MACBETH by William Shakespeare


Pre-Reading Activities

Ethan Hawke Macbeth documentary on ClickView

Reading and Interpretation

Act 1

Act 2 Scene 1

Watch the two versions of Macbeth’s dagger speech and compare. How does Ian McKellan, Nicol Williamson and Patrick Stewart’s interpretations as actors emphasise the influence of the supernatural, ambition, evil, inner conflict differently? How are they staged differently?

Act 2 Scene 3

Listen to David Tennant’s performance as the Porter. Why does Shakespeare include this scene? Discuss the elements of comic relief, dramatic irony and double meaning(equivocation).
Act 2 Scene 4
Read the handout on The Elizabethans view of the Universe and list examples of disorder from scene 4.

Act 2 Comprehension

Complete the attached activities

Act 3

Act 4

Act 5


Assignment and Practice Essay

Choose the assignment you believe will best help you prepare for the text response essay. Each assignment contains tasks that will help you review and develop your ideas about the text as well as specific practice topics and a guide to essay structure. The essay will be the same for all students and your choice of assignment should not impact your potential grade, rather they are designed to help you improve based on your confidence in text response. Each assignment essentially covers the same aspects of the text with differing levels of support. Ask your teacher for advice if you are uncertain.

Assessment Rubric


Generate maps for each of the following characters based upon:
  • Personality
  • Status
  • Progression through the play
  • Influence on the plot
  • Key scenes
  • Key quotes


At the beginning Macbeth is an ambitious loyal warrior. When he meets with the three witches his personality becomes corrupted when they tell him that he becomes the next king of Scotland. With the help of Lady Macbeth, his ambition to become the next king becomes large that he ends up killing King Duncan. Macbeth becomes paranoid after killing Banquo, since he starts hallucinating and seeing his 'ghost'. This chain of events was caused by the thirst of power that he wanted to have till the day that he died.

His status in the kingdom is that he started off being the Thane of Glamis and he then became the Thane of Cawdor. He became the Thane of Cawdor after MacDonald betrayed the King of Scotland. Afterwards, he kills King Duncan to then become the King of Scotland. He was then known a tyrant.

His progression starts of as a loyal, fearless and trustworthy solider, however starts to become a completely different person after he learns of the prophecy. His ambition led him to do terrible acts, including the kind and his best friend Banquo. As the play progresses Macbeth’s mind is corrupted and infected with greed and murder. He becomes incredibly paranoid and that is what led him to visit the witches for a second time, after learning three more prophesies Macbeth feels a sense of confidence. His confidence and ambition in the end brings upon his downfall when he is killed my Macduff.

The influences that Macbeth has on the plot are:
- Macbeth has the largest influence on the plot due to him being the protagonist
- All of his influences stem from his wanting to be king and trying to change the witches’ prophecies
- The murder of Duncan is the first influence he creates as this arouses suspicions from Macduff and causes Malcolm/Donaldbain to flee
- The murder of Banquo is Macbeth trying to change fate and leads to his first signs of madness
- Macduff and Malcolm’s coup would not have occurred if Macbeth didn’t murder Duncan
- Macbeth then kills Macduff’s family which spurs Macduff to get revenge
- Macbeth was the reason all of the witches’ prophecies became true

Key Scenes:

Act 1 Scene 3
Macbeth's encounter with the three witches in which he receives the prophecy that he will become king
Act 2 Scene 1
Macbeth envisions a dagger flying in mid-air which convinces him to kill Duncan
Act 2 Scene 2
Macbeth has killed Duncan and began to realise what a terrible crime he has committed
Act 2 Scene 4
At the banquet, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo in an empty chair
Act 4 Scene 1
He receives comfort from the three apparitions after visiting Hecate and the three witches the second time.
Act 5 Scene 2
Macbeth's forces are leaving him as Malcolm leads his soldiers to Macbeth's castle
Act 5 Scene 8
The fight between Macbeth and Macduff. Macbeth is slain.

Key Quotes:

[5,5. 23 - 25]
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale"
[5,3. 22 - 26]
"..My way of life

Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf,

And that which should accompany old age,

As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,

I must not look to have."
[3, 1. 49 - 73]
"To be thus is nothing……

And the champion me the thu'utterance."
[1, 5. 49 - 53]
"Come thick night,

And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,

That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,

Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,

To cry, 'Hold, hold.'"
[1, 7. 1 - 28]
"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well…

Vaulting ambition which o'erleaps itself

And falls on th'other- "
[1, 7. 47 - 48]
"I dare do all that may become a man;

Who dares do more is none."
[2, 2. 38 - 39]
"Methought I heard a voice cry, 'Sleep no more:

Macbeth does murder sleep,' the innocent sleep,"
[2, 2. 65 - 66]
"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No: this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red."
[2, 1. 33]
"Is this a dagger which I see before me"


Lady Macbeth is Macbeth’s wife that is one of the main characters in this play. She is a strong woman that will even ‘unsex’ herself in order to change and guide Macbeth in becoming the future King. Lady Macbeth shouts derogatory comments to Macbeth about his manhood and how he is weaker that she is. Although this can make her seem cold, she actually cares about her husband and the benefits that can be gained when killing King Duncan. Lady Macbeth thinks of herself as a superior being and therefore is somewhat two faced. After she has insulted Macbeth, she is able to turn back to the guests, acting as a royal and elegant woman during the banquet. She is ambitious, very much like her husband throughout the play. However, this leads her to insanity when she is overridden by guilt of Duncan’s murder and this ultimately leads to her ‘suicide’. On the other hand, although she mostly acts as a strong woman, who seems to be ‘wearing the pants’ in the relationship, there is an instance in which she expresses her weaker side. When she was about to kill Duncan in his sleep, she could not summon the will to kill him as he looked too much like her sleeping father.

As Lady Macbeth is the wife of Macbeth, her status remains whoever her husband is titled to. Macbeth, at the beginning, is the Thane of Glamis. He then gets promoted to Thane of Cawdor by the King. Following on, after Macbeth has killed King Duncan, he becomes king and therefore Lady Macbeth being queen.

Progression and influence
Lady Macbeth is seemed to have a two faced personality, in which she insults Macbeth’s manhood and tells the spirits to “unsex” her, to be able to murder King Duncan. She first appears reading a letter that Macbeth has sent her, in Act I. In this scene, she starts to change and begins to plot against Duncan. Later in the play, she becomes guilt-ridden and this drives her to insanity. She is the seed that leads Macbeth into killing Duncan, and therefore can be argued that she is the cause of the events of the play. Lady Macbeth does this by insulting Macbeth’s manhood and by yelling at him. Once Macbeth was done killing Duncan, he came back to Lady Macbeth with the knives, which were covered in blood. After this act, Lady Macbeth yells at her husband and she takes the daggers back into the room in which Duncan was sleeping, with her hands covered in blood. This section is very important to Lady Macbeth as this progress on to her becoming insane. This is shown through Lady Macbeth sleepwalking while trying to clean off blood that is not even there. Through the demands of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth is driven to kill King Duncan, which leads to Macbeth killing Banquo and finally, him going insane. She is one of the primary characters that drive the play along and allow the play to progress.

Quotes and Scenes
“When you durst do it, then you were a man/And to be more than what you were, you would/Be so much more the man.” Act 1, VII, 49-51
“Had he not resembled/My father as he slept, I had done’t.” Act 2, II, 11-12
“These deeds must not be thought/ After these ways; so, it will make us mad.” Act 2, II, 36-37
“Wash your hands, put on your nightgown, look not so pale. I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on’s grave.” Act 5, I, 54-56
“Your face, my thane, is as a book where men | may read strange matters” – Act I, V, 61 – 62
“Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life | And live a coward in thine own esteem | Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would | like the poor cat i’th’adage?” - Act I, VII, 42 - 45
“When you durst do it, then you were a man | and to be more than what you were, you would | Be so much more the man” – Act I, VII, 49 – 51

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One, two. Why then ‘tis time to do’t.” – Act V, I, 31 – 32
“Wash your hands, put on your night-gown, look not so pale. I tell you yet again, Banquos buried; he cannot come out on’s grave.” – Act V, I, 54 – 56


venerable, humble, naïve, gullible, kind-hearted, generous, benevolent, sensitive, insightful
Status: King of Scotland (deceased)

Progression through the play:
Duncan first makes his appearance in Act 1, Scene 2. We first see him exclaiming at the sight of a bloodied man, praising him after listening to his brave story. He then gives a title to Macbeth, promoting him to The Thane of Cawdor after hearing good news about the battle and him defeating Macdonald.
His appearance again in Act 1, scene 4, King Duncan praises Macbeth and Banquo with gratitude for their achievements and announces that his son, Malcolm will take over the throne of Scotland. He was oblivious to Macbeth’s thoughts.
Duncan’s last scene was in Act 1, Scene 6, where he was the victim of the plotted regicide by Macbeth and his sly wife. Duncan planned to stay over at Macbeth’s castle and during his stay there, he was brutally murdered.
Influence to the plot:
King Duncan’s influence on the plot was significant, for he showed all the qualities of a king. He was the prime example of a respectable and noble king, earning all the people of Scotland’s trust and loyalty. Therefore, it compares the kingship qualities between Macbeth and Duncan, where Duncan was the good king out of the two.

Key scenes:
King Duncan only appeared in three scenes, although his appearance was very limited and vague but influenced the plot of the story effectively. He made an appearance in Act 1, scenes 2, 4 and 6. All his scenes were significant, in scene 2, he was seen promoting Macbeth to the Thane of Cawdor. In scene 4, King Duncan announces that Malcolm will inherit the throne of Scotland from him. Lastly, in scene 6, Duncan’s gullibility was restated as he stays at Macbeth’s castle, dying there as well.

Key quotes:
“So well thy words become thee as they wounds; | They smack of honour both. Go get him surgeons.” P.3
“What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.”
“There’s no art | To find the mind’s construction in the face. | He was a gentleman on whom I built | An absolute trust.” P.12
“That hast no less deserv’d, nor must be known | No less to have done so, let me enfold thee | And hold thee to my heart.” P.12
“My plenteous joys, | Wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves | In drops of sorrow. Sons, kinsmen, thanes…” p.12
“The love | That follows us sometimes is our trouble, | Which still we thank as love.” P.18
“Herein I teach you | How you shall bid God yield us for your pains | And thank us for your trouble.” P.18
“Conduct me to mine host: we love him highly | And shall continue our graces towards him.” P.18


Banquo is very ambitious, trusting and honest. When leading Scotland alongside Macbeth, it is evident that Banquo is very brave when it comes to battle. However, he is cautious in other actions. At first when Banquo met the witches, he is sceptical but then as the witches prophecy of Macbeth becoming Thane of Cawdor, Banquo grows more cautious. He is also a sympathetic father who has a very affectionate relationship with Fleance, his son. He is loyal and doesn’t compromise his honour and integrity to get what he wants.

Banquo is a commander of the Scottish army.

Influence on the play
  • He is a brave and kind person
  • Shown to be very close with Macbeth at the start of the play
  • He is also a truly loyal subject to King Duncan
  • He and his son Fleance are unsuspecting of the climax that is to come
  • Banquo encounters Macbeth just before he commits his treacherous task
  • After Banquo becomes suspicious of Macbeth, he starts to become influential in the actions of how his fellow counterparts behave
  • Banquo is subsequently murdered for his suspicion
  • The Ghost of Banquo proves that even though Banquo is dead, he still can influence the others to the point of madness

Progression through the play:

In the beginning Banquo is seen as equal as Macbeth both captain of King Duncan's Army and are known as friends. They were also together when they meet the three witches in which they hear about their fate where Macbeth and Banquo's descendant later on was prophesied as King . (Act 1 scene 3)

Because of Banquo's encounter with the witches, he already feels uneasy of Macbeth before the murder of King Duncan. (Act 1 scene 1)

After the murder of King Duncan, Banquo is the first to feel suspicious about Macbeth but he was also seen as a threat when Macbeth's ambition grew and arranges to have him murdered. (Act 3 scene 1)

Banquo is murdered my three of Macbeth's helper but his son Fleance manages to escape. (Act 3 scene 3)

His last appearance in the play returns as a ghost right after his death alarms and scares Macbeth at the public feast. (Act 3 scene 4)

Key quotes:
  • “Hold, take my swords. – There’s husbandry in heaven,
    Their candles are all out. – Take thee that too.
    A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,
    And yet I would not sleep; merciful powers,
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature

Give way to n repose.”
Banquo is really worried becayse he had a dream about the witches and he grows suspicious of Macbeth.
Act 2.1, 4 - 9
  • “What, can the devil speak true?”
    Banquo's reaction when it turns out that Macbeth has been named Thane of Cawdor, as the witches predicted.
    Act 1.3, 106
  • “Thou hast it now: King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
    As the weird women promised, and I fear
    Thou play'dst most foully for't”
Act 3.1, 1-3

Alone, Banquo reflects on Macbeth's rise to the throne. 3,1
  • "And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
    The instruments of darkness tell us truths."
    Banquo to Macbeth about the witches
Act 1. 3, 122-123

Key scenes:
1. Banquo and Macbeth meet the three witches and hear about their fate. (Act 1 scene 3)
2. Banquo and his son's encounter with Macbeth before the murder of King Duncan in which he feels suspicious. (Act 2 scene 1)
3. Banquo suspicion grew and Macbeth planned his friend's death. (Act 3 scene 1)
4. Banquo is murdered but his son Fleance escapes (Act 3 scene 3)
5. Banquo appears before Macbeth as a ghost after his death. (Act 3 scene 4)


Influence on the Plot:
- Witches guide the play and the plot. They serve as prophets and tell Macbeth his future, resulting in the play progressing. They influence the direction the plot goes, they can either withhold or preach prophecies to change the plot
- They possess great powers in the play and are able to control the fates of others, so it could be said that they control and influence the plot.

Progression through the Play
- The witches progress a small amount throughout the play. These changes are initiated by Hecate, their queen. We are introduced to the witches at the start of play and their actions show us that they’re mischievous and powerful. As they curse a sailor’s journey with a storm in revenge they don’t think about the consequences this event could cause. This is the same for when they first tell Macbeth’s fate. Most of their progression occurs during the third scene, when Hecate is angry at them for earlier actions. After this the witches change, they try to fix their problem they created earlier and now use more broad prophecies.

- The three witches are deemed as the darker characters in the play, constantly being lurking around Macbeth and giving misleading prophecies. They are definitely NOT deceitful, seeing that they are giving Macbeth true prophecies, but they are extremely misleading as to how they phrase how they recite the prophecies.
- The witches are in a higher order than. They speak in rhymes, in particularly Hecate instead of blank verse. This is how Shakespeare differentiate them with other characters. They play an important role and they are similar to prophets. Because they know the future and are supernatural, they rank higher than most characters.

- The witches are in a higher order than. They speak in rhymes, in particularly Hecate instead of blank verse. This is how Shakespeare differentiate them with other characters. They play an important role and they are similar to prophets. Because they know the future and are supernatural, they rank higher than most characters.

Key Scenes and Quotes:
- Act 1 Scene 3
- Act 4 Scene 1
- Key Quotes
- First Witch: “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis.
- Second Witch: All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor.
- Third Witch: All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.”
- Act 1 Scene 3, 46-48
- First Witch: “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater
- Second Witch: Not so happy, yet much happier.
- Third Witch: Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none
So all hail Macbeth and Banquo.”
- Act 1 Scene 3, 63-66


- Malcolm’s personality through the play was vengeful
- Malcolm is a very loyal servant to his country
- Even though he fled his country we is considered to be fit for a king
- Act 4 Scene 3,


- Prior to Macduff’s support, he appears weak and uncertain of his own power
- The son of Duncan, whose restoration to the throne will signal Scotland’s return to order.

Progression through the play:
- He and his brother are blamed for the death of their father

Influence on the Plot:
- Malcolm’s first appearance in the play forced him to flee to England and seek for help.
- Malcolm later affects the play when he asks the English for help to kill Macbeth for his wrongdoings.
- He is the one who brings Scotland back to order.
Key Scenes:
- Runs away after the death of King Duncan (his father)
- Tests Macduffs loyalty
- Regains power of Scotland

Key Quotes:
- “This is the sergeant / Who like a good and hardy soldier fought / ‘Gainst my captivity. Hail, brave friend!” (1.2.3-5)
- “Nothing in his life / Became him like the leaving it” 1.4.7-8 Malcom’s father, just asked if Cawdor has been executed yet. From this, it would seem that Malcom is a man who’s able to give praise when praise is due.
- “ They were suborn’d: / Malcolm and Donalbain, the kind’s two sons, / Are stol’n away and fled; which puts upon them / Suspicion of the deed” 2.4.24-27

  • Despite having a minor role in the play, Donaldbain seems to be quite cynical to an extent. This is evident in his idea for him and his brother Malcolm to get away from Scotland after their father, King Duncan, is murdered.
  • King Duncan's second son
Progression through the play:
  • Doesn't do very much in the play
  • After his father is murdered, he and Malcolm flee to Ireland and England respectively, in fear of being murdered themselves. After this, Donaldbain is rarely seen in the play.
Influence on the plot:
  • Doesn't have much influence, as he is never seen again in the play after fleeing. However, his idea of him and Malcolm fleeing to different countries could have been a possible contribution to Malcolm asking the English army to help him retake Scotland, which is currently under Macbeth's control as the new King.
Key scenes:
  • In Act 2, Scene 3, it is Donaldbain's idea that the two of them should flee from Scotland after King Duncan is murdered, as they too fear of being murdered.
  • In this same scene, Donaldbain also says that they should flee to different countries, as they do not trust people around them, and that those who are closer to Duncan in blood are in more danger.
Key quotes:
  • "What should be spoken here,
Where our fate hid in an auger hole may rush
And seize us? Let's away. Our tears are not yet brewed." [Act 2, 3, 118-119]
  • "To Ireland, I. Our separated fortune
Shall keep us both safer. Where we are,
There's daggers in men's smiles; nea'er in blood,
The nearer bloody." [Act 2, 3, 131-137]

Personality: - He is a thane
- Avenging the murder of his family
- Ambitious (to kill Macbeth)
- Lead the army to take down Macbeth
- Leader
- Loving (towards his country & Family)
- High pride and seeks revenge on Macbeth
- Loyal Scottish nobleman, a loving father and wife.

Progression through the play:
- Thane of Fife, suspects Macbeth of regicide and kills Macbeth in final act
- Flees to England to join Malcolm, the slain King Duncan’s elder son, and convinces him to return to Scotland and claim the throne

Influence on the Plot:
Key Scenes:
- Loyalty to country is tested by Malcom. Malcolm confides in Macduff when he is lustful and greedy.
- Wonders if Macduff could support his right to the throne knowing that his evils make Macbeth look “white as snow” “innocent as a lamb”

Key Quotes:
- “ O, yet I do repent me of my fury/ That I did kill them” (2.3.103-104)
- Is warned by witches to Macbeth “beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife” (4.1.87-88)
- Family is killed by Macbeth with witches warnings “The power of man, for none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth” 4.1.96-97
- “O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart/ Cannot conceive nor name thee!... Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope/ The Lord’s anointed temple, and stole thence/ The life o’ the building!

Themes, Ideas, Imagery and Motifs

Critical Readings and Podcast

Oxford University Approaching Shakespeare Lecture Series
In this fourth Approaching Shakespeare lecture the question is one of agency: who or what makes happen the things that happen in Macbeth?
Emma Smith says: "The tragedy of Macbeth (1606) is my favourite play, and I think that is in large part because of its densely poetic language, but also because it is so insistently questioning. The particular question I'm focusing on here is the question of agency: who or what makes the things that happen, happen - using contemporary sources, film, theatre, and criticism to try to understand the force of the play's debate between internal and external compulsions."