Macbeth Questions and Answers
- “Fair is foul and four is fair.”
Who says these words? How are these words related to the theme of the play? Do they anticipate any contact with the main character of the play?
Ans. These words are uttered by the witches in the first scene of the play, Macbeth. They anticipate the subversion of the values, and are related to the major theme of the novel. Macbeth will overturn the accepted values by unnatural acts. Macbeth’s first words in the play, “Foul and Fair” are the echo of the words of the witches. It establishes an unconscious contact with the witches, and is dramatically effective, anticipating the blurring of good and evil in Macbeth’s mind.
- “What bloody man is that?”
Who makes this question? What does he mean by the word bloody? How many times the word ‘blood’ occurs in the play? Why is it a persistent Image in the drama?
Ans. This is a question made by the king Duncan at his camp near Forres. He means by ‘bloody’ bleeding. He has come from the battlefield and is bleeding (smeared with blood) certainly due to his fighting with the enemies.
Blood image is a recurring image in the play. It occurs as many as hundred times. It signifies the horrible crime which forms the action of the drama.
- In what terms Macbeth is glorified as a hero?
Ans. Macbeth is called ‘brave’ Macbeth, ‘valour’s minion’, ‘valiant cousin, ‘eagle among sparrows, ‘lion among hare, ‘Bellona’s bridegroom’, ‘noble Macbeth. He distinguished himself as a brave captain who won two battles and thus saved Scotland from disaster.
- Do you notice any differences in the reports about the battles given by the bleeding captain and by Rosse?
Ans. The report of the bleeding captain is emotional and so the poetry is gorgeous. His report is based on imagination – he fought in one post and so he could not see all the battles. But he is full of praise for the courage of Macbeth. The report of Rosse is based on observation and has a note of authenticity. He gives the news of the faithlessness of Cawdor. The language is precise and accurate – the language of the courtier.
- Who addresses the witches first, but to whom the witches speak? How does Banquo take the words of the witches? Is he serious or light-hearted?
Ans. Banquo first sees the witches and addresses them. But the witches answer when Macbeth asks them to speak. Macbeth is the target of the witches. They want to tempt Macbeth, because they know Macbeth is already tempted. He has ambition. Banquo is however, free from ambition. Banquo, therefore, dismisses them as ‘instruments of darkness who tell us truths, win us with honest trifles and betray us in deepest consequence. He is light-hearted at first because he is amused by the fear of Macbeth. But he is serious later, and warns his friend against being tempted by them.
- “Happy prologues to the swelling act of the imperial theme.”
What are the prologues? What is the imperial theme? From where the image is taken?
Ans. Macbeth is hailed by the witches as the thane of Glamis, the thane of Cawdor and the king hereafter. By Sinel’s death, Macbeth has been the thane of Glamis. Rosse informs Macbeth that he has been appointed the thane of Cawdor because the thane of Cawdor has proved faithless, and the king has sentenced him to death. The king has invested him with the title. Thus two prophecies of the witches have proved true.
These two truths are prologues which mean in a drama introductions to the action, which, in Macbeth’s case swells into the theme of becoming the king.
The image is taken from drama. A drama has prologue, crisis (climax) and catastrophe (conclusion). For Macbeth, the two truths (his becoming the thane of Glamis and the thane of Cawdor) are prologues. He hopes that the prologues will swell to a crisis resulting in his attainment of kingship.
- Why do I yield to that suggestion ? What suggestion is referred to? What is the effect of this yielding?
Ans. Macbeth considers the good and evil of the prophecies of the witches. The prophecies have commenced in truths. So they cannot be called evil. But Macbeth yields to the temptation. Suggestion means the temptation to win the crown of Scotland.
The terrible imagination causes his hair to stand on end and makes his fixed heart come out its right position and strike at his ribs. This is unnatural. The thought of murder is fanciful, but his power of action is lost in imagination. His weak state suffers an insurrection.
- How does Banquo explain the rapt’ condition of Macbeth to Rosse and Angus? What is the imagery used here?
Ans. Macbeth is ‘rapt’ at the thought of the witches and does not talk with Rosse and Angus who have come with good news for Macbeth. Banquo explains his conduct by saying that he has been invested with new honours (the title of Cawdor and praises). He wants to wear the honours, i.e., enjoy them. But they are new, and do not fit the body: They seem too big. However, they would be alright with the regular use. Macbeth now finds it difficult to adjust himself to the new honours.
- “He died as one that had been studied in his death…..”
About whom is this said? How is his death compared with his life? Has it any significance in the total pattern of the drama?
Ans. This is said about the Thane of Cawdor. The Thane of Cawdor played false with the king, joined the king of Norway and laboured in the country’s wreck. But in his death he confessed his sin and expressed his deep repentance. He thus gave a better account of himself on the eve of his death than he had done before in his life. His life was one of sin and shame; but his death was honourable. He died as if life had no meaning for him. Thus he cultivated the art of dying.
This Cawdor episode has significance because it anticipates Macbeth’s act of ingratitude and faithlessness, and his later despair and repentance.
- Explain the following line with reference to the context. “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”.
Ans. Duncan confesses here that he had built an absolute trust on the Thane of Cawdor. He trusted him most, but he was most deceived. There is no art that can teach one how to read man’s mind in the face. The face is never the index of the mind. Duncan was deceived by the apparent goodness of Cawdor. Thus the subject of appearance and reality is hinted at.
These words by Duncan are full of ironical significance. Duncan was deceived by Cawdor and he will be deceived by Macbeth. He will not implicit faith in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and will be misled by their outward appearance and will be deceived to death.
These words underline the fatal flaw of Duncan’s character – his blind trustfulness. Again, these words indicate one underlying theme of the play – the sin of ingratitude and the tragedy of unsuspecting trustfulness. As a matter of fact, the whole scene that follows is steeped in irony.
- “It is a peerless kinsman”.
Who says this and of whom? What makes the speaker say this? Why does he use ‘it’? Is the remark shot with Irony?
Ans. Duncan says this about Macbeth. Macbeth goes out to give to his wife the news of the king’s visit to his castle. Duncan is taken in by his haste and care. He is pleased with the praises about Macbeth. He enjoys his praises just as one enjoys feast. He says to Banquo that Macbeth is a king without a parallel. There is a touch of loving familiarity in the word ‘it’. The remark is shot with irony because Duncan does not know the workings of Macbeth’s mind. He thinks of murdering Duncan. Duncan’s declaration that his eldest son Malcolm will be his heir apparent aggravates his temptation. But his yielding to the temptation of murder is followed by his qualms of conscience – he addresses the stars to hide their fires. He says that the eye will not see what the hand does. The audience knows Macbeth’s thinking at the moment but Duncan is unaware. This contrast produces the irony of the situation.
- “The raven himself is hoarse that crooks the fatal entrance of Duncan”.
Who says this and when? Who is referred to by the word ‘raven’? What does the speaker mean by fatal entrance?
Ans. Lady Macbeth says this when the messenger comes with the news of Duncan’s visit to Macbeth’s castle. It is a great news for Lady Macbeth who has been planning the murder of Duncan. Duncan almost puts himself into her clutches.
“Raven’ refers to the messenger who brings the news. Raven means jackdaw whose cry is hoarse and ominous. Fatal entrance means that Duncan’s visit will prove fatal to Duncan – Duncan will die.
This shows the grim determination and firm purpose of Lady Macbeth. She is ruthless in her resolution to kill Duncan. She can make a quick decision.
- “Come to my woman’s breasts, and take my milk for gall’.
Who says these words, and to whom these are addressed? What do ‘milk’, ‘gall’ signify? What characteristic of the woman is revealed here?
Ans. Lady Macbeth says these words in her prayer to the murdering ministers. She makes an appeal to them to come to her breasts and turn her motherly feeling into poisonous feelings of a serpent.
‘Milk’ suggests the soft tender feelings of a woman and ‘gall’ suggests poisonous feelings of a snake. Lady Macbeth wants her womanly feelings smothered so that she can do the cruel act. She is conscious of her essential womanliness. She is not devilish or impish by Nature. She does violence to her feminine instincts.
- ‘Look like the innocent flower/But be the serpent under it’.
Who says and to whom? Why does the speaker make this advice to the person? What does this advice signify?
Ans. This is said by Lady Macbeth to Macbeth. Lady Macbeth gives this advice to Macbeth because she finds him nervous and agitated (Your face is a book where men may read strange matters). This advice signifies that Macbeth will deceive the men by suiting his look to the occasion. He will show welcome through his eye, hand and tongue. He will look like the innocent beautiful flower and be the serpent under it. His face will be beautiful, but his heart will be ugly and spiteful. He will hide his heart under a false face. In short, he will be a hypocrite.
Lady Macbeth wants Macbeth to do nothing but to put on a good face, so that his face does not betray the heart. But a serpent also stings. So he will not be completely passive.
- ‘He that’s coming must be provided for:’
What does the speaker mean by this statement? What does the speaker expect from this action? Does it show her sagacity or simplicity?
Ans. Lady Macbeth asks Macbeth to beguile the men and bear welcome with hand and eye for the man who comes here. She means that Duncan, the king comes to their castle that night, and he must be provided for. Literally it means that the guest must be provided with food and shelter. But “provided for’ is euphemistic for ‘done away with’ i.e. killed. She means that Duncan must be killed.
Lady Macbeth expects that by killing Duncan that night, they will ensure for them absolute power and complete mastery for all day and nights. Indeed, Lady Macbeth is simple-minded. She is blind to the consequences
Her imagination is limited, and she cannot foresee the wider implications of a murder, and specially the murder of a king.
- “And the late dignities heaped up to them we rest your dignities”.
Who says these words and to whom? What are the late dignities and how are they heaped to others? Finally bring out the meaning of the line: Rest your hermits.
Ans. Lady Macbeth says these words to Duncan. Duncan has come to the castle of Macbeth and thus has given them troubles. But these are troubles of love, God rewards us for the pains that we take for extending hospitality to the guests.
Lady replies that they are his subjects and are bound to offer him service. Even if their troubles are repeated, they would appear insignificant when they are compared with the honours that Duncan has heaped on them.
The recent dignities mean the honours of bestowing on Macbeth the title of the Thane of Cawdor and the royal visit to their castle. The king has bestowed on them honours in the past. For all these, they will remain bound to pray for the long life of the king.
Hermits are beadsmen who pray for the long life of men. Hermits are desert dwellers. 16. ‘Upon the bank and shoal of time,
We’ld jump the life to come. What is the meaning of bank and shoal of time? What image is suggested here? What is meant by jump the life to come’?
Ans. Bank and shoal of time means the present time. Eternal time is compared to sea. The present time is only a period in the eternity of time.
Jump the life to come – means future life. Macbeth is ready to risk what happens to the soul after death for the sake of the present enjoyment. He says that if murder is finished with the committing of the murder, then he can risk his soul after death. He fears retribution for his deed while he lives.
- “Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself/And falls on the other”. Bring out the image in the line.
Ans. Ambition is compared to a reckless rider. A reckless rider jumps on the saddle and misses it and then falls down on the other side. Similarly ambitious men overreach themselves and suffer the tragedy. Inordinate ambition will lead to his disaster.
- “What beast was’t, then that made you break this enterprise to you?”
To whom is it said? Why is the person called a beast? What enterprise is referred to? Did he really break the enterprise?
Ans. This is said to Macbeth by Lady Macbeth. He is called a beast because Macbeth has said that he has the courage to do what may become a man. Lady Macbeth satirically says that in that case he was a beast when he gave him the news of murdering Duncan.
Indeed, Macbeth never intimated to Lady Macbeth any such action. He never told Lady Macbeth that he wanted to kill Macbeth. In his letter that Lady Macbeth reads he says about the predictions of the witches. Many editors suggest the omission or cut of a scene between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Such suggestions are unwarranted. Lady Macbeth with her sagacity can read the mind of Macbeth.
- ‘I am settled’. Who says this and to what is the person settled? How does he come o this settlement?
Ans. Macbeth says this – he is settled to the ‘terrible feat’ of murdering Duncan.
Macbeth has a good deal of hesitation and recoiling. He considers the practical and moral aspects of murder and decides not to proceed to the business. Lady Macbeth then taunts and reproaches him; she charges him with cowardice. She points out to him the sanctity of pledge. She then gives a practical scheme of murder and of how they will pass on the guilt of murder to the chamberlains. Macbeth is impressed by the plan and resolves on the murder. Macbeth is ambitious and covetous of the crown, but his conscience deters him from the murder. The powerful rhetoric of Lady Macbeth wins him over. Macbeth however, commits the murder of Duncan in a trance as it were.
- “Merciful powers, Restrain in me the cursed thoughts”.
Who addresses the merciful powers? What are the cursed thoughts? What does this address signify?
Ans. Banquo addresses the merciful powers. He invokes their blessings when the thoughts about the witches come to him in his sleep. Banquo dreams of the witches and their predictions about the kingship of his Sons and others of his line. He feels tempted. But he tries to restrain the temptation. While Macbeth has surrendered to the evil, he invoke the good spirits to check his tendency to evil. He proves better than Macbeth.
- Comment on Macbeth’s soliloquy beginning with: ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?”
Ans. In Act II, Sc i, just before the murder of Duncan, Macbeth sees a dagger floating in the air and pointing to Duncan’s chamber. He tries to catch it, but cannot succeed. He calls it ‘fatal’ because it is symbolic of murder. Macbeth questions about the reality of the dagger. Is it a figment of his heated brain? He can see it but he cannot grasp it. Macbeth is puzzled. He thinks that either his eyes are wrong and the other senses correct-the vision is an illusion, or his eyes alone can perceive, the rest have gone wrong. The vision becomes more concrete, more tangible, more vivid. The vision vanishes. Macbeth is convinced that it is a hallucination, a creation of the oppressed mind.
Macbeth’s feverish anxiety is conveyed by the hallucination of the danger – the symbol of temptation to murder and the rhythm of the lines captures the fear–he feels in his monstrous commitment to the deed. The soliloquy has powerful visual effects-gouts of blood’ and shows Macbeth’s own imaginative association with the supernatural and with evil. He thinks of the witches offering sacrifices to Hecate, of the withered murderer going to the wicked deed, to Tarquin who violated Lucrece at night. He identifies himself with the darkness of the night and with all the wicked elements in Nature and in humanity. This soliloquy contains self knowledge, analysis, guilty conscience and a terrifying self-accusation. Grierson makes the apt remark: “Macbeth’s moral agitation is clearly evinced in this scene. The fearless warrior is unmanned by the evocations of a shaken conscience, and crosses the ‘Rubicon of Crime’ trembling at every step.”
- “Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done it.”
Give the context of the remark and bring out the character of the speaker as revealed in the line.
Ans. Lady Macbeth is awaiting her husband’s return after the murder of Duncan. She hears the shriek of the owl. She has taken wine to nerve herself. She hears a noise made by Macbeth. She is afraid that Macbeth is confounded by the attempt. She says that the face of Duncan resembles the face of her father and so she could not do the murder.
The line shows the essential womanliness of Lady Macbeth. The daughter image comes up to her mind just as in the earlier scene, the mother image occurs as she thinks of cruel action for the sanctity of pledge. She has an incipient daughter within her.
- “I have done the deed.”
What deed is referred to? How does the speaker react to the deed? What is the difference of reactions between him and his co-partner?
Ans. The deed refers to the murder of Duncan. Macbeth says this to Lady Macbeth after committing the murder. He has done it almost in a trance. He has been impelled to the deed by the powerful taunting rhetoric of Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth lapses into complete self-absorption. He hears noises from within. He hears voices saying “God bless us’, ‘amen’ etc. he has murdered sleep, and he will not sleep anymore. He looks at his blood-stained hands and his eyes come out of their sockets. He thinks that Neptune’s ocean cannot wash the hands clean. He is repentant and remorseful; he wants Duncan to wake up so that he may be free from the sense of guilt.
Lady Macbeth is practical and self-controlled by contrast. However, she does not have her earlier ruthlessness. She has taken wine to nerve herself, she thinks of her father’s face as she looks at the face of Duncan. She has, however, command of the situation. She asks her husband not to brood on the deed. She reproaches Macbeth with cowardice when he refuses to revisit the room of dead Duncan. She says that the sleeping and the dead are but pictures. She says to Macbeth that a little water will clear us of the deed. She asks Macbeth to retire to the chamber and wash the hands and put on the nightgowns ‘lest occasion call us’.
Lady Macbeth is simple-minded. She cannot understand the voices and visions of Macbeth with her limited imagination and thought. She cannot follow the ravings and remorse of Macbeth.
- “It was a rough night”
Who says this? What night is referred to? How is the night described by another speaker?
Ans. Macbeth describes the night of the murder of Duncan. He describes it in a simple sentence with a simple word, ‘rough’.
Lennox however describes it as ‘unruly’. Chimneys were blown down, lamentings were heard in the air, strange screams of death, and terrible accents predicting dire destruction were heard also. The owl clamoured all through the night. Earth was shaking as if in fever. All these are signs of some impending disaster.
- “Confusion now hath made his masterpiece”.
Who says this? What is the confusion referred to? What do masterpiece mean here? How does the speaker express his feeling about this confusion?
Ans. Macduff says this when he discovers murdered Duncan lying in a pool of blood. He is so puzzled and dismayed by this discovery that he expresses it in emotional hyperbolic language. The repetition of the word ‘horror’ shows that he is emotionally shaken. Destruction has done its deadliest work. The murder of a king is the deadliest work of destruction A king is a divine representative. Murder of a king is a sacrilegious act. The king is the temple of God. He further says that if one sees the murdered Duncan, one will be turned to stone (just as the sight of Medusa turns one to stone). Macduff is so emotionally disturbed that he says that the murder of Duncan predicts the last day of judgment.
- “Woe, alas!
What, in our house?”
Who says this and about what? Does it show any weakness on the part of the speaker?
Ans. Lady Macbeth says this when he hears the news of the murder of Duncan. She strikes a false note. Her remark suggests that the murder of Duncan is not so unhappy in itself – but it is sad because it has taken place in her house. Now she cannot act well. She shows signs of nervousness. She cannot disguise her feelings and deceive the time as she has instructed her husband.
- “Wherefore did you so?”
Who asks this question and why? How does the man addressed reply to the question? Is the reply convincing? What does the question imply?
Ans. Macduff asks this question of Macbeth when the latter says that he has killed the chamberlains of Duncan out of fury. He explains that no man can be wise, neutral and temperate and at the same time amazed, furious and loyal. He saw Duncan lying in a pool of blood, and he was so amazed and furious that he could not control himself. His love of Duncan outran his reason. He saw the murderers smeared with blood were lying there. He killed them out of fury and impatience. He now repents of his fury. This explanation is rather laboured and sounds artificial. This is uttered in such violent and verbose language that its artificiality becomes prominent.
Macduff asks this question because his suspicion is roused. Macbeth should not have killed the sleeping chamberlains. The chamberlains could have given them clues to the murder had they been alive.
- “To show an unfelt sorrow is an office which the false man does easy.”
Who says this and to whom and under what circumstances? What does the speaker mean?
Ans. Malcolm says this to his brother Donalbain. Their royal father, Duncan is murdered. All the lords are busy with lamentations, questions and resolves about the murder. They are however silent and stand aloof. They hold that their life is in danger and so they should remain silent. When all go away, Malcolm says to his brother that they will not associate with these lords. They are making noise about their sorrows. Feigned sorrow is lauder than real sorrow. False man can easily show his unfelt sorrow. Their sorrow is not yet prepared. They would leave the place quietly and secretly at once. There are daggers in men’s smiles. They are near in blood to Duncan, so they can be killed. It is wise for them to seek their fortunes in different places. They would leave the place without any formal leave-taking. There is justification for secret flight when there is no mercy left.
- What are the abnormalities seen in nature and the animal world on the night of Duncan’s murder? Who do they portend?
Ans. There were fierce tempest and rains. Chimneys were blown down and strange screams of death were heard. Darkness had pervaded the following day. This is unnatural. A falcon was preyed on by a mousing owl. Duncan’s horses, most beauteous and obedience turned wild; and horses did eat each other. Amazement and mystery pervaded the whole atmosphere.
The unnatural act of murder has disrupted the natural and the animal worlds. Order-disorder symbolisms heighten the enormity of the crime.
- ‘Lest our old robes sit easier than our new.’
Who says this and to whom and in what circumstances? What is the image here and what is the tone of the speaker?
Ans. Macduff says this to Rosse when the latter expresses his desire to join Macbeth’s coronation at Scone. Macduff will not attend this coronation.
This refusal to attend the coronation of the new king amounts to disobedience and open revolt. Macbeth has been named the king, and it is a citizen’s duty to offer loyalty to the new king. Lennox is an ordinary loyal citizen who accepts the accomplished fact. But Macduff is brave, he cannot accept Macbeth as a king because he is now convinced that Macbeth is not the lawful king-Malcolm is the legitimate king.
Macduff’s tone here is ironical. He says to Rosse that if he does not attend the coronation of the new king, then the old regime i.e. the regime of Duncan) would seem more comfortable, and thus the new king would be annoyed. A common citizen cannot annoy a king and thus endangers his life.
The imagery is that of the clothes. Old robes fit easier than the new robes.
- “But, hush! no more.”
Who utters these words and in what context? Why does he want to be silent?
Ans. Banquo utters these final words in his soliloquy at the palace at Forres. Banquo thinks that the predictions of the witches for Macbeth have been fulfilled; Macbeth has become the thanes of Glamis, Cawdor and king. Banquo has the suspicion that Macbeth has played most foully for it. But the witches have predicted that kingship would pass on to his descendants. Banquo would be the root and father of many kings. So if the predictions have been fulfilled in the case of Macbeth, so they may prove true in his case also. He is encouraged by the hope that his sons and descendants would be future kings. However, Banquo recoils from this thought, because it means that he is yielding to temptaton. The witches are devils and to be influenced by them is to yield to evil forces. On another occasion, he had been plagued by these cursed thoughts. Now again, these cursed thoughts come to his mind. So he asks himself not to entertain this thought any more. He restrains himself.
There are critics who hold that Banquo hears the footsteps of men coming to the place, and so he keeps silent. But the soliloquy is loud thinking. It cannot be heard by other characters. It is meant for the audience.
- ‘Let your highness
Command upon me; to the which my duties
Are with a most indissoluble tie
For ever knit’.
Who says this and to whom and when? Does this obedient tone agree with our earlier estimate of the speaker? Is there any irony in the expression ‘indissoluble tie’?
Ans. This is said by Banquo to Macbeth when the latter invites Banquo to the solemn coronation supper. Banquo offers his complete obedience to the command of Macbeth who is now king. He says his duties as his subject are tied to his command in indissoluble bond.
But this obedience to Macbeth does not agree with our earlier estimate of Banquo. Banquo solemnly declared that he would fight the unknown design of malicious traitor. In the soliloquy just before this talk with Macbeth, Banquo has said “Thou hast played most foully for it”. Thus he suspects foul play on the part of Macbeth. Again, earlier when Macbeth offers him honourable position if he ‘cleaves to his consent’, Banquo bravely says that he will keep his bosom clear and franchise free. But here we see Banquo meekly submitting to the kingly authority of Macbeth. He proves an ordinary citizen who offers conventional loyalty to a king whoever he may be.
- “Ride you this afternoon?”
Who asks this question and to whom? Why does he ask the question? What aspect of the character do you get from this question?
Ans. Macbeth asks this question to Banquo. He asks this question in order to know the whereabouts of Banquo in the afternoon. He asks the question suddenly in the course of his other discussions. He manages tactfully to elicit from Banquo information about his movements. He plans his murder. Here Macbeth has degenerated into a trickster, a mean cunning fellow.
- What is Macbeth’s estimate of Banquo’s character? Does his estimate agree with what we see Banquo in the action of the drama?
Ans. Macbeth finds his genius rebuked by that of Banquo. Banquo has royalty of nature, dauntless temper of mind, wisdom that doth guide his valour. Macbeth sees himself weak by contrast with Banquo because Banquo addressed the witches, chide them and dismissed them as insubstantial. But Macbeth has yielded to the supernatural solicitings. In his encounter with the witches, Banquo has shown courage, control and self-possession. Reason and passion are comingled; Macbeth finds the lack of it in his character. He is impelled by impulse.
But in the action of the drama, we do not find any traces of the qualities mentioned by Macbeth and offers his complete obedience to him, although he knows that he has played most foully for it”. He thus yields to evil.
- When does Macbeth say “Come fate into the list/And champion me to the utterance”. Is the mood revealed here constant in him?
Ans. Macbeth says this when he thinks that his kingship would pass on to the posterity of Banquo. It would be taken away violently by one not belonging to his line (family).
He thinks that he has vitiated his mind and disturbed his peace by murdering Duncan. He has sold his soul to Satan by this horrid act. He cannot reconcile himself to the idea that he has done this horrid deed for the sons of Banquo.
Actually, Macbeth suffers heart-sickness and sense of guilt for this enormity of crime. His heart-sickness is followed by his desperate, bellicose mood. He challenges fate to the list for fight with him. He would fight to the uttermost with fate and destroy the frame of things rather than give the crown to the sons of Banquo. He plans the murder of Banquo in order to be safe in his position. He is led by illusions. The more he will try to gain security, the more insecure he would be. Murders will beget murders. Once a man yields to evil, he is engulfed by it.
- How does Macbeth incite the murderers against Banquo? Why does he incite them when he hires them to do the murder? What aspect of the character of Macbeth is revealed here?
Ans. Macbeth incites the murderers against Banquo by imputing to Banquo false charges. He says that Banquo has kept these men (the hired murderers) under check. He has not allowed them to prosper. If they are patient and religious minded, they would not take revenge on one who has crushed them and deprived them and their children of what they deserve. If they are men in the valued list of men i.e. if they have manly qualities, they would kill Banquo in order to take revenge on him who has done so much to them. He further explains that he could have done it himself as a king but he would not do it because in that case some common friends will be alienated from him. He incites them to provide a personal motive for their killing.
Macbeth is here a liar, a hypocrite. He falsely accuses Banquo of thwarting these men. He proves a cunning smooth-tongued politician. He excites the men against Macbeth so that they may be actuated by a personal motive, and then the murder would be less cruel. It is important to note that no murder is done by Macbeth himself. Shakespeare is careful that Macbeth does not alienate the sympathy of the audience by the act of murder.
- “Present him eminence, both with eye and tongue.”
Who gives this advice and to whom? Does this advice recall a similar advice of the person to whom this advice is tendered? How are the roles reversed? Distinguish between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at this stage.
Ans. This advice is tendered to Lady Macbeth by Macbeth. She will show great honour to Banquo both with eye and tongue. They are unsafe so long as they will have to maintain their position by flattery.
A similar advice was given by Lady Macbeth to Macbeth when Duncan was due to arrive at Macbeth’s castle. She asked him to bear welcome in eye, tongue and hand – he would be the innocent flower but be the serpent under it.
Macbeth has here turned out to be a complete hypocrite. He now plays false with his wife who had been his so close a partner in his first crime. He has planned the murder of Banquo and knows that Banquo will not be able to attend the banquet. He keeps his wife ignorant about his plan.
Lady Macbeth now is listless; Macbeth is dominating: Lady Macbeth feels that once everything is over, it should be forgotten. Macbeth feels that he must go on killing in order to make himself insecure, there is the lack of confidence between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth’s conscience gnaws within herself and leads to madness, Macbeth has come to ride roughshod over his conscience. In effect, their earlier roles are reversed.
- “‘I’ is better thee without thou be within.”
Who says this and to whom? What does the speaker mean?
Ans. This is said to the first murderer who comes to inform Macbeth of the murder of Banquo. He finds blood on the face of the murderer. The latter says that the blood is that of Banquo.
Macbeth means that blood is better on your face than in the body of Banquo. It may also mean that it is better that the murderer is outside the room than Banquo is within the room. Thus he is pleased to know that Banquo is killed.
- “Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.’ Who makes this remark? What does the remark imply? Is there any difference of attitude between the speaker of the line and that of the person spoken to?
Ans. This remark is made by Macbeth to Lady Macbeth. He hints to Lady Macbeth that some dreadful deed is going to happen that night. He keeps her, once a partner in crime, ignorant of what he is going to do Macbeth now dominates the action, and Lady Macbeth is listless, tired and disinclined to any further action. Macbeth justifies his further actions. He has started upon a career of crime and so for his safety, he must go on committing crimes. The roles are now reversed.
- “We are yet but young in deed.”
Who says this and what is the occasion? Why does the speaker make this estimate of himself?
Ans. Macbeth says this at the end of the Banquet scene (Act III, Sc iv). He has seen the ghost of Banquo whom he has killed. He is so frightened at the sight that he has made compromising disclosures. The lords have come to suspect his guilt in the murder of Duncan and Banquo. He comes to realise that the ghost is the projection of his heated brain and fevered mind. He has raved and spoken out what he should not have said. He realises that murderers will be out. Immediately he makes up his mind to visit the weird sisters and know the worst by the worst means. He knows that what he has done under fear is the beginning of his end. But, still he must carry on his criminal career. He cannot retrace his steps. He must now act as soon as he plans. His fear is the fear felt by a novice in crime. They have not yet been hardened, because they are unused to the crime.
- Do you think that Scene V, Act III is un-Shakespearean? Does it have any relation to the rest of the play?
Ans. In the brief scene (Act III, Sc v) Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft reprimands the witches for not keeping her informed of their dealings with Macbeth and tells them to meet her the next morning, since Macbeth is coming to hear his destiny from them.
The rhyming couplets in weak iambs are un-Shakespearean. The witches speak in trochee. The witches here are on a lower level than they were in the first scene. Hecate speaks the wretched doggerel “which lacks the grim power of the witches’ incantation”. Hecate’s presence does not add to the action or impressiveness. The scene recalls closely the witch scenes in Middleton’s drama, ‘The Witches’ and contains an unintelligible allusion to ‘wayward sin’. All these are cited as grounds against its authenticity and importance in the play.
But Hecate’s presence is a necessity. She is the queen of the witches. She may use a rhyme different from that of the other witches. Now is her presence unexpected ? It follows from the previous scene in which Macbeth decides on meeting the witches. Hecate, the goddess appears to prepare the witches to meet Macbeth and deal with him appropriately. The scene shows the limitations of the power of the witches. “The wayward son’ refers to Macbeth. He is now one of them, but the play reveals that he has not been completely won over by them. He would challenge them. “Deny me this/And an eternal curse fall on you!” He calls them later “juggling fiends”. Hecate can anticipate the conduct of Macbeth.
However, ”the doubts about the authenticity of the scene fall short of certainty (The New Clarendon Editor). The scene is at least entitled to the benefit of doubt”.
- ‘How did it grieve Macbeth! Did he not in pious rage the two delinquents tears.’
Who say this? What does the speaker mean? What is the tone of the speaker?
Ans. Lennox says this to another Lord. He speaks how Duncan was killed. It grieved Macbeth so much that he killed the chamberlains who were supposed to be the murderers. They were heavily drunk and were sleeping heavily
The tone is here ironical. The lords are not convinced that Macbeth murdered Duncan in his castle in order to gain the throne. Lennox uses verbal irony. He says that Malcolm and Donalbain fled, and so the guilt of the murder fell on them. And chamberlains were delinquents because they were suborned by the two sons of Duncan to do the murder, Macbeth has managed the whole affair very cleverly.
- “Double, double, toil and trouble.”
Who utters these words? In what connection are these words uttered? What do the words mean?
Ans. The witches utter these words as a part of their incantation for preparing their charm by which they intend to seduce Macbeth further.
They throw into the cauldron poisoned entrails, toad who has oozed out venom for thirty one days and nights under cold stone and other vulgar poisonous materials for concocting the spell. They will accumulate trouble and toil for Macbeth. “Double, double’ – suggests that the both will boil and burn doubly so that the troubles of Macbeth are doubled. “The repetition suggests the intensification of trouble.
- Indicate the three Apparitions conjured up by the witches and point out what they mean and how they seduce Macbeth.
Ans. The first Apparition is that of an armed head – it is Macbeth’s own head cut off by Macduff. It is prophetic. The second Apparition is that of a bloody child. It indicates Macduff as he was born (untimely ripped from his mother’s womb). The third Apparition is that of a child crowned with a tree in his head. This suggests Malcolm who commands “let every soldier hew him down a bough” (V.iv.4.)
Thus all their supernatural suggestions are fraught with irony. Macbeth is warned against Macduff (Macbeth knows that he has to fear Macduff and he has known that Macduff has fled to England). But the second prophecy gives him false assurance of security by predicting that no one born of a woman would kill him. Macbeth feels safe but still Macduff must die so that he may have double security. Macbeth is further assured of safety by saying that Macbeth will never be vanquished till Birnam wood moves to high Dunsinane. So Macbeth may sleep in defiance of thunder.
Macbeth will soon see how he has been seduced by the juggling fiends who lie like truths. He is trafficking with things of nightmare fantasy whose truth is falsehood and falsehood truth”.
- ‘Some I see that two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry.’
Who does see? What does the sight symbolise?
Ans. Macbeth now sees a mirror reflecting eight kings . Stuart kings of Scotland, Robert II and III and the six James-es.
Two-fold balls and treble sceptres are used as a compliment to James I. His two coronations first as king of Scotland and then at Westminster are suggested. Treble sceptres suggest the three kingdoms over which James I ruled – Scotland, England and Ireland. Chambers thinks “the treble sceptres are the two used for investment in the English coronation and the one used in the Scottish coronation.” Balls mean the orbs carried in the left hand during coronation.
- “His flight was madness.”
Whose flight is referred to? Does the speaker say that the flight was madness? Was it really madness?
Ans. Lady Macduff attributes Macduff’s flight to England to madness. According to her Macduff has fled out of fear. He has done no treacherous work to Macbeth and so he should not have fled. His flight is an evidence of treason. Moreover, he lacks love. He should not have left the family in the lurch. His fear has dominated over his love. So the flight runs against reason.
Macduff has fled to England to seek the assistance of the English king for leading an opposition to Macbeth, and to rid Scotland of the tyranny. His patriotism has dominated over his family affection. Lady Macduff’s complaint is genuine – she and her children are left alone at the mercy of the tyrant. A little later it will be seen that the Macduff family is slaughtered. Macbeth has done it to show his wrath against Macduff who has fled England to mobilise forces against him. Lady Macduff cannot think beyond her home. She cannot understand Macduff’s patriotism.
- Comment in brief on the dramatic importance of the conversation between Macduff and Malcolm. (Act IV, Scene II).
Ans. The longest scene in the play (Act I, Sc ii) begins with the conversation between Macduff and Malcolm. Malcolm tests the honesty of Macduff (he suspects he may be an agent of Macbeth) before he accepts him as his ally. He says that he is vicious, tyrannical, luxurious -Scotland will be worse under him. Macduff is prepared to make concessions to his alleged vices. but when Malcolm says that he has no ‘king becoming graces’, Macduff is frustrated and says in holy anger that Scotland is doomed. Malcolm appreciates the bonafides of Macduff and he withdraws all his allegations and places himself unreservedly in Macduff’s hands for country’s service.
Through this conversation, we know that Macduff is a sincere patriot and Malcolm is cautious and calculating. He is not blindly trustful like his father Duncan. Shakespeare indirectly suggests the ‘king-becoming graces’ – a king must be temperate in morals and material desires. The conversation provides a little pause before the introduction of tension with the entrance of Rosse. Thus dramatically it is important. It is an admirable non-action prelude to the dramatic entrance of Rosse with terrible news. There is also a subtle contrast between the tyrant king and the good king – Edward the confessor.
- ‘He has no children.’
Who says this? What makes the speaker say this? Whose children are meant here?
Ans. Macduff says this when he is told of the slaughter of his wife and children. He is profoundly shocked and grieved, but he gives expression to his grief in simple controlled language.
Macduff says this when Malcolm asks him not to give way to grief, but to make medicines out of revenge. Macduff says that Malcolm can say this because he has no children. He does not understand the feelings of a father. He has to grieve for the loss of children and then he can think of taking revenge.
Some editors hold that here Macduff refers to Macbeth who has no children. Macbeth can kill his pretty ones because he has not children. But the text of the play offers evidence that Macbeth has children. Lady Macbeth has said that she knows how tender is to love the babe. Macbeth kills Banquo because he does not want the kingship to pass on to the ‘unlineal hand.
- “Now does he feel his title.
Hang loose about him like a giant’s robe
Upon a dwarfish thief”.
About whom is this said ? What does the speaker mean? What image is suggested here?
Ans. This is said about Macbeth. Menteith says this to suggest the diminishing power of Macbeth as a king. Every minute he feels his treachery because his own men are revolting against him. Those still support him offer lip-service, they do not serve him in love. Thus he feels ill-at case with his kingship.
The imagery is taken from dress. His robe of kingship hangs loose upon him, just as a giant’s robe sit loose upon a dwarf. The clothes image is brilliantly distorted. – Macbeth aspired to be giant (king) but only succeeded in being a dwarfish thief (by stealing the kingdom from Malcolm).
- Who was the English king referred to? What was his special power? Does it have any relevance to the play?
Ans. English King referred to was Edward the confessor. He was a pious king. He had the special power of curing the people of a strange disease called ‘Scrofula’ – king’s evil. People become swollen and full of ulcers. Even the surgeons despair of curing this disease. But the solicits heaven, hangs a golden stamp round the necks of the patients and cures them. This blessed gift of leading is passed on to his posterity. The English king was possessed of many graces.
This praise is meant for James I at whose court this play was acted. It has dramatic relevance in so far as it suggests a contrast with the Scottish king (Macbeth) who is a tyrant causing disease and discomforts to his subjects.
- ‘This push will cheer me ever or disseat me now.’
What is the mood of the speaker indicated here? Say what follows this remark.
Ans. Macbeth is impatient and irritated to hear his own men flying. He then hears that ten thousand English soldiers are advancing towards him. Although he pins his faith on the prophecy of the witches that none of woman born can touch him, he feels extremely uneasy and restless. He has an instinctive sense that crisis has come to his life. This “push’ means the crisis or the enemy’s drive to oust him. This crisis will either cheer him or drive him out of the chair (seat).
This mood of impatience and desperation is followed by a mood of despair. He compares his life to autumnal season. His leaves are dry and yellow. He laments the loss of love, friendship and honour which old age longs for. He now gets lip-service and insincere homage. This longing for love and honour in his misery rouses our compassion for the man who is an irredeemable sinner.
Q.52. “I have almost forgot the taste of fears.”
What light does it throw on the mind of the speaker?
Ans. Macbeth says this when a cry of woman is heard. Macbeth has lost his sense of fear. In his early days, a nigh-shriek would have cooled his senses. A tale of suffering would have sent a cool shudder running down his spine. But now fears do not stir him. He has had too much of horrors, so horrors do not affect him. Here Macbeth deplores his mental apathy. This feeling that he cannot feel makes us feel for him. We have compassion for this unfortunate villain.
- “Blow wind! come wrack!
At least, I’ll die with harness on our back.”
Who says this? What light does it throw on the speaker?
Ans. Macbeth says this when he hears from a messenger that he has seen Birnam wood move. Macbeth now prepares to put on armour and meet the enemies in the battlefield. Now his optimism is shaken, he knows the equivocation of the juggling fiends. He now checks confidence in the witches and calls for the arm. Sense of weariness is followed by the mood of desperation. He says that he is wearied of this life, and then he is lashed into fury to challenge fate and unsettle the settled order of things. He calls upon nature to bring destruction. He will die with armour on his back. He will die bravely. Thus his heroic spirit is maintained till the last.
- ‘Why should I play the Roman fool?’ Who says this? Who are the Roman fools ? What does the speaker want to do?
Ans. Macbeth says this when he has come to the battlefield to meet the enemies. He will fight the enemies although he knows his cause is lost. Brutus, Cato, Antony, the Roman heroes committed suicide when they found that their defeat was inevitable. It was considered honourable by the Romans to commit suicide. But Macbeth intends to die fighting bravely in the battlefield.
- “The time is free.”
Who says this and on what occasion? What does he mean?
Ans. Macduff says this when he brings Macbeth’s head and offers it to Malcolm. He has succeeded in killing the tyrant. He hails Malcolm as the king of Scotland. He says that time is now free from tyranny. Men are now free, they will pay homage where it is due and eat and drink with easy minds. It recalls the hope of the lord “free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives, do faithful homage and receive free honours.
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