William Shakespeare - Macbeth
1. Features of the text
Genre (novel – short story – play – essay – film script)
It is a play (tragedy)
Ambition, power and its consequences, death, love, family, good overcoming evil, betrayal and loyalty, man values, guilt, magic.
Style (realistic – descriptive – poetic – lyric – ironic – comic – pathetic – epic – tragic)
The style is poetic, tragic, descriptive and often based on fiction.
There isn’t a proper narrator in a play but we could say it’s external and confined to the stage directions. The rest of the play is spoken by the characters.
- Macbeth is the protagonist. He’s the subject of a great transformation that covers many themes and values. Macbeth was a common general in the Scottish army, but the predictions of three witches twist his mind and turn him into a bloody murderer. Anyway he is a weak-minded man, indecisive and still bound to the good values.
- Lady Macbeth is Macbeth’s wife. She’s a decisive and strong woman, evil and unscrupulous. She persuades her husband to do everything she plans with him and she contributes to his transformation. Anyway, she eventually feels guilty and demonstrates that there is no man able to be evil without regrets.
- Duncan is the king of Scotland. He is depicted as a generous man and a perfect leader for the country.
- Banquo is a general too. He’s one of Macbeth’s victim. He is smart and loyal.
- Fleance is Banquo’s son.
- Malcom is Duncan’s older son and the future king of Scotland. He is clever and really pure. He’s never been touched by a woman, he’s not interested in richness, he’s good and loyal.
- Donalbain is Malcom’s younger brother and he appears a little coward because he flees after his father’s murder.
- Macduff is the Thane of Fife. He is very intuitive because he is the first one to have suspects about Macbeth.
- Lady Macduff is Macduff’s wife. They have children but Macduff’s family is murdered because of the suspects. One of the children is presented as very clever.
- The weird sisters are the three witches who predict Macbeth’s future. They are ugly, wicked, they have a beard even though they’re women and they like to play jokes with the miserable men. Shakespeare uses these characters to bring many symbols to the tragedy, such as the number three and the connection to the animals.
- Lennox is a Scottish nobleman.
- Ross is Macduff’s cousin, a Scottish nobleman and a messenger.
Setting (time and place)
England and Scotland of Late Middle Ages.
The king’s court (rich men such as generals, thanes, ladies, counselors, but also servants and poor people asking for help)
Shakespeare sets this tragedy in Medieval Scotland and England. The mood of this feudal period suits perfectly the barbaric actions of the characters. Moreover, many details of the play are linked to the Scottish culture of that period, which included, for example, all those believes in witches, witchcraft and supernatural phenomena.
Duncan is the king of Scotland, while Macbeth and Banquo are two generals. These two meet three witches called “The Weird Sisters” who predict Macbeth’s future by saying he’s going to be nominated Thane of Cawdor and later king, and also predict Banquo’s future by saying he’s going to be the progenitor of a line of kings. While Banquo warns Macbeth that the witches are wicked and could be twisting his mind to make him take a wrong road, full of terrible deeds, Macbeth believes them and later plans to kill Duncan. Macbeth starts repenting of his thoughts, but Lady Macbeth persuades him to go ahead. They kill the king and blame two guards. Macduff, the Thane of Fife, is the first one to have suspects on Macbeth. The witches tell Macbeth to beware of Macduff, so his whole family is murdered by Macbeth’s servants. Macbeth decides to kill Banquo and Fleance because of the witches’ predictions, but Fleance manages to escape. Banquo’s ghost tortures Macbeth’s mind and Lady Macbeth also starts becoming mad because of the guilt that she feels. Macduff and Malcom decide to invade Scotland and to take the throne. Macbeth is sure he’s going to win the battle because the witches told him he’s got to be worried only when the Birnan Forest will move towards Dunsinane castle, and he can’t be killed by any man born from a woman. All the English soldiers bring with them a branch from the trees of the Birnam Forest as they have been ordered, confirming one of the witches predictions; Macduff tells Macbeth he was ripped off by his mother’s womb and Macbeth understands he’s going to kill him. Macduff murders him indeed, and Malcom is crowned king in Scone. Scone refers to the same place where King James VI and I Stuart was crowned. People say King James is related to Banquo, confirming the witches’ prediction.
2. Personal Response
Consistency of the title
The title is the name of the protagonist, so it is perfectly consistent. Maybe it’s a little trivial.
Suggested alternative title
Ambition and madness.
How do you consider the text? (entertaining – interesting – instructive – thrilling – sad – other…)
Substantiate your opinion on the text
Shakespeare gives us the message that no human being can be totally evil. There will be always something to feel guilty about and the good will overcome the evil. Even though the themes are serious and worth reflecting on, the play is still entertaining thanks to Shakespeare’s writing skills.
Did the text induce you to change your mind on the main theme?
Not really. Ambition is something you must have under control or it will bring you to the wrong road.
4. The author
A sketched biography
William Shakespeare is believed to be born in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23 1564, three days before his baptism. His father was John Shakespeare, a leather merchant and his mother was Mary Arden. William had two sisters and three brothers. He attended the Grammar School in Stratford (the King’s New School). At the age of 18, William married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, from who he had three children (Susanna, Hamnet and Judith). By 1592 William was already living as an actor and playwright in London, but it was in the early 1590s that he joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an acting company that changed its name to the King’s Men after King James I was crowned (1603). In 1599 the company built the Globe theatre near the Thames, which was destroyed by a fire in 1613 and rebuilt in 1614. William died on April 23 1616, the date of his birthday.
Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Richard III, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and many others.
Historical and/or social background to be considered for a better understanding of the text