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Macbeth Reading Guide Questions


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ACT II scene 1

  1. Lines 6-9: What is bothering Banquo? What might his "cursed thoughts" be?
  1. Lines 26-29: Why might Banquo be suspicious at this point? What do these lines tell you about his character?
  1. Lines 33-64: (a) If you were directing a stage production of Macbeth, would you have the dagger physically appear before Macbeth, or would you have him address the empty air? (b) What does the imaginary dagger reveal about Macbeth's character in general?

ACT II scene 2

  1. Lines 12-14: Is lady Macbeth's weakness here expected? How do you account for it? What might be her tone here: frightened? irritated? angry? shaken?
  1. Lines 23-26: Is Macbeth responding to lady Macbeth here? Where should the actor's attention be directed as he speaks? Think about this as the scene continues.
  1. Lines 15-57: What is Macbeth's state of mind after the murder? Lady Macbeth's? What mistake has Macbeth made? What is illogical about lady Macbeth's proposed method of remedying it? How do you account for her failure to think straight?
  1. Lines 64-68: Both now have blood on their hands. Do you agree that "a little water" can "clear them" of the murder? In what sense might it? In what sense not? Contrast Lady Macbeth's words with Macbeth's in lines 60-63.
  1. At what pace should this scene be played? What clues in the dialogue tell you?

ACT II scene 3

  1. Line 63: How would Macbeth say this?
  1. Lines 65-66: Is Macduff’s response a plausible one?
  1. Lines 88-89: Is Lady Macbeth’s response what you would expect? How do you account for it?
  1. Lines 89-91: Is Banquo surprised at what has happened? What does he think of Lady Macbeth’s response?
  1. Lines 92-97: How many meanings can you read into this speech? Consider what it might mean to the assembled lords, to Macbeth himself, and to the reader.
  1. Lines 107-119: How should the actor playing Macduff react to this announcement? The actor playing Banquo?
  1. Line 119: Some commentators maintain that Lady Macbeth really faints; others claim she only pretends to. Which theory seems more likely? Justify your answer in terms of what you know about Macbeth and lady Macbeth, and the dialogue immediately preceeding.
  1. Lines 126-133: Why did Shakespeare give this speech to Banquo rather than to Macduff?
  1. Lines 136-138: How does Malcolm's speech relate to "Foul is fair"?

ACT II scene 4

  1. The Elizabethans saw nature as existing in a strictly ordered state. Ross and the Old Man describe events that indicate that the order in nature is awry. Be alert for further indications of unnatural workings in the universe. What might they reflect?
  1. Lines 11-13: What is the symbolic meaning of the falcon-owl incident? Watch for specific symbolic significance in other unnatural acts mentioned.
  1. Lines 37-38: Why might Macduff be suspicious of Macbeth?
  1. What is the dramatic purpose of this scene?


ACT III scene 1

  1. Lines 1-10: Banquo alone of the lords knows about the witches' prophecies, but he has said nothing about them. Why hasn't he?  Does he have any plans for immediate action? Draw a conclusion about Banquo.
  1. Lines 19, 21-24: Why does Macbeth ask this question (and later ones) about Banquo's plans?
  1. Line 63: Wrenched has connotations of violence. How has Macbeth interpreted Banquo's loyalty and his silence about the witches' prophecies? What does he fear Banquo may do?
  1. Lines 47-72: How does this soliloquy compare with the earlier one (Act One, Scene 7, 1-28) in which he contemplated the murder of Duncan?

ACT III scene 2

  1. Lines 4-7: In what way has Lady Macbeth changed?
  1. Lines 4-26: How do you judge Macbeth and Lady Macbeth now feel about the murder of Duncan?
  1. Who is now taking the lead in planning?
  1. Compare the planning of Banquo's murder with the planning of Duncan's. What indications are there that the relationship between Macbeth and his wife has changed?

ACT III scene 3

  1. How many murderers were present in Macbeth's first interview with them? Why might Macbeth involve a third murderer in the plot?
  1. What are some of the circumstances that contributed to Fleance's escape?

ACT III scene 4

  1. Watch for the point when Macbeth becomes aware of the ghost. If you were staging a modern production, would you have the ghost physically on stage? Explain.
  1. Lines 50-53: To whom is Macbeth speaking? What is the "it" he denies doing?
  1. Lines 53-58: What tone of voice would Lady Macbeth use here? To whom does she then say "Are you a man?" How would her tone change here?
  1. Does Lady Macbeth see the ghost?
  1.  Who hears Macbeth’s tirades? How do Macbeth and Lady Macbeth explain his behavior? Do you think the lords accept the explanation?
  1. Who has seen the ghost? What similar hallucination occurs earlier in the play, and what purpose do both incidents serve?
  1.  Lines 142-144: Do you agree with Macbeth's explanation for his agitation and sleeplessness? How well would you say he knows himself?

ACT III scene 5

  1. Why is Hecaate angry? What do the witches plan to do to Macbeth? Why?

ACT III scene 6

  1. Note the indirect suggestion in Lennox's speech. Why is he less than forthright? At what points does his tone of voice change? What is the dramatic effect of these changes?
  1. What is the dramatic purpose of this scene? What earlier scene does it parallel?

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