although you might think that's harder - and it's probably going to score more highly - I'd argue that it's actually easier to master. Mainly because you do most of the work before the ...


    In this scene, Macduff had just discovered that Macbeth killed his wife and children (CONTEXT).Macduff says, (INTEGRATION) "I cannot remember such things were that were most precious to me"(4.3.262-263) (QUOTE).Macduff must first take a moment and remember those who were so precious to him. Malcolm urges him to be strong, to fight back the tears like a man.