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English 382

Shakespeare
Class notes
7/18/11
Othello
Tragedies
Written mainly 1600-1610
Elements:
Typically end in death
Usually focused on individual (1, possibly 2), but not community
Nature is sinisteragainst humans
In comedies, nature is mysticalworking for humans
Tragic flaw
Mistranslation of Aristotles hamartia
Archery term: miss the mark
Probably more like mistake
Good question: is it in their nature (a flaw)? Or just a mistake?
Catharsis
Idea that the audience can experience, then have a purging of emotions
Othello
Iagos issues
-jealous of Cassio
-racist towards Othello
-class
-1.1.65 admits his villainy
1.1.155-56
How does this affect the audience towards Iago? How is he the
author of the play?
**maybe I dont like him because he has all the other characters convinced hes
Honest Iago. At least Richard III isnt fooling everyoneMargaret, even Lady
Anne.
Othello
Outsider, other, Moor
Racism
But when we first see him
-authoritative
-honorable
How does he got about courting Desdemona?
-speaks highly of Iago
-Duke speaks highly of Othello

-We get the impression hes an upstanding citizen, in contrast to the way Iago tries
to portray him at beginning of 1.1.
How is Desdemona characterized?
Speech 1.2.179-188
Shes direct, appeals to logic
1.3.246-258She want to go with Othello to Cyprus (war)
Iagos plan: bring down Cassio and Othello
-trick Cassio to fall out of favor
Plot twist in 1.2
-Turns back to Cyprus
Why is this in there?
What does this have to do with the story?
Turks pretend to go one way, but then go a different way
-Brings interior drama in focus
In some of Shakespeares plays, the drama moves outward, but in Othello, the drama moves
inwardWorldTurksends in Othellos bedroom.
2.1.1-2
Why are these lines important?
Nothing at all
Gentleman
-limitations of natural sight
-blindnessinability to discern things
-direct allusion to Iago and perception
2.1.150-160
What is Iago saying with all this?
Come onperfect virtue is boring, impossible.
Gender relations between men/women
Iago makes light of womens roles
Contrasted with the way Othello treats Desdemona
2.1
Iagos soliloquy
*spent a long time on this in class*
Knaverys plain face is never seen til used
Temptation scene in Act 3
-class: foreshadow?
Iagos plan for getting Cassio drunk?
Reputation

2.3.246-48
What does this say about Cassio?
7/20/11
Othello
Focusing more and more inward
Makes the play claustrophobic for the audience
Intensifies the psychological drama/trauma
Act 3
Why does Othello trust Iago?
-seems like they have a long history
Othellos dream?
3.3 Temptation Scene
Othello change from I do love her to seeking revenge
8/22/11
Othello Act 4
Othellos Language
-begins to deteriorate as he becomes more and more distraught
-4.1.32-44 handkerchiefNoses, ears, and lips!
Shakespeares trying to show the state of Othellos mind through his language.
Iago seems to feel no remorse at all about what hes doing.
Why does Othello continue to believe Iago and discount Desdemonas denials?
-bond between men
-past historyshe deceived her father
-insecurity on his part (this doesnt square with the text to me)
-Iagos lies
Emilia and Desdemonas conversation in 4.3 about men
Desdemona cant believe any woman would commit adultery;
Emilia is far more open, justifying.
Desdemonas incredulity highlights her complete innocence in the later scene when
Othello kills her.
Emilia as feministwomen have feelings, even sexual feelings, too.
Can she say such things because she is in a private setting?
Why does Othello kill Desdemona? And why does he kill himself?
Sacrifice?
Duty to protect virtues?

Duty to community?
Why doesnt Desdemona betray Othello, even at the very end?
Symbolism about her being smothered? Not poisoned or stabbed?
Happens in beddark twist on the end of a comedy
Why does Othello kill himself?
Justice (when he knows the truth, he realizes he must deliver justice)
He realizes hes not what he thought he was.

Othello
Themes and Relationships
How are themes of deception and jealousy manifested and treated in the play?
Iago jealous of Cassio and Othello, in turn manipulates Othello into being jealous of Cassio.
Os distrust and assumption of jealousy
Desdemonda deceives her fatherIago uses this to structure his plot.
I about OYet that I put the Moor A least into a jealousy so strong That judgement canot

How is the theme of appearance vs. reality treated and explored in the play?
I follow him to serve my turn upon him. Iago 1.1.42
Knaverys plain face is never seen till used. Iago 2.3.299
Iagos animal imagery about Othello
By Janus (two-faced God), I think no.
Brabanzio thinks Othello must have charmed, deceived Desdemona.
Iago 1.1.157-58 I must show out a flag and sign of love, which is indeed but a sign.
Iago realizes on everyone, including his wife, to accept his appearance. He is fully
conscience of his deception, even speaks directly to the audience about his plans and how
they are going, what he has left to do. As Iago speaks with Roderigo at the beginning,
Shakespeare uses phrases like abhor me, despise me, which Iago uses to insist hes not
lying to Roderigo. But these words are hints to the audience of Iagos evil nature. He can
convince Roderigo, and all the other characters, but he cant fool the audience, so in Act 1,
Shakespeare doesnt even try.
Desdemonas increasing silence from Act 3 to her death in Act 5 are both appearance and
reality. One way to interpret her actions, which are so different from the Desdemona, the
wooer of Othello, the woman who exchanges boldy, witty banter with Iago in defense of
Emilia, is that her silence and, at the end, refusal to accuse Othello of her murder is that she
is attempting to have her outward appearance be more in tune with her inwardness. She is a
virtuous woman, but all the things which made Othello love herher desire, boldness, etc.
now are part of what Iago is using to create suspicions for Othello. Perhaps she intuitively
hopes that being the picture of a silent, accepting woman will speak louder than any words
she can use in trying to calm Othellos rage. One critic I read argued that she goes so far as to
make herself an image, a portrait of the perfect woman, which in fact she is. But this is

problematic because in order to appear to be who she really is, she must change how she
appears.
Iago uses the tiniest appearance to

What are Iagos issues with Othello?


He feels slighted, not judged on merit.
Iago is a young man on the make driven by class, regional, and ethnic resentment and is
willing to use others as means to his ends (Norton 377).
Vicetries to destroy his virtuous antagonist
Colloquial intimacy with the audience
Mad that his plan 3 great ones of the city he sent to speak with Othello didnt
work
Class (preferment goes by letter and affection)
Regional
Ethnic resentment
Sexual jealousy
He enjoys the sport of ruining Othellos life.
Mad because he believes he is clearly the better choice for lieutenant

How does Othello explain his relationship with Desdemona?


Desdemona is given two chances to speak against Othellobeginning and end
Iagoreminds Othello that Desdemona deceived her fatherand also deceived Othello
once when she listened to his stories and seemed to be afraid, when actually, she loved
him then the most.

How is Desdemona characterized? How does she reverse the Renaissance stereotype of the
quiet, submissive female?
At the beginning, she is wooer of Othello, not the wooed
She exchanges witty, bold banter with Iago
If I had a friend that lover her, I should teach him but how to tell my story.
Yet at the end, she is the image/stereotype of loyalty and the silent wife
That I did love the Moor to live with him
My downright violence and storm of fortunes
May trumpet to the world.
How does Iago manipulate each characters frailties for his own benefit?
He manipulates openly, but so craftily that they dont the strands of web he spins.
Othellos free and open nature enables Iago to lead him by the nose
Desdemonas bold, generous spirit becomes evidence of an affair with Cassio
Roderigo-Cassio-Montano
suggest at first with heavenly shows
Small piecesbut one cup for Cassio
He uses the plausiblethe possibilitysuggestions/innuendo, then feeds Othellos
suspicions, draws attention to Cassio leaving Desdemonas chamber, but doesnt say it
directly, leaving the web to spin itself in Othellos mind.
Iagoas little a web as this when he sees Cassio taking Desdemonas hand
Personality flaws/traits

Handkerchiefthis is the one element which he imagines and engineer to happen by


asking Emilia over and over to steal it for him. All the rest of the manipulation elements
are simply things he notices and then takes advantage of.
Iago uses things that fall in his lap, ex. Brabanzios words about Desdemona deceiving
her father.
He says the truth, but in such a way as to make his victims think it is false, and the
opposite as wellabhor me despise me
Verbal ironyNo, sure, I cannot think it, That he would steal away so guilty-like Seeing
your coming.
When Iago agrees to kill Cassio, he then says to Othellobut let her live
Ambiguity (verbal irony) is he planting the suspicion?
Or does he want her for himself (jealousy?)
If the latter, then he certainly doesnt understand Othello and the love he has for
Desdemona, also bound up with Othells sense of honor and reputation. Not surprising,
since Iago has made plain how little he values his own life, and reputation as well, as he
insists to Casio.
How does Othellos relationship with Desdemona gradually unravel and deteriorate?
The handkerchief is the symbol of this deterioration.
Why does Othello trust Iago so much? Why does he refuse to believe anyone but Iago?
How does Iago use the power of suggestion to influence Othello?
What is the gist of Desdemona and Emilias discussion about men in 4.3? What might you
say about the gender relationships in the play?
Why is Desdemona so seemingly passive in her rebuttals to Othellos accusations? Why
does she seem to accept her death sentence? Why does she refuse to accuse Othello of her
death?
Why does Othello kill Desdemona? How does logic become irrelevant in his world?
Othello himself believes he is administering secular justice or performing a religious
ritual in killing Desdemona.
How is it particularly fitting that Desdemona is smothered in her bed? How does this relate
to the overall themes of the play?
Dark twist to the end of a comedy
Play starts outward Vienna to Cyprus to Othellos mansion to the marriage bed
Romancereuniting long-separated lovers
Othello kisses Desdemona before he kills hersexual imagery
Why is Emilia so willing to lay her life on the line to clear Desdemona?
Why does Othello kill himself?
Confronted with Desdemonas innocence, he assumes the same rolethis time,
however, executing himself.
Hence, the uneasiness of the ending, where the unwarranted projection of guilt entirely
beyong the confines of Europe is the precondition of that noble acceptance of
responsibility with which Othello so memorably leaves the world and the play.
My life upon her faith.
Foreshadowedsituational irony
Othellos answer to Brabanzios warning about Desdemonas deceit.

Structure
What is the effect of Iagos characterizing himself as a villain from the very beginning of the
play? Is he purposely trying to alienate his audience? How does he employ dramatic irony
with his audience? What effect does this have?
Iago as the playwright, director, controller of the play. He set himself up from the very
beginning as the playwright, but only the audience is fully aware of this (dramatic irony)
Vice colloquial intimacy with the audience
How might Iago be viewed as a playwright developing the plot of the play? How does
Iago construct his plot against Cassio and Othello? How does he ultimately involve
Desdemona in his scheme?
He is the driving force from romantic comedy to romance to domestic tragedy
Opening lines: Roderigo responding to something Iago has told him
Rodergio seems to only do what Iago directs
As all depart from the Duke, he even asks Iago, What will I do, thinkst thou?
Soliloquy in Act 1 and Act 2
Iago explains his plan/plot to the audience
The play moves from Venice to Cyprus to Othellos residence on the island to his
bedchamber. How does this increasingly inward movement create a sense of claustrophobia?
How/why is this important thematically?
Psychological play
What is the structural and symbolic importance of the handkerchief within the play?
Structure of the plot
Iago
Suggestion
Draws attention to Cassio leaving Desdemonas chamber
Description
Vivid descriptions of Desdemona and Cassio in bedhe allows Othello to
create/live images in his head.
Description of Cassios dream
Reason
Othello demands an ocular reason
HandkerchiefOthellos ocular reason
Othello assigns it as magicTheres magic in the web of it.
But before, he said it was just a token of his love
Hes losing logicthe handkerchief represents to him a web of lies
and deceit.
Poor Desdemona, who tries to stop Othello from thinking of the handkerchief by
bringing up Cassios name again and again.
Handkerchief
Structural importance
Iago gets the handkerchief in the middle of the play.
Symbolic importance
Othello is the one who drops the handkerchief, which Desdemona was
actually using to sooth him. The handkerchief is the symbol of Othellos
hamartia, ambiguity.

How is this play different from other Shakespearean tragedies?


Does Othello fit Aristotles definition of a tragic hero? If so, what is his hamartia?
Love of Desdemona same characteristics he loves are evidence against her
His free and open nature
Symbolized by the Turkish fleet coming, then notappearance, the threat of evil is not
the same as the reality, but Othello and Brabanzio cannot see that.
Noble victim or the barbarous dupe?
Domestic (newly married)war
Free and open nature, yet he is the murderer
Call what I intend to do/ A murder, which I thought a sacrifice.
Sex and deaththe marriage bed and smothering
Englands ambiguous relationship with otherssuspicious of jews, blacks, native
Americans, but also fascinated with them

Imagery and Language


How is Othello characterized as an other through the plays language and imagery?
What do you make of Iagos playful diatribe against women in 2.1? How is this contrasted
with Othellos expressions of love for Desdemona?
How is the concept of honesty explored and exploited through the plays language?
How do we see Othellos increasing paranoia reflected in his speech utterings?
How are verbal and situational irony used throughout the play?
How does Shakespeare use light/dark imagery throughout the play and for what purpose?
King Lear Class Notes
Famous scene when Lear demands his children to prove their love. Speak their love.
Why wont Cordelia play the game?
Why does Lear react, overreact, so terribly strongly?
Feels judged?
Cordelia was his favorite and he feels offended.
Is he mad already? Or is there an undertone here that we dont understand?
--playing with the problem of when to be disobedient to a kinglike the loyalty issue in
Macbeth
1.1.40-41
Nothing will come of nothing. 1.1.87
What does that have to do with foreshadowing?
He has to become nothing in order to see.
He will be stripped and removed from all and become nothing. Verbal and situational
ironywhen he is nothing, he will begin to see poverty and reality, also insanity

Destiny/Orbs/Pagan mythology
PlainnessWhat does it mean to be plain?
Direct speaking
Simplicity
Dress
France and Burgundytwo suitors
Seems like Lear is testing them; to whom are they loyal?
Reaction to a bride with no dowry
France sees the real worth of Cordelia
Thou, nature, art my goddess.
Why is Edmund so bitter?
He acts through logic; his bastardy and young status dont make sense to him
My shape as true
First thing he says to Gloucester is nothingSo please your lordship, none. I know no news,
my Lord. Nothing, my lord.
Difference in Gloucester and Edmonds view of stars, fate?
Edmond believes its foppery; Gloucester really believes in planets, stars
The role of the fool?
He sees King Lear for what he is.
Does this mean that everyone can see Lears mistake?
Does nay here know me? This is not Lear.
Hes not being treated like the king, father, so hes lost his identity?
Hes given up his authority; he has nothing.
He no longer has the power, authority; what/who is he?
Is he asking if hes going crazy?
Where are his eyes?
Goneril and Lears 100 knights
Why does she want him to get rid of half of his knights?
Shes fortifying her own resources
Demeaning him
Taking advantage of his recent past actions
Act 2
What kind of character is Edmond?
ViceRichard III, Iago
Manipulates everyone

****Hmmmmm, will Kent, the truth-teller, truth-bringer, see through Edmond? When are they
on stage together?
How does Gloucesters rejection of Edgar parallel Lears rejection of Cordelia?
How is Shakespeare doing this and why?
Sibling rivalry
Favoritism of Edgar/Cordelia predisposes siblings (maybe)
Play-acting
Kent attacks Oswald
Edgar as Tom
Kent in the stockswhats his argument for why he shouldnt be put in the stocks?
-shows Goneril and Regan have no regard for the king
-Lear beings to wonder if his daughters arent what he thought
-lear tries to excuse them?
Do we start to see Lears mental and physical breakdown in the second act?
We are not ourselves/ When nature, being oppressed, commands the mind/ to suffer with the
body.
Lear things Regan will help him and see how horrible Goneril is.
Natural and unnatural
Learthese daughters are my unnatural hags
Calling on Nature, natural forces
Act 3
One of the most complex act, thematically and plot-wise
How does family chaos escalate into more political chaos?
Conflict between Albany and Cornwall
Consequences move outward, as opposed to Othello which moves inward
Goneril want to control Albany; has designs on Edmond
Implications large for social order and kingdom
The Storm Scene in 3.2
Tells us Lears state of mind
Whats the symbolic significance of Lear in the storm?
Lear has realized the truth of Goneril and Regan
Out in the elementscant predicthes no longer in control

Naturetwo aspectshealing and destructionboth at the same to Learas


well as sanity/insanity
Lear is asking if nature is good? Indifferent?
Lear: I will say nothing. Like Cordelia said at the beginning
-resigned
From this point on, he loses his mind
My wits begin to turn.
Could mean hes going insane
Or hes beinning to change his mind, understand/see the truth
Going mad/learning truth
Why is he concerned that the fool is cold? First compassionate notice of another human being
seems to honestly have one part in his heart that notices another. Significant that hes talking to
the fool. Who is the fool? Often speaks the truthhelps to bring Lear to the truth.
Storm/Tornadoeye of the stormheat meeting cold
Role reversals of fool and king
Empathy as a reader/spectator
Increasing insanity required for increasing compassion?
Letters are much like the handkerchief in Othelloevidence, more than mere hearsay, and in this
case, written evidence. Symbolically important for Shakespearethe letters, written down, live
on, testify (sonnets)
Gloucester still believes Edmond.
Unnatural
Back to Lear, Kent, Fool
His understanding of the poor
Empathy
No longer king
He prays for the poor
While he had power, allegiance, he couldnt see truth (even though his Fool was always there);
couldnt see others.
3.4 interaction between Lear and Poor Tom
Disorder in his mind
Is he mad, does he have moments of lucidity?
Animal imagery

Why does the fool disappear at the end of Act 3? Is his role fulfilled? Why doesnt Shakespeare
use this character more?
Violence
What would motivate this
One a villain/always a villaintheir true nature released, unfettered from Lear
Shakespeares commentary on the abuse of power?
GloucesterI stumbled, then I saw.
Disintegration of alliancesAlbany refuses; Regan and Goneril
4.3
Cordelia returns
Christ-figure
Gloucester asks Edgar to take him to the cliffs of Dover
Why does he want to kill himself?
Nothing left to live for?
Edgar tries to give him a reason to live.
But have I falln, or no?
Learmoments of insanity, then lucidity? Significant that he out in the natural world?
How do you see his madness in his changing speech patterns?
Why doesnt Kent reveal himself now? Why does he stay disguised?
Edmonds plan w/ the 2 sisters
Does he have a plan?
Figuring out which one hell take?
Buildup of the battle, but fighting is over so quicklywhy so little text devoted to the battle,
when so much of the preparation was given so much text?
Didnt want to focus on contemporary wars with France?
Albany and Edmond struggle over who has power over Lear and Cordelia
What is Edmonds excuse for sending Lear and Cordelia?
Men are as the time is
Albany tries his best to save themEdmond puts him off
Theme of illness/sickness
Goneril poisoning Regan significance

King Lear
Themes and Relationships
What does Lears test for his daughters tell us about his character and motivations? What
do the three daughters reactions/speeches tell us about each of them?
Why does Lear renounce Cordelia as his daughter, and why is he so harsh with her? Why
does he banish Kent? What do these actions tell us about the kings state of mind?
How is the theme of sight vs. blindness explored in this play?
How does Edmond compare/contrast with other villains we have studied? How is he similar
to Iago in his tactics and approach?
Why does Kent disguise himself as a simple peasant? What are his motives and what does he
hope to accomplish?
What is the role of the fool in the play? How does he speak the truth? What does the
relationship seem to be between Lear and the fool?
What indications are there, even early in the play, that Lear is on the brink of madness?
We have two fathers (Lear, Gloucester) with good vs. bad daughters/sons (Goneril and Regan
vs. Cordelia and Edmond vs. Edgar). How does Shakespeare compare/contrast the two
familial circles?
How do Goneril and Regan band together to limit and control Lears power?
How does Gloucesters rejection of Edgar parallel Lears rejection of Cordelia?
How do Regan and Cornwall show their disrespect to Lear in their treatment of Kent?
Why does Edgar decide to change his appearance to that of a Bedlam beggar?
How does Lears mental suffering begin to be manifested in a physical breakdown?
How and why do Regan and Goneril continually attempt to cut down Lears forces of
knights? What is the symbolic implication of diminishing Lears forces, and how do the
numbers then become representative of the daughters love (or lack of it) to Lear?
Is Lears invocation-of-nature diatribe at the beginning of 3.2 more an indication of his
encroaching madness, or an outpouring of his disillusionment with mankind? Does he view
nature as basically good/beneficial or evil/harmful to man? What do you make of the
apocalyptic imagery?
How does Shakespeare play with role reversals in having Lear alone with the fool on the
heath in 3.2? (Who is the fool?)
What does Lear mean when he says that his wits begin to turn in 3.2.67? Is he losing all
rationality or coming to a more perceptive understanding of what is going on?
What is the significance of Lears concern over the plight of the poor in 3.4? How does his
exposure to human cruelty seem to increase his own capacity for compassion and
understanding? How is Lear becoming humanized through his experiences?
How does one explain the astonishing cruelty of Regan, Cornwall, and Goneril, who seem to
delight in tormenting and humiliating Gloucester in addition to their sheer physical violence?
How is Regan/Cornwalls violence mitigated by the humanity of the servants?

How do the wicked begin betraying the wicked in Act 4? How do Albany, Goneril, and
Regan work against each other in Act 5?
Why does Gloucester want his guide (Edgar) to lead him to the cliff at Dover? What is his
intent and why?
How do we see Lear move between sanity and insanity? Is it significant that Lear, in his
madness, is embracing the natural world? What might this mean?
How does Edmond use both Goneril and Regan to further his own ambition? How is the
power struggle between Albany and Edmond replicated in the power struggle between
Goneril and Regan over Edmond?
Why does Edmond confess when he realizes he is dying in 5.3? Why does he try to save
Lear and Cordelia from his order of death? Is he a changed man, does he fear for his soul, or
what?
What do you make of Lears misguided hope that Cordelia is not dead and will revive? Is he
simply insane, or does he truly feel that he might have saved her if he had not been so blind
and prideful? Is this a gesture of remorse?
What is Lear asking in 5.3.281-282 when he says, Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have
life, and thou no breath at all? How does his question go beyond his relationship with
Cordelia to address the cruelty of the gods and the lack of justice/order in the world?
Does justice prevail in the play, since the good people end up just as dead as the villains?
Does Lears reconciliation with Cordelia mediate the stark despair of the play in any way?
Does he truly come to understand the quality of her self-sacrificing love?
What do you make of Shakespeares treatment of the theme of betrayal, and the fact that he
illustrates betrayal between siblings, between parents and children, and between husbands
and wives? Are any relationships in this drama stable and secure enough to be beyond the
reach of the forces of power and jealousy?
Why do you think King Lear has been referred to as one of the darkest of Shakespeares
tragedies? Is there any sense of hope, redemption, or forgiveness in the play? What do you
make of the fact that even love leads only to death in this play? Is Shakespeare emphasizing
anything more than the inevitability of death or the cruel injustice of the world?

Structure
In contrast to Hamlet and Othello, how does this drama move continually outward rather than
inward? How does the family chaos escalate into political chaos?
Why does the fool drop out of the play after scene 3.6?
How do the political and familial strains of the drama converge in Act 4 and drive to a
climax?
How/why do you think Shakespeare sets the play in a pagan past with people praying to the
gods (despite the Christian imagery)? How does this highlight his treatment of themes of
despair, loneliness, and insignificance in the face of a cruel world? Is there any sense of
universal order in the play?
Why does Shakespeare devote so little space/text to the battle itself in Act 5?

How would you compare/contrast this play with Othello in terms of tragedy? How does each
employ the elements of tragedy differently?

Imagery and Language


What does Lear mean in saying that nothing will come of nothing in 1.1.88? How does
this phrase become significant later in the act? (When does it recur?)
What is the significance of Lears constant references to mythical elements, destiny, and the
stars? What are Gloucesters and Edmonds attitudes towards destiny/the stars?
How does Shakespeare work with the terms nature, natural, and unnatural in this play?
How does Shakespeare use the notion of plainness (2.2.85ff) to play with the theme of
appearance vs. reality or truth vs. deception? (What does Kent mean in characterizing
himself as plain? How does Cornwall use this idea to accuse Kent of deceit?)
How is the imagery of disease used in the play?
How is Lears turmoil symbolically reflected in the storm in 3.2? How does the chaos of
nature intersect with and reflect Lears personal chaos and the looming political chaos?
What is the significance of all of the animal imagery employed throughout the play? What
might it symbolize?
What is the symbolic significance of Gloucesters blinding?
How is Lears madness reflected in his changing speech patterns in Act 4?
How are joy and grief juxtaposed in scene 5.3 (with Gloucesters death) and more broadly
in the play at large?
What do Lears repetitive howl, howl, howl, howl (5.3.231) and never, never, never,
never, never (5.3.283) tell us about his state of mind and his view of life? How/why is the
language of these passages important?
Macbeth
Themes and Relationships
How is the theme of loyalty/betrayal explored and treated in the play, both with regard to
individuals and with regard to a nation (Scotland)?
How are themes of power and ambition treated in the play?
What does the play tell us about Scottish culture? What ideals hold this society together?
How is treason regarded?
How is Macbeth initially characterized? What kind of a thane is he? What are his strengths?
How do we see Macbeths ambition and desire for power manifest in his reaction to
Duncans announcement that Malcolm will be the next king?
If Macbeth is so unsure about the reality of the witches, why does he take their prophecies so
seriously? Why does he so quickly contemplate murder as a way to fulfill the prophecy?
What do we learn about Lady Macbeths character in her reaction to Macbeths letter? What
does she see as her role in Macbeths climb to power? What drives her, since she decides
Duncan must be murdered before she has even spoken to Macbeth?
Why is Lady Macbeth concerned about Macbeths ability to bring the witches prophecies to
fruition? What is your impression of the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?
How do Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use the notion of appearance (deception) vs. reality to
accomplish their purposes?

What are Macbeths principal concerns about murdering Duncan? What kind of an
individual is Duncan? When Macbeth initially talks himself out of murder, what strategies
does Lady Macbeth employ to push him to action?
How do we see the character differences between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in their
reactions to the murder of Duncan?
What is the significance of the scene between Macduff and the porter (2.3)? How is this
scene at the gate ironic, considering whats going on inside the castle?
In Act 3, Macbeth moves from being unable to commit to murder to murdering freely and
multiple times without much compunction. What has changed? Is his true character just
being revealed, or has the smell of power emboldened him? How much has Lady Macbeth
had to do with his newfound courage?
Beginning in Act 3, Lady Macbeth becomes increasingly hesitant and paranoid about the
ongoing murders. Do Macbeth and Lady Macbeth trade roles?
We see Macbeths paranoia in the ghost scene. What is the ghosts purpose? Is it only a
hallucination of Macbeth?
Why is Macbeth so much more haunted by Banquos murder that that of Duncan?
Are the witches independent agents or agents of fate (like the Fates in Greek mythology)?
Are their prophecies self-fulfilling, or do they predict the future?
What is the significance of all of the supernatural occurrences in the play? What is their
symbolic connection with the political and moral condition of Scotland under Macbeth?
What is Macbeths motive in murdering Macduffs family? Has he simply descended into
madness, since there is no political gain for him in murdering Macduffs wife and children?
How/why does Malcolm decide to test Macduff? What point is Shakespeare making here
about the proper kind of kingship for Scotland?
How would you chart/explain Lady Macbeths descent into madness? Does Macbeth also go
mad?
What are Lady Macbeths chief concerns in the famous hand-washing scene (5.1)? How
does this scene tie back to her earlier remark that a little water clears us of this deed?
How does Macbeth react when he knows the end is near? How has he changed (or has he
changed) over the course of the play?

Structure
How are the prophecies of the three witches for Macbeth and Banquo used to structure the
play?
How does the drama eclipse time and play with the coming together of past, present, and
future (especially with regard to the witches prophecies)?
How does Shakespeare use nature, both natural and unnatural, to help structure the play?
How do the perversions of nature act as premonitions of the evil within the castle in 2.3?
How does unnatural nature reflect the chaos of the universe in 2.4?
Why do you think Shakespeare decides to convey the election of Macbeth as king (seemingly
a major event) secondhand through the old man, Ross, and Macduff without allowing us to
see the event?
How is the banquet the central scene structurally in the drama?
Why is Act 5 divided into so many short scenes?

Imagery and Language


Why do the witches speak in rhyme? Why do they use a language of juxtaposition or
contradiction (as with fair is foul, and foul is fair)?
What is the significance of the weather/storm imagery? How does Shakespeare use it to
foreshadow events and themes of the play?
What do you make of Lady Macbeths entreaty in 1.5.39-42 to unsex her and fill her with
direst cruelty, to make thick my blood, stop up th access and passage to remorse? How
is Shakespeare playing with gender roles here?
How do you interpret Macbeths dream sequence soliloquy in 2.1?
Why does the porter speak in prose (2.3) rather than verse?
How/why does Macbeths speech change in 2.3 following the murder of Duncan?
What is the symbolic significance of the word done in 1.7 and 3.2? Can whats done
ever be undone?
How is the imagery of blood used throughout the play?
Why do you think Shakespeare employs so many hallucinatory images and sounds in this
play? What might the three apparitions in 4.1 symbolize?
Why is light so important to Lady Macbeth in Act 5? What might this symbolize?
Malcolm is described as the medicine of the state in 5.2. How does this tie in with all of
the disease imagery with regard to Scotland?
How/why does Shakespeare parallel Lady Macbeths out, out damned spot speech in 5.1
with Macbeths out, out, brief candle speech in 5.5? What is the connection?
How do you interpret Macbeths famous speech Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and
tomorrow . . . in 5.5.18-27?