The scenes themselves have been chosen to ensure coverage of: a range of language techniques; different dramatic conventions (form); significant moments to allow for interrogation of structure. Each of them allows for exploration of the various ways that Shakespeare makes meaning, and therefore will support with Assessment Objective 2.
Alongside each extract, you will find a series of questions that you can use in class or as part of a homework activity. Each set of questions has a symbol, which you will find within the extract. Match up the two to gain more insight into the text and answer the questions.
As the weeks progress, more extracts will be added. Keep checking back to see what is new!
ACT I, SCENE 5
ACT 1, SCENE V. Inverness. Macbeth’s castle.
Enter LADY MACBETH, reading a letter
‘They met me in the day of success: and I have
learned by the perfectest report, they have more in
them than mortal knowledge. When I burned in desire
to question them further, they made themselves air,
into which they vanished. Whiles I stood rapt in
the wonder of it, came missives from the king, who
all-hailed me ‘Thane of Cawdor;’ by which title,
before, these weird sisters saluted me, and referred
me to the coming on of time, with ‘Hail, king that
shalt be!’ This have I thought good to deliver
thee, my dearest partner of greatness, that thou
mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing, by being
ignorant of what greatness is promised thee. Lay it
to thy heart, and farewell.’
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,
And yet wouldst wrongly win: thou’ldst have, great Glamis,
That which cries ‘Thus thou must do, if thou have it;
And that which rather thou dost fear to do
Than wishest should be undone.’ Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown’d withal.
Enter a Messenger
What is your tidings?
The king comes here to-night.
Thou’rt mad to say it:
Is not thy master with him? who, were’t so,
Would have inform’d for preparation.
So please you, it is true: our thane is coming:
One of my fellows had the speed of him,
Who, almost dead for breath, had scarcely more
Than would make up his message.
Give him tending;
He brings great news.
The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. 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,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! 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!’
What rhythm does this section of the text use? Why do you think this is used here?
When else in the play is this rhythm used?
Why do you think Shakespeare links these scenes through their rhythm?
What does Lady Macbeth mean here by ‘nature’? What connotations does ‘milk’ have? What, therefore, is Shakespeare suggesting she feels about her husband?
How does this description of Macbeth compare with what we have already learnt about him? How does that make you feel about both characters?
Look at Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 7. What link can be made between Lady Macbeth’s criticism here and Macbeth’s own fears about killing Duncan?
What does Lady Macbeth mean by ‘illness’ here? Why might Shakespeare have chosen this word?
What is the impact of linking ‘ambition’ with ‘illness’?
How does this make you feel about Lady Macbeth?
What image does this create for you?
What does this suggest about the levels of power between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?
What links can you make between this quotation and Macbeth being ‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness’, in terms of what they convey about Macbeth? Can you link this to the roles of men and women?
What does a raven symbolise, and why?
What does it mean that the raven is ‘hoarse’? What does this make you expect, and how does this make you feel?
There are two meanings behind Duncan’s entrance being described as ‘fatal’ – what are they? How can you link these to the symbolism of the raven?
What is the effect of the caesura in this line? Try reading it aloud, and consider the shift between the two sentences.
Count how many sentences there are in this soliloquy. What do you notice about each sentence?
What does the verb ‘tend on’ mean here?
What is meant by ‘mortal thoughts’?
What does this reveal about the relationship between the ‘spirits’ and the ‘mortal thoughts’?
What does this suggest about the role of the supernatural within the play as a whole?
Shakespeare uses the negative prefix ‘un’ more in Macbeth than in any other of his plays. It is a prefix of negation, but can also be a prefix of removal, deprivation or reversal. What is the significance of Shakespeare using the term ‘unsex’ here? Why not have Lady Macbeth say, ‘make me a man’?
Where else can you find examples of the words that begin with the prefix ‘un’ in the play? Can you make any links between the way they are used in each instance?
What does this metaphor, and the image it creates, have in common with images we have seen earlier in this scene?
What is odd about the order of ‘crown to the toe’? Why might Shakespeare have written it this way?
How many references to liquids can you find across this scene? What does each liquid represent?
ACT II, SCENE 1
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,
Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
A bell rings
I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.
What do you notice about the structure of the sentences in this opening section?
Some of these lines have an extra unstressed syllable at the end of them; can you identify these?
What is the combined effect of these structures?
Is this dagger encouraging Macbeth to continue with his plan to kill Duncan, or warning him against it?
One of the central paradoxes of the play is that appearances can be deceiving. Aside from the dagger, where else is this present in the play?
Underline the pronouns in this soiloquy. How does Macbeth address the dagger?
During Shakespeare’s time, the pronouns used for second person (direct address) were you and thou/thee. Thou was used by higher status people addressing those beneath them, or commoners addressing each other. It also implied initimacy. You was used by lower status people addressing those above them or the upper classes addressing each other. This is similar to modern French (tu/vous) and German (du/Sie). Knowing how these pronouns were used, what might Macbeth’s usage here suggest?
How does this compare to the pronouns Macbeth uses to address his wife?
What is the verse structure in this line? Mark the line to show where the stresses fall.
What do you notice about the stressed words?
Now consider the two lines that have come before this one – annotate their verse structure. What do you notice?
Apply this to the rest of the soliloquy. Again, what do you notice? Why might Shakespeare have used this structure? What might it suggest about Macbeth?
How could this metaphor be read in two different ways?
Heat-oppressed here means fevered. Where else have we come across references to illness? What ideas link these references?
Consider the phrase ‘Nature seems dead’. What might this mean? Can you find more than one meaning?
In Shakespeare’s time, ‘abuse’ meant to deceive. ‘Curtain’d sleep’ could refer to sleep surrounded by drawn bedcurtains, but also concealed or screened from your waking consciousness.
What is Macbeth saying here about the relationship between words and deeds?
This is a heroic couplet: two lines of rhymed iambic pentameter. What is the purpose of using it here?