I wrote an essay titled The Macbeths’ Fall, in which I discussed the parallels between the Biblical Fall of Man and the story of Macbeth. The essay can be found on my other blog at the following link: The Macbeth’s Fall. I think that the analysis of such a theme is apt considering that I will be reading Milton’s Paradise Lost after this play.
• Three witches agree to meet Macbeth, a Scottish general, upon the heath after a battle.
• Duncan, the King of Scotland, is informed that Macbeth has successfully defeated the enemies of Scotland. Duncan sends messengers to bring Macbeth to him, and to honor him with the title Thane of Cawdor.
• The witches meet Macbeth and another Scottish general named Banquo upon a heath. They tell Macbeth that he will be the Thane of Cawdor and King. They tell Banquo that he will beget Kings, though he be none. The witches vanish. Messengers from Duncan arrive and hail Macbeth with the title Thane of Cawdor. Banquo warns Macbeth that evil often attempts to direct us to harm by telling us trivial truths which make us overconfident and too ambitious. Macbeth considers what the witches have said, and is frightened by his thought of murdering Duncan to seize the crown. The party returns to Duncan together.
• Duncan greets Macbeth and Banquo with much gratitude for their feats on the battlefield. He informs all present that his eldest son Malcolm will be his heir. Macbeth realizes that this is an impediment that he must overcome to become king. He seems more resolved to kill Duncan and Duncan’s heirs than he did in the previous scene. Duncan informs all that they will rest at Inverness, Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth will go before them and make his servants ready for their coming.
• Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband that informs her of the witches’ prophecy. Lady Macbeth is determined that Macbeth will become king, but she fears that Macbeth lacks the courage to do what is necessary to obtain it – i.e. kill Duncan. She resolves to encourage Macbeth to commit the murder, and invokes evil spirits to assist her in this endeavor. Macbeth arrives, and she tells him that she will contrive the plan that will obtain the crown.
• Lady Macbeth warmly welcomes Duncan to the castle, displaying no sign of her true intentions.
• Macbeth considers whether to kill Duncan. He fears that there will be adverse consequences – i.e. Macbeth’s traitorous deed will teach others to become traitors and usurp the crown from him after he usurped it from Duncan. Furthermore, Duncan is a benevolent and guiltless king. He is also a guest in Macbeth’s castle, which compels Macbeth to protect Duncan, not murder him. Lady Macbeth enters, and Macbeth informs her that he will not kill Duncan. Lady Macbeth scolds Macbeth for being as fearful as a woman. She tells him that she will drug the drinks of Duncan’s guards so that they are overcome by sleep during the night. Then Macbeth may use the guards’ daggers to commit the murder, and accuse the guards of the murder. Macbeth agrees to the plan.
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
“As whence the sun gins his reflection shripwracking storms and direful thunders, so from that spring whence comfort seemed to come discomfort swells.”
“If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear your favors nor your hate.”
“What seemed corporal melted as breath into the wind.”
“Why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs against the use of nature?”
“Stars, hide your fires; let not light see my black and deep desires.”
“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty.”
“Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.”
Away and mock the time with fairest show; false face must hide what the false heart doth know.”
• Banquo and his son Fleance are still awake late at night. Banquo does not wish to sleep because he fears that he will dream about evil things, such as murdering Duncan so that Fleance may become king. Macbeth enters the scene, and tells Banquo that he desires to speak to him of the witches. Banquo and Fleance leave. Macbeth hallucinates; he imagines that he sees the image of a bloody dagger. Nevertheless he resolves to murder Duncan. A bell is wrung, which is a signal by Lady Macbeth that the guards are sleeping. Macbeth exits the scene to murder Duncan.
• Lady Macbeth waits for her husband. Macbeth enters with the bloody daggers. He is visibly shaken and distraught. Lady Macbeth takes the daggers and smears the blood on the sleeping guards. There is knocking at the south gate. Lady Macbeth orders her husband to retire to their chamber and wash the blood from their hands. A little water will clear them of this deed according to her. Macbeth does not believe all the water in the ocean is capable of washing the blood from his hands, and he wishes that the knocing could awake Duncan.
• Macduff arrives at the castle to call upon the king as per his orders. Macbeth shows him the king’s chamber. Macduff reacts with horror, and alerts the whole house to the deed. Macbeth quickly slays the guards who were smeared with blood, and justifies his act by asserting that no man could refrain from killing the murderers of the king in such circumstances. Duncan’s sons resolve to flee to other countries – Malcolm to England and Donalbain to Ireland – for they know that whoever killed their father will likely endeavor to kill them.
“Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?”
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.”
“There’s daggers in men’s smiles.”
• Banquo suspects that Macbeth was involved in Duncan’s murder. Macbeth invites Banquo to a banquet that evening. Banquo assures Macbeth that he will attend the banquet after returning from riding with his son Fleance. Macbeth dismisses all, and tells his servants to bring in two men waiting to see him. Macbeth asks the two men if they will kill Banquo and Fleance for him. The two men agree to the murders.
• Lady Macbeth is troubled that she and Macbeth are not secure in their reign. Macbeth and she muse that Duncan enjoys greater safety and peace than they possess. Macbeth assures Lady Macbeth that before tomorrow, their concerns will be eased.
• The murderers hired by Macbeth kill Banquo outside the palace, but Fleance escapes.
• The banquet begins. One of Macbeth’s hired murderers informs Macbeth that he has killed Banquo, but Fleance has escaped. Macbeth imagines that he sees Banquo’s ghost, and grows hysterical. The guests are astonished at his behavior. Lady Macbeth dismisses everyone. Macbeth tells her that he will go to the witches tomorrow to learn his fate.
• Two lords discuss the whereabouts of Macduff. He traveled to England to persuade Malcolm to return to Scotland with an army and kill Macbeth.
“I am one, my liege, whom the vile blows and buffets of the world have so incensed that I am reckless what I do to spite the world… So weary with disasters, tugged with fortune, that I would set my life on any chance to mend it or be rid of it.”
“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.”
“It will be rain tonight… Let it come down!”
“It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak; augurs and understood relations have by maggotpies and choughs and rooks brought forth the secretest man of blood.”
• The three witches gather around a cauldron and cast ghastly ingredients into it. Macbeth enters the scene and demands to know his fate. The witches conjure spirits form the cauldron. The first apparition, an armed head, tells Macbeth to beware Macduff. The second apparition, a bloody baby, tells Macbeth that he need not fear any man born of a woman. The third apparition, a crowned boy holding a small tree, tells Macbeth that he will never be vanquished until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth further demands to know whether Banquo’s posterity will be kings. The fourth apparition, a line of eight kings bearing the resemblance of Banquo and Banquo’s own spirit, confirm the witches’ foretold prophecy. The witches vanish. Macbeth calls in his attendants, who inform Macbeth that Macduff fled to England. Macbeth resolves to kill all members of Macduff’s family.
• Murderers sent by Macbeth kill Macduff’s family.
• Macduff asks Malcolm to lead an army against Macbeth. Malcolm is suspicious of Macduff. Therefore he acts as if he would be a worse king than Macbeth. Macduff passes Malcolm’s test of loyalty. Malcolm informs Macduff that he has already assembled an army to attack Macbeth in the near future. Macduff is informed of his family’s slaughter. He vows to avenge their deaths on Macbeth.
“Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
“The flighty purpose is never overtook unless the deed go with it.”
“Things at the worse will cease, or else climb upward to what they were before.”
“Angels are bright still though the brightest fell.”
“Let’s make us medicines of our great revenge to cure us of this deadly grief. Let grief convert to anger; blunt not the heart, enrage it.”
• One of Lady Macbeth’s serving women and the castle’s doctor observe Lady Macbeth as she is sleepwalking. Lady Macbeth makes references to the murders of Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff’s family. She is distraught about the deeds, and is troubled by the thought that she cannot wash the blood clean from her hands.
• Malcolm’s army approaches Birnam Wood. Many of Macbeth’s men openly revolt and leave his cause. The remainder of his army stays from fear, not love.
• Macbeth receives report of Malcolm’s army, but he remains confident because of the prophecy that assured him not to fear any man born of a woman.
• Malcolm orders his soldiers to hew down branches of Birnam Wood and carry them, so that the numbers of the force will be concealed.
• Macbeth is informed that Lady Macbeth is dead, and that Birnam Wood is moving toward Dunsinane. Macbeth orders his troops to prepare for battle.
• Macbeth meets Macduff in battle. Macduff informs Macbeth that he was delivered from his mother by caesarean section, and thus was not born of a woman. Macduff kills Macbeth and presents his head to Malcolm.
• Malcolm’s army wins the battle. Macbeth’s army did not fight, but rather threw down their arms because they did not love Macbeth and recognized Malcolm as their true king.
“All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
“Now does he feel his secret murders sticking on his hands. Now does he feel his title hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief.”
“Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, raze out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleanse the fraught bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart?”
“I gin to be aweary of the sun, and wish the estate of the world were now undone.”
“Why should I play the Roman fool and die on mine own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes do better upon them.”
FATE AND FREE-WILL
1. What is Macbeth’s initial response to the weird sisters’ prophesy? Does his attitude change at some point? If so, when does the change occur? Macbeth is speechless when he hears the witches’ prophecy. He is shocked by the thought that he will be king. When the messengers from Duncan inform Macbeth that he is now the Thane of Cawdor, as the witches predicted he would become in addition to becoming king, Macbeth believes that the witches told him the truth about his fate. He is still hesitant about murdering Duncan though. A part of him hopes that he will become king without killing Duncan, but those hopes are dashed when Duncan proclaims that his son Malcolm is his heir. Lady Macbeth further incites Macbeth to the murder.
2. Macbeth is repeatedly described as giving the witches his “rapt” attention. Why is that? What does this suggest about Macbeth’s choices? Macbeth is rapt because the news is shocking. Imagine being told that you will win the lottery. You might begin to think about what you are going to buy with the windfall. The present moment seems petty compared with the tremendous promise of the future. This manifestation of intense contemplation suggests that Macbeth is ultimately responsible for his decisions because he was given sufficient time to reflect upon all the consequences of his actions and freely choose an alternative.
3. Do all of the witches’ prophesies come true? All of the witches’ prophecies come to fruition in the play except for their prediction that Banquo’s children will become kings; but this will indeed occur at a later time in actual history, despite not happening within the timeframe of the play.
4. What role does Lady Macbeth play in her husband’s actions? Is she always involved in Macbeth’s decision making? I have written an extensive analysis about Lady Macbeth’s role in Duncan’s murder. I believe that she is the primary cause of the murder. Without her, there would be no murder. With regards to the second question, Lady Macbeth is not involved in Macbeth’s other decisions. Macbeth independently decides to hire men to murder Banquo and Fleance; he also independently orders the executions of every member of the Macduff household.
1. What compels Macbeth to murder Duncan? What drives him to continue committing heinous acts after the initial murder? Lady Macbeth compels Macbeth to commit the murder by questioning his manhood, and reminding Macbeth of all the good that they will reap as a result of the murder – i.e. the pleasures associated with being King and Queen of Scotland. Macbeth continues to commit heinous acts because he feels insecure. He finds it necessary to kill more people in order to secure his position as king.
2. What does Lady Macbeth say about her husband’s ambition? What does this reveal about her desires? Lady Macbeth knows that Macbeth has ambition, but that it is an ambition that is limited by moral constraints. She desires to attain the throne by the quickest means available – i.e. murder – rather than allow fate to run its course.
3. If Macbeth believed he was fated to have the crown, can he be credited (or blamed) with ambition in trying to gain it? Yes. Macbeth could have known that he was fated to have the crown and wish that he was not fated to have the crown. Thus, he would have no ambition whatsoever. There are some people who would not wish to possess the cares that accompany the title of king, but Macbeth foolishly seeks after them, and this is a result of ambition.
4. What fuels Malcolm’s interest in defending Scotland? Do his actions up to the final battle indicate that he’s prepared to be King? Is he ambitious? What is the difference between him and Macbeth, if they’re after the same throne? Malcolm defends Scotland from a sense of moral duty. He wishes to liberate the people from the oppression of Macbeth’s rule. His actions indicate that he is prepared to be king. He successfully raised an army and defeated Macbeth in battle. It is difficult to determine with certainty whether Malcolm is ambitious. He certainly desires the crown, so in that sense he is ambitious. But he does not desire the crown for the sake of the crown itself – i.e. he does not desire power and status for the sake of power and status. In my opinion, the purpose of obtaining a goal is important in determining whether one is driven by immoral ambition or salutary motives.
1. What kind of a ruler is King Duncan? How would you compare his leadership to Macbeth’s? King Duncan is a benevolent and unselfish king. Macbeth even states that 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.” He is not the tyrant that is Macbeth.
2. What is the play’s attitude toward the murder of King Duncan? Toward the death of Macbeth? The play regards Duncan’s murder as a revolt against nature itself. The sun is “strangled” by clouds. Storms assail the land. Men, women, and children die of illness. The play regards the death of Macbeth as morally justified. Macduff proclaims that the time is now free. The people of Scotland may now live in health and prosperity.
3. In Act iv, Scene iii, Malcolm pretends that he thinks he’ll become a tyrant once he’s crowned king. Why does he do this? What’s Macduff’s response? What’s the overall purpose of this scene? Malcolm is trying to determine whether Macduff is a spy sent by Macbeth. Macduff expresses disgust and outrage at the description Malcolm gives of his vices. The purpose of this scene is to demonstrate that Malcolm truly does possess all the virtues of a true king, while Macbeth does not.
4. Does the play ever portray an ideal monarch? If yes, what does that monarch look like? If no, why do you think the play never shows us a good king? The play portrays an ideal monarch through the words of Malcolm in Act IV Scene III. Malcolm describes all the virtues that a king ought to have, such as justice, temperance, humility, etc.
VERSIONS OF REALITY
1. At the beginning of the play, the witches say “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” What in the world does this mean, and how does that topsy-turvy feeling resonate in the play? The quotation means that the witches regard that which is typically regarded as fair to be foul, and that which is typically regarded as foul to be fair. For example, men typically consider dutiful obedience to just authority to be fair, while the witches believe that this is foul. Thus, they encourage Macbeth to commit regicide. Throughout the play, there are many inversions of common values. For example, Lady Macbeth displays man-like qualities of aggression and ambition, and scolds her husband for behaving like a woman.
2. How do Macbeth and Banquo respond to the witches’ prophesy in act one, scene three? Does it seem real to them? Why or why not? Initially they do not believe that what they had seen was real. Banquo asks whether they ate of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner. But when the messengers from Duncan hail Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor, the witches and their prophecy grow more credible.
3. What kinds of hallucinations and visions occur in the play? What purpose do they serve? Macbeth hallucinates that he sees a bloody dagger, and that he sees the ghost of Banquo. These hallucinations serve to demonstrate Macbeth’s distraught state of mind. He is clearly suffering from the pangs of guilt when he sees the ghost of Banquo.
4. Why is a doctor called in to tend to Lady Macbeth? What’s wrong with her? Lady Macbeth makes references to the murders of Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff’s family while sleepwalking. She is visibly upset by the murders, and wishes that she can wash their blood from her hands, but is unable to do so. She realizes too late that what is done cannot be undone.
1. How does Lady Macbeth convince her husband to kill Duncan? Could (according to the logic of this play) a man have used a similar strategy on a woman, or a man on a man? Or does this kind of convincing only work one way? Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth to kill Duncan by telling him that he would be a man if he did it. A similar strategy could not have been used to persuade a woman to commit the murder since the strategy relies upon encouraging the other person to aspire to the qualities commonly considered to be masculine qualities.
2. What is meant when Lady Macbeth says Macbeth is too “full o’th’milk of human kindness”? Why “milk”? Is this description gendered? It is possible that milk might be a reference to the milk that is produced by a woman to feed her newly born infant, but I do not think that this is plausible. Malcolm, while testing the loyalty of Macduff, says that he will pour the milk of concord into hell. I believe that milk is regarded as something peaceful, pure, and innocent because of the whiteness of its color. The color of white is also the color of one’s face that is afraid. Therefore, it is more likely that Lady Macbeth’s use of the word is not gender related, but rather directed toward the cowardice nature of Macbeth’s benevolent disposition.
3. How does the play define “manhood”? What is it that makes one a “man” in Macbeth? Man is depicted as brutal, violent, and ambitious. Duncan praises Macbeth and Banquo for the courage and slaughter that they wreaked on the battlefield. Malcolm exhorts Macduff to bear the news of his family’s murder like a man – i.e. without grief, but rather with anger.
4. How are women characters portrayed in Macbeth? What kinds of roles do they play? Is “womanhood” or “femininity” defined in the way that masculinity is? Lady Macbeth is portrayed as subtle, seductive, and manipulative. She recognizes that she is a woman, and therefore invokes spirits to “unsex” her so that she may become cruel and manly.
1. How do Banquo and Macbeth react when they first encounter the weird sisters in Act I, Scene iii? Are they surprised, afraid, confused? Initially they do not believe that what they had seen was real. Banquo asks whether they ate of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner. But when the messengers from Duncan hail Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor, the witches and their prophecy grow more credible.
2. The witches accurately predict Macbeth’s future, but do they control his fate? Why or why not? The witches do not control Macbeth’s fate; they simply tell Macbeth his fate, which is determined by the choices Macbeth makes. Macbeth’s future actions cause the foreknowledge of the witches; the prophecy of the witches does not cause the actions of Macbeth.
3. How would you characterize the witches’ speech? What does it suggest about their characters? How does it set them apart from other characters in the play? The witches speak in rhyme and paradoxes. Their speech is magical; it gives the impression that a spell is being cast. It sets them apart from the other characters because no other character speaks like them [what kind of question is this?]
4. Are there connections or similarities between the witches and any other characters in the play? If so, what are they, exactly? The witches are masculine. Banquo remarks that that the witches have beards. This makes them similar to Lady Macbeth who displays masculine desires and characteristics. The witches lure Macbeth into murdering Duncan, so does Lady Macbeth.
1. Most characters in the play have won their honors on the battlefield. To what degree could you describe politics in Macbeth as a kind of battlefield? Is this political violence acceptable? Political dealings and advancement occur by the same means as military dealings and advancement. Macbeth is awarded the title of Thane of Cawdor for killing men on the battlefield. He is awarded the title of King by killing Duncan. Malcolm is awarded the title of King by successfully defeating Macbeth’s army. In the latter example, both military affairs and political affairs are intertwined.
2. Nature always seems to be rebelling against the unnatural acts going down in Dunsinane, yet violence is a central part of the natural world. Are humans any more than animals here? Humans are acting in a capacity of which animals are not capable. Macbeth kills in order to attain a position of authority for the sake of power alone. Animals never kill for the sake of power. They kill to preserve their life, to preserve the life of their young, or to win a female or females for breeding purposes.
3. The play ends with as much violence as the original battle against another traitor to the crown. Is there a suggestion here of cyclical and never-ending violence? Is there any way to argue against Macbeth’s claim that blood demands blood? We have seen this type of cyclical violence before in Aeschylus Oresteia. To end the cycle of violence, Athena established the judicial system. Such a system represents a supreme authority whose power rests in the hands of impartial judges. So long as the power to punish remains in the hands of partial individuals, the cycle of violence will never end.
4. When Malcolm wants to grieve, Macduff tells him instead that violence in the name of Scotland is a better cure. Yet when Macduff finds out his family is murdered, he grieves first before taking revenge. Is violence a justified reaction to a wrong, or is it just an emotion out of control that can be rightfully calmed with thought? Violence can be exercised after deliberation, so violence is not merely an emotional response. Violence is a justified reaction to a wrong in particular circumstances. For example, the punishment of people who have committed heinous atrocities is justified according to many moral systems. To take one type of system into consideration, the Utilitarian would argue that the common good is promoted by punishing such offenders because it deters future crime.
1. What is the weird sisters’ relationship to time? Are they the only figures capable of seeing into the future? The witches are creatures of the future. They speak mainly of the future; they give prophecies and discuss the way in which they will torture a sailor because his wife refused to give one of the witches food. They are not the only figures capable of seeing into the future. Anyone who has an appreciation of causal relationships can predict with some certainty the consequences of certain events. Even complex relationships, such as those between people, can be analyzed so that one can make predictions about the future of that relationship. For example, Lady Macbeth knows exactly what kind of arguments to use in order to persuade Macbeth to commit the murder. She can foresee that if she uses those arguments, then Macbeth will likely murder Duncan.
2. What kind of future does Lady Macbeth imagine for herself and her husband? Do either of the Macbeths spend much time imagining the future? Lady Macbeth imagines a delightful future for her and her husband when they are king and queen. Macbeth spends much time contemplating the future. Unfortunately for him he is preoccupied with worries about the future rather than considering the concrete consequences of his actions. Macbeth thinks in abstract ways. For example, he knows that murdering Duncan will produce adverse consequences, but he does not specifically identify those dangerous consequences. Perhaps if he had thought of some concrete examples, then he would not have murdered Duncan.