Popular Macbeth Essay Questions

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.

Sample questions

Typical questions ask you to show how a character develops during the play, or how a theme is presented in the play, or to look closely at a scene in the play. So we might have tasks like:

  1. How does Macbeth change during the course of the play?
  2. How is the theme of ambition dealt with in Macbeth?
  3. How is drama created in Act 2, Scene 1?
  4. What is the importance of the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?

Each of these tasks mentions one main topic - for example, the first is about Macbeth, so it's about character. However, you will also have to deal with a number of other topics in your answer. For instance, you should look at how he speaks, so you are looking at language. You could also look at his part in the plot, how he is used for dramatic effect and the themes he talks about. We could look at each question in the same way.

For instance, an answer to question 3 above should cover what Act 2, Scene 1 adds to the overall plot, the characters in the scene, the dramatic effects (that is the main part of the question!), the themes in the scene and the language the characters use.

In other words, try to look at a range of topics in your answer. Markers are always pleased to see answers which cover plot, character, dramatic effect, theme and language.

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