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44 votes

How did Shakespeare get away with staging witchcraft in his plays such as Othello, Macbeth, or The Tempest?

The public saw the plays were fiction, perhaps even a warning against witchcraft, and the magic in them is divorced of religious overtones. It is noteworthy that the two Shakespeare plays which deal ...
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33 votes

Since when has Shakespeare's "Scottish play" been considered unlucky?

tl;dr The superstition that Macbeth is unlucky and must not be named is often supposed to date from the very first performance, or very shortly thereafter. However, a documented belief in this alleged ...
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24 votes
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Why does the prophecy imply Macbeth has to murder the king?

You are quite right that the witches did not prophecy that Macbeth would murder Duncan, and so the option was available to him to “play it safe”: that is, to wait and see how the prophecy transpired, ...
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21 votes
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What reference is Shakespeare making in Act 2 Scene 2 of Macbeth?

It's a Biblical reference. Noting that Macbeth is speaking of his own hands, and his own fears, How is ’t with me when every noise appals me? it is clear that this is an allusion to Matthew ...
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19 votes

Why does the murderer call Macduff's son "egg"?

A. R. Braunmuller (Macbeth, New Cambridge Shakespeare, 1997) provides the following gloss: Contemptuous epithet for a young person (OED Egg sb 2b, citing only this line and another from 1835); (...) ...
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18 votes

Why does Shakespeare sometimes use "do" with the verbs in his plays?

Rhythm The word ‘do’ fills what would otherwise be a gap in the rhythm. With ‘do’ you can scan the line as regular iambic pentameter: x / x / x / x / x / x As two ...
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18 votes
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Did Lady Macbeth communicate signs of her instability prior to the blood scene?

Oh, yeah, she's clearly unstable from the moment we meet her. Even better, she chooses to be unstable. In her very first appearance, she calls on supernatural forces to remove all traces of compassion:...
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17 votes
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Is Macbeth or Lady Macbeth the real villain in Shakespeare's play?

Lady Macbeth is the villain. Macbeth is, in fact, a tragic hero. The first time I ever read Macbeth I was struck by the feeling of sympathy I had for the eponymous character at the end of the play. He ...
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15 votes

What reference is Shakespeare making in Act 2 Scene 2 of Macbeth?

Possibly the Bible? From Matthew 18:9: And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be ...
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14 votes
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What does Lady Macbeth mean by "what thou art promised"?

The other answers have explained the meaning of the line—that Macbeth shall be king, as he was promised by the witches—but there is more to say about the choice of wording. The difficulty here arises ...
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14 votes
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In Macbeth, why is Fleance 'scaped?

The murderer’s choice of words here is an attempt to deflect or minimize his responsibility for the failure to kill Fleance. He knows that he and his fellows failed Macbeth (“We have lost best half of ...
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12 votes

Why do the witches in Macbeth rarely speak in iambic pentameter?

The metre in Macbeth is already fairly irregular but the lines spoken by the Witches or "Weird Sisters" still stand out. In Act 1, scene 3, Banquo describes the witches as follows (quoted from Open ...
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11 votes

What's the meaning of "give someone the lie" in Macbeth?

To "give the lie" is an English expression meaning to expose a lie, or show a thing is not true. It is still in use today. to show that something is not at all true These figures give the lie to ...
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11 votes

Why does the prophecy imply Macbeth has to murder the king?

It is indeed true that the prophecy of the three Weyard Sisters does not imply that Macbeth would need to murder king Duncan. In fact, in Holinshed's Chronicles, Shakespeare's source for the play, ...
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9 votes

Why does the murderer call Macduff's son "egg"?

When Shakespeare uses an unfamiliar or idiomatic word or phrase, he quite often doubles it with a more conventional one, with the effect of explaining it "in place." There's a good example ...
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9 votes
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How many children had Lady Macbeth?

Shakespeare's play differs very substantially from actual events (the historical Macbeth reigned for about 17 years). However, according to Wikipedia the historical Lady Macbeth had a son Lulach ...
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9 votes
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Do we have any solid evidence for how much material Middleton contributed to Macbeth?

The composition of Macbeth is usually dated to 1606, i.e. some time after the Gunpowder Plot of 5 November 1605, to which it contains an allusion (see e.g. Braunmuller, page 6). (Arguments for an ...
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8 votes

Why do the witches in Macbeth rarely speak in iambic pentameter?

Trochaic meter (consisting of singular trochees) is the exact opposite of iambic meter: trochaic meter a metrical foot made up of one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed syllable. Conversely, ...
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8 votes

Do we have any solid evidence for how much material Middleton contributed to Macbeth?

Introduction The accepted date for Macbeth is 1606. This date, first proposed by the 18th C scholar and editor Edmund Malone, has never been seriously challenged. Yet the earliest surviving text of ...
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8 votes
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When did Macbeth kill Duncan's chamberlains?

Option 2 is correct: Macbeth killed the chamberlains during act II scene 3, where the sequence of events is as follows: Macduff goes to visit Duncan in his chamber. Macduff. I’ll make so bold to ...
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7 votes

What does Lady Macbeth mean by "what thou art promised"?

What Lady Macbeth means with "what thou art promised" is the kingdom that Macbeth was supposedly "promised" in the witches' prophecy. All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis! All hail, ...
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7 votes
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Was Shakespeare inspired by Olaus Magnus when writing Macbeth?

TL;DR: No. It is generally believed that Shakespeare based Macbeth on Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, Volume 5 (1587). This is not just because Shakespeare's version ...
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7 votes

What reference is Shakespeare making in Act 2 Scene 2 of Macbeth?

The OP states that the source is hard to spell. That can't apply to the Bible. A classical character who actually blinds himself is Oedipus. His crime is the same as the one Macbeth contemplates--...
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7 votes
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Why did the Witches give the prophecy in the first place?

The Witches are supernatural in character and Satanic. They delivered a self-fulfilling prophecy to tempt Macbeth into willingly committing evil deeds to secure his soul. A common motif in mythology ...
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6 votes

Any textual evidence from Shakespeare's Macbeth regarding Macbeth's oath to kill the king?

I think we are to understand that he made his oath to Lady Macbeth between the end of Act I Scene V and the start of Act I Scene VI MACBETH: We will speak further. LADY MACBETH: Only look up ...
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6 votes

Why does Macbeth say ‘throw physic to the dogs’?

Since MacBeth continues to talk to the doctor afterwards, and specifically asks him to heal his country, it doesn't sound like he's objecting to the doctor or the practice of healing overall. "For the ...
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6 votes
Accepted

Why is Macbeth's "vaulting ambition" so important and famous?

This is a passage that has puzzled many readers! “Vault” means “jump or leap, especially over or onto something”. The word is still used for various kinds of gymnastic feat, whether over equipment, or ...
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6 votes

When did Macbeth kill Duncan's chamberlains?

TL;DR There is no plot hole here. Macbeth killed the chamberlains in Act 2, scene 3, when the murder of King Duncan is discovered. Critics debate whether Lady Macbeth's fainting is feigned or real. ...
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6 votes
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Why could Banquo see the three witches?

As per my comment, you are begging the question. The fact that Shakespeare introduces the witches before having Macbeth meet them, and has Banquo seeing them, suggests that he wanted to establish that ...
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5 votes

What is the underlying reason for Macbeth to write the letter?

Shakespeare’s problem is how to get from I.4 (at Forres, where Macbeth has heard the witches’ prophecy and been made thane of Cawdor) to I.5 (at Inverness, where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plot the ...
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