Aside. An aside is a statement made by a character in a play, intended to be heard by the audience but not by other characters on stage. The term may also be used to describe a statement made privately by one character to another so that other characters on the stage cannot hear it. In scene 3, Macbeth and Banquo use both kinds of asides. As you read, consider the meaning of the asides and what they reveal about the characters of the two men.
Conflict and Inciting Incident. The central conflict is the primary struggle dealt with in the plot of a story or play. A struggle that takes place within a character is called an internal conflict. The inciting incident is the event that introduces the central conflict. As you read act 1, determine the central conflict and the inciting incident.
Soliloquy. A soliloquy is a speech delivered by a lone character that reveals the speakers thoughts and feelings. Scene 5 opens with Lady Macbeths soliloquy. As you read it, consider what it reveals about her character.
Foil. A foil is a character whose attributes, or characteristics, contrast with and therefore throw into relief the attributes of another character. In act 1, Banquo, King Duncan, and Lady Macbeth all serve as foils for Macbeth. As you read, notice the differences in character between Macbeth and these characters.
Sources. A tragedy is a drama that tells the story of the fall of a person of high status. Along with Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, Macbeth is considered one of Shakespeares greatest tragedies. Shakespeare used Holinsheds Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland as the major source for his story. The Chronicles tell of the reign of a bloodthirsty, twelfth-century Scottish king named Macbeth. They also tell of the murder of the Scottish king Duff by Donwald. Shakespeare combined these two tales to create the storyline of his play for performance before King James I of England, who was descended from one of the characters in the play, Banquo. Shakespeares dark tale of a mans ambition and treachery, written in 16051606, strikes a frighteningly familiar chord today, almost four centuries later.
Reading the Play. Shakespeares Macbeth is a history, a chilling ghost story, and a psychological thriller. Few plays have ever matched it for sheer spectacle and suspense. As you read the play, remember that the script for a play is like a score for a piece of music. It comes alive when performed. To appreciate fully the experience of reading a play, you should visualize the scenes in your mind as they might appear on stage. Allow yourself to be drawn into the plays dark, disturbing atmosphere. Thrill to its many witches, ghosts, and other apparitions. Follow the murky descent of the central character into a horror of his own making.
Try not to be overwhelmed by Shakespeares use of Elizabethan English. Read each scene through quickly to get the gist of it. Concentrate on seeing the scene in your mind and not on the details of the language. Then go back and read the scene carefully, using the footnotes. Soon you will find that you have grown accustomed to Shakespeares English and can appreciate its sometimes spine-tingling, sometimes noble beauty.
One technique that will help you to grasp the themes, or main ideas, of the play is to look for and think about recurring elements, or motifs. These include references to ambition; to equivocation, or double-talk; to blood; to madness; to sickness; to foul weather; to manliness (or lack thereof); and to disturbances in the natural order. As you read the play, note these elements, and think about how they are related to one another. Also bear in mind that James I, for whom the play was performed by Shakespeares company, The Kings Men, was a staunch believer in demons and witches (about which he wrote a book) and in the Divine Right of Kings (the idea that kings gain their authority directly from God and, therefore, rule absolutely). To James, the overthrow or murder of a king would be an attack on the natural order of the universe.
Make a chart listing the characters who are foils to Macbeth on the left. List characteristics of these foils in the middle. On the right compare these characteristics to Macbeth. One example has been done for you.
You have heard the saying, The end justifies the means. What means would you be willing to use to achieve your goals?