Monday, March 12, 2018

How is the death of Romeo and Juliet the fault of the family feud of the Montagues and Capulets? Are Romeo and Juliet responsible in any way for their tragic downfall?

Romeo and Juliet 

“Romeo and Juliet” was written by William Shakespeare in the mid-1590s. The play is famous because it basically sets an example of forbidden love and its consequences. 

In Romeo and Juliet, the long-standing family feud is responsible for the tragedy, the deaths of both Romeo and Juliet and others such as Mercutio and Tybalt. Had there not been a family feud, there would have been no need for Romeo and Juliet to hide their love. Likewise, Friar Lawrence would not have had to devise a plan to help the couple escape, a plan which leads to the death of the lovers.
If the Capulets and Montagues had resolved their differences, both Romeo and Juliet would have lived to have a happy life. The Montagues and Capulets realize the error of their ways too late. Nevertheless, both families resolve their differences after losing their loved ones, which doesn't make the play any less of a tragedy.
It is sad to think that Romeo and Juliet could have lived if two families had not hated each other. All the other instances in the play happen due to the hatred between two families. Although the families resolve their differences in the end, it is too late to save Romeo and Juliet. Two innocent young people die but possibly not in vain. The future will be be better for the remaining Montagues and Capulets.
But it was not only the feuding that lead to the death of both lovers; they both lead themselves to death. The tragedy is also the fault of Romeo and Juliet because they were the ones that made bad decisions. They both chose to love each other and keep seeing each other and did not think about the consequences of their actions.
Fate is responsible for all the tragedy and causes for the death of the lovers.

Monday, September 7, 2015


It is difficult to categorise The Tempest. There are too many dark elements to call it a Romantic Comedy, rather it is categorised as a romance.

With The Tempest, Shakespeare turns to fantasy and magic as a way to explore themes of romantic love (Miranda and Ferdinand), sibling hatred (Prospero and Antonio), and the love of a father for his child (Prospero and Miranda). In addition, The Tempest examines many of the topics that Shakespeare had focused on in his earlier plays, topics such as the attempts to overthrow a king (Macbeth,Richard II, and Julius Caesar), nature versus nurture (The Winter's Tale and King Lear), and innocence (Twelfth Night).

Historical and Cultural Context

Image result for black deathBy the beginning of the seventeenth century, the threat of the Black Death (the plague) was diminishing, but it still continued to be a seasonal problem in London, which was overcrowded and suffered from poor sanitation and too much poverty. Plays were not performed during outbreaks for fear of spreading the disease.

There was more wealth, and the newly rich could now afford to escape the congestion of the city. There was a need for large country estates, and so more and more farm land was enclosed.
Early in the seventeenth century, the masque that comprises much of the fourth act of The Tempest was becoming a regular form of court entertainment. Masques were elaborate spectacles, designed to appeal to the audience's senses and glorify the monarch and attempt to recapture the past. Furthermore, their sheer richness suggested the magnificence of the king's court; thus they served a political purpose as well as entertained.
Structure of The Tempest
There is really very little plot in The Tempest. There is the love story, and then there is the story of two younger brothers who covet their older brothers' titles and possessions. And finally, there is the story of Caliban's plot to murder Prospero. But none of these plots are given much attention or substance; instead, the play is about the complexities of human nature and about reminding the audience that the division between happiness and tragedy is always fragile and must be carefully maintained.
Although The Tempest ends with the promise of a wedding, it could just as easily have ended with tragedy. In this play, there are two murder plots and a betrayal to resolve. In a tragedy, these might have ended with the stage awash in blood, as in Hamlet, but in The Tempest, Prospero's careful manipulation of all the characters and their plans also controls the direction of the action. Prospero's avoidance of tragedy reveals his character's decency and contradicts some critics' arguments that he is an amoral demigod exploiting the natural inhabitants of this island.
The Tempest is unique in its adherence to the three unities. In hisPoetics, Aristotle argued that unity of action was essential for dramatic structure. This meant that a dramatic work should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The unity of time is derived from Aristotle's argument that all the action should occur within one revolution of the sun — one day. The unity of place developed later and is a Renaissance idea, which held that the location of the play should be limited to one place. These unities added verisimilitude to the work and made it easier for the audience to believe the events unfolding on stage.
Shakespeare rarely used the three unities, but he uses them in this play, something he has only done in one other play, The Comedy of Errors. All the events occur on the island and within one brief three-hour period. Shakespeare needed the three unities, especially that of time, to counter the incredulity of the magic and to add coherence to the plot.
The Tempest, although it is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, still maintains the integrity of the five-act structure. In fact, most Elizabethan theatre adheres to the five-act structure, which corresponds to divisions in the action. The first act is the Exposition, in which the playwright sets forth the problem and introduces the main characters. In The Tempest, the first act establishes the nature of Antonio's betrayal of Prospero, and it explains how Prospero and Miranda came to live on the island. This first act also opens with a violent storm, which establishes the extent of Prospero's power. Most of the play's remaining characters also make an appearance in this act.
The second act is the Complication, in which the entanglement or conflict is developed. In The Tempest, the conspiracy to murder Alonso is developed, which establishes that Antonio is still an unsavory character. In addition, the audience learns more about Caliban, and Stefano and Trinculo appear, allowing the groundwork for a second conspiracy to be formed.
The third act is the Climax; and as the name suggests, this is when the action takes a turning point and the crisis occurs. In a romance, this is the point at which the young lovers assert their love, although there may be complications. It is important that the way to love not be too easy, and so in The Tempest, Prospero has forbidden contact between Miranda and Ferdinand, although the audience knows this is only a pretense. In this act, the conspiracy to murder Prospero is developed, although the audience knows that Ariel is listening, and so there is no real danger. And finally, the essential climactic moment occurs in this act when Prospero confronts his enemies at the ghostly banquet.
The fourth act is called the Falling Action, which signals the beginning of the play's resolution. In this act, the romance between Ferdinand and Miranda is acknowledged and celebrated with a masque, and Prospero deals with the conspiracy to murder him by punishing Caliban, Stefano, and Trinculo.
The fifth act is called the Catastrophe, wherein the conclusion occurs. As the name suggests, this act brings closure to the play, a resolution to the conflict, and the plans for a wedding. As the play draws to a close, Prospero is victorious over his enemies, Ferdinand is reunited with his father, Antonio and Sebastian are vanquished, and Caliban regrets his plotting.
Literary Devices in The Tempest
Students of Shakespeare's plays quickly come to appreciate the literary devices that the playwright employs in constructing his plays. For example, most Shakespearean plays contain soliloquies,which offer a way for the playwright to divulge a character's inner thoughts. The soliloquy requires that the character must think that he is alone on stage, as he reveals to the audience what he is really thinking. In The Tempest, the soliloquy is not used as often as it would be in a tragedy, because the dramatic moments are not as intense. However, Prospero still uses this device, most notably in Act V, when he tells the audience what he has accomplished with the help of magic and that soon he will no longer have need for such devices.
A soliloquy is different from a monologue, in which a character speaks aloud his thoughts, but with other characters present. Shakespeare also frequently employs the aside, in which the character addresses the audience, but other characters do not hear these words. There is a suggestion of conspiracy in the aside, which allows the audience to learn details that most of the characters on stage do not know. For example, Miranda uses an aside in Act I, Scene 2, when she confides to the audience her concern for her father. The aside is usually assumed to be truthful.
Shakespeare's Language
Shakespeare's Elizabethan language can sometimes intimidate his audience. Shakespeare wrote most of The Tempest in verse, using iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter is a literary term that defines the play's meter and the stresses placed on each syllable. In iambic pentameter, each complete line contains ten syllables, with each pair of syllables containing both an accented syllable and an unaccented syllable. Many Renaissance poets used iambic pentameter because the alternating stresses create a rhythm that contributes to the beauty of the play's language.
Shakespeare also included prose passages in his plays, with prose lines being spoken by characters of lower social rank. Shakespeare uses this device to reveal the complexity of Caliban. In The Tempest, Caliban speaks prose when he is conspiring with Stefano and Trinculo, but when Caliban speaks of the beauty of the island, he speaks in verse.
Shakespeare's Elizabethan language can be difficult to understand at first. Use of a Shakespearean glossary and the Oxford English Dictionary are two sources that can help in understanding the language, but the biggest assist comes with practice. Reading and listening to Shakespeare's words becomes easier with practice. Reading aloud also helps in becoming familiar with early modern English. With time, the unfamiliar language and the rhetorical devices that Shakespeare employed in writing his texts cease to be strange, and the language assumes the beauty that is hidden within it.
Tempests within The Tempest
There are many tempests to be explored during the course of The Tempest. In addition to class conflict, there are also explorations into colonialism (English explorers had been colonizing the Americas) and a desire to find or create a utopian society. 
The storm scene that opens The Tempest establishes nature as an important element of the play and emphasizes the role of nature in society. Other tempests will be revealed in subsequent scenes, such as the emotional tempests that familial conflict creates (consider the conflict between Antonio and Prospero, and the coming conflict between Sebastian and Alonso); the tempests of discord (consider Caliban's dissatisfaction and desire for revenge) and of forbidden love (consider the romance between Miranda and Ferdinand). Finally, there are the tempests caused by the inherent conflict between generations. So, although The Tempest might correctly be called a romantic comedy, the title and the opening scene portend an exploration of conflicts more complex than romantic.


Monday, May 11, 2015


Shylock as Villian in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice 


        In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice the antagonist of the play is 

Shylock.  Shylock is a wealthy Jewish moneylender. Shylock is probably the 

most memorable character in the play because of Shakespeare's excellent 

characterization of him. Shylock is the antagonist in the play because he 

stands in the way of love, but this does not necessarily make him the 

villain of the play.  Shylock can be seen as both the villain of the play 

and as a man who is very human. 


      The villain that we see in Shylock is the greedy moneylender. 

Shylock charges high interest rates and when he is not repaid he insists on 

revenge.  In the play Shylock loans Antonio money, and out of jest he 

suggests that should the loan not be repaid in time Shylock may cut off one 

pound of flesh from Antonio's body.  Soon after Shylock's daughter runs 

away from home with Lorenzo, a Christian, and takes her father's ducats 

with her.  When Antonio's ships do not come in and he is not able to repay 

the loan Shylock is no longer interested in getting his money back. 

Shylock want revenge for the loss of his daughter through the fulfillment 

of the bond.  In court Shylock is defeated because of his selfishness. 


      Shakespeare also shows the human qualities of Shylock throughout 

the play.  Shakespeare brings out these human qualities by causing us to 

feel sympathy for him.  After the loss of his daughter Shylock ran through 

the streets crying "My daughter! O my ducats! O my daughter!" as children 

followed him, mocking him.  This causes us to feel sympathy for Shylock, 

even though we may feel him to be a villain. Besides the loss of his 

daughter and his ducats, after the trial Shylock also looses his property 

and his religion. The loss of his property was certainly a blow to Shylock 

but it can hardly compare to his loss of his religion.  His forced 

conversion to Christianity brings out more sympathy for him. 


      Shakespeare's manipulation of our feelings for Shylock show 

Shakespeare's gift as a writer.  He gave Shylock the ability to make us 

hate him at times, and sympathize with him at others.  This makes Shylock 

one of the most vivid characters of the play. 

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Shylock as Villian in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice." 11 May 2015


Merchant of Venice

1. Bestow – to grant or to give 
2. Burnish – to make shiny or to polish by rubbing 
3. Dulcet – pleasing to the ear, melodious, euphonious 
4. Epitaph – an inscription in memory of a dead person (usually on a tombstone) 
5. Gambol – to playfully skip or leap 
6. Grievous – characterized by severe suffering or sorrow, serious or grave 
7. Impertinent – insolently rude, not within the proper bounds of good taste or manners 
8. Impugn – to assail or to attack one’s honor or integrity 
9. Impute – to blame or to charge 
10. Malice – desire to harm others 
11. Mirth – gladness and merriment usually accompanied by laughter 
12. Mitigate – to cause to become less harsh or hostile; to make less severe 
13. Obdurate – extremely stubborn, unwilling to accept advice 
14. Obscure – difficult to see, vague 
15. Presage – something that foreshadows a future event; foreknowledge of the future 
16. Prodigal – wasteful, a person given to extravagance 
17. Quaint – unusual in character or appearance 
18. Spurn - to reject or to refuse with hostility 
19. Superfluous – beyond what is needed or required, an overflow 
20. Tarry – to delay in coming or going, to linger 
21. Vehement – forcefully expressing emotion or conviction 
22. Zeal – enthusiasm, fervor 
23. Wanton – immoral, lewd 
24. Trifling – not significant, frivolous 
25. Abate - to reduce in intensity or amount.

Monday, May 4, 2015


by William Shakespeare

Overview of the plot
We first hear about Macbeth from the Captain in Act I Scene 2. Macbeth has just "unseamed," or cut open, an enemy from belly button ("nave") to throat ("chops"). King Duncan, upon receiving this news shouts, "Oh valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!"

In the scene that follows, one of the three witches shows her friends the chopped-off thumb of “a ship's pilot,” shipwrecked on his way home. Macbeth meets the witches and they predict that he will be Thane of Cawdor and “King hereafter”. Shortly, Macbeth is bestowed with the title Thane of Cawdor. He begins to realise that there is some truth in the witches’ predictions. The witches also predict that Macbeth’s friend, Banquo, will father a line of kings that will last to eternity.

Lady Macbeth, upon receiving this news in a letter from Macbeth, prays to devils to possess her mind, turn the milk in her breasts into bile, and give her a man's ability to do evil. It seems that she has already realised that Macbeth will have to kill Duncan in order to become King.

When Macbeth arrives home, Lady Macbeth taunts her husband, ridiculing his masculinity in order to provoke him to commit the murder. She coldly talks about a baby with a smiling face she once suckled, and imagines in her speech, that it would have been better to smash its brains out than to make a promise that she had no intention of keeping, as Macbeth, now doubtful of his intention to kill the king, would prefer to do.

They both finally agree to kill Duncan. Macbeth kills Duncan, but makes the mistake of bringing back the knives he used to kill him. This forces Lady Macbeth to go to Duncan’s bed-chamber to complete the deed, by returning the knives that will cast suspicion on the guards, whom she drugged earlier with a sedative. The sight of the dead king brings home the enormity of the deed to her, and she later reflects that he reminded her of her father as he slept.

Great Chain of Being – note - The killing of the king was bound to upset the natural order of the world. Here is where your knowledge of the Elizabethan world order will help your understanding. The natural world is turned upside-down, horses go insane and devour each other while they are still alive, as if in response to the crime that the Macbeths have committed. (The Natural and the Spiritual Worlds parallel each other).

Some of the Scottish thanes suspect that Macbeth murdered Duncan, but he is crowned king anyway. But it’s not all easy going for Macbeth. He is plagued by the witches’ predictions and realises that he will have no peace till Banquo and his son Fleance are also dead. Macbeth alone decides to have Banquo and Fleance killed. He doesn’t share his intention with his wife. Why? Think about this…Macbeth convinces the two murderers, in Act 3 Scene 1, that Banquo has wronged them enough to warrant his death. Here, he is echoing Lady Macbeth’s idea that a real man would kill an enemy. Banquo is murdered on his way to the banquet that Macbeth has organised for him.

Macbeth is tormented by visions of the dead Banquo at the banquet in Act III Scene 4, soon after the murder. Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost with twenty skull injuries, any one of which could be fatal. He becomes confused and says the sight of the ghost, “is more strange than a murder is." He continues about how he used to think that once somebody's brains were out, he'd stay dead. But now he believes that people should remain unburied until the crows eat the corpse.

Even though Banquo is dead Macbeth can have no peace because Fleance, Banquo’s son, has escaped. He goes to the witches for psychological relief. The witches make incantations ("Double, double, toil and trouble... bubble"). The atmosphere of the desolate scene is very powerful. The cauldron bubbles away. Among the ingredients of this strange witches' brew are cut-off human lips and a baby's finger. It's not just any baby but the child of a prostitute who died in a ditch in which she was strangled soon after the birth. Macbeth is visited by three apparitions which remind him that “none of woman born” can harm him and that he need only worry when Birnam Wood comes before Dunsinane Castle. He is witness to a show of eight kings, which remind him of Banquo’s ghost, because each of them looks like Banquo.

Macbeth is completely paranoid by this time and when he learns that the Thane of Fife, Macduff, has fled the country, he suspects trouble. He decides to kill Macduff’s family. Lady Macduff’s little son jokingly discusses with his mother that there are more people who are bad than good people in the world. Lady Macduff comments on the foolishness of her husband in leaving behind his family. The scene is set for still more murders, those of Mcduff’s family.

In Act V, Lady Macbeth is strangely psychotic and is confined to her bed-chamber. Macbeth asks the doctor attending her to cure her illness. As the doctor has been privy to one of Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scenes where she reveals the cause of her illness and the part she played in the murder of Duncan, the doctor tells Macbeth that Lady Macbeth needs a priest not a doctor. Soon after, she commits suicide.

Upon hearing of her death, Macbeth seems resigned and unmoved. He just says, "She should have died hereafter." Macbeth’s chickens have finally come home to roost, but he straight-away delivers one of English literature's most famous soliloquies on the meaning of life, which begins wearily with the words, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.”

Macbeth contemplates suicide, but he decides to see it through to the end while fighting. Macduff returns with Duncan’s son, Malcolm, and an army to fight Macbeth. All the witches’ predictions come true again. Macduff tells Macbeth he was from his mother's womb “untimely ripped,” at the moment of her death. He kills Macbeth. The play ends and the conflict is resolved with the restoration of Malcolm as the new king.

Focus questions:
Even from this brief description of the plot some of the play’s themes can be guessed at.
1.       What are they?
2.       How do the images of women and children add to the impact of the plot?
3.       List some adjectives that best describe the emotional impact of the events.

Shakespeare's plays are still relevant today because his themes are universal. Macbeth has many themes. Shakespeare’s plays deal with pride, ambition, love, hate, war, racial prejudice and many more issues and ideas of concern to us today.

Some of these are:

Order versus disorder
The witches, and the corrupted ambition they arouse in Macbeth, represent the forces of disorder which are eventually overcome at the end of the play.

The Elizabethans regarded ambition as a flaw in a person’s character. Shakespeare makes this view clear through the words of Ross:
“Thriftless ambition, that will ravin up
 Thine own life means!”

In short, ambition is itself a catastrophe that destroys the person. The idea of a hero with a tragic flaw that brings about his downfall is an idea that has its roots in Greek tragedy. This is dealt with in more detail in the later section: The tragic hero.

Appearance versus reality
A familiar theme in Shakespeare’s plays is ‘don’t be fooled by appearances’. Shakespeare also expects audiences to question the reality of the events they see. For example:
1.       Macbeth is a presented as a brave and noble Thane. This may be true but for how long?
2.       Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth appear to be horrified at Duncan's death. Why?
3.       Macbeth sees a floating dagger - is it real, or is Macbeth possessed?
4.       Only Macbeth can see Banquo’s ghost? Why?
5.       The forest appears to comes to Dunsinane? How?
6.       Malcolm pretends to be more evil than Macbeth, supposedly to test Macduff. Why?
7.       Macbeth believes nobody can harm him. What does this suggest about Macbeth’s idea of reality?

The supernatural
The supernatural is presented in two ways, firstly through the evils associated with the witches. Secondly, through the spiritual healing influences of King Edward who has the power to heal the sick subjects with the touch of his hand.

Why does Shakespeare present two different views of the supernatural world?

Equivocation is a major theme of the play. Equivocation means to use deceptive language intentionally. Equivocal language is capable of more than one interpretation and is therefore ambiguous, that is, language that has a double-meaning.

The witches predictions are examples of equivocation. The predictions they make are meant to be believed but only in a misleading or ambiguous way.

Macbeth doesn’t realise how he has fooled himself with these predictions till Act V, Scene 5. He says:
“I pull in resolution, and begin
 To doubt th’ equivocation of the fiend 
 That lies like truth."

Act II Scene 3 represents a different use of equivocation, delivered in a humorous way in the porter’s speech. How is the idea of equivocation used?

Honour versus disloyalty
The idea of loyalty is introduced early in the play with Duncan’s comment about the Thane of Cawdor (Act I, Scene 4):

“                                                  There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face.
He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust.”

As king, Duncan should be able to depend on those beneath him. Disloyalty cannot be read from the look of a person’s face. Macbeth’s disloyalty represents a greater affront to the natural order, because it suggests that even valiant deeds, done in the service of the king, can be done for a dishonest reason.

Good versus evil
The knowledge that enables a person to choose between good and evil is an important theme that is examined in several ways. In Act I Scene 3, Banquo, reflecting on the nature of evil

“                                        But ‘tis strange
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths;
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.”

Later, in Act I Scene 7, Macbeth delivers an important soliloquy on the consequences of giving in to the evil of killing his King, and cousin. He knows, that to do so, is not merely to betray the trust of the king, but the trust of his own family. Speaking of Duncan, he says:

“                              He’s here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door.”

The idea of good and evil is expressed in other contexts too.

Manhood or masculinity:
In Macbeth masculinity is strongly tied to images of violence. Lady Macbeth questions Macbeth’s manliness or ability to murder the king. Later, Macbeth reminds the murderers that they are part of “The valued file” of men, but the value clearly depends on their ability to kill, when asked to do so by someone of superior rank. A different kind of masculinity is presented by Macduff who is not afraid to weep openly when he discovers that Macbeth has had his wife and children slaughtered.

Other important themes are: light and dark, nature and nurturing, and sickness and health. The play’s themes are examined in more detail in the later section: A Closer Look at each Act.

Literary devices
The idea of ‘fair’ omens becoming ‘foul’ is a symbol that Shakespeare uses to advance the plot, and to support the theme of appearances being deceptive. Other symbols relate to birds, blood, the weather, clothing and sleep.

An important symbol of the play is the image of an ‘innocent flower with a serpent under it’. During the reign of King James 1 a coin was minted that had a flower with a serpent underneath it. The audience would therefore recognise a powerful symbolic reference in Lady Macbeth’s advice to Macbeth to “look like the innocent flower but be a serpent under it”.

This literary device is used with great dramatic effect, which relates powerfully to the playwright’s purpose. A good example is the use of the witches in the opening scene, in Act I. The witches, and the eerie atmosphere that accompanies them, establish the mood of the play. They foreshadow the meeting with Macbeth upon the heath. Their chant that ‘fair’ will be ‘foul’ also foreshadows the topsy-turvy events that will flow from this meeting. The audience has been warned in advance that nothing is what it appears to be. Here then, is an example of theme and purpose being connected by the use of the literary device of foreshadowing events.

Figurative language is also used with skill and purpose by Shakespeare. Examples of similes — metaphor, personification, and alliteration …

Dramatic irony
Shakespeare uses both irony and dramatic irony in Macbeth. Verbal irony involves an inconsistency between what is said and what is meant. An example occurs during the banquet scene, when Macbeth expresses the insincere wish that Banquo should be present. The irony becomes apparent when Banquo's ghost appears and terrifies Macbeth.

More important in the play is 'dramatic' irony. This happens when the audience knows something the characters don’t. A good example is when Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle and expresses his delight over the pleasant setting. The audience knows what he doesn't: that his murder was planned here and that his gracious host and hostess will be his killers. The play contains many examples of both irony and dramatic irony.

Take note of these, in your response journal and metacognitive journal, as you study the play.

3. The Elizabethan world view

The Elizabethans believed in what is called the “great chain of being”. This concept described the structure of the universe and everything in it. The universe was said to be hierarchical, with God at the top. The nine orders of angels come next, each of which is in charge of a particular astronomical sphere, for example, the stars, the sun, the moon, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and so on. Next in the chain comes mankind, beginning with the Emperor, then the King, Duke, and so on till one comes to the ordinary citizens. Lower still on the chain are the peasants, beggars, and the Fool. Below man are the beasts, they also have a hierarchy or order: the lions or the elephants are at the top, whereas snakes and crawling animals are closer to the bottom. The birds too have a hierarchy, with the falcon at the top, symbolically the king of birds.

The “great chain of being” confirms the idea, or view, that nature is ordered and that everything has its place. The idea is not new and its origins can be traced back to the Greek thinkers Plato and Aristotle. Shakespeare has used the idea in Troilus and Cressida, where Ulysses describes the order of the universe as resembling “a ladder.” Ulysses hints at the chaos that results from upsetting the harmony of the ‘natural’ order of things.

Reflect and comment on the meaning of the following lines. You may need to use a dictionary.

“The primogenity and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows. Each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy. The bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than their shores
And make a sop of all this solid globe;
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead.”

As you read Macbeth discuss the idea of the “great chain of being” in terms of the relationships between the main characters Macbeth, Duncan, and Lady Macbeth, who are related by marriage and birth.

There are three more things to remember about this idea of the great chain of being. First, it represents a belief in the right order of things, which is disturbed only by wrongful acts, like the killing of a king.

Secondly, it combines facts with their value. For example, a King’s life is grander and nobler by virtue of the fact that a King is of a higher rank than a servant or a Fool; he is entitled to that rank.

Thirdly, the great chain relies on corresponding or analogous relationships. For example, a man may be the head or “father” of the household but the King is the spiritual head of all the households in his lands.

How does Macbeth undermine the King’s authority? What are the implications for law and order?

The idea of the “great chain of being” is also found in Holinshed’s Chronicles.


People living in Elizabethan times held vastly different beliefs and opinions to people today. Though our world is often chaotic we rely on our ability to find complex explanations for unusual or unfortunate occurrences. In the pre-Christian world, belief in witches and their magical powers, was deeply grounded in the minds of people in the European world. As Christianity became more established, the misdeeds of the Devil became associated with witches, who were thought to be acting as his agents.

Focus questions
1.    How do these beliefs compare with the way people who seem to have extraordinary abilities are treated today?
2.    How would people, who claim to have had an out-of-body experience, have been treated?

King James 1

It is believed that Shakespeare wrote and performed Macbeth during the reign of King James 1. Some writers also believe that Shakespeare wrote the play to please the King, as he is said to have seen the first official performance of Macbeth. James 1 was very interested in witchcraft, and he wrote a book on the subject, it is titled Daemonology. The book is about how to identify witches and their spells. The King also had a personal encounter with a woman named Agnes Sampson, who he believed to be a witch. Agnes told the King that she had cast a deadly spell upon him. The King was even more shocked when she quietly revealed to him the words that he had himself whispered privately into his wife’s ear on their wedding night. Agnes told the King that she had sent a cat out to sea when the King’s wedding ship was returning from Denmark, in order to cause a perilous storm.

Only the King’s ship experienced bad weather, and the other ships in the fleet experienced good weather. James ordered several witches, including Agnes Sampson, to be burned at the stake. These events influenced Parliament, and an act was passed which condemned to death anyone who was found guilty of practising witchcraft.

Focus questions
1.    Why did Shakespeare introduce the witches at the very beginning of the drama? Suggest ways that this could have affected the audience.
Think of this activity in terms of the following:
·       in context with the execution of Agnes Sampson
·       in relation to the real/unreal appearance of the witches
·       the witches’ symbolic or dramatic importance for the play as a whole
·       as a dramatic device designed to underpin the playwright’s purpose in presenting a tragedy in terms of the truth of the story.
Write brief summaries for each of your responses to these questions.

2.    The audience would have been aware of the King’s attitude to the witches. List the ways in which the audience would have reacted to them.

3.    How do the opening scenes set the mood of the play? Consider the following: how the witches look; how they enter; how they react to each other.

4.    How would the King have responded to the opening scenes in the play? Explain your answer by using the quotes from Act I which you think would have had the most psychological or emotional impact on him.

5.    How would King James have reacted to the thought of the witches trying to undermine a King’s right to rule? What do these reactions tell us about the dramatic impact that Shakespeare was seeking to create? Keep in mind the idea of the great chain of being, and the order of the Elizabethan world. Do audiences expect a play about an historical period to be ‘true’?

4. The tragic hero

The extent to which Macbeth can be regarded as a tragic hero depends on how closely his role fulfills the archetypal characteristics of a tragic hero, as it is usually defined according to the genre conventions of Greek tragedy.

The following characteristics are the essential elements of the tragic hero:
1.    Noble stature: tragedy involves the "fall" of a tragic hero, one theory is that the hero must have a lofty position to fall from, or else there is no tragedy (just pathos). One other explanation of this characteristic is that tragedies involving people of stature affect the lives of others. In the case of a king, the tragedy would not only involve the individual and his family, it would also involve the whole society. Connect this to what you know of the Elizabethan World Order.

2.    Tragic flaw (Hamartia): the tragic hero must "fall" due to some flaw in his own personality. The most common tragic flaw is hubris (excessive pride). One who tries to attain too much possesses hubris.

3.    Free choice: while there is often a discussion of the role of fate in the downfall of a tragic hero, there must be an element of choice in order for there to be a true tragedy. The tragic hero falls because he chooses one course of action over another.

4.    The punishment exceeds the crime: the audience must not be left feeling that the tragic hero got what he deserved. Part of what makes the action "tragic" is to witness the injustice of what has occurred to the tragic hero.

5.    The tragic hero possesses increased awareness: it is crucial that the tragic hero comes to some sort of an understanding of what went wrong before he meets his end.

6.    Produces catharsis in audience: catharsis is a feeling of "emotional purgation" that an audience feels after witnessing the plight of a tragic hero: we may feel emotionally drained, but cleansed.

Focus activity
How many of these elements can you identify in the character of Macbeth?

If you use a search engine using the words, “tragic+hero+Macbeth” and “tragic+hero+Lady+Macbeth” you’ll find many essays about Macbeth as either a tragic hero or villain. You are encouraged to read these to help you make up your own mind about the character and the nature of the tragedy.

Other considerations:
·        Can we hold Macbeth fully responsible for the evil deeds in the play?
·        Is Lady Macbeth feeble minded?

·        If Macbeth is a tragic hero, what is Lady Macbeth?