Macbeth Reading Questions

Acts I and II:

1. Why is the King of Scotland at war in the opening of the play? How is the battle going, according to the Captain? What role has Macbeth played in the fray? Why is he to become “Thane of Cawdor”?

2. Macbeth calls the witches “imperfect speakers” at 1.3.67. What does he mean by this? How does he respond to their prophesies in 1.3? How does Banquo react?

3. Note how Macbeth and the King greet one another in 1.4. What does the King tell Macbeth that upsets him?

4. Macbeth claims at the beginning of 1.7 that the King is in his castle in “double trust” (1.7.12). What does he mean by this?

5. Macbeth hears something at 2.1.62–what is it? Note that this is the first of many sounds that Macbeth and other characters hear throughout the play. What other sounds are in the stage directions or mentioned by various characters?

6. Where do the King’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, go after the murder? Why?

Acts III and IV:

1. In Act III, Macbeth dispatches two men to kill Banquo (Why?). Why won’t he do the deed himself (3.1.119-124)?

2. In 3.2.15 ff., what change does Macbeth tell us has come over him since the death of Duncan? What other effects has the murder had on him and Lady Macbeth?

3. Note that the Murderers botch up the plans in 3.3. How does this happen?

4. What appears to Macbeth during the banquet scene in 3.4. How do we know that we in the audience are also supposed to see what Macbeth is seeing? How does Lady Macbeth explain her husband’s strange behavior?

5. We learn in 3.6 that, once again, someone else is being blamed for the crimes of Macbeth. Who is suspected of killing Banquo?

6. What do we learn from the lord at 3.6.24 ff. about the whereabouts of Macduff? What has Malcolm been up to since fleeing Scotland?

Act IV:

7. In 4.1, Macbeth witnesses three images, and then “a show of eight kings.” According to your notes in the Norton, what do those three images represent, and who is the last of these eight kings?

8. Malcolm plays a trick on Macduff in 4.3. What is it, and why does he deceive him?

9. Finally, what does Malcolm tell us about the English king in 4.3.147-160? How does this contrast to Macbeth?

Act V:

1. At 5.3.41, Macbeth commands the doctor to “cure her of that…” What does Lady Macbeth need to be cured of? In the continuation of the speech (lines 42-47) what metaphors does Macbeth use to discuss her “cure”?

2. In 5.4, we learn how one of the Witches’ prophecies will come true. WHY does Malcolm tell his soldiers to cut down “boughs” from Birnam wood?

3. Make sure to look carefully at Macbeth’s famous speech at 5.5.16-27. Note the metaphors that Macbeth is putting to work in this speech. What is he saying here about “time”?

4. At 5.10.23 ff., Macduff says he plans to do what with Macbeth after he defeats him?

5. It’s easy to miss, but note the exchange between Ross and Siward in 5.11, discussing the death of Siward’s son (staged in 5.7). Why, specifically, is Siward proud of his son’s actions?

6. Macduff says in his final speech that “the time is free.” What do you think he means by this? How does this relate to Malcolm’s promise that they will perform all of their actions “in measure, time, and place” (5.11.39)?