Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Macbeth | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


During the conversation between Macduff and Malcolm in Act 4, Scene 3 of Macbeth, why does Malcolm go through the description of all his vices if they are false?

Before agreeing to return to Scotland, Malcolm uses this long explanation of his vices—notably sexual perversion and greed—to accomplish two things. He is demonstrating what a king should not be and using this to get a feel for how dire the situation has become in Scotland. Macduff's dismissal of this supposed debauchery as better than Macbeth's vices illustrates how bad Macbeth really is. More than that, Malcolm uses this deception to test Macduff's own worthiness, saying Macbeth has in the past attempted to sway him by appealing to these base natures. Macduff doesn't take the bait by offering Malcolm money or women; he simply says these flaws aren't so bad. In this way, Malcolm is able to see Macduff's devotion to Scotland is truly sincere as well.

Explain the purpose of praising Edward the Confessor when Malcolm meets with Macduff in Act 4, Scene 3 of Macbeth.

Edward the Confessor is painted in saintlike terms during the brief interlude with the English doctor. The English king heals the sick and casts out evil from those who seek his help, performing miracles for the masses. This bit of content illustrates the role model Malcolm has had during his exile and shows, by comparison, how dreadful Macbeth is as a king. It also seems devised to create goodwill in the original audience, James I's English court. The play praises a beloved king of England for his Christian faith and works, which alone would appeal to a highly religious monarch such as James, as it flatters history and draws a strong parallel between one saintly monarch and another.

Describe Macduff's feelings in Act 4, Scene 3 of Macbeth, when he learns his family has been murdered.

Macduff appears to go through stages of grief when he learns what has happened to his family. He asks Ross repeatedly who is dead and how they died, as if he does not believe it has happened. He quickly comes around to blaming himself for what has happened to them. They were murdered in order to cause him pain, and he believes they might not have died if he had not left them alone. He seems a bit annoyed with Malcolm for jumping right to revenge without allowing him proper time to grieve, but then he progresses to the next stage of his grief, agreeing that his family must be avenged.

Why was killing Macduff's family a mistake on Macbeth's part based on Act 4, Scene 3?

The first of the three apparitions the witches show Macbeth warns him to beware of Macduff. The second apparition tells him that no one "of woman born" can harm him. In this scene, Macbeth believes Macduff is not a danger, but he resolves to kill him anyway. Instead of heeding the apparition's warning, Macbeth attacks Macduff's family and creates a personal vendetta between the two of them. Once Macduff has absorbed the shock of the news, he doesn't just intend to save his country from a tyrant—he is determined to avenge the deaths of his family. The attack on Macduff's castle has only added fuel to his fire.

In Act 5, Scene 1 of Macbeth, what actions does Lady Macbeth engage in while sleepwalking and what is the significance of these actions?

Lady Macbeth sleepwalks through the castle, eyes wide open but unseeing, and engages in actions that seem to indicate her guilt. These actions include the following: Writing and reading unexplained letters, as if confessing on paper. Continuous handwashing movements. Insisting on having a candle by her at all times because of her fear of the dark. These acts are observed by her lady-in-waiting, who calls in a doctor to try and help her. The doctor, though, says that her condition is not one he can treat. His suspicions are aroused by what he has seen, however. The lady-in-waiting must have very strong suspicions about Lady Macbeth as well, but she is bound to keep the queen's confidences, and it looks doubtful the doctor will report his suspicions.

Identify and explain a line from Lady Macbeth's episode of madness in Act 5, Scene 1 of Macbeth, in which she speaks about her feelings of guilt.

Lady Macbeth utters several incriminating statements while sleepwalking. These speeches indicate she is feeling guilty and include the following statements: "Hell is murky." Lady Macbeth is living in her own private hell now that she has lost her mind. "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" Lady Macbeth did not expect to see so much blood when she returned to the scene of the murder to plant the bloody daggers on the guards. "The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is / she now?" Lady Macbeth likely knew Lady Macduff, and her mention of this other wife indicates her sympathy for the murdered lady. "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" or "all / the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little / hand." Lady Macbeth envisions her hands covered with blood she can't wash away because she can't wash away the guilt of what she has done.

In Act 5, Scene 1 of Macbeth, why does the Scottish doctor decide Lady Macbeth needs a priest more than a physician after he first sees her?

The doctor won't speak out loud about it, but he can tell she has been through some traumatic experiences and suspects what they are. To his mind, either she witnessed these events and needs spiritual counseling or she took part in them and needs absolution. Either way, these problems are outside his area of expertise. He foreshadows Lady Macbeth's death when he cautions the lady-in-waiting to keep an eye on the queen and to remove any objects with which Lady Macbeth might harm herself. Although Shakespeare does not relate how Lady Macbeth dies, her guilt and subsequent madness certainly play a part in her assumed suicide.

In Act 5, Scene 2, how does the conversation between the thanes reflect on Macbeth's abilities as a leader?

The thanes think he is unable to inspire love or loyalty in his troops and that he probably regrets what he has done. They talk of how the mantle of leadership is too large for a man made small by his murderous actions. Although they are determined to remove Macbeth from the throne and replace him with Malcolm, the rightful king, some of the thanes sound almost sorry for the man. Caithness says that some liken Macbeth's present state of mind to courageous anger, and Menteith believes that if Macbeth appears mad, it is because he so deeply condemns himself for his heinous acts.

When he's alone in Act 5, Scene 3, what does Macbeth say that contradicts the courage he displays to others?

In front of his servants, Macbeth puts on a show of bravado and says he has no fear of the troops that are rising against him. In private, the brusque manner that accompanied his plotting against Banquo and Macduff has seeped away. Lady Macbeth's decline has weighed him down. Though he suffers little from his own guilt, he feels his wife's pain by proxy. He says he has lived a long enough life and that his way of life is dying out anyway. He does not look to the honors of old age and will die with curses and bitterness instead. In private, he seems resigned to defeat.

In Act 5, Scene 3, why isn't Macbeth doing anything to help his wife?

Macbeth is so busy trying to hold onto his title and his throne that he has no time to tend to his wife. She was once his equal partner, perhaps more than equal, but now she is simply another worry for him. He turns her over to the doctor with orders to fix her, but he has no time or inclination to deal with her himself. This may be because he does not like to see her in her diminished state; he is accustomed to the strong woman she has been in the past. Another reason may be because her condition reminds him of his own guilt.

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