In this lesson, our instructor Rebekah Hendershot teaches Macbeth. After a brief public service announcement, youll dive right into the complete background of the play, the setting, and the characters. Rebekah goes over each character in detail, including Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Duncan, Banquo, Macduff, Lady Macduff, the Witches and everyone in between. Youll learn each element of the plot from the first victories to Macbeths ultimate demise. Themes, major passages, and essay topic jumping-off points are also discussed. With Rebekah youll discuss topics such as misogyny in the play, who the hero really is, and whether the play is moral. The lesson concludes with a few secrets to make understanding Shakespeare a lot easier.
This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
Public Service Announcement
A lot of people (actors, especially) think this play is cursed. So if lightning strikes your computer while you’re watching, don’t blame me! (I’m kidding, of course. But as a favor to me, don’t make fun of theatre people who believe in the curse. It’s just mean.)
Written 1603—1607, after James’ accession to the throne.
Taken from Holinshed, and perhaps a bit from Antony and Cleopatra
Shakespeare removed Banquo’s guilt in the death of Duncan
Extra witch scenes added later?
First published in 1623
Ireland and Norway recently defeated
Macbeth’s and Banquo’s stars on the rise
Macbeth—Thane of Glamis, later Thane of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland
Lady Macbeth—Terrifying and ambitious wife of Macbeth
Duncan—good king of Scotland
Malcolm and Donalblain—sons of Duncan
Banquo—Friend of Macbeth, general, and putative ancestor of James I of England
Fleance—Son of Banquo
Macduff—Thane of Fife, friend of Macbeth (at first)
Lady Macduff—Wife of Macduff
Hecate—Queen of witches, goddess of witchcraft (not in the original, we think)
The witches’ prophecy: Thane of Cawdor, King of Scotland, father of kings
The prophecy fulfilled
Lady Macbeth’s encouragement
The murder of Duncan
Malcolm and Donalblain flee
Banquo killed, Fleance escapes
The natives grow restless
New prophecies: Macduff, unnatural birth, Birnam Wood to Dunsinane
Move against Macduff
Macduff and Malcolm
Lady Macbeth’s madness and suicide
Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane
Macbeth vs. Macduff
Macbeth dies, Duncan becomes king
Ambition → Corruption
Cruelty and Gender
King vs. Tyrant
Predicting the Future (Don’t)
Yay for the Stuarts!
“The raven himself is hoarse That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan Under my battlements. Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here …”
-Act I, Scene 5, 36-52
“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly …”
-Act I, Scene 7, 1-28
“… What hands are here! Ha, they pluck out mine eyes. Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? …”
-Act II, Scene 2, 55-61
“Out, damned spot; out, I say..…”
-Act V, Scene 1, 30-34
“I think it be thine indeed, for thou liest in it.”
-Act V, Scene 1, 122
“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. …”
-Act V, Scene 5, 16-27
How does the idea of prophecy play out in this story? Can the witches be trusted? Whose side are they on?
This play contains five kings or kinglike figures—Duncan, Macbeth, Banquo, Macduff, and Malcolm. How are they alike? How are they different?
Who is the hero of this play? Who is the villain? Do they change roles at any point? Do they change back?
Is Macbeth a villainous figure, a tragic one, or some combination of the two?
Some critics believe Macbeth is a misogynistic play for its portrayal of gender, especially women. Do you agree or disagree? (Either will work.)
What role does blood play in the story? How does it move the plot? How does it reveal character?
Why do some key events take place offstage? Is Shakespeare trying to limit the violence (including the use of drawn swords in front of a paranoid king), or accomplish something else?
People have argued over the morality of Macbeth practically since it premiered. Is Macbeth a moral play? Does it have a good or just conclusion? Does it celebrate evil? Examine the moral interpretation of this story.
The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
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