by William Shakespeare


Discussion Questions

1. What effect do the witches' prophecy have on Macbeth? On Lady Macbeth?

2. Do you think that the tragedy would have occurred without the prophecy? Does the prophecy leave room for choice? Would this be a tragedy, if the actions of the tragic characters were fated?

3. What do Macbeth's musings in his soliloquy at the beginning of Act I, scene 7 indicate about time? What do they indicate about Macbeth? How does the human relation to time play a role in this tragedy?

4. When Macbeth says, "I dare do all that may become a man," what does he mean? Does Lady Macbeth use "man" in the same way her husband does? Does Macbeth prove himself a man in the scene with Lady Macbeth immediately after he murders Duncan? How does the play equivocate on the meaning of man?

5. Is Macbeth a religious man? Why does Lady Macbeth advise him not to consider the matter "so deeply"? (Act II, scene ii)

6. Why does Macbeth kill Banquo and try to kill his son?

7. Analyze what the exchange between Malcolm and Macduff reveals about each of their characters.

8. What qualities does Malcolm show in his testing of Macduff?

9. What qualities does Macduff look for in a good ruler? What are the virtues of a ruler that emerge from this exchange, and how do they differ from those Machiavelli praises in The Prince?

10. Why does Shakespeare include this scene in the play? How does it provide relief for the audience from the horrors of Macbeth, and suggest a similar relief for Scotland in the future?

11.Could you argue that Shakespeare's play is not only about what constitutes a bad ruler but what constitutes a good ruler?

12. Why does Shakespeare include the passage about the British king, Edward the Confessor, in this play? Does Shakespeare offer a number of different kinds of rulers for our consideration? What do we learn from this?

13. Discuss Shakespeare's presentation of illness and healing in this play, Edward's healing the body and the doctor's inability to heal Lady Macbeth's soul? Does Shakespeare as a tragic poet offer any kind of "healing" to his audience?

14. Does Macbeth's famous "tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy present Shakespeare's view of human life? How is Shakespeare's play not "a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/ Signifying nothing"?

Paper topics
1. How do the issues of Shakespeare's play overlap with those of Machiavelli's Prince and Plato's Apology?

2. Would Machiavelli approve of Macbeth's actions? What advice would he give him? In what ways is Macbeth a Machiavellian figure? Does he demonstrate what happens when one separates politics from morality in the way that Machiavelli did? On the other hand, how does Macbeth fail to live up to Machiavellian standards?

3. Discuss whether Shakespeare's Macbeth serves as an implicit criticism of Machiavelli's Prince.

4. How would Socrates respond to the prophecies of the witches? How would his response differ from Macbeth's?

5. Compare the place of religion in Macbeth with its place in Machiavelli's Prince and Plato's Apology.

6. What figure, if any, in Macbeth, resembles Socrates?

7. Does Shakespeare's concerns in Macbeth come closer to those of Machiavelli or Plato?

8. Do Malcolm and Macduff escape Socrates' charge that politics is corrupting? How? Will Malcolm be able to remain a good man as king? (Was Macbeth not thought to be virtuous at the beginning of the play?)


Macbeth Reading

Guide to unit 1

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