Macbeth commentary

A very short scene opens the play Enough to spark curiosity yet not enough to satisfy it since we’ve entered at the end of the meeting
The mood of the play Is set in act 1 Scene 1 although the action doesn’t start until the next scene, in which we learn about the battle that has been raging, about the rebel’s who seem to have all the luck, and Macbeth and Banquo who bravely win the victory for Scotland
Thane of Cawdor King Duncan rewards Macbeth for his courage by giving him this title, yet we must remember that the title once belonged to someone who was a ‘most disloyal traitor’, foreshadowing?
The witches malice and magic Are shown as they await Macbeth on the lonely moor (wasteland area). They have power over the winds, and can make life miserable for such men as the captain of the ship ‘the tiger’
Stereotypes The witches making life miserable for people was a large belief in Shakespeare’s times
When they hear Macbeth’s drum The witches dance is made up of steps in groups of three, a magical number
Macbeth and Banquo Are ordinary human beings tired after a days fighting and grumbling about the weather. The latter is almost amused by the witches as he cannot bring himself to think of them as women since “your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so “
The witches prophecies Stuns Macbeth but Banquo questions them calmly
The audience Can judge the witches better than Macbeth since we know from the previous scene that his courage and not the witches magic has won him “Thane of Cawdor” and we’re not surprised when Ross greets him with this title
A soliloquy A speech not intended by the speaker to be overheard by other characters is said by Macbeth as Banquo, Ross and Angus speak together at the back of the stage
A soliloquy Macbeth’s thoughts during this are frightening; they frighten Macbeth as well as us, because murder is in his mind. He tries to reject this, declaring that he’ll leave everything to chance “if chance will have me king, why chance may crown me without my stir”
A very meaningful remark I said by Duncan when he hears of the treacherous ‘thane of Cawdors’ death. “There’s no art_to find the minds construction in the face_he was a gentleman on whom I built _an absolute trust
We haven’t seen the traitor Therefore we don’t know how appropriate Duncans words are for him yet we’ve seen his successor as thane and Macbeth is certainly a gentleman on whom Duncan is building “an absolute trust”
Duncans comment Could also be applied to other characters and events in the play where things are not what they seem to be eg. “Fair is foul and foul is fair”
Duncans very important announcement “We will establish our estate uponour eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter The prince of Cumberland”
In Shakespeare’s time The crown wasn’t automatically passed from father to son but the successor is named as Duncan does here to grant him the title “Prince of Cumberland”
Election for a new king Would happen if the king were to die without naming an heir, or the either wasn’t acceptable, by the Scottish nobles. This is how Macbeth is elected in act 2
Duncans choice of Malcolm Is a great shock to Macbeth as he realises it’s an obstacle between him and the crown. At the end of the scene he admits to having “black and deep desires” but he’s afraid to speak these openly, even to himself
Macbeth’s letter to his wife Shows us that he has no secrets from her and she’s his “dearest partner in greatness”. Lady Macbeth understands her husband well.
Lady Macbeth knows he has great ambitions, but also knows that he’s honorable and that this sense of honour will not allow him to “catch the nearest way”-murder
Lady Macbeth knows She’ll have to urge her husband to become king, and she calls for evil spirits to help her. She’s prepared to give up the gentle, tender qualities of a woman so that she may become a sexless, pitiless fiend
Lady Macbeth takes full control Over the situation, and Macbeth seems glad to let her have the responsibility
Duncan and his followers Appreciate the peaceful harmony of Macbeth’s castle, where Lady Macbeth welcomes the guests with an overflow of polite compliments, which even the audience can barely understand
Murdering the king Alone after dinner Macbeth has a moment to think about this, perhaps for the first time. At first murder has been only a dream “but fantastical” but now it’s a real moral problem
Macbeth knows His crime will be punished; divine justice in a “life to come” doesn’t worry him as much as judgement in this earthly life.
Macbeth considers The duties he owes to Duncan- the duties of a kinsman, a subject to his king, and of a host to his guest. Finally he thinks of the character of Duncan, a king of almost divine excellence
Macbeth has a vision Of the heavenly powers in a state of horror at such a murder; he sees pity personified as a “naked new-born babe” which is nevertheless “striding the blast” while “heavens cherubim” are mounted on the winds
Macbeth’s speech builds To a mighty climax then suddenly the power is lost when Macbeth turns to his own retched motive for committing such a crime.
Macbeth’s speech He can find nothing but “vaulting ambition” and even now he can see that too high a leap can only lead to a fall
Macbeth’s mind is made up So he tells his wife “we will proceed no further in this business”. However he’s not prepared for her rage and abuse.
Lady Macbeth’s rage She calls him a coward, insults his manliness and declares that she’d rather have murdered her child while it was feeding at her breast rather than break such a promise as Macbeth has done
Defeated by his wife’s scorn And persuaded by her encouragement, Macbeth agreed to murder his king
The witches have disturbed Banquo as well as Macbeth. As he crosses the courtyard of Macbeth’s castle, Banquo hears a noise, and calls for his sword. This suggests tension, as he shouldn’t need a sword in a friends home
Macbeth also shows signs of stress He speaks only a few words in his replies to Banquo, and when he is alone, the strain shows very clearly.
Macbeth Is living in a nightmare, but although he’s first alarmed by the dagger his mind creates, he seems later to enjoy the horror of the movement
Grim humour May be shown during the last line of the scene:”The bell invites meHead it not, Duncan, for it is a knellThat summons thee to heaven or to hell”
Lady Macbeth is as tense as her husband She’s been drinking to give herself courage. Her speech is jerky- she reacts to every sound,
Lady Macbeth is tense and when her husband comes from the kings room, his hands red with Duncans blood she greets him with relief and pride “my husband”. He has now proved himself, in her eyes, to be a man
Macbeth reacts differently As he slowly awakens from the nightmare he’s been living in and realises what a terrible crime he has committed.
Macbeth reacts differently He speaks of the real sounds he has heard, and then of the voice that cried “Sleep no more: Macbeth does murder sleep”
The sleep ban will be carried out Never again will Macbeth, or his wife, have any rest, and from time to time throughout the play they will comment on their weariness and lack of refreshing sleep
Lady Macbeth takes charge Of the situation again. Early in the scene she revealed some natural, womanly feelings when she confessed she couldn’t murder Duncan herself because he “resembled_my father as he slept”
Lady Macbeth Speaks a line which shows, terrifyingly, how little she thinks of the guilt that she and her husband share; “A little water clears us of this deed”
The mood of the play suddenly changes (A2 S3). The audience has been as tense as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the last scene, and we need to relax a little now
The porter Woken from his drunken sleep gives us something to laugh at. His jokes aren’t as funny today as in 1606. Nevertheless the wise observations on drink and lechery are still amusing for a modern audience
The porter In Shakespeare’s day his chatter about the ‘equivocator’ might have reminded the audience of the recent and famous trial of a priest who could ‘swear in both the scales against either scale’.
When Macduff and Lennox arrive They come almost from another world; or perhaps the porter is more accurate than he could ever imagine when he pretends to be porter at the gate of hell. The tension mounts again as we wait for the murder to be discovered
To the Elizabethans Lennox’s description of an “unruly” night would’ve been full of significance. They firmly believed that any disorder amongst humans was reflected by disorder in nature
Macbeth is cautious Nevertheless his reply to Lennox “’twas a rough night” seems an understatement
Macduffs words Emphasise the fact that this is more than an ordinary murder:”Confusion now hath made his masterpiece:Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope The Lords anointed temple”
The scene is chaotic Alarm-bells ring and characters appear from all sides of the stage. Macduff is almost hysterical; the kings sons are afraid;Macbeth impulsively kills Duncans servants- and by doing so arouses Macduff’s suspicion
The speech In which Macbeth attempts to justify himself may convince other thanes, but we know how false it is, and the elaborate images (“His silver skin lac’d with his golden blood”) stresses this falsehood
Lady Macbeth Knows the truth too: she faints (or pretends to faint) and some attention is drawn away from her husband
Ross and the old mans scene Serves three purposes. At first it continues the comparison between Lennox’s lines in s3 between the human world and the natural world, mentioning strange events and stressing that they’re “unnatural, even like the deed that’s done”
Ross and the old mans scene The second function appears when Macduff enters to bring more news; it shows the passing of time.
Ross and the old mans scene Thirdly it brings Macduff into greater prominence, because it allows the actor to reveal, by the tone of his voice, that Macduff continues to be suspicious of Macbeth, and that Macduff doesn’t believe the answers Macbeth gives to Ross’s questions
Banquo is also suspicious of Macbeth “Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, allAs the we├»rd women promis’d, and I fear Thou played’st most foully for it”
Banquo has hope As he thinks about the prophecy concerning his children. Alternatively Macbeth has also been thinking this prophecy and it gives him a cause for bitterness: he realises that his crown is “fruitless” and his sceptre “barren”
Macbeth murdered Duncan In order to make the witches prophecy come true, and now he plots to murder Banquo and Fleance so that the witches promise to Banquo may not come true
Signs of strain Are now shown by Lady Macbeth and we hear that Macbeth now suffers “terrible dreams”. For a moment Macbeth and his wife show understanding and sympathy for each other, but the moment doesn’t last long
The plot to murder Banquo Is kept secret from Macbeth to his wife. He alarms her by conjuring up an atmosphere of evil, and once again he appears to enjoy his dreadful imaginings (just as he did when he went to murder Duncan)
It’s a mistake To hide the facts from Lady Macbeth: this is the beginning of the break in their relationship
When Macbeth calls upon “seeling night” To hide his wickedness, were reminded how Lady Macbeth, before the murder of Duncan, had called for the night, shrouded in “the dunnest smoke of hell” to hide the murdering dagger from the sight of heaven
Outside the castle The two murders wait for Banquo and Fleance. It’s a surprise, to us as well as them, when a third hired assassin appears. Macbeth can trust no one, not even the thugs he first hired to murder Banquo
The confusion of Banquo’s murder Contrasts well with the ceremony of the state banquet. The formality is announced in the first line: “you know your own degrees sit down”; and the scene proceeds with dignity for some time
One of Banquo’s murderers appears Which disturbs the peace for Macbeth. The state occasion demands courteous behaviour from the king, but when the murderer says that Fleance has escaped, Macbeth becomes agitated
Banquo’s ghost Which only Macbeth can see, adds to his distress, until the whole scene breaks into fragments, and Lady Macbeth has to ask her guests to leave, without any of the formality with which they arrived
Lady Macbeth asks guests to leave “Stand not upon the order of your goingBut go at once”
The banquet is symbolic As well as realistic, and Shakespeare is careful that we don’t overlook this aspect. As soon as the guests are seated Macbeth promises to “drink a measure_the table round”.
The banquet is symbolic In many societies and religions, the sharing of a cup of wine, sometimes even called a ‘loving cup’ symbolises unity and fellowship and this is how it’s intended here
When Macbeth steps away from the table To speak to the murderer,Lady Macbeth calls him back. She reminds him of his duty as a host, adding that on such an occasion “the sauce to meat is ceremony”
By murdering Duncan Macbeth brings chaos to Scotland, breaking up the harmony of a well-ordered country, just as he breaks up the state banquet “with most admir’d disorder”
The witches and their queen (Hecate) prepare for another meeting with Macbeth. There’s evidence to suggest that Shakespeare didn’t write this scene, and some people believe it was inserted by an over-enthusiastic actor, who saw that audiences loved the witches scenes and wanted to give them one
Suspicion of Macbeth is growing Lennox speaks here not as himself, an individual character, but with what we now call ‘the voice of the people’. His words are innocent in meaning, but the exaggeration of tone directs the actor to make his speech heavily sarcastic
Lennox’s speech “How it did grieve Macbeth! Did he not straight In pious rage the two delinquents tear,That were the slaves of drink and thralls of sleep?”
Information about Malcolm Is given by the unnamed Lord, and also makes the first reference in the play to the king of England, “the most pious Edward”, who’s the complete opposite of Macbeth. This comparison will be developed in a layer scene
The three Apparitions Are called up by the witches to give Macbeth comfort. They appear in symbolic form. The first, “an armed head”, represents Macbeth’s own head (wearing a helmet);
The three apparitions the “bloody child” that comes next is Macduff, who’d been “untimely ripp’d” from his mother’s womb and the last, the royal child with a tree in his hand, is Malcolm, the rightful king of Scotland, who approaches the palace in Dunsinane camouflaged with tree branches
Macbeth cannot interpret these symbols But Shakespeare expects the audience to understand what is meant. This is ‘dramatic irony’- when the truth of a situation is known to the audience but hidden from the characters in the play
Dramatic irony is present In the words spoken by the three apparitions, for again we understand the real meanings, while Macbeth can only understand the apparent meanings of the words
Macbeth Is in no doubt about the significance of the final ‘show of eight kings’
Lady Macduff and her son Are massacred in this pathetic scene shows us Macbeth’s cruelty in action. When he plotted to kill Banquo’s son, Fleance, he could justify the crime to himself by referring to the prophecy that Banquo’s children should be kings
The motivelessness of the crime Makes it more dreadful as Lady Macduff and her son were no threat to Macbeth. Our knowledge of the crime helps us to find more dramatic irony in the following scene
Malcolm mistrusts Macduff Chiefly because he cannot understand. “Why in that rawness left you wife and child,Those precious motives, those strong knots of love,Without leave-taking?”
Macduff must prove his loyalty To Malcolm and to Scotland; then Malcolm must prove that he’s worthy of being king. Again we’re told of Edward the Confessor, and this time we hear about his divine gift of healing
The gift of healing Wasn’t chosen by chance, Shakespeare used many images of sickness – just a little later in this scene he describes Scotland as a place where:”Good men’s livesExpire before the flowers in their caps,Dying or ere they sicken”
Caithness recognises Malcolm As the doctor who can cure Scotland’s sickness, calling him the “med’cine of the sickly weal”
We respond intellectually To this account of the English king, and to the idea of the monarch as some kind of physician, appointed by God to safeguard the country’s health.
We respond emotionally To the next episode in this long scene where Ross breaks the bad news to Macduff. We feel the painful irony of Ross’s evasive answer: “they were well at peace when I did leave ’em”
If we hadn’t seen Lady Macduff and son We shouldn’t be distressed; however because of Scene 2 we’re able to share Macduffs own grief. Malcolm urges him to “dispute it like a man” to which Macduff replies “I shall do so, but I must also feel it as a man”
The word ‘man’ Is being used in two senses. Malcolm intends it to mean bravely, but Macduff is thinking of a man as a human being, with tender emotions of live and grief, which mustn’t be denied
Shows what happens When emotions are denied. At the start of the play, Lady Macbeth prayed that she should know “no compunctious visitings of nature” that might prevent her from murdering Duncan
Lady Macbeth Now walks in her sleep and her mind constantly re-lives the night of the murder. On that night she declared confidently that “A little water clears us of this deed”, but now she knows that “all perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”
It’s the last time we see Lady Macbeth Although the doctor warns her lady-in-waiting to “remove her the means of all annoyance”, we learn later that,”by self and violent hands”, she kills herself
From now until the end of the play The action moves between the two armies, Malcolm’s soldiers, steadily drawing closer to Dunsinane, and Macbeth’s forces, besieged near the castle
Caithness and Angus Discuss the strength of the enemy, and Angus offers a shrewd comment on Macbeth:”Now does he feel his title Hang loose about him, like a giants robeUpon a dwarfish thief”
This isn’t the first image Of badly fitting clothes. When Macbeth is given the title “Thane of Cawdor”, soon after the witches prophecy that it’ll be given to him, he stands apart from Banquo and the kings messengers. Then Banquo laughs and explains he’s like a man with new clothes
There are many allusions Like this throughout the play. They make us stop and think about the relationship about Macbeth and the honours he is “wearing”. Has he won them, or stolen them? Will his ‘clothes’ fit in time- or will they always be too big for him?
When he heard Of the doctors medical opinion of his wife, Macbeth asks with grim humour, for a medical opinion on the state of the country. The doctor is allowed the same humour when he closes the scene “Were I from Dunsinane away and clear, profit again should hardly draw me here”
The situation is now so serious That only a sour joke (playing on the generally accepted belief that doctors are greedy for gold) can ease the tension
Birnam Wood Begins to move and what seems like witches magic is seen to be elementary military tactics. Excitement and tension mount as the soldiers come closer to Dunsinane
Macbeth doesn’t respond To the excitement, he’s lost the capacity for feeling either fear or, as we see when he hears of his wife’s death, grief. He speaks the most disillusioned words that Shakespeare ever wrote when he contemplates life and its “petty pace from day to day”
Macbeth still hopes That the witches promises will protect him, but when he hears that “the wood began to move” his confidence is shaken and he begins “To doubt the equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth”
At this point we should remember The ‘equivocator’ that the porter joked about long ago in A2 S3, and that the whole play insists on the difference between being and seeming, or between saying one thing and meaning another
Continuous battle Is now being waged, and the stage shouldn’t ever be empty. Macbeth is at last forced to confront Macduff, and also to face the truth and admit that “these juggling fiends” cannot be trusted
When the castle has been surrendered Macbeth defeated, and victory proclaimed, Malcolm announces the beginning of a new reign. Order has now been returned to Scotland, and business will once again be conducted “in measure, time and place”

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