Duncan I of Scotland and Lady Macbeth

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MACBETH - SIMPLIFYING THE PLOT

Macbeth is an ambitious man who wants to be King but who originally lacks the desire to act upon his ambitions, despite the fact that he is confronted by three witches who predict future glories, including the bestowal of titles and the Kingship. His wife however, is eager for him to achieve his potential, and she plays on his human weaknesses to encourage him to kill the King and usurp power for himself.

The involvement of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the murder of King Duncan at first seems to have achieved its objective. Macbeth and his wife rule Scotland as King and Queen. However, they are plagued by the belief that their reign might be ended in the same way they ended King Duncan's. With this in mind, Macbeth, often without his wife's approval, conspires to murder anyone who has the potential to destabilise his reign. This is the rationale behind his murder of Banquo and Lady Macduff, and his attempted murder of Fleance.

In the end however, the actions of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth set them on a path of self destruction. Lady Macbeth is driven insane by a conscience that cannot live with her past actions, but also by the indifference of her husband. Macbeth, likewise deals with mental anguish, and is ultimately defeated. He is the victim of his own human weakness and of his mistaken trust in the witches prophecies, which allowed him to arrogantly construct a notion of himself as invincible.

With his death order is again restored to Scotland.

QUESTIONS ON ROMAN POLANSKI’S ‘MACBETH’

1.How is Macbeth described early on in the film?
2.Who does Macbeth defeat in the film’s opening scenes?
3.What is the significance of the statement “never have I seen a day so fair and foul?” 4.What prophesies do the witches make for Macbeth?
5.What prophesies do the witches make for Banquo?
6.How does Lady Macbeth react to Macbeth’s letter and its revelations about the witches prophesies? 7.How does Lady Macbeth describe her husband?
8.What is the significance of King Duncan’s decree that his son, Malcolm, shall be Prince of Cumberland? 9.How does Macbeth react to Duncan’s decree?
10.What does Lady Macbeth suggest Macbeth should do to King Duncan when he arrives? 11.Why does Lady Macbeth call upon the spirits to “unsex her”? How might an Elizabethan audience react to this? 12.What does Macbeth mean when he suggests that “bloody instructions return to plague the inventor?” 13.What strategies does Lady Macbeth use to persuade Macbeth to kill King Duncan? 14.What is meant by the statement “Macbeth has murdered sleep?” 15.Is Lady Macbeth proved right when she says “a little water washes us of this deed?” Explain your response by referring to specific events.

MACBETH'S PATH TO DISASTER

MACBETH - CULTURAL CONTEXT

The Reign of King James

"Macbeth" was probably performed for the first time in 1605 during the reign of King James. James was crowned King of Scotland at the age of three, when Elizabeth 1 had deposed his mother, Mary Queen of Scots. The early Elizabethan period was characterised by a wave of instability, most notably between Catholics and Protestants, but also by those who lacked confidence in a female monarch. James, like Elizabeth, had to deal with a period known more for its unease than its calm. As King of Scotland, James was forced to contend with a number of plots on his life. The most notable of these occurred in 1605 and was known as the Gunpowder Plot, involving an attempt by English Catholics, with the help of Spain, to overthrow the Protestant ruler of England. Convinced that he was called upon by God to rule, James regarded any attempt of overthrow as the work of the devil or witches.

Given this historical context, it is unsurprising that the content of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" was particularly interesting for the King who liked it because it dealt...
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