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MACBETH: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS
SHAKESPEARE AND MACBETH
THE SHAKESPEARE UNIT WILL REPRESENT THE CULMINATION OF OUR RENAISSANCE STUDIES, AND WILL CONTAIN MATERIALS FROM THREE SOURCES:
1. THE PLAY IN YOUR TEXT OR YOUR OWN COPY
2. VARIOUS INTERNET SOURCES YOU SHOULD HAVE;
3.STUDY GUIDE FOR ANALYSIS OF SHAKESPEARE-FOLLOWS BELOW: Some questions for study used below are based on: Odell Shepherd's Shakespeare's Questions published by Houghton Mifflin, 1916. Although dated and probably out of print, the questions for our play and several others are excellent study guides.
4. Modern studies include:
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare the Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.
Garber, Marjorie. Shakespeare After All. New York: Pantheon, 2004
McGill, Colin. Shakespeare's Philosophy. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.
Consider text supported responses, keeping in mind of course that Shakespeare's plots, although apparently simple--here a man wants the kingships, kills to get it, and meets an apparently ignoble demise--transcend the mechanism of chronology. Aristotle noted in the Poetics that the soul of tragedy is plot, meaning the dramatization of universals in which paradoxically, the pain evaporates thereby occasioning pity and fear. Can we pity Macbeth?
1. Provide a brief outline of the plot. What happens to whom? When? Where?
2. Who are the major characters involved in the scene?
3. Identify any words or phrases not in the footnotes that obscure meaning.
4. Begin to conduct an analysis. Look for inferences and implications that go beyond the literal meaning by:
A: identifying the common figures of speech--simile, metaphor, personification, alliteration, paradox, irony--noting... 1. when and where they are used, 2. who uses them, 3. why they are used--what they contribute to meaning
B: Look for words, phrases that repeat very often in the scene and which also may relate to other parts of the play. These are motifs.
C: Relate the scene to other situations in the play--does it advance the action? Slow it down?
5. As a check, you should be able to answer the following for each scene...
A. who is talking and to whom?
B. what does this character want?
C. where is the character and how does he/she feel about the place?
D. when does the character want what he or she wants?
E. why is the character so insistent? (What is at stake?)
F. why can't the character get what he/she wants? What is the obstacle?
G. how does the character plan to get what he/she wants?
[A-G by Len Mozzi]
6. What background material helps with the above: macro/micro, humors, storm imagery, theory on ghosts etc.
SPECIFICS FOR STUDY OF MACBETH:
MIMETIC APPLICATION: LOOK IN ANY EDITION OF THE WASHINGTON POST TO SEE WHY THIS PLAY IS MIMETIC
1.The play is considered Shakespeare's most concentrated study of evil and its consequences--why?
2. Note the supernatural elements--REFER TO THE INTERNET PRINTOUT ON RENAISSANCE THEORIES OF GHOSTS AND DAEMONS--this is a must read, and see below....
3. Note the ideas from the history of tragedy 2nd qtr. project that refer to this play.
4..If one purpose of a soliloquy is to dramatize consciousness, consider...
5. The influence of Machiavelli is essential here--lion, fox, his political theories etc. You will also need a King James' Bible for tracing scripture allusions.
6. Will Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero apply?
7. Recognize the following figures of speech as absolutely essential:
b. alliteration (especially on F and D)--see especially Act I, scene one
c. paradox --see especially Act I, scene one
f. use of emblem and foreconceit (Bacon)
g.macro-micro. analogies: Recall the Troilus and Cressida excerpt on the WEB.
8. Recall what a motif is and check for:
a. clothing as in "borrowed robes"--what does the motif foreshadow?
b. blood--obviously everwhere, but note how it foreshadows the deaths, morally, psychologically and mentally, of the protagonists?
c. animal disorder symbols-macro/micro storms and violence--what do Duncan's horses do?
d. images of the theater and banquet imagery are important
e. sleep--this is a major theme: What does Macbeth mean when he fears murdering sleep; who sleeps for him, and why can he "sleep no more?"
f. medical vocabulary from the Renaissance packet--especially dealing with insanity and madness
9. Remember that MACBETH is a tragedy on several levels at once: moral, social, political, family, military etc.
10. Role-reversal is an important idea--this is especially true for Lady Macbeth, and is best seen as the plot the death of Duncan. Ironically, Macbeth reaches his moral high point here, but he does not stay firm. What tactics does she use to persuade her husband? How well does she know him? Like Hitler, she can recognize a weakness and exploit. What is Macbeth's
Do you believe the Macbeths love each other, before and after the crime? What kind of a marriage do they have?
11. A theme passage, usually in the first act and spoken by a major character, defines the play's intent. Spoken by a major character, it contains the major themes, motifs and style devices in the play. Locate the theme passage of the play, and explain why it is so important to the action on a moral and a psychological level. I,i is a good choice, but try for one more spoken by Macbeth in I,iii.
12. THE IDEA OF EQUIVOCATION IS ESSENTIAL. FIND OUT WHAT IT MEANS, AND APPLY IT TO THE PLAY. YOU WILL NEED TO GET INFORMATION ON THE GUNPOWDER PLOT AND ONE FATHER GARNETT.--THERE IS A WEB SITE FOR THIS INFORMATION
13. Outline the action of the play briefly. Why is the action so simple, and the ideas so complex?.
14. Should this play be considered a tragedy of Lady Macbeth as well as her husband?
15. A critic has written that in today's world, those who are unfit are often saved from destruction by barriers that a technological modern society has erected to protect them, but in a Shakespeare play, "...tragedies make their effects of pity and terror by showing that strength that is not rounded and complete becomes its own destruction. Fate strikes unerringly at the one crevice in the hero's armour." Apply this idea to the main characters in the play.
16. Trace the gradual decay in the natures of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Are they aware of what will happen once the open the door to one evil act?
17. How does Lady Macbeth differ in approach to the supernatural from her husband?
18. In what sense are the Macbeths noble characters?
19. Compare Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in terms of their fitness for plotting and action.
21. The role of the imagination dominates the play. Macbeth early on warns that "Present fears/Are less than horrible imaginings..." [I,iii, 137-138]. What does he mean? Recall what we said about the imagination when discussing Burton's view in Anatomy of Melancholy. See also A.C. Bradley's commentary in Shakespearean Tragedy. Both works are on line,
For Burton: click here and a search engine will locate the number of references to imagination in the text (71). Locate passages that you think describe Macbeth: for example:
And although [imagination] be a subordinate faculty to reason
and should be ruled by it, yet in many men, through inward or outward
distemperments, defect of organ, which are unapt or otherwise
contaminated, it is likewise unapt, or hindered, or hurt. This we see
verified in sleepers, which by reason of humors and concourse of vapours
troubling this fantasy, imagine many times absurd and prodigious things, and
in such are as troubled with incubus, or witch-ridden (as we call it)...
(Anatomy of Melancholy: Of the Force of the Imagination, page 159)
What parallels to Macbeth are evident here? Two stand out straight away. Find others.
22. Be able to demonstrate how the play is mimetic to the ideas expressed in the Renaissance background packets to include:
a. macro-micro analogies
b. the supernatural: click here for my page on this site which explicates the role of the witches.
c. for an interesting modern exploration of witches as reported by ABC NEWS, click here.
d. psychology and the humors: recall the Renaissance psychology unit.
f. astronomical controversies
g. the gunpowder plot and equivocation
h. Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, argues that Macbeth most reminds us of ourselves. How? Read what he says, and correlate. Can you think of examples that prove Boom correct.
23. FOR THE SUPERNATURAL IN MACBETH ON THIS WEB SITE, CLICK HERE.
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