Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Macbeth | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


What evidence in Act 1, Scene 7 shows that Macbeth will not go through with Duncan's murder without his wife's goading?

Until Lady Macbeth steps in, Macbeth is lukewarm on the idea of killing Duncan. Even with Duncan in his castle, Macbeth has doubts and hesitates. He argues that Duncan has shown him favor and demands they stop the plan at once. Only when Lady Macbeth questions his manhood and his loyalty to her does he begin to waver again. As a last defense, he brings up the possibility that they might not be able to pull off the murder, but she shoots down this argument as well, saying if he has courage—that is, acts like a man—they will not fail. Even though he is ready to kill Duncan by the end of the scene, it is clear his readiness is primarily the result of his wife's intervention.

What evidence in Macbeth's monologue in Act 2, Scene 1 or elsewhere shows the dagger is a supernatural vision?

Once Macbeth dismisses Banquo, he seems unsure of anything he sees; he believes that either his eyes are not working correctly or that his vision is suddenly more acute than all his other senses. The dagger that appears before him looks as real as the one he draws out of its sheathe. Yet this "dagger of the mind" appears to be a supernatural vision for the following reasons: The dagger leads him in the direction of Duncan's chamber. The dagger first appears clean, then changes form to appear bloody. Both Lady Macbeth and the witches have invoked spirits to spur this plan forward.

What evidence indicates Lady Macbeth feels more guilt than she lets on in Act 2, Scene 2 of Macbeth?

Lady Macbeth admits she had a clear opportunity to kill Duncan herself after getting his guards drunk. She was able to look upon him as he slept, and she says she would have done the deed if not for the fact that the sleeping Duncan resembled her own father. At no other point in the planning of this murder does she seem willing to do the killing herself, instead pushing her husband to do the act. For all her talk of wanting to abandon her womanly traits for ruthless ambition, she gets her own hands dirty (literally) only when it becomes absolutely necessary. Even when she is forced to return the daggers to Duncan's chambers to frame the guards, she first tries to goad Macbeth into going back by using the same approach that has proven reliable thus far—attacking his masculinity.

What does the curse "sleep no more" mean for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth going forward from Act 2, Scene 2?

When Macbeth tells his wife about the voices he hears after killing Duncan, she dismisses it as a figment of his imagination. However, the voices speak the truth. Macbeth will face increasing fears of being found out, and his ambition will drive him to attempt to eliminate Banquo's line in order to preserve a legacy for himself. Later, he will face the contempt of his peers and his imminent overthrow. Lady Macbeth's suppressed guilt will drive her mad, and she will be unable to sleep in peace, as she sleepwalks through the night and relives her crimes. Neither spouse will be able to sleep easily; nightmares will haunt them.

After drugging Duncan's guards in Act 2, Scene 2, how do Macbeth and his wife plan to frame the guards for Duncan's murder?

They plan to place the bloody daggers that Macbeth uses in the murder on the guards' beds, knowing that the sleeping guards will not discover the tainted blades until it is too late. However, Macbeth is more disturbed by this assassination than by any killing he has done on a battlefield, and, in a panic, he forgets to leave the knives behind. He claims to be too anxious to return to the scene of the crime. Guilt is starting to plague him, as he says he can't even think about what he has done, much less look at the slaughtered king. Lady Macbeth dismisses her husband's cowardice and plants the evidence herself, smearing the drugged guards' faces and hands with Duncan's blood to further implicate them.

After Macbeth kills the guards in Act 2, Scene 3, why does Macduff seem to suspect him of killing Duncan?

Macbeth's speech about his love and devotion for his king is a bit overstated, which Macduff probably recognizes. Even Lady Macbeth realizes her husband has gone too far, so she fakes a fainting spell to make him stop talking. Nothing Macbeth says can erase the fact that he has killed the only two people who might shed light on the culprits responsible for killing Duncan, and Macduff knows this. That the murder took place in Macbeth's castle is suspicious in itself. The location of the crime gives Macbeth means and opportunity. Furthermore, Macbeth has motive. If Macbeth has figured out the line of succession, then surely Macduff has as well, so he knows what Macbeth stands to gain if Duncan is dead and his sons flee.

In Act 2, Scene 4 of Macbeth, what odd events do Ross and the old man talk about after Duncan's murder and what might be the meaning of the events?

Ross and the old man discuss three odd happenings. The first is the darkness of recent days—clocks show it's daytime, yet it's dark as night. They wonder if the nights have become stronger or the days weaker. The second odd occurrence is a falcon killed by a mousing owl, a lesser bird of prey. The third is Duncan's horses running wild from their stables and eating one another (horses are not carnivores). All of these events reflect how the natural order of things has been profoundly disturbed since Duncan was murdered, which further reflects how the natural order of succession to the throne has been upset by the crowning of Macbeth.

After Macbeth is crowned, Banquo suspects Macbeth of foul play, so why doesn't he tell anyone?

Banquo has his suspicions, but he has no real evidence of Macbeth's wrongdoing. The witches' prophecy that Macbeth will be king—followed so closely by Duncan's murder—seems too much of a coincidence to Banquo. However, without solid proof, making an accusation of regicide—the murder of a king—might be seen as treason. In addition, Banquo is much more interested in how the truth of the witches' prophecy affects him and his offspring than what it has done for Macbeth. His hopes for posterity concern him to a far greater extent than the fact that Macbeth now sits on the throne.

When he hires the murderers in Act 3, Scene 1, how does Macbeth convince them to go after Banquo?

Macbeth tells the murderers that Banquo was responsible for some of their past misfortunes, for which they (probably rightly) blamed Macbeth. By setting up Banquo as their enemy, Macbeth makes the murderers eager to have a chance to avenge themselves for these past wrongs. He tells them that, as king, he cannot get rid of Banquo himself because of the friends that he and Banquo have in common. Therefore, he needs their help to get rid of him. By now, Macbeth's sense of honor and loyalty is totally gone. Even while ordering the murder of his friend, his sympathy is not for the man who is about to die; rather, he is concerned about his ability to mourn Banquo convincingly.

In Act 3, Scene 2, after Macbeth has been crowned king, what evidence shows that the Macbeths' marriage may be in trouble?

Both actions and thoughts reveal the discontent the Macbeths are feeling. Lady Macbeth reflects on how unhappy the two of them are now that they have become monarchs. Lady Macbeth does not know why her husband is so preoccupied and thinks he still feels guilty over Duncan's murder. He has not told her his latest worries about Banquo. Macbeth has hatched and executed a plot against Banquo without her advice. Neither of them is eating or sleeping well. Macbeth, after having Duncan killed, even thinks that Duncan is the luckiest of the three of them because he is now at peace, while Macbeth and his wife are tortured daily by their thoughts.

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