A Series of Questions about 'Macbeth'

If we want to understand Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a play, there are a series of questions that we can ask which take us deeply into both storyline, character and theme. They are provided here for those familiar with the work or studying it, without set answers - each individual reader or audience member might have something different to say in reply to each one.

It’s an interesting exercise.

Act One, Scenes 1-4

1. Why does the play open with a thunderstorm? In terms of the view of the universe that his audience would have had, what effect would this have had? What effect would it have on the play if Scene 1 were omitted altogether?

2. Have the sergeant and Ross come from the same place?

3. How would Macbeth’s society have viewed war? How would people of Shakespeare’s time have seen Macbeth’s role in the recent battles? How does that contrast with people of today?

4. What kind of power do you think the witches have? Do you think it has any limits? What clues are there in the play that lead you to believe this?

5. How do the witches affect Macbeth? How do they affect Banquo? What does this tell you about differences in the two men? What picture do we then get of Macbeth’s personality?

6. What should Macbeth expect as a result of risking his own life for the king? Why do you think Duncan, after thanking Macbeth in Scene 4, suddenly changes the subject and proclaims Malcolm ‘the Prince of Cumberland’ (and therefore his heir)? Why does this annoy Macbeth so much?

Act One, Scenes 5-7

1. In his letter to his wife, what has Macbeth already done in relation to the weird sisters? Why? Do you think that he truly believes in God at this point?