Macbeth Act I Key Quotes and Notes
Macbeth is a tragedy play. What does this mean? • The protagonist (pivotal character/s) experiences their death/demise/downfall • This occurs (at least partly) as a result of one or more of their own character flaws • The play often evokes sadness and sympathy for the protagonist, whose character flaw we as the audience can possibly also relate to in some degree • Tragedy plays usually have a moral message for the audience
Macbeth is a tragedy play. What is Macbeth’s fatal character flaw? • AMBITION • As a result, over the course of the play we see the progressive corruption/decay of his moral character. • This has catastrophic results for Macbeth and his wife, as well as the rest of Scotland. • Does Macbeth have any other character flaws?
Act 1, Scenes 1 -3 Key Focus • Sets the scene/setting • Establishes “mood” of the whole play and the key theme of “fair and foul” • Introduces Macbeth as a great man, noble character, etc. • Introduces the witches as manipulative, petty characters • Introduces theme of the supernatural/fate/prophecy • Presents Banquo as a foil for Macbeth
Scene 1: The witches • This quote introduced a key theme/motif in the play – that appearances can be deceiving and also that things can be perceived differently depending on how you look at them. • Fair = good, pleasant. • Foul = unpleasant, evil, bad.
Scene 2: Macbeth’s character, early on What impression do we get of Macbeth?
Scene 3: The witches’ character • The witches are presented here as malicious, petty, manipulative and nasty creatures.
Scene 3: Macbeth – foul and fair quote Macbeth reflects on the weather being foul, but it’s a good day because they won the battle. This shows that the same circumstances can be perceived very differently depending on perception. It links back to the witches’ quote from scene 1, a major theme of the play.
Scene 3: Macbeth’s prophecies
Scene 3: Banquo’s prophecies… These prophecies appear to be paradoxes, or to not make sense. Can you find a way to interpret each one that does make sense?
Scene 3: Banquo and Macbeth’s responses to his prophecy… Shows how Banquo and Macbeth react different: Macbeth starts and seems “to fear things that do sound so fair” Banquo says he “neither beg nor fear your favours nor your hate”. What do beg and fear mean here? Favours and hate?
Banquo as a ‘foil’ for Macbeth • A ‘foil’ is a metalanguage term used for a character who is very similar in many ways to another, but with several key differences also • e. g. Banquo is a foil for Macbeth, used by Shakespeare to highlight the contrasts in each and how they react to the witches’ prophecies Macbeth Banquo Skilful soldier and swordsman Loyal to the king Brave and courageous Lavished with praises by the king Receives three prophecies Get excited, believes them, becomes fixated on them as a result Is more suspicious and cautious of witches’ intent; not too fussed with the prophecies
Scene 3: Surprise and amazement as the second prophecy comes true… Shakespeare uses an ‘off-hand’ remark by Banquo to associate the witches with “the devil” to encourage the audience to perceive them as evil.
Scene 3: Banquo’s warning Banquo cautions Macbeth that sometimes evil creatures/beings may lure us in with truths about trivial things (“honest trifles”) to the point where we give them our entire trust; then they will “betray us in deepest consequence”.
Scene 3: Macbeth’s first soliloquy A soliloquy is a monologue which is intended to reveal a character’s inner thoughts and feelings. It is not part of dialogue with another character, but is simply a character expressing to the audience their motivations, etc. Always pay special attention to a soliloquy, because it is where you learn most about characters!
Scene 3: Macbeth’s first soliloquy The witches’ prophecy, and the first two being now true, cause Macbeth to enter into a temporary stupor where all he can do is imagine the murder of Duncan and himself as king – the real world fades into insignificance as he imagines these images. However he is completely unnerved by these ideas and no doubt feels guilty about imaging them. Is he imagining himself murdering Duncan here, or does that come later?
Scene 3: Macbeth’s second thought on the prophecies… Macbeth concludes that if it’s a real prophecy then surely it will all happen without any action on his part. He won’t have to murder his king (e. g. maybe Duncan will fall off his horse tomorrow…). Macbeth is comforted by the idea that he won’t have to do anything, or even imagine anything, horrible and terrible like his previous thoughts.
Scenes 4 -7 Key Focus • Macbeth’s psychological angst, confusion and internal conflict: • He wants to be king, but doesn’t want to be a bad person or do anything bad to achieve it. • He wavers between going ahead with Duncan’s murder and calling it off. • Introduces Lady Macbeth and we learn about her character. • Relationship between Macbeth and his wife. • Duncan continues to be presented as a good, generous king (to contrast with Macbeth later, and make his murder even more horrible) • The theme of deceit/equivocation is continued, as is theme of the supernatural
Scene 4: Duncan’s character • Duncan reflects on how he was deceived by the former Thane of Cawdor, who became a traitor. This leads Duncan to conclude that it is impossible to determine a person’s inner thoughts from reading their face. • What do the last two lines suggest about Duncan’s character?
Scene 4: Praise and promises for Macbeth and Banquo • What is the meaning of Duncan’s metaphorical words to Macbeth? • Duncan’s words establish Macbeth and Banquo as equals (furthering the presentation of Banquo as a foil for Macbeth)
Scene 4: An extra hurdle to Macbeth’s ambitions • Duncan bestows the title of Prince of Cumberland on his son, Malcolm. While the next king will be selected by all the thanes, whoever has the title Prince of Cumberland carries with it the king’s vote of who he wishes to be the next king. It is very likely, though not certain, that Malcolm would become the next king as a result.
Scene 4: Macbeth’s response • How does Macbeth react to news of Malcolm’s new title? What does this show about him? • How has this development changed Macbeth’s perspective since the end of the last scene? • Do you think Macbeth will still wait and see if ‘fate’ will unfold by itself?
Scene 4: Further praise of Macbeth • Duncan describes Macbeth as a “peerless kinsman”, or in other words he praises him as a man without equal.
Scene 5: Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy Lady Macbeth is determined to help her husband become king. Yet she fears he is too good and kind, and his nature won’t enable him to commit the immoral act necessary. Macbeth wants to be king, but he wants to also keep his soul/character clean from sin or wrongdoing. Lady Macbeth awaits Macbeth’s presence so she can persuade and encourage him in the murder of Duncan.
Scene 5: Lady Macbeth calls for aid from evil spirits • Lady Macbeth calls on spirits to “unsex” her (ie. Take away all her womanly frailty and gentleness) and instead fill her “top-full of direst cruelty”. She asks the spirits to silence her conscience or any sort of hesitation and to make her cruel and hard. • Does Shakespeare intend the audience to think spirits answered her?
Scene 5: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth • Lady Macbeth reveals more about Macbeth’s character – he is easy to ‘read’ by his facial expression. She counsels him to try harder to act innocent and be the perfect guest to Duncan, while secretly plotting his death.
Scene 6: Duncan is greeted by Lady Macbeth • Duncan reinforces his appreciation of Macbeth and his intention to continue to be generous to him. • This makes the murder of Duncan even worse, because Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are already doing very well as it is, and Duncan has been so generous to them.
Scene 7: Macbeth’s second soliloquy – he has second thoughts about the murder… What are his reasons for not killing Duncan?
Scene 7: Macbeth announces that the murder is off.
Scene 7: Lady Macbeth persuades him to go ahead with it… Lady Macbeth shames her husband, but questioning his manhood, his courage and his honour. She says he should not have said anything about the prophecies and his ambitions if he had on intention of acting on them. She shames him by saying she would always stay true to her word and her promises, even if it hurt her to do so. What impression do we get of Lady Macbeth here?
Scene 7: Macbeth’s main concern? • Despite all his previously mentioned reasons, Macbeth seems to be easily convinced to go head with the murder once he is assured they will succeed and realizes Lady Macbeth has a plan. • What does this suggest about his other reasons? • Macbeth comments on Lady Macbeth’s ‘masculine’ and coldblooded approach to the murder. Has her ‘prayer’ to evil spirits been answered or is this just her usual character?
Scene 7: Macbeth is fully convinced… • The scene, and the Act, ends with both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth agreed and intent on murdering Duncan. • The line “False face must hide what the false heart doth know” continues theme of appearances being deceiving and reveals Macbeth’s awareness that he has already crossed a moral line – his heart is now “false”.