Comprehension and analysis

2. Macbeth’s letter, p. 145, ll. 1-10

a) Read the letter to yourself. Try to imagine what a wife in this situation might do with this news. Look at the statements below. Complete the table, indicating which statements you think may be true, which false, or if you are not certain, tick the column headed ?. Add at least one statement.


A wife in this situation





would be worried by his ambition and superstitious nature.




would be proud of his success.




would be excited about the prospect of being queen herself.




would be worried in case the “Weird Sisters” were evil spirits.




would fear that this might change their lives.

















b) In pairs or groups: compare and discuss. If possible, reach an agreement.


Comprehension and analysis

3. P. 145, ll. 11-26

a) What qualities does Macbeth possess according to Lady Macbeth? Why are these qualities an impediment now?


According to Lady Macbeth’s knowledge of her husband’s character, Macbeth is










is willing to commit an evil act to reach his goal.




is too honourable a man to commit an evil act.




is too full of the milk of human kindness to commit an evil act.




will do anything to reach his goal.

has no moral scruples.

has too many moral scruples.



b) In pairs or groups: compare and discuss. If possible, reach agreement.


Overall questions

2. Should Lady Macbeth be portrayed as a fiend, as a caring wife or …?

Which of the following three statements do you agree with most? Why?


a) “Lady Macbeth is by far the stronger and more vicious member of the partnership. Lady Macbeth has ambition, she wants a crown, and Macbeth is going to get it for her. Calling on the spirits of murder, she is almost a fourth witch. She is in harmony with dark night, birds of ill omen, and things that are damned.”


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b) “Lady Macbeth puts her husband before herself, tries to kill her own better nature for his sake, and finds that the cost has been too great.

Love, rather than ambition, is the centre of her world. Macbeth promises her greatness, but it is his greatness that she is more concerned about.”  


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c) “… in the opening act at least, Lady Macbeth is the most commanding and perhaps the most awe-inspiring figure that Shakespeare drew. Sharing, as we have seen, certain traits with her husband, she is at once clearly distinguished from him by an inflexibility of will, which appears to hold imagination, feeling, and conscience completely at check. To her the prophecy of things that will be becomes instantly the determination that they shall be:

    Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be

    What thou are promised


She knows her husband’s weakness, how he scruples ‘to catch the nearest way’ to the object he desires; and she sets herself without a trace of doubt or conflict to counteract this weakness. To her there is no separation between will and deed; and, as the deed falls in part to her, she is sure it will be done:

    The raven himself is hoarse

    That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan

    Under my battlements.


On the moment of Macbeth’s rejoining her […] she takes superior position and assumes the direction of affairs, – appears to assume it even more than she really can, that she may spur him on. She animates him by picturing the deed as heroic, ‘this night’s great business,’ or ‘our great quell,’ while she ignores its cruelty and faithlessness. […] Besides […] in these earlier scenes the traces of feminine weakness and human feeling, which account for her later failure are not absent. […] The appalling invocation of the spirits of evil to unsex her and fill her from the crown to the toe topful of direst cruelty, tells the same tale of determination to crush the inward protest.”


from A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, Meridan, 1955