Macbeth Act IV

In a brief essay, discuss the poetic form of the witches’ chant in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act IV. How is it different from blank verse? Why do you think Shakespeare uses this form instead of blank verse? Answer these questions then cite specific examples to support general statements. Students should recognize that the chant, unlike blank verse, uses end rhyme and that the lines are shorter than blank verse’s iambic pentameter (five-beat) lines. They may speculate that Shakespeare uses this form because a witches’ chant should by its nature be more musical and should not try to approximate the sound of spoken English (the way blank verse does) and that the strong, repetitious rhythm and rhyme adds to the lulling sense of the supernatural spell.
In The Tragedy of Macbeth, Macbeth appears only in the first of the three scenes in Act IV, yet his presence is strongly felt in Scenes ii and iii. Write an essay explaining how that presence is felt. How are the feelings of Lady Macduff produced by that “felt presence”? How does it affect the meeting between Malcolm and Macduff? Students should tell how Macbeth’s presence is felt in each of the two scenes. For example, they might state that Lady Macduff’s anger and fear in Scene ii, though directed at her absent husband, are really produced by the atmosphere of insecurity created by Macbeth’s tyranny, and that the family’s murders were ordered by Macbeth. Students may also mention that the meeting between Malcolm and Macduff grows from the need to save Scotland from Macbeth; Malcolm’s suspicions and testing of Macduff are a direct result of the state of fear and distrust to which Macbeth has reduced everyone in Scotland.
Critics sometimes suggest that the fourth acts of Shakespeare’s plays represent a letdown in dramatic tension between the rising action of the earlier acts and the culminating events of the fifth act. Write an essay in which you evaluate each of the three scenes in Act IV of The Tragedy of Macbeth for dramatic effectiveness and contribution to plot development. In their essays, students should evaluate each scene in Act IV, explaining how dramatically effective each is and how it contributes to plot development. They might find the first scene effective because of its frightening, otherworldly quality. They might suggest that the scene gives Macbeth more knowledge of his situation and shows the audience how brazen he has become. Students might find Scene ii effective because it gives us a view of Lady Macduff and her son that ensures we will feel pity for them and horror at the deed. Scene iii shows Macduff’s and Malcolm’s true natures as good men deeply saddened by Scotland’s state. The testing of Macduff and the report that his family has been murdered are compelling. Of course, the scene sets the opposition to Macbeth in motion.
Write a brief essay about the imagery in the witches’ chant (Scene i, lines 1-38) and the mood that the images help create. Examine the senses to which the different images appeal. Then consider how the images, taken as a whole, establish a particular mood or atmosphere. Be sure to cite several examples of images from Act IV of The Tragedy of Macbeth. You can gather them first on the diagram below. Students should cite examples of images, indicate the sense or senses to which each image appeals, and then consider how all the negative images work together to create a mood they are likely to describe as eerie, horrid, and/or evil. Among the many images they may cite are the harpier cries of line 3 (sound), the poisoned entrails thrown into the caldron in line 5 (sight), the toad under cold stone in line 6 (touch, sight), and the two images in the refrain of “fire burn and caldron bubble” (touch, sight, and sound).
In The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act IV, which adjective would Macduff and Malcolm be most likely to use to describe Macbeth’s rule on Scotland? Explain why it is right or wrong. d, Explanation: This choice shows an understanding that pernicious means fatal or deadly. Malcolm and Macduff believe Scotland is in trouble. Malcolm says “I think our country sinks beneath the yoke.” Choice a is incorrect because judicious means “showing good judgment” and is the opposite of the kinds of adjectives that the two men would ascribe to Macbeth’s rule. Choice b is incorrect because sundry means “various; miscellaneous” and is not an adjective that would apply to the two men’s view of Macbeth’s rule. Choice c is incorrect because credulous means “tending to believe too readily.” It is not the adjective that the two men would most likely apply to Macbeth’s rule, especially now that Macduff and others no longer seem to believe Macbeth but, rather, regard his rule as tyranny.
In the witches’ chant in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act IV, Scene i, lines 1-38, what do all the images have in common? Cite examples to show why each choice is correct or incorrect. b, Explanation: This is the only choice that accurately sums up the imagery in the chant. Choice a is incorrect because the images are generally negative and often disgusting. Choice c is incorrect because some of the images (“bubble, bubble,” for example, and “fire burn”) also appear to the senses of sound, touch, and smell. Choice d is incorrect because only a few of the images appeal to the sense of smell.
It might be said that with every act in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Macbeth becomes more evil. In Act I, Macbeth hears the witches’ prophecies and considers doing evil; in Act II, he kills King Duncan; and in Act III, he kills his comrade Banquo. In an essay, discuss Macbeth’s crime in Act IV. Why does Macbeth commit it? How is it different from the crimes Macbeth commits in the previous acts? Support your points with details from Act IV. Students should discuss Macbeth’s crime in this act, suggest reasons for it, and tell how it differs from his previous crimes. For example, students might point out that in having Macduff’s family murdered in Act IV, Macbeth for the first time commits a crime against completely innocent and defenseless people whose lives have little impact on his political power. This makes it an even more vicious crime than his previous murders. They might mention that his motive seems cloudy and paranoid, but Macbeth probably fears Macduff’s line because of the warning to “Beware Macduff!”
Shakespeare is often praised for his profound understanding of human nature. Evaluate this praise based on the details of The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act IV. Setting aside the behavior of the nonhuman characters (the witches, Hecate, and the apparitions), focus on Macbeth, Malcolm, Macduff, Lady Macduff and her son, and Ross. Do their behavior and attitudes seem realistic to you? Would you say that Shakespeare’s knowledge of human nature holds up across the centuries? Address these questions in a brief essay that cites specific details to support your opinions. Students should evaluate this praise based on the details of Act IV. They should focus on the behavior of Macbeth, Malcolm, Macduff, Lady Macduff and her son, and Ross and point out that their behavior and attitudes seem realistic. They should also explain that Shakespeare’s knowledge of human nature holds up across the centuries. Students may disagree with this premise, as long as they support their opinions with textual details.
What do you predict about the apparitions’ last two predictions in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act IV? Do you think the seeming impossibility of their happening means that Macbeth is safe, as he believes? Or do you think there will be a way for what seems impossible to happen? Explain your answers in a paragraph or two that speculates about what might occur later. Base your speculations on what has happened so far. Students are likely to predict that what seems impossible will in fact happen, since “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” and the unexpected has been happening all along. They may also point out that the supernatural characters are not friends of Macbeth (or any other human being) and that they seem bent on spreading evil and creating mischief. In discussing how the seemingly impossible predictions will actually come to pass, students’ speculations will of course vary and need only show a reasonable understanding of the predictions themselves (none of women born will harm Macbeth; Macbeth won’t be harmed until Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane).
Based on The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act IV, write a few paragraphs tracing the murders thus far. Explain the reasons that Macbeth commits or orders each murder and the mounting horror of his acts. What does his behavior suggest about violence and its outcome? Students should recognize that the murder of Duncan is motivated by ambition; the murder of Duncan’s guards, by self-preservation; the murder of Banquo and attempted murder of his son, in part by ambition or pride (about his future descendants) and in part (in Banquo’s case) by fear and the desire for self-preservation; and the murder of the Macduff family, by some combination of anger and revenge and the hope of sending out a warning to other would-be traitors. They should recognize that Macbeth’s fears are becoming less and less rational. They should also recognize that all the murders are great evils—killing Duncan betrays the king to whom he has sworn loyalty, as well as a kinsman and a guest in his home; killing the grooms is an attempt at escaping the consequences of one’s own acts by harming others; killing Banquo betrays a friend and comrade-in-arms; the killing Fleance and particularly the Macduff family seems like irrational overkill, with the killing of an innocent woman and her young children a particularly heinous act for a king (who vows to protect his subjects) and former soldier. Students are likely to say that the events show that violence seems to bring not happiness but only fear, isolation, insecurity, and more violence, and that as time goes on it seems to become easier and easier to commit violence with fewer and fewer pangs of conscience.

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