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Lady Macbeth 3 Essay, Research Paper


Study Guide

Plot Outline

The play is set in Scotland during the 11th century. The Scots are fighting against the invading Norwegians.

Act 1 Scene 1

The three witches plan their next meeting: with Macbeth on the heath when the battle has been decided.

Key quote: ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair

Hover through the fog and filthy air.’ (1,1,9-10)


1. What is the atmosphere of this scene?

2. What questions does the audience ask at this point?

Scene 2

The battlefield with King Duncan, Malcolm and Donalbain (his sons) and a lord, Lennox. The Scottish are fighting against the Norwegians and the rebel Scot, Macdonwald.

A soldier enters with news of the battle: it was an even battle until Macbeth fought the rebel and ‘unseam’d him from the nave to the chops,/ And fix’dhis head upon our battlements.’ (1, 2, 22-23)


What does this action tell us about the kind of man Macbeth is?

The Norwegians begin a fresh assault but are rebuffed by Macbeth and Banquo. The Scottish forces win the battle. The Norwegian king, Sweno, wants to make peace.

As a reward for his efforts, King Duncan intends to make Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. (A thane is a nobleman, a lord. Macbeth is already Thane of Glamis.)

Scene 3

The witches show what kind of power they have over people. Macbeth and Banquo happen to meet them:

‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’ says Macbeth. When Banquon and Macbeth see the witches they question them. The witches greet Macbeth in three ways:




And the witches also tell Banquo three things:





1. Macbeth does not know he is to be made Thane of Cawdor so how do the witches know?

2. How does Banquo react to this greeting?

3. What does Macbeth want to know from the witches?

Immediately after this meeting Ross tells Macbeth the news. Banquo asks ‘What! Can the Devil speak true?’ (1, 3, 106). Banquo is worried about the witches’ statements or prophecies:

And oftentimes, __________________________________________



In deepest consequence. (1, 3, 123-126)


1. In what ways could Macbeth become King?

2. What are his feelings about these possible ways of action?

3. What do you think Macbeth will do to become King?

Scene 4

The traitorous Thane of Cawdor has been executed and the King regrets the Thane’s treachery. He had trusted him: ‘He was a gentleman on whom I built

An absolute trust.’ (1, 4, 14-15)

Macbeth meets King Duncan and professes his loyalty. This is an example of dramatic irony because Macbeth is now Thane of Cawdor and he will also be a traitor to the king.

Duncan makes his son, Malcolm, Prince of Cumberland, heir to the throne of Scotland. This is a blow to Macbeth.


What does Macbeth intend to do?

Stars, hide your fires,

Let not light see my black and deep desires;

The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be

Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. (1, 4, 52-55)

Scene 5

Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband. He tells her of the witches’ prophecies and that already he has been made Thane of Cawdor. Lady Macbeth thinks about his character in a soliloquy:

I do fear thy nature,

It is too full o’ th’ milk of human-kindness

To catch the nearest way. (1, 5, 15-16)

Lady Macbeth decides to influence or encourage Macbeth to kill Duncan so that he can become king quickly. She asks the spirits to fill her with ‘direst cruelty’ (1, 7, 43).

Macbeth comes home with the news that the king is to stay with them that night. This will give them the opportunity to ‘provide’ for him (1, 7, 67), that is, kill him.

Scene 6

King Duncan comes to Macbeth’s castle full of happiness and commenting on the pleasant surroundings. Little does he know of Lady Macbeth’s plans! This is an example of dramatic irony, where the audience knows more than the characters on stage who speak innocently about future events.

Lady Macbeth offers her hospitality, to look after the king while he stays with them.

Scene 7

Macbeth’s soliloquy about the murder of Duncan show his conflict.


* God will damn him in his future life;

* People on earth will hate or judge him while he is alive;

* Macbeth is family to the king;

* Macbeth is his subject;

* Macbeth is the king’s host;

* Duncan is a good king and everyone will know that the murder was a terrible act.


* ambition –

I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting Ambition, which o’erleaps itself,

And falls on th’ other. (1, 7, 25-7)


Should Macbeth murder Duncan?

Macbeth decides not to go ahead: ‘We will proceed no further in this business’(1, 7, 31). Lady Macbeth reacts violently. She accuses him of being a coward, less than a man. Macbeth seems easily convinced by her attack and decides to kill the king. They will have to pretend that they have no plans against Duncan:

False face must hide what the false heart doth know. (1, 7, 83)


1. What does the audience think of Lady Macbeth?

2. What kind of man is Macbeth?

Act 2 Scene 1

Banquo and Fleance at Macbeth’s castle: Banquo is worried and tells Macbeth that he dreamt about the three witches and how their prophecies to Macbeth have partly been fulfilled already. Macbeth dismisses this and says they will talk about it some time in the future.

Macbeth alone sees a vision, a dagger: ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me,/The handle toward my hand?’ (2, 1, 36-37) There are drops of blood on it.


What is the dramatic effect of this vision?

Scene 2: Murder most horrid !

Lady Macbeth has drugged the king’s guards and would have killed Duncan except that he resembles her father.

Macbeth has ‘done the deed.’ (2, 2, 15)

There is a series of short statements between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in lines 16-25.


What is the effect of this exchange?

Macbeth is worried because he could not say ‘Amen’ when the guards woke and blessed themselves. This shows that Macbeth is in a condemned state, he feels guilty. He also thought he heard a voice saying “Sleep no more!/ Macbeth does murther Sleep” (2, 2, 39-40). Macbeth will not be able to rest again because of his wicked deed.


1. How does Lady Macbeth react to this?

2. What does she tell him to do?

3. Is Macbeth convinced?

Someone starts knocking at the door. Macbeth says ‘Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst.’

Scene 3

The porter of the castle wakes up and goes to open the door. He complains about the cold, saying that ‘this place is too cold for Hell.’ This is another example of dramatic irony. What does the audience know that the Porter doesn’t?

Macduff is at the gate and he and the Porter have an amusing conversation. This humorous scene comes immediately after the murder scenes.


What is the dramatic effect of this scene?

Macbeth enters the scene and the people in the castle start waking up. Lennox tells what a rough night it was:

The night has been unruly…

Some say the earth was feverous, and did shake. (2, 3, 61-69)


The king has been murdered and the natural world has been stormy. What does this suggest about the relationship between the two worlds: the world of humans and the world of nature?

Macduff discovers the murdered king: ‘O Horror, Horror, Horror!’ (2, 3, 72). There is general chaos and uproar as each character reacts to the news. Macbeth kills the guards but reacts fairly calmly, giving a measured speech full of exaggerated description about the dead king.

Malcolm leaves for ____________ and Donalbain goes to ____________. They fear for their own lives if they remain in Scotland.

Scene 4

An old man and Ross discuss the rough night and how unnatural it was. They also reveal information about the current state of politics: the rumour is that the king’s sons are guilty of corrupting the guards and Macbeth is to be crowned King of Scotland.

Macduff is not going to Scone to see the coronation. He is not convinced of Macbeth’s goodness but he has no proof against him.

Act 3 Scene 1

In a speech alone on stage, Banquo expresses his suspicions that Macbeth has gained the crown wrongly, ‘foully’ (3, 1, 3). Macbeth invites Banquo to the feast he is holding that evening and then finds out that Banquo and Fleance are going out riding during the afternoon.

Macbeth, in a soliloquy, tells the audience of his bitterness over the witches’ prophecies to Banquo: that he will be father to a line of kings while Macbeth will have no heirs to the throne.

To be thus is nothing; but to be safely thus –

Our fears in Banquo stick deep (3, 1, 49-50)

Macbeth arranges to have Banquo and Fleance murdered.


1. What argument does Macbeth use to convince the murderers to act?

2. How has Macbeth changed since the start of the play?

Scene 2

Lady Macbeth wants to speak to her husband, and sends word through a servant.

Naught’s had, all’s spent,

Where our desire is got without content; (3, 2, 6-7)

Lady Macbeth has not gained what she expected from Macbeth’s accession to the throne. She is dissatisfied and seems lonely. She asks Macbeth why he is depressed and isolated. He explains his state of mind in lines 15-48.


1. Why does Macbeth feel upset?

2. How has the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth changed from the beginning of the play?

Scene 3 Another murder!!

The murderers kill Banquo but Fleance escapes.

Scene 4

The king is holding his feast and the murderers tell him that Banquo is dead but that Fleance has escaped. This adds to Macbeth’s worries but he goes to the feast. Macbeth is afraid when he sees the ghost of Banquo but Lady Macbeth tells him it is all in his imagination. The other guests think the king is having a momentary fit. Several times the ghost appears to Macbeth.


1. What do we learn about Macbeth ’s state of mind when he sees Banquo’s ghost?

2. What dramatic effect would this appearance have on the audience?

Lady Macbeth sends the guests away and Macbeth speaks about the nature of violence: ‘It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood.’ (3, 4, 123)

Macbeth wonders why Macduff did not come to the feast.

He intends to visit the witches, to know ‘the worst’ (3, 4, 136) and to do whatever he must for his own good:

I am in blood

Stept in so far, that should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er:


We are yet but young in deed. (3, 4, 137-145)

Scene 5

The chief witch, Hecate, is angry because the three witches have tricked Macbeth without her help. She is going to make a powerful potion that will’draw him on to his confusion’ (3, 5, 29)

Scene 6

Lennox and another lord are discussing the state of Scotland under the rule of the ‘Tyrant’ (3, 6, 22 and 25), Macbeth. Malcolm and Macduff have gone to England to get help from Edward the Confessor, the King of England and a good king. Scotland is a ’suffering country, /Under a hand accurs’d.’(3, 6, 48-49)


1. At the beginning of the play what did the Scottish lords think of Macbeth?

2. How has this changed?

Act 4 Scene 1

The witches prepare a new spell full of grotesque and ghastly ingredients. Macbeth greets them and demands to be shown what the future holds for him. Three apparitions make prophecies:


1. What do the apparitions symbolise?

2. What are the three prophecies?

3. How does this make Macbeth feel about the future?

Finally Macbeth is shown a line of eight kings, symbolising the line of kings that will come from Banquo.

The witches disappear and Macbeth asks Lennox if he saw them but he did not. Macbeth ironically says ‘damn’d [be] all those who trust them’ (4, 1, 138). Macbeth intends to act now without thinking about the consequences. He will have the family of Macduff killed:

From this moment,

The very firstlings of my heart shall be

The firstlings of my hand. (4, 1, 145-7)

Scene 2 The murder of the Macduffs!!!

At Macduff’s castle Lady Macduff and her son are talking about the absent husband and father. They are murdered, as are the whole household. It is a pitiful scene showing how the innocent are victims of the violence and brutality of Macbeth.


Do you think this is the worst of Macbeth’s actions?

Scene 3

Macduff and Malcolm speak in England about the terror Macbeth is creating in Scotland. ‘Bleed, bleed, poor Country!’ (4, 3, 32) Malcolm tests Macduff by stating that he would be a worse king than Macbeth. Malcolm outlines his faults – lechery, greed, deceitfulness – and Macduff finally says that he is a man not fit to live, let alone govern. When Macduff shows that he was loyal to Duncan, Malcolm tells Macduff that he had been lying as a test of Macduff. A Doctor enters, telling the two men about the miracles of the English king, Edward. This scene shows the audience what a good king should be like.

Ross comes with bad news for Macduff: his family has been murdered.


How does Macduff respond to this terrible news?

Act 5 Scene 1

Back at Macbeth’s castle a Doctor and a Gentlewoman discuss Lady Macbeth’s illness. She is acting strangely. ‘unnatural deeds/ Do breed unnatural troubles.’ (5, 1, 73-74).


1. What are Lady Macbeth’s symptoms?

2. Why is she acting this way?

Scene 2

The battle against Macbeth is about to begin. The English force, with Malcolm, his uncle Siward, and Macduff will meet with the rebel Scottish lords to fight against Macbeth. Macbeth has made his castle Dunsinane strong to withstand the attack but many Scottish people think he is mad. Only those who are afraid of him still support him. The others can see that he is not the right man to be king:

Now does he feel his title

Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe

Upon a dwarfish thief. (5, 2, 20-22)

Scene 3


What mood is Macbeth in at the beginning of this scene?

Macbeth can see that what he expected to have as king and as an older man: ‘honour, love, obedience, troops of friends’ (5, 3, 25) he cannot have. He has ‘Curses (not loud, but deep), mouth-honour,’ (5, 3, 27) instead.


1. Does Macbeth deserve friends or honour?

2. Does the audience feel any sympathy for Macbeth?

Macbeth intends to battle on, saying ‘I’ll fight till from my bones my flesh be hackt’ (5, 3, 32). He asks the Doctor how Lady Macbeth is and tells him to cure her. The Doctor replies that Lady Macbeth must cure herself, she has a guilty conscience and medicine can do no good.


1. How concerned is Macbeth about his wife?

2. What does this reveal about their relationship now?

Scene 4

Malcolm orders the soldiers to disguise themselves by cutting down a branch from Birnam Wood to carry in front of themselves as they approach Macbeth’s castle.

Scene 5

Macbeth is ready for the oncoming battle. He hears a noise, ‘the cry of women’ (5, 5, 8) and is surprised that it does not worry him. This shows how much Macbeth has changed from the beginning of the play when after the murder of Duncan any noise appalled him (2, 2, 62). During the course of the play Macbeth has ’supt full with horrors’ (5, 5, 13). He hears another cry and is told that Lady Macbeth is dead.


1. How does Macbeth react to her death?

2. What philosophy or idea about the value of life does Macbeth espouse (put forward) in his speech:

‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…Signifying nothing.’ (5, 5, 19-28)

3. Does the audience feel anything for Macbeth at this point in the play?

There is another change of pace as a messenger brings word that Birnam Wood seems to be moving toward Dunsinane. Macbeth will fight on but he begins ‘to be a-weary of the sun,/ And wish th’ estate o’ th’ world were now undone.’(5, 5, 49-50). But he will die as a soldier.

Scene 6

The forces against Macbeth have arrived at the castle.

Scene 7

Macbeth taunts the soldiers with the witches’ second prophecy: that ‘none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth’ (4, 1, 79-80). Young Siward fights Macbeth but is killed. Macduff finds Macbeth and in dramatic moment destroys Macbeth’s confidence as he reveals that he was ‘from his mother’s womb/ Untimely ript.’ (5, 7, 45-6) Macduff was born, probably, by Caesarean section.

Macbeth now understands that the witches tricked him. They led him to believe that he was invincible, their prophecies were fulfilled but not in the way Macbeth expected. Macbeth knows that he will be defeated but he will ‘try the last’ and will die a warrior.

Macbeth is killed by Macduff and his head carried around as a trophy.

Malcolm becomes the next king of Scotland. Order is restored.


1. Does Macbeth get what he deserves?

2. What about Lady Macbeth?

Discussion questions on the whole play:

1. What are the main ideas expressed in Macbeth?

2. What are the most dramatic scenes in the play? How do they bring out the main ideas in the play?

3. Who is responsible for the tragedy in Macbeth?

4. What power do the witches have in Macbeth?

5. In what way can Macbeth be seen as a tragic hero?

6. What ideas about violence does Shakespeare convey in this play?

7. Lady Macbeth goes mad and kills herself. Macbeth kills other people for different reasons although he, too, is guilty. What does this reveal about the ways men and women react to crisis?

8. Conflict is an essential part of a good play. What conflicts are crucial to Macbeth?

9. Does this play, written so long ago, have anything to say to a modern audience?

Guided Essay Question:

1. “… My way of life

has fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf…’

(Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3, lines 22-23)

What do you think are the main causes of Macbeth’s downfall?


1. Interpret the question:

What is the ’sere’?

What does Macbeth mean by these lines?

Has Macbeth changed for the worse since the beginning of the play?

2. Plan the answer and find appropriate quotes

3. Explain Macbeth’s downfall:

What is Macbeth’s condition or state at this point in the play?

What was Macbeth like at the beginning of the play?

What are the results of the change in Macbeth?

What were the main causes of this change? – Macbeth himself? Lady Macbeth? The witches? Any other?

4. Writing the essay

* Underline the title of the play every time you write it

* Write in the present tense

* Make each point: topic sentence … example from the play…quote to support point

* Link each paragraph to the following one by an expression like, ‘Secondly…’ or ‘However…’

* Link paragraphs back to the question by expressions like ‘This shows that Macbeth was not the only cause of his downfall’

* Use short, frequent quotes

* Incorporate quotes into your sentences

* Put quotes in inverted commas

In the first paragraph: give your point of view in the first sentence; give an outline of your main points:

In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth we see the main character change from a well-regarded and loyal soldier of the Scottish king to a murderous tyrant. At the end of the play Macbeth is in despair, realising that he does not have what old men should have such as ‘honour, love, obedience, troops of friends’ or his wife. While he vows to fight Macduff to the death, as a warrior should, Macbeth is no longer the brave Thane the audience saw at the beginning of the play. His downfall is complete and he is responsible for his fate. It is his ambition and then his misplaced confidence in his invulnerability that causes his decline. However he is not the only cause of his downfall. Lady Macbeth influenced Macbeth to murder Duncan and the witches’ prophecies gave him confidence, even though this was misplaced confidence.

In the second paragraph show how Macbeth changes during the play.

* Explain why Macbeth is responsible for his downfall…he believes Lady Macbeth at first and also believes the witches’ first prophecies.

* For each point you make, give a reference to an event in the play and then quote as supporting evidence.

In the third paragraph explain Lady Macbeth’s part in the murder of Duncan.

* Explain how she becomes less powerful.

* Link this to the next paragraph: Macbeth starts to act alone.

* Fourth paragraph: Macbeth plans the murder of Banquo and Fleance.

* Macbeth visits the witches again…deliberate and alone. The witches deliberately mislead Macbeth but he believes them, showing his overconfidence.


Fifth paragraph: Macbeth continues his downfall, planning the murders of the Macduffs. His subjects talk about the poor state of Scotland; Macduff gets help from England. Still Macbeth believes he is invulnerable…but he is starting to be unhappy…especially when Lady Macbeth dies.

Sixth paragraph: The end of Macbeth…explain how he dies and that the witches’ prophecies seem to have been fulfilled but not in the way Macbeth expected.

* Make a clear point that Macbeth is seen as a ‘dead butcher’ so different from the view of him at the beginning of the play. He fights to the death but he has not gained what he expected.

Final paragraph: Restate your point of view. Restate the main points made, giving the causes of Macbeth’s downfall and showing how much each character is responsible.

MACBETH, Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, a general in the King’s army and LADY MACBETH, his wife

Macbeth is a basically good man who is troubled by his conscience and loyalty though at the same time ambitious and murderous. He is led to evil initially by the witches’ predictions and then by his wife’s goading, which he succumbs to because he loves her so. His obsession over the kingship shows a certain kind of egotism.Lady Macbeth is a good wife who loves her husband. She is also ambitious but lacks the morals of her husband. To achieve her ambition, she rids of herself of any kindness that might stand in the way. However, she runs out of energy to supress her conscience and kills herself.

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