Macbeth study guide!

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Report Thread starter 1 year ago
Hey everyone

I did English Lit GCSE almost 2 years ago now but I still have the revision guide of key quotations I made for each character + social, historical context. I got a 9 in the end so hopefully this helps people out.

Lady Macbeth:

• Her first lines are in prose. Usually lower or evil characters use this. Sets the tone for her character for the rest of the play and foreshadows a fall from grace.
• Duncan calls her a ‘fair and noble hostess’. Reminds audience of how she should behave according to stereotypical gender roles. She later deviates from social norms and abdicates her female duty.
Unsex me speech! Soliloquy. She wants some supernatural form to strip her of her femininity. Subverting her nature. Shakespearean audience would be shocked as female duty was so cemented in society.
‘Look the innocent flower but be the serpent under it’. Saying Macbeth should look innocent but be venomous. Shakespeare uses biblical imagery with the snake (Creation story, snake tempts Eve). This is an example of Lady Macbeth being duplicitous. She’s also telling him how to behave, gender role reversal
‘dashed the brains out’ [of a baby]. Very haunting and visceral image. She is further ‘unsexed’ as this is against female norms and maternal nature. Especially potent to Shakespearean audience as they had entrenched views on femininity.
• Shakespeare uses stichomythia (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth speak in alternate lines) after Duncan’s death. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are linguistically and morally conjoined.
• She refers to Macbeth as her husband only after he kills Duncan which shows that he’s gained his masculinity. Before he had ‘the milk of human kindness’. Also another example of where she takes control.
• Shift in Act 3. Banquet scene is the last point in which she has power, ‘Stand not upon the order of your going but go at once’. From this point onwards she begins to go crazy and Macbeth gains more control.
Act 5 Scene 1, sleepwalking scene. Huge contrast to when she was in control. Earlier in the play she said ‘A little water clears us of this deed’, suggesting she was not bothered by killing Duncan. In the sleepwalking scene she’s desperately trying to wash her hands. Engulfed by her guilt.
Lots of prose and fragmented syntax used which shows the deterioration of her mind. Reinforces the didactic message of the play, the consequences of committing regicide (killing a king). Closest we come to feeling pathos for her.


• At the beginning he was very bellicose (aggressive, great warrior) but begins to transgress his natural station in life. Shakespeare uses the character to warn audience of what happens if you kill a king. Links to the Great Chain of Being, everyone has their place.
Jacobean propaganda! Shakespeare shows the terrible consequences of committing regicide through Macbeth which would deter anyone from trying to kill James 1st, the monarch at the time. An anathema to the audience.
• Macbeth is established as ‘brave and valiant’in the beginning. A mighty warrior, ‘He unseemed him from the knave to the chaps’.
• He is instantly captivated by the witches’ prophecy. Represents how easily corrupted he is by his ambition (his hamartia). ‘Vaulting ambition that o’er leaps itself’
• He wavers between wanting to and not wanting to kill Duncan. ‘Why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair’. He realises how bad it would be to kill a king, his moral compass is still intact. But his ambition overrules.
• When he does kill Duncan he feels guilty.‘Macbeth hath murdered sleep’. Highlights how he’s so full of guilt he may never sleep again. Shakespeare uses 3rd person as if Macbeth doesn’t even recognise himself anymore.
This is linked to the Divine Right of Kings. However he becomes more and more corrupted and cares less later in the play.
Dagger scene. Dagger is an objective correlative and externalisation of his guilt.
• When Macbeth kills Banquo.‘Oh full of scorpions is my mind’. Scorpions have connotations of evil and death. Macbeth further corrupted. His state of mind is deteriorating.
‘Things has begun make strong themselves by ill’. Essentially he’s saying that if you did a bad thing, continue because that makes you stronger. Shows his warped mind. Moral compass gone.
• Death of McDuff’s wife and son, shows Macbeth’s descent into evil as innocent people are killed.
Tomorrow speech. Response to Lady Macbeth’s death. Could feel pathos for him as he seems upset, or could say he responds with cruelty and cold heartedness. ‘She should’ve died hereafter’, she should’ve died later. Suggests her death was inconvenient for him.
Macbeth’s death. He attempts to restore his courage in a Shakespearean audience’s eyes and gain redemption. Malcolm becoming king restores order as he is the rightful king. Shakespeare presenting the success of the Divine Right of Kings.


• How he is presented in the play is Jacobean propaganda and shows the Divine Right of Kings. He’s shown as innocent and pure, inherently the best king, divinely appointed. James 1st believed in the Divine Right of Kings so would’ve approved.
• Shakespeare’s dramatic irony. Duncan describes the castle as having a ‘sweet air’ and describes Lady Macbeth as a ‘fair and noble hostess’. Suggests Duncan is incapable of seeing evil and can’t comprehend it because it’s so beyond his good nature.
This is reinforced in the 1977 Royal Shakespeare Company version of the play where he wore white which symbolises peace and purity.
• Act 1 Scene 4. He uses very formal language e.g.‘swiftest wing of recompence’. Suggests his wisdoms is embedded into his very being. So inherently kingly that he can’t help but use this language.
• Duncan’s death is not performed in the play. Would’ve been too terrible and shocking because the audience would be watching the death of God’s representative on Earth.
• He is represented as a paragon of virtue. Emphasis on how terrible regicide is. Macbeth’s reaction to killing him reiterates this (murdered sleep quote) Reinforces didactic message of the play - don’t kill a king.
‘The night has been unruly, the Earth was feverish’ - said after Duncan’s death. Personification and pathetic fallacy. Believed at the time that the health of the king was inextricably linked to the health of the nation. Duncan’s death had upset the natural balance of things.
‘This sore night’ further reinforces this. Play once again warns against killing a king as it dramatises the terrible consequences.

The witches:

• James 1st was obsessed with the supernatural and wrote a book called ‘Demonology’. Witches are Jacobean propaganda, makes James happy.
• The witches speak in paradox which suggests a lack of order, violating natural order etc.
• Play begins with a storm when we meet them. Common trope to show lack of natural order. Foreboding, pathetic fallacy.
• Macbeth is immediately captivated by them which is the first sign of his downfall. He is ‘rapt withal’.
Act 1 Scene 4. Shakespeare uses trochaic tetrameter. Makes speech seem spell like. Evil. As speech continues the rhyme and meter disappears. A microcosmic trajectory of the play. From order to chaos.
• Who is responsible for Macbeth’s downfall? Is Macbeth responsible for his own actions? Or did the witches nourish his ambition and plant the seed?


• James 1st believed he was descended from Banquo. Shakespeare is creating a history for James where is ancestors are brave and honourable. Jacobean Propaganda.
• Banquo says to the witches ‘Aye fantastical or that indeed which outwardly you show’.Questioning their reality, instantly recognised they may be misleading. Not captivated or corrupted like Macbeth.
• He recognises that they’re ‘instruments of darkness’. This creates a huge contrast to Macbeth who is easily corrupted and ‘rapt withal’.
• Like Duncan, Banquo is too good to comprehend evil. He says ‘The air is delicate’ when he arrives at Macbeth’s castle.
This is dramatic irony as we know the place to be evil. Aligns Banquo to Duncan as they both make the same mistake and have the same good nature. Jacobean propaganda again!
• At one point in the play he conceded that he still thinks about the prophecy. ‘Cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose’. Prophecy still plays in his sleep, however unlike Macbeth he does not allow this to control him. You guessed it, more Jacobean propaganda!
Banquo’s death. Short but brutal scene which quickens pace of the play. Microcosm of the violent world Macbeth has created in his rule. One of the first things he even does as king! This sets the tone for his rule.
• One could say that Banquo‘s death is used as a vehicle to explore the tyrannical nature of Macbeth’s rule.
• Banquet scene where Banquo returns as a ghost.
Demonstrates transition from order to chaos. Scene begins with Macbeth saying ‘You know your own degrees: sit down’ Ends with ‘Stand not upon the order of your going but go at once’. Order to chaos!
• Seeing Banquo's ghost shows how guilty Macbeth truly is. He sees the ghosts of everyone he’s killed which suggests he has retained some of his moral compass. Understands the darkness of what he’s done.
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Report Thread starter 1 year ago
Here's how to structure your answers to questions on Macbeth

5 minutes planning
5 minutes extract annotation
40 minutes writing

Start your essay with a sentence like:

When considering how Shakespeare uses/presents (whatever the question asks) one must stress that the passage is a pivotal moment of the play as it starts/is a culmination* of a chain of events.

*Usually if the passage is located near the beginning of the play it will be the start of a chain of events and vice versa.
The exact chain of events depends on the character in the passage. If it’s a Macbeth related question then you could say it triggers his ambition, or shows a result of his ambition.

Then you would touch on the theme:

Jacobean propaganda
Characters are vehicles through which Shakespeare explores various issues
Warns audience against excessive ambition
Dramatises the negative consequences of excessive ambition and regicide
Play is a tragedy

Choose whichever themes link best to the question! You don’t have to include all, but do try to link back to these themes in the rest of your essay.

Extract analysis:

Analyse as if it is a poem. Move chronologically and be SELECTIVE. Only dwell on 4-5 images/moments in the passage that allow you to really analyse the language. Explore these points really well instead of only slightly describing loads of points.

Embed quotations! Short and snappy is best!

Make sure your analysis links very clearly to the question. Link to context if relevant but language is the primary focus.

Do refer back to the extract elsewhere in your essay too when looking at the rest of the play.

Transition from extract to rest of the play:

Use a sentence like, 'While the extract is extremely important/pivotal when exploring (whatever the question has asked you), there are other equally important moments/characters.'

If the question is specifically about a character, talk about 2-3 other MOMENTS in the play when this character is important. If the question is about a theme (e.g. ambition), talk about 2-3 CHARACTERS that show this theme really well.

Then make your paragraph opening super clear for the next part of your essay:

‘Another highly significant character/moment is...’


Conclusion should start with something strong like ‘fundamentally’.

DO NOT make your conclusion anything less than a small paragraph if you can! You need to summarise your essay and bring all your points together to be able to get high marks.
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Report 1 year ago
This is really useful! Thank youu!!
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Report 1 year ago
Thank you very much. This is really helpful

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