Literary Aspects of Macbeth

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The general setting in Macbeth is Scotland (and briefly England) in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Specific scences are set at inverness, on a desolate heath, in the royal palace at Forres, and so on. Because of the limited scenery in Elizabethan drama, Shakespeare often has his characters to describe their surroundings.



The main theme of Macbeth—the destruction wrought when ambition goes unchecked by moral constraints—finds its most powerful expression in the play’s two main characters. Macbeth is a courageous Scottish general who is not naturally inclined to commit evil deeds, yet he deeply desires power and advancement. He kills Duncan against his better judgment and afterward stews in guilt and paranoia. Toward the end of the play he descends into a kind of frantic, boastful madness. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, pursues her goals with greater determination, yet she is less capable of withstanding the repercussions of her immoral acts. One of Shakespeare’s most forcefully drawn female characters, she spurs her husband mercilessly to kill Duncan and urges him to be strong in the murder’s aftermath, but she is eventually driven to distraction by the effect of Macbeth’s repeated bloodshed on her conscience. In each case, ambition—helped, of course, by the malign prophecies of the witches—is what drives the couple to ever more terrible atrocities. The problem, the play suggests, is that once one decides to use violence to further one’s quest for power, it is difficult to stop. There are always potential threats to the throne—Banquo, Fleance, Macduff—and it is always tempting to use violent means to dispose of them. The Relationship between Cruelty and Masculinity.



Act I: The Witches foreshadow the evil in Macbeth. King Duncan decides to kill the traitorous Thane of Cawdor. Back to the witches - after some junk-talk, they are encountered by Macbeth with Banquo, and they say that he is now Thane and will be King. However, the King tells Macbeth he will make Malcolm the next king. Macbeth plans to kill the King when he dines at his house that night, and Lady Macbeth helps convince him to go ahead with that plan.
Act II: Lady Macbeth drugs the guards, Macbeth kills the king, and then the guards are framed. Macduff arrives with Lennox at the door, goes to get the king, and discovers his murder. Macduff is suspicious, but Macbeth is in the clear for now. Malc olm and Donalbain flee, fearing their lives since they are prime suspects. Macbeth has killed the servants, and the nobility feels they were the murderers. Macbeth is now king, but the tragedy is starting to unfold.
Act III: Macbeth makes arrangements to have Banquo and his son killed. At dinner, Macbeth is told the Banquo was killed but his son escaped. Banquo's ghost then appears, but only Macbeth can see it. Hecate, the witch queen, scolds the witches for d ealing with Macbeth without her. With Banquo dead, Lennox joins Macduff in increasing suspiscion.
Act IV: Macbeth visits the sisters and three apparitions are shown to him: an armed head (signifying war), a bloody child (showing that no man born of a woman shall harm Macbeth), and a crowned child with a tree (saying that "Macbeth shall never va nquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him"). Macduff has gone to England to get Malcolm.
Act V: Lady Macbeth is now unstable and walks and talks in her sleep. The Scottish noblility has mostly joined the English against Macbeth, but he is not scared because of the witches' prophecy. Lady Macbeth kills herself. Macbeth then learns that the enemy is walking towards the castle with trees from Birnam Wood, and that Macduff was ripped from his mother's womb early, both explaining the witches' apparitions. Macduff kills Macbeth and Malcolm is now King of Scotland.

*Blank Verse*

Definition: composed of unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter. lambic pentameter has five feet, or beats, per line, and every other syllable is stressed. 


-Your face my thane, is as a book where men may read strange manners.

-No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive our bosom interest: go pronounce his present death, and iwth his former title greet Macbeth.

-Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.  So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!

-Prithee, peace!  I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none.


"To beguile the time, look like the time. Bear welcome in your eye, your hand, your tongue. Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it."

 Shakespeare uses this treacherous reptile in Macbeth to convey  evil. In his poetic prose, Shakespeare may not speak of a character's malevolence directly; rather, he alludes to it through serpentine imagery.

"A little water can clear us of this deed."

It is easy for the reader to imagine and see Lady Macbeth and Macbeth washing the blood, the only evidence of their murder of their hands.  We must then remember that the hands are clean, but the heart is still dirty.

"The Thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?"

He a materialistic view is seen when we imagine the high society feel Macbeth must have after he has recieved his new title.


The atmosphere in Macbeth is not only gloomy and suspisious, it is also one of doom and sinfulness.  Much of  the      wrongdoing takes place in nasty weather or in the darkness of castles.  The story tells of witches and murder and evil.  There is war and glimses of the future which also fall into the edgey atmosphere of Macbeth   



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