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Macbeth Essay Topics

Quotes & Possible Essay Questions for Macbeth



1. "Fair is foul and foul is fair . . ." (Witches 1.1)

2. "So foul and fair a day I have not seen." (Macbeth 1.3)

3. "The Thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me / In borrowed robes?" (Macbeth 1.3)

4. "This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill, cannot be good." (Macbeth 1.3)

5. "If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me / Without my stir." (Macbeth 1.3)

6. "Nothing in his life / Became him like the leaving of it." (Malcolm 1.4)

7. "Yet do I fear thy nature. / It is too full of the milk of human kindness . . ." (Lady Macbeth 1.5)

8. "Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here . . ." (Lady Macbeth 1.5)

9. "I dare do all that may become a man; / Who dares do more is none." (Macbeth (1.7)

10. "When you durst do it, then you were a man . . ." (Lady Macbeth 1.7)

11. "Light thickens, and the crow / Makes wing to the rooky wood." (Macbeth 3.3)

12. "The time has been/ That, when the brains were out, the man would die, / And there an end!" (Macbeth 3.4)

13. "By the pricking of my thumbs / Something wicked this way comes." (2nd Witch 4.1)

14. "Infected be the air whereon they ride, / And damned all those that trust them!" (Macbeth 4.1)

15. "I have lived long enough. My way of life/ Is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf . . ." (Macbeth 5.3)

16. "She should have died hereafter: / There would have been a time for such a word. / Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time, / And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! / 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 / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing." (Macbeth 5.5)

17. "Why should I play the Roman fool and die / On mine own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes / Do better upon them." (Macbeth 5.8)

18. "the cruel ministers / Of this dead butcher and his fiendlike queen . . ." (Malcolm 5.8)


Possible Essay Questions:

1. Compare and contrast any two productions of Macbeth.

2. Discuss the problems of producing Shakespeare on stage or on the screen. What decisions must the director make, and how should the final result be judged? Is there any danger in closing off the complexities and riches of the plays? Is it necessary to do this in order to create a performance?

3. Macbeth is about various kinds of murder (among other things). Does the play distinguish between honourable and dishonourable violence? Can this very bloody play be seen as a plea for peace and human harmony?

4. Discuss the nature of the three supernatural beings who foretell Macbeth’s future. What might they be, what clues does Shakespeare provide, and what conclusion (if any) does he allow his audience to come to? Is it possible that the ambiguity was necessary to his plot and themes?

5. Discuss the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. How does it change and why? To what extent is their relationship the engine that drives the tragedy?

6. What is the image of manhood that Macbeth presents? What questions does the play raise about the soldier as hero?

7. Discuss the genre to which Macbeth belongs. Is it tragedy, history, or both? In what way does the play conform to the standard definitions? How does it contradict them?

8. Discuss Macbeth as a real character out of history and contrast the historical Macbeth with Shakespeare’s version.

9. Discuss Macbeth as a "Gunpowder" play.

10. The RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) has just called you and assigned you to direct their next production of Macbeth. As director, discuss your vision of the play.

11. Select one of the controversial points about the play (for example, the nature of the witches or Macbeth’s free will—or lack of it) and discuss the handling of it in three or more productions of the play.

12. Discuss any one of the adaptations of Macbeth.

13. Discuss Macbeth as a horror story.

14. Discuss the witchcraft background of Macbeth.

15. Discuss the Macbeths as a typical "political" couple similar to Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Bill and Hillary Clinton, or Bob and Elizabeth Dole.

1. Discuss how two of the following influenced Macbeth's actions in the play Macbeth: the witches, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth's own ambitions

2. Shakespeare's women are not slaves or subordinates to the men in the plays. They are complete characters in their own right; they influence other characters, and by so doing they influence the plot; they have dreams, ambitions, feelings, and desires; they are capable of sin and guilt, as well as joy and love; they (like men) can become tragic figures. With specific reference to scenes and events in the play, discuss how much of this is true for Lady Macbeth.

3. Sometimes a person's actions are determined largely by some aspect of his character, sometimes by some external force or forces exerting pressure on him, and sometimes by a combination of both. Using the character of Macbeth, illustrate whether the motivations for the actions of the character are internal, external, or both. Refer to specific incidents in the play and support your answer.

4. Themes or messages are very important to Shakespeare's plays. Discuss fully the development of one major theme or message the play has for its audience. 

5. The idea of deception—that is, things are not always as they seen—is presented in Macbeth. Using specific references, trace the theme of deception as it is presented in the play.

6. To what extent is Lady Macbeth responsible for Macbeth becoming king of Scotland? Use specific evidence from the play to support your answer.

7. Below is a passage taken from the play. Answer the following questions about it: Who is speaking? What is the situation in which this passage is spoken? In your own words, summarize what is being said. Finally, with specific references to the plot of the play, explain the significance this passage has to the theme and to the character.

“I have almost forgot the taste of fears;                
The time has been, my senses would have cool'd                
To hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hair
would at a dismal treatise rouse, and stir                
As life were in it; have supp'd full with horrors:                
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,              
Cannot once start me.” 

8. One of the themes of Macbeth is that wrongdoing has serious consequences. Discuss this statement with careful reference to the play and to the decline of both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth.

9. The misfortunes that befall us are sometimes due to our own acts and sometimes due to fate or ill luck. By referring to Macbeth explain the situation the character finds himself in and the extent to which the character is responsible.

10. By referring to Lady Macbeth's actions, thoughts and words and the things that are said about her, develop a character sketch of her.

11. One of the themes of Macbeth is that our actions have certain consequences, and that some of these consequences can be terrible and unexpected. Discuss this statement with reference to both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

12. A writer such as Shakespeare was able to create in the reader a feeling (such as respect, sympathy, love, hate, admiration, or several of these together towards one or more characters. Choose a character in the play and write your feelings towards that character and explain how the author managed to make you feel as you do.

13. Macbeth has not been a scoundrel all of his life. Instead he is a good man who has gone wrong. This is a real tragedy. Discuss this statement by focusing on Macbeth's good qualities some of which are used for the wrong purposes. 

14. Shakespeare not only presents the actions of characters but also helps us to understand what motivates characters to act in the way that they do. Discuss the factors that motivate Macbeth's own ambitions.