Macbeth: Getting Started

Although you may not yet have read or seen Macbeth, you will soon recognize some familiar conflicts and issues, for you have seen them on television and in films, you have read about them in newspapers and magazines. In the play, there are conflicts between heroism and villainy, good and evil, loyalty and treachery, ambition and morality. In addition, there are conflicting loyalties – to king, country, family. You will recognize the murder mystery theme as well as the murderer’s attempts to conceal and lie and cover up, as his fear and desperation grow. You may recognize the ideas that life without love, friendship, and self-respect is meaningless or that guilt can be overwhelming.

We have all become familiar with the consequences of political upheaval, civil and foreign wars, with the grim reality that innocent people – especially children – suffer during such times. Even in our own times, we have seen that civil liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom from arbitrary arrest or execution are quickly eroded by dictatorships.

Even though the play deals with much that is familiar, it leads you to consider some new and unusual ideas, and to learn more about yourself and others. Perhaps you may not expect that a murderer would have a vivid and poetic imagination or that he would, even in defeat, demonstrate conscience and courage. You might not expect that an apparently strong, practical, and determined woman would act in such contradiction to her real nature that madness and violent suicide are the consequence.

To focus your response to Macbeth, you might want to think, write, and talk about some of the following issues. They will lead you to important perceptions – of the play’s characters, of yourself, and of others

  1. Think of some people you know or have read about who are/where ambitious. Have their ambitions led to a positive or negative result? Are ambitions sometimes destructive? Explain.
  2. What is your understanding of the philosophy, “the end justifies the means”? Give examples of situations in which you would agree or disagree with this philosophy.
  3. Would assassination or civil war ever be a justifiable response to rule by tyranny? What would you do if the leader of your country became a vicious tyrant?
  4. Are a citizen’s first responsibilities to family, political leader, or country?
  5. Describe some examples of what you think is evil behaviour. How should evil behaviour be dealt with?
  6. If you suspected, but had no evidence, that a friend of yours had committed a crime, what would you do?
  7. How do you deal with your fears? 2 Timothy 1:7 How might you help others to deal with theirs? What are some of the effects that fear can have on people?
  8. Describe a time you experienced insomnia (lack of sleep). What did you do about it? What are some of the effects that insomnia can have on people who suffer from it?
  9. Describe a women who best represents your idea of “womanliness.” Describe a man who best depicts “manliness.” Are there any similarities between the two descriptions? Why or why not?
  10. Explain what your think an ideal marriage would be.
  11. Describe a situation in which you or someone you know has been deceived by appearances. How might you advise someone to guard against this trap?
  12. What do you want most from life? What are you prepared to do to attain it?

“The Weird Sisters present nouns rather than verbs. They put titles on Macbeth without telling what actions he must carry out to attain those titles. It is Lady Macbeth who supplies the verbs.” – Susan Snyder – American Professor of English and critic

“To bite at the apple is a fearful thing … Macbeth has a wife whom the chronicle calls Grouch. This Eve tempts this Adam. Once Macbeth has taken the first bite, he is lost. The first thing that Adam produced with Eve is Cain; the first thing Macbeth accomplishes with Grouch is Murder.” – Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885), French novelist, author of Les Miserables

“How then, is the hero to be kept from playing the villain’s role …? The murder, for one thing, is not committed on the stage, though in Elizabethan tragedy it nearly always is. Macbeth, with so little reason, cannot be permitted to kill before our eyes an old man, his sovereign, his guest, his greatest benefactor.” – Elmer Edgar Stoll (1874 – 1959) Shakespeare critic

Shakespeare, William. “Macbeth” Ed. Margaret Kortes. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.
Complete text at

32-second Macbeth”

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