By William Shakespeare
This section contains study notes on Shakespeare's "Macbeth"
The complete files are in attachments for Members Only
Sample available: Act I; Scene 1 and 2
SCENE BY SCENE ANALYSIS / KEY QUOTES
ACT I, SCENE 1
The witch scene sets the mood for the whole play. (a mood of foreboding – a sinister feeling)
***Note: Setting and mood are very important in this play; they put all the actions in context
The witches meet and set a date for a later meeting – “when the battle’s lost and won” (I.1.4) – this could mean that the battle is lost by one side and won by the other; or that, although the battle is won, there are some “losses” especially in human lives
“Fair is foul and foul is fair.” (I.1.11)
This expression is repeated often throughout the play and signifies that many things will be twisted in this play – many things will appear to be fair (right) while they are actually wrong (foul); there will be many instances of misleading word play (Role reversal & Irony) and many bad things are going to happen. In short, the entire play will be about appearances – what appears to be right will be wrong and vice versa.
Discussion: What do the witches represent?
The witches represent destiny – they intentionally plan to meet Macbeth – why would they want to do that? Since they are “witches” we can assume that they are up to no good. Later, the witches will be connected to the evil in nature but also with the evil in human nature – they are a negative force of destiny.
ACT I, SCENE 2
In a war camp, King Duncan is waiting for news from the battlefront – in the past, few Kings were actually taking part in battle – their camp was close by so they could find out the results quickly but they could also run away if they found out they were losing.
The Sergeant tells the story of how Macbeth and Banquo won the battle with the Norwegian invaders. Macbeth is described as an eagle or a lion; fearless in battle. Macbeth appears with a brandished sword, steamy with the blood of the fallen enemies; like an eagle or a lion leading the men to victory.
Character profile: Macbeth
Although we didn’t meet Macbeth yet, he appears as a hero – introduction of Macbeth shows him as a brave man, a skilled soldier, a “loyal cousin” and “worthy warrior,” who is about to receive a lot of honor from his King for his courage, shown in battle. This is important because it will later serve to emphasize the contrast between what Macbeth was and what he becomes once he has reasons to think that he is meant for greatness.
When King Duncan finds out how valiantly Macbeth fought in the battle, he decides to honor him greatly. Since the Thane of Cawdor (a nobleman) betrayed the King by allying himself with the Norwegians, King Duncan sentences that Thane to death and decides to give his title (and all his wealth) to Macbeth, who is now a hero.
***Note that the Thane of Cawdor title was awarded to Macbeth before the witches mentioned it – so, it’s not clear whether the witches knew what would happen or they used the knowledge of what already happened to unleash a mad ambition in Macbeth. When the witches tell Macbeth that he will become Thane of Cawdor, that’s already been done – he just didn’t get the news yet. Macbeth however, thinks the forces of evil (the witches) gave him this position – he gives the supernatural more credit than he should.
***Also note that the Thane of Cawdor was a traitor – Duncan hopes Macbeth would make a better Thane of Cawdor since Macbeth is such a hero but, we’ll see if that’s the case or not. (Foreshadowing – a clue as to what might happen later in the play)