Macbeth Discussion Questions

ACT I

Scenes i and ii

  1. Describe the setting of the opening scene.  What is the mood and how is it established?
  2. What supernatural and evil powers of the witches are suggested?
  3. The witches are planning a meeting. When are they going to meet again? Where are they going to meet? With whom do they plan to meet?
  4. What is the meaning and significance of the final couplet at the end of the first scene:“Fair is foul and foul is fair, Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
  5. How does Scene ii introduce the absent Macbeth?  Cite specific quotes that characterize him.
  6. What qualities of Duncan’s and Malcolm’s are introduced here?
  7. Who is the original Thane of Cawdor?
  8. What is the significance of Duncan’s line, “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won.” (I, ii, 68)

Scene iii

  1. Both Macbeth and Banquo speak of things being “foul” or “fair”.  Give examples.
  2. How do the witches hail Macbeth?  Banquo? (three each)
  3. Report Macbeth’s mixed feelings about one of the prophesies of the witches coming true.
  4. How does Macbeth’s reaction differ from Banquo’s reaction?
  5. Define SOLILOQUY.  Discuss the importance of Macbeth’s first soliloquy in this scene.  In other words, what does he reveal about his character in this speech?

Scene iv

Define DRAMATIC IRONY.  Explain the irony found in the following situation:

Duncan, speaking of Cawdor, states:

“There’s no art

To find the mind’s construction in the face:

He was a gentleman on whom I built

An absolute trust.”  (I, iii, 11-13)

As Duncan speaks these lines, Macbeth enters.

  1. In lines 35-40 Duncan makes an announcement.  What is it?  What is the significance?
  2. What images do Duncan’s words in this scene conjure up?
  3. What does Macbeth admit to himself at the end of this scene?

Scene v

  1. What purpose does Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy serve?  Give your interpretation of the key lines in the soliloquy.
  2. Is there genuine love between the Macbeths?
  3. In her soliloquy, Lady Macbeth speaks of her husband, saying, “What thou wouldst highly,/That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false.”  Restate in your own words what she is saying, and explain the irony.
  4. As a result of her own observation, what does Lady Macbeth plan to do?
  5. When Lady Macbeth tells her husband to “look like the innocent flower”, what major theme is this developing in the play?

Scenes vi and vii

  1. Explain the dramatic irony in Duncan’s statement: “This castle hath a pleasant seat.  The air/Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself/Unto our gentle senses.”
  2. Report three reasons Macbeth considers for not killing Duncan.
  3. How does Macbeth explain his desire to be king at all costs?
  4. When Lady Macbeth arrives, how does Macbeth’s intentions change?
  5. Quote Lady Macbeth’s arguments in response to Macbeth’s vacillation.
  6. What is Lady Macbeth’s plan?
  7. Why might the topic of Lady Macbeth’s womanliness be raised again?
  8. How does the last line of this act, spoken by Macbeth, echo the previous statement of Lady Macbeth?

ACT II

Scene i

  1. Give two details of setting that reinforce the theme of darkness.
  2. What is the significance of Banquo’s talk with Fleance as the scene opens?
  3. Macbeth says that he does not think of the witches, but he contradicts himself.  How?
  4. What is Banquo’s reply to Macbeth concerning a future conversation?
  5. What is the significance of the dagger Macbeth sees?  Is there really a dagger present or is it imagined?  Explain.

Scene ii

  1. What role in the murder has Lady Macbeth performed?
  2. Discuss the dramatic significance of the following quotes:

a)     “Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep!’” (II, ii, 36)

b)    “A little water clears us of this deed; How easy it is then!” (II, ii, 68)

3. How does Macbeth’s mental state differ from his wife?  Provide specific proof.

4. How does the knocking at the gate add to the horror of the scene?

Scene iii

  1. Define COMIC RELIEF.  How does the opening of this scene accomplish this?
  2. How does Macbeth explain his killing of the grooms?  Why does Lady Macbeth faint at this point?
  3. What do Malcolm and Donalbain decide to do?  Explain the significance of Donalbain’s statement, “There’s daggers in men’s smiles; the near in blood/The nearer bloody.”
  4. What is the dramatic significance of the following lines?

a)     “If a man were porter of hell-gate…” (II, iii, 1)

b)    “Twas a rough night.” (II, iii, 60)

5. Nature rebels at the act of regicide in Shakespearean plays.  Discuss this statement with reference to scenes iii and iv.

Scene iv

  1. Locate at least two references to (a) unnatural occurrences, (b) darkness, and (c) blood.
  2. Why are Malcolm and Donalbain suspected of murder?
  3. Instead of attending Macbeth’s coronation, where is Macduff going?  What does this say about Macduff?
  4. Explain how the last line of this act is an echo of “Fair is foul….”

ACT III

Scene i

  1. Analyze the reasons Macbeth gives for desiring Banquo’s death.
  2. How do these thoughts of Macbeth differ with those presented in his soliloquy on Duncan?
  3. What are three arguments Macbeth uses to convince the murderers to kill Banquo and Fleance?

Scene ii

  1. Is Lady Macbeth happy?  Why or why not?
  2. Quote further reference to Macbeth’s state of mind.
  3. What are some quotations that develop the theme of appearance versus reality?
  4. Why does Macbeth keep his plan secret from his wife?

Scene iii

  1. The climax or turning point occurs in this scene, when the fortunes of the protagonist irreversibly turn for the worse.  What is the climax specifically?  Give a reason for your answer.
  2. Which do you regard the greater crime: the murder of Banquo or the murder of Duncan?  Give reasons for your answer.

Scene iv

  1. What is the significance of Macbeth’s statement: “Thou canst not say I did it.  Never shake/Thy gory locks at me.”
  2. How does Lady Macbeth respond to her husband’s outbursts?
  3. Note that six other references to blood occur in this scene, one of the major images of the play.  Quote them.
  4. Quote words that indicate Macbeth’s current state of mind.
  5. Lady Macbeth tells her husband that he “lack[s] the season of all natures, sleep.”  How does this quote reinforce a previous statement by Macbeth regarding the importance of sleep?
  6. Quote two examples of Macbeth’s intentions regarding further murders.Why does Macbeth plan on seeing the witches?
  7. Comment on the dramatic significance of the following:

“But now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d, bound in

To saucy doubts and fears.” (III, iv, 23-24)

Scene v

  1. What is the trap the witches are planning for Macbeth?
  2. What according to Hecate is man’s “chiefest enemy”?

Scene vi

  1. What does the tone of Lennox’s words suggest about his meaing?
  2. What information is revealed in this scene by Lennox and the Lord?

ACT IV

Scene i

  1. How does the witches’ rhyming couplet refrain add to the atmosphere?  Why is the use of “double” appropriate to Macbeth?
  2. What do each of the following three apparitions symbolize:

a)     an armed head?

b)    a bloody child?

c)     a child crowned?

2. What is the fourth apparition?

3. What is the irony of Macbeth’s words to Lennox: “Infected by the air whereon they ride,/And damned all those that trust them!”

4. Macbeth says, “To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done!”  What is he planning?

Scene ii

  1. How does Lady Macduff feel about her husband’s flight from home?  How does Ross try to reassure her?
  2. What is the basic metaphor used in this scene?  Provide three examples to support your answer.
  3. What is the effect of this scene on the attitude of the audience toward Macbeth?

Scene iii

  1. Initially, why doesn’t Malcolm trust Macduff?
  2. What kind of person does Malcolm claim to be?  What kind of king does he claim he will make?  What is the effect of these statements on Macduff?
  3. How does Macduff react to the news from Scotland?  What does Malcolm resolve to do at the end of this scene?
  4. Explain the line: “The night is long that never finds the day”

ACT V

Scene i

  1. What is Lady Macbeth’s mental state in Scene I?  Provide examples to assert your point.
  2. What is the dramatic significance of Lady Macbeth saying, “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” ?

Scene ii

  1. Where are the invading armies going to meet before they attack?
  2. Where has Macbeth fortified himself?
  3. According to Angus, what is the condition of Macbeth’s rule?

Scene iii

  1. At the beginning of this scene, Macbeth show no fear.  Why?
  2. What are Macbeth’s regrets as revealed in lines 20-28?
  3. How does the doctor describe Lady Macbeth’s illness?

Scene iv – vi

  1. How is one of the witches’ prophesies coming true?
  2. What is Macbeth’s reaction to the news of his wife’s death?
  3. How does Macduff make Macbeth fight him?
  4. Explain how the prophesies made by the apparitions come true in this act.
  5. Cite evidence from the final scene that indicates not only that Malcolm will prove to be a good king but also that through his strong rule moral order will be restored.
  6. Discuss the significance of lines 18-28 spoken by Macbeth in Scene v, in terms of the following:

a)     the imagery he uses

b)    Macbeth’s disillusionment with life

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