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Home Middelbare School EN Uittreksels Uittreksel William Shakespeare – Macbeth

Uittreksel William Shakespeare – Macbeth

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Extracts English Literature
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William Shakespeare – Macbeth

Probably written and first performed in 1606 before King James I. First printed in the First Folio in 1623


Macbeth is the main character of the play.


Since it may have been performed before king James I Shakespeare might have added the witches (in which the king was strongly interested) and the prophecy for Banquo as the king was thought to be a descendant of Banquo.

Since the play is so short there is no room for material extraneous to the main thread of the narrative. This is one of the few plays of Shakespeare in which there is no multiple story lines.

The play is based on The chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577) by Raphael Holinshed.


William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon and was baptized on 26 April 1564. He was the eldest son of John Shakespeare, a glover and dealer in other commodities who played a prominent part in local affairs, becoming bailiff and justice of the peace in 1568. He was educated at the local grammar school. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, who gave birth to a daughter Susanna in 1583 and twins Judith and Hamnet in 1585. A few years later he went to London and established himself as an actor / playwright. He became a leading member of London's leading company for the rest of his career. They occupied the Globe Theatre on the southern bank of the river Thames, where now the National Theatre is situated. While Shakespeare was in London his family stayed in Stratford and he is known to have acquired various houses, both in Stratford and in London. Shakespeare's plays were being published by being performed, as it were. After his death on 23 April 1616 his colleagues Heminges and Condell began to prepare Mr William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, better known as the First Folio, which appeared in 1623. This Folio is important for it includes 16 plays which in all probability would not otherwise have survived. Amongst his earliest works (late 1580's till early 1590's) are Henry VI, parts One, Two and Three and its sequel Richard III, his first Roman tragedy Titus Andronicus and his first comedies The Taming of the Shrew ,The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The comedy of Errors and Love's Labour's Lost. Between 1594 and 1599 he reached his artistic maturity and wrote his lyrical masterpieces A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and Julius Caesar. In this period he mostly wrote comedies. In the period that follows (1600 – 1618) he wrote mostly the great tragedies and problem plays: Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, The Tempest and Henry VIII.

The literary period:

William Shakespeare's works are written in the Renaissance, when human development was highly valued. Under Queen Elisabeth I English literature was very rich and varying.

The genre:



Macbeth and Banquo, generals of Duncan, King of Scotland, returning from a victorious battle against rebels, encounter three witches on a heath, who prophesy that Macbeth shall be thane (lord) of Cawdor, and hereafter king, and that Banquo shall beget kings though he be none himself.

After this king's messengers arrive who were empowered by him to confer upon Macbeth the title of thane of Cawdor. Both the prophecy and Macbeth's wife spurred Macbeth on to murder Duncan. When Duncan visits Macbeth's house Lady Macbeth first tries to murder Duncan in the night, for she feared that her husband would be too good a man to do murder. But as the king, sleeping, resembled her own father she could not proceed. Lady Macbeth then spurs her husband on and he murders Duncan that same night. When Macbeth steals to the rooms where Duncan lies, he thinks he sees another dagger in the air, but when he tries to grasp at it, it is nothing but air. Lady Macbeth smears the royal blood onto the cheeks of the grooms to make them appear guilty of the crime.

Duncan's two sons escape, Malcolm, the eldest, to England and Donalbain, the youngest to Ireland. Macbeth, as next heir to the king, was crowned King, and thus the prophecy of the witches was literally fulfilled.

To defeat the prophecy regarding Banquo, he orders the murder of Banquo and his son, Fleance, while he stages a banquet for all the chief thanes. Fleance escapes and the ghost of Banquo enters the banquet hall but only Macbeth can see him. Lady Macbeth claims that her husband is ill and ends the banquet. Haunted by the ghost, Macbeth once more consults the witches who tell him to beware of Macduff, the thane of Fife, that no one born of woman will have the power to harm Macbeth and that he will never be vanquished till Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, neither of which seem possible.

Upon returning to his castle he learns that Macduff has gone to England to join Malcolm who is gathering an army. Macbeth murders Macduff's wife and children. Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and tries to wash imaginary blood off her hands. She has gone mad and dies, probably by her own hand.

The army of Malcolm and Macduff attacks Macbeth, and when passing through Birnam Woord every man cuts a bough from the trees and under these 'leafy screens' they march on to Macbeth's castle. Thus it looks like a wood moving and Macbeth grows terrified. In the battle he meets Macduff and Macbeth holds on to the prophecy that he does not need to worry for no one born of woman has the power to harm him. Then Macduff tells him that he was 'from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd', (thus his mother didn't give birth to him, he was taken from her womb) and he kills Macbeth. Malcolm is then hailed king of Scotland.


The time-lapse in the play is approximately one year. Its main character Macbeth is an historical figure, who reigned for ten years and was noted neither for villainy nor tyranny, so the Macbeth in the play was clearly an artistic invention rather than based historical fact or legends.


The story is set in Scotland and has the following spaces: The heath where the witches appear, the king's castle (Forres), various rooms in Macbeth's castle (Inverness), Macduff's castle (Fife), the king's palace in England and Dunsinane.

Characters and relationships:


A general in the king's army who, after a prophecy from three witches, lets passion take over and commits cruel murders to become and to remain the king. At the beginning of the play he is greatly esteemed for his valour and conduct in wars. Through evil influences he becomes a slave of his passion and ambitions.

Lady Macbeth:

Macbeth's wife who is the evil force behind all the cruelties deeds of her husband. She has always been evil.


Also a general in the army who fought alongside Macbeth but through the prophesy becomes Macbeth's first victim in his struggle for power.


A nobleman who is the only person able to oppose Macbeth and who will murder Macbeth so that the rightful heir of the Scottish throne is able to become king.

Three witches:


They prophesy and are the personification of Macbeth's hidden desires. They symbolize the evil in Macbeth.




Shakespeare reverts to the main theme of his historical plays: the chaos which arises when the natural order has been violated. Macbeth opens with the witches who chant 'fair is foul, and foul is fair', which immediately becomes one of the elements in the play's theme. Macbeth, who has been good turns to evil, ands the fruits of the evil, the throne of Scotland, which appears 'fair' to Macbeth, but brings no joy. Macbeth's confusion of foul and fair is against nature. The setting of the castle is also suggestive of a natural joy which Duncan's murder will destroy. In all Shakespeare's plays, sleep is one of nature's gifts, bestowed on those who are on nature's side. Both Macbeth and his wife suffer from sleeplessness as a result of the murder, the disturbance of nature.

Another strong element is the comparison of dark with evil and light with goodness. The encounters with the witches, the murders of Duncan and Banquo and the sleepwalking of Lady Macbeth are all nocturnal events. When Lady Macbeth starts sleepwalking, she always has a light with her, thus creating the illusion of being still within the cofines of goodness. The scenes with Duncan and Malcolm, who represent goodness, are always full of light. Macbeth is Shakespeare's bloodiest play, in the extent to which the idea of blood pervades the atmosphere. The references to blood are numerous, and is another method used to suggest how far Macbeth has violated the social bonds.



Linguistic usage:







The play consists of five acts. The first act contains seven scenes. The second act contains four scenes. The third act contains six scenes. The fourth act contains three scenes. The fifth and final act contains seven scenes.

Own opinion on the play:

Your opinion!

is a play, therefore it contains only dialogue. This means that the point of view constantly switches to the character who speaking at the time. That character will, of course, speak in the first person.
is the last of Shakespeare's great tragedies. With barely more than 2000 lines it is also the shortest. Since it is a play the whole is told in dialogue. The language is straight forward Old English. This makes the play not always easy to read, but one can understand the global plot.
is a drama and can be classified as a tragedy.
has often been thought to contain some non-Shakespearian material. Two songs by Middleton were certainly added to the play.


Sleep is the best meditation.

Slaap is de beste meditatie.

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