Key extracts and questions designed to give you an insight into the language
The length of these extracts vary, in order to represent the range of extract lengths used by different exam boards at GCSE.
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 I, SCENE 7
ACT 1 SCENE 7. Macbeth’s castle.
Hautboys and torches. Enter a Sewer, and divers Servants with dishes and service, and pass over the stage. Then enter MACBETH
If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time ,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips.
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. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on the other.
Highlight or underline all the repeated words within this speech. What do you notice?
The word ‘done’ is repeated frequently throughout the play. Identify where else it occurs. Looking at these, consider why you think it is used so often.
How many euphamisms can you find here for the act of killing Duncan? What are the connotations of each word/phrase?
‘Shoal’ here can mean shallow waters. What might this metaphor suggest about our life on earth?
What links can you make to other water imagery, both within this speech and across the play?
Macbeth uses two metaphors here to describe the possible consequences of his actions. What are the two metaphors? What are the similarities and differences between them?
What reasons does Macbeth list for not murdering Duncan?
Which, do you think, is the one that concerns him the most? Why do you think this?
This section is rich in imagery.
What is the effect of Duncan’s virtues ‘[pleading] like angels’?
What is the effect of pity being personified as a ‘naked new-born babe’? What does it make you think of? How does it make you feel?
By the end of this speech, how much do you sympathise with Macbeth? Explain your answer with reference to the text.
Why is this an important question to consider? How does it link to the conventions of tragedy?
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?
ACT III, SCENE 4
My royal lord,
You do not give the cheer: the feast is sold
That is not often vouch’d, while ’tis a-making,
‘Tis given with welcome: to feed were best at home;
From thence the sauce to meat is ceremony;
Meeting were bare without it.
Now, good digestion wait on appetite,
And health on both!
May’t please your highness sit.
The GHOST OF BANQUO enters, and sits in MACBETH‘s place
Here had we now our country’s honour roof’d,
Were the graced person of our Banquo present;
Who may I rather challenge for unkindness
Than pity for mischance!
His absence, sir,
Lays blame upon his promise. Please’t your highness
To grace us with your royal company.
The table’s full.
Here is a place reserved, sir.
Here, my good lord. What is’t that moves your highness?
Which of you have done this?
What, my good lord?
Thou canst not say I did it: never shake
Thy gory locks at me.
Gentlemen, rise: his highness is not well.
Sit, worthy friends: my lord is often thus,
And hath been from his youth: pray you, keep seat;
The fit is momentary; upon a thought
He will again be well: if much you note him,
You shall offend him and extend his passion:
Feed, and regard him not. Are you a man?
Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that
Which might appal the devil.
O proper stuff!
This is the very painting of your fear:
This is the air-drawn dagger which, you said,
Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts,
Impostors to true fear, would well become
A woman’s story at a winter’s fire,
Authorized by her grandam. Shame itself!
Why do you make such faces? When all’s done,
You look but on a stool.
Prithee, see there! behold! look! lo!
how say you?
Why, what care I? If thou canst nod, speak too.
If charnel-houses and our graves must send
Those that we bury back, our monuments
Shall be the maws of kites.
GHOST OF BANQUO vanishes
What, quite unmann’d in folly?
If I stand here, I saw him.
Fie, for shame!
What is significant about this moment in the play?
What is the ‘it’ that Macbeth refers to here?
Why can Macbeth legitimately claim that he didn’t do ‘it’?
How does Macbeth’s vision of Banquo’s ghost seem to contradict Macbeth’ words here?
What elements of stagecraft do we see in this line?
This is said as an aside. How does this technique help to separate the Macbeths from the rest of their society?
How does this link to the theme of appearance versus reality?
Lady Macbeth used similar words when she stated earlier in the play, ‘the sleeping and the dead are but as pictures’.
Why is it significant that, in both instances, Lady Macbeth seems to be suggesting that letting these ‘paintings’ and ‘pictures’ hold power over you is shameful or weak?
Where in the play have we heard a ‘woman’s story at a…fire’?
In stating that Macbeth’s reaction would suit a ‘woman’s story’, what is she suggesting about Macbeth?
Where else does Lady Macbeth ply on Macbeth’s fear of being feminised?
How does the verse structure here reflect Macbeth’s state of mind?
Monuments are ways that those who are living remember the dead. Kites are birds of prey (hawks), and maws refer to the jaws, throat and stomach of a predator, but could also mean ‘greed’ more generally. Macbeth is stating that if the dead don’t remain buried, then the way that we remember them will be through ‘the maws of kites’.
This can hold two meanings – can you work them out?
Hint: one is rather gruesome, and the other compares Macbeth to the kite itself.
Look over this whole exchange. How has the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth shifted or changed here since Acts 1-2?
ACT IV, SCENE 1
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
What is’t you do?
A deed without a name.
I conjure you , by that which you profess,
Howe’er you come to know it, answer me:
Though you untie the winds and let them fight
Against the churches; though the yeasty waves
Confound and swallow navigation up;
Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down;
Though castles topple on their warders’ heads;
Though palaces and pyramids do slope
Their heads to their foundations; though the treasure
Of nature’s germens tumble all together,
Even till destruction sicken; answer me
To what I ask you.
Say, if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths,
Or from our masters?
Call ’em; let me see ’em.
Pour in sow’s blood, that hath eaten
Her nine farrow; grease that’s sweaten
From the murderer’s gibbet throw
Into the flame.
Come, high or low;
Thyself and office deftly show!
Thunder. First Apparition : an armed Head
Tell me, thou unknown power,–
He knows thy thought:
Hear his speech, but say thou nought.
Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! beware Macduff;
Beware the thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough.
Whate’er thou art, for thy good caution, thanks;
Thou hast harp’d my fear aright: but one
He will not be commanded: here’s another,
More potent than the first.
Thunder. Second Apparition: A bloody Child
Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!
Had I three ears, I’d hear thee.
Be bloody, bold, and resolute ; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.
Then live, Macduff: what need I fear of thee?
But yet I’ll make assurance double sure,
And take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live;
That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies,
And sleep in spite of thunder.
Third Apparition: a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand
What is this
That rises like the issue of a king,
And wears upon his baby-brow the round
And top of sovereignty?
Listen, but speak not to’t.
Be lion-mettled, proud; and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are:
Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.
That will never be
Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements! good!
Rebellion’s head, rise never till the wood
Of Birnam rise, and our high-placed Macbeth
Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath
To time and mortal custom. Yet my heart
Throbs to know one thing: tell me, if your art
Can tell so much: shall Banquo’s issue ever
Reign in this kingdom?
Seek to know no more.
I will be satisfied: deny me this,
And an eternal curse fall on you! Let me know.
What effect might this line have on an audience, and why?
Who or what are the witches referring to as ‘something wicked’?
Focus on Shakespeare’s use of structure – what has happened just before this scene, and what happens just after these lines?
What technique is Shakespeare using here?
What rhythm are the witches speaking in here?
Which words do the stresses fall on, and why is this important?
Why might Shakespeare have chosen for these lines to rhyme?
Think about the imagery Shakespeare uses here: what connotations does each adjective in this triplet/three-trick have?
How does the choice of the word ‘hag’ link to how witches were perceived at the time that Shakespeare was writing this play?
Now think about the rhythm – how does this contrast with the witches above?
Where do the stresses fall?
What is the effect of the different rhythms on each character?
In which other very famous play does Shakespeare question the relationship between things and their names?
From the beginning of the play, the witches’ language marks them out as different: how does this line help to further emphasise their other-worldliness?
What is interesting about Macbeth’s choice of words here?
Break down the imagery within this speech: find the six catastrophes that Macbeth describes. Now, highlight the words that link to nature versus those that link to manmade things. What do you notice?
Where else do the witches use this across the play?
Who else uses this word prominently?
How are these apparitions different to the dagger?
What might Shakespeare be suggesting through this shift?
How does this compare to the Macbeth we see in Acts 1-2?
Locate some quotations to support your thinking.
Why might it be significant that two of the three apparitions are of children?
Research ‘tanistry’ and ‘primogeniture’ – how do these ideas play out in Macbeth?
Can you link them to why these child apparitions might be important?
Mark the stressed syllables and underline the rhymes in both the Third Apparition’s speech and Macbeth’s reply. What do you notice?
Pay particular attention to the lines ‘Shall come against him’ and ‘That will never be’
Look up all the different meanings of the word ‘impress’.
Try to discover any additional meanings from Shakespeare’s time (archaic meanings). Now, consider all the different questions Macbeth could be asking here.
What is significant about Macbeth’s use of language here?
Act V, scene 1
ACT V, SCENE 1. Dunsinane. Ante-room in the castle.
Enter LADY MACBETH, with a taper
Lo you, here she comes! This is her very guise;and, upon my life, fast asleep. Observe her; stand close.
How came she by that light?
Why, it stood by her: she has light by her
continually; ’tis her command.
You see, her eyes are open.
Ay, but their sense is shut.
What is it she does now? Look, how she rubs her hands.
It is an accustomed action with her, to seem thus
washing her hands: I have known her continue in
this a quarter of an hour.
Yet here’s a spot.
Hark! she speaks: I will set down what comes from
her, to satisfy my remembrance the more strongly.
Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?–Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.
Do you mark that?
The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?–
What, will these hands ne’er be clean?–No more o’
that, my lord, no more o’ that: you mar all with
Go to, go to; you have known what you should not.
She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of
that: heaven knows what she has known
Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!
What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charged.
I would not have such a heart in my bosom for the
dignity of the whole body.
Well, well, well,–
Pray God it be, sir.
This disease is beyond my practise: yet I have known
those which have walked in their sleep who have died
holily in their beds.
Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so
pale.–I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he
cannot come out on’s grave.
To bed, to bed! there’s knocking at the gate:
come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s
done cannot be undone.--To bed, to bed, to bed!
Why does Shakespeare present Lady Macbeth as wanting a light by her ‘continually’ at this point in the play?
We know that Macbeth was performed at Shakespeare’s Globe in 1610, meaning it would have been daylight throughout the performance. How do references to candles, torches and tapers help to create the atmosphere of the play? What do you notice about references to these as the play progresses?
This scene is often referred to as ‘the sleepwalking scene’.
After killing Duncan, Macbeth says, ‘Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep’, the innocent sleep, / Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care, / The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath, / Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, / Chief nourisher in life’s feast,-‘ What does sleep symbolise?
What is the significance of Lady Macbeth suffering from this affliction?
Look at Lady Macbeth’s language across this scene. Identify the lines or phrases that she has used earlier in the play, and when she used them. Why does Shakespeare include these in this way, in this scene? What does the structure of Lady Macbeth’s verse suggest about her mental state at this point in the play?
What crimes does Lady Macbeth reference in this scene? Which of these crimes did she help Macbeth to plan?
Where in the play does Lady Macbeth’s power start to decline? What else is happening alongside this?
Why can’t Lady Macbeth remove the blood from her hands in this scene?
Compare this to Macbeth’s reference to ‘gouts of blood’. How has each of their relationship with blood changed over the course of the play?
What does blood represent in the play?
Where in the play have we heard references to knocking previously?
Here, Lady Macbeth uses words that have been repeated frequently throughout the play. Why might Shakespeare include them in this scene?
How do you feel about Lady Macbeth at this point in the play, and why?
Can Lady Macbeth be considered a tragic hero alongside Macbeth? Why/why not?
Act V, scene 5
ACT 5, SCENE V. Dunsinane. Within the castle.
Wherefore was that cry?
The queen, my lord, is dead.
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
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,
Enter a Messenger
Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly
There has been lots of debate over the exact meaning of these lines.
What might ‘hereafter’ mean?
How many syllables are there in the first line? Why might this be significant?
Which ‘word’ would there ‘have been time for’?
How do you think Macbeth feels towards Lady Macbeth here?
There are lots of Biblical references in this passage. Research the passages from the Bible that seem the most significant to this speech.
Where else are there references to candles within the play? What is the significance of them being lit and going out?
Why does Shakespeare draw attention to the role of theatre here? What is he saying life and theatre have in common?
What does this extended metaphor reveal about the way that Macbeth now views life?
How does the tone shift here?
How do you feel about Macbeth at this point in the play?