Quotes & Possible Essay Questions for Macbeth



1. "Fair is foul and foul is fair . . ." (Witches 1.1)

2. "So foul and fair a day I have not seen." (Macbeth 1.3)

3. "The Thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me / In borrowed robes?" (Macbeth 1.3)

4. "This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill, cannot be good." (Macbeth 1.3)

5. "If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me / Without my stir." (Macbeth 1.3)

6. "Nothing in his life / Became him like the leaving of it." (Malcolm 1.4)

7. "Yet do I fear thy nature. / It is too full of the milk of human kindness . . ." (Lady Macbeth 1.5)

8. "Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here . . ." (Lady Macbeth 1.5)

9. "I dare do all that may become a man; / Who dares do more is none." (Macbeth (1.7)

10. "When you durst do it, then you were a man . . ." (Lady Macbeth 1.7)

11. "Light thickens, and the crow / Makes wing to the rooky wood." (Macbeth 3.3)

12. "The time has been/ That, when the brains were out, the man would die, / And there an end!" (Macbeth 3.4)

13. "By the pricking of my thumbs / Something wicked this way comes." (2nd Witch 4.1)

14. "Infected be the air whereon they ride, / And damned all those that trust them!" (Macbeth 4.1)

15. "I have lived long enough. My way of life/ Is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf . . ." (Macbeth 5.3)

16. "She should have died hereafter: / There would have been a time for such a word. / Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time, / And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! / Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing." (Macbeth 5.5)

17. "Why should I play the Roman fool and die / On mine own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes / Do better upon them." (Macbeth 5.8)

18. "the cruel ministers / Of this dead butcher and his fiendlike queen . . ." (Malcolm 5.8)


Possible Essay Questions:

1. Compare and contrast any two productions of Macbeth.

2. Discuss the problems of producing Shakespeare on stage or on the screen. What decisions must the director make, and how should the final result be judged? Is there any danger in closing off the complexities and riches of the plays? Is it necessary to do this in order to create a performance?

3. Macbeth is about various kinds of murder (among other things). Does the play distinguish between honourable and dishonourable violence? Can this very bloody play be seen as a plea for peace and human harmony?

4. Discuss the nature of the three supernatural beings who foretell Macbeth’s future. What might they be, what clues does Shakespeare provide, and what conclusion (if any) does he allow his audience to come to? Is it possible that the ambiguity was necessary to his plot and themes?

5. Discuss the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. How does it change and why? To what extent is their relationship the engine that drives the tragedy?

6. What is the image of manhood that Macbeth presents? What questions does the play raise about the soldier as hero?

7. Discuss the genre to which Macbeth belongs. Is it tragedy, history, or both? In what way does the play conform to the standard definitions? How does it contradict them?

8. Discuss Macbeth as a real character out of history and contrast the historical Macbeth with Shakespeare’s version.

9. Discuss Macbeth as a "Gunpowder" play.

10. The RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) has just called you and assigned you to direct their next production of Macbeth. As director, discuss your vision of the play.

11. Select one of the controversial points about the play (for example, the nature of the witches or Macbeth’s free will—or lack of it) and discuss the handling of it in three or more productions of the play.

12. Discuss any one of the adaptations of Macbeth.

13. Discuss Macbeth as a horror story.

14. Discuss the witchcraft background of Macbeth.

15. Discuss the Macbeths as a typical "political" couple similar to Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Bill and Hillary Clinton, or Bob and Elizabeth Dole.

Copyright 1997 by Ace G. Pilkington