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Macbeth Act 1 Discussion Questions

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

In this lesson, we look at some important discussion questions related to Act 1 of Shakespeare's ''Macbeth'', and provide reasons for their importance as well as answer guides.

Background

Like his other tragedies, William Shakespeare's Macbeth is full of complex characters and important plot points. From the very first page, and before we are even introduced to any characters, important events are happening. And things get more interesting from there. With that in mind, let us begin.

The Witches

The First Page

What's the point of the very first exposition, or description of events, in Macbeth?

Act 1 of Macbeth opens with three witches appearing in a massive storm, near where Macbeth and Banquo are engaged in a bloody battle. This is an important exposition, even before anyone has said a word, because it sets the tone for the whole play. It is a foreboding, or ominous, setup, and clearly signals the evil and dread that will exist throughout the play. Right from the start, we get a feeling that nothing good will happen in this play.

The Witches' Predictions

Why are the three witches' prophecies important?

The witches' prophecies about Macbeth and Banquo set in motion everything that happens in the play. They predict that Macbeth will be king, and that Banquo's sons, not Banquo himself, will be kings as well.

After the witches' smaller predictions come true, Macbeth, trusting and greedy, believes in their prophecy, and develops ambitions to be king. Banquo, meanwhile, is cautious, and not completely sold on the witches' prophecies. Everything else that happens in the play feeds off of Macbeth's awakened ambitions.

King Duncan

How does King Duncan react to the news of Cawdor's death?

After the Thane of Cawdor's treason has been found out, he is sentenced to death. King Duncan's son, Malcolm, reports to his father that just before he was executed, Cawdor confessed, repented, or apologized, and asked for forgiveness.

King Duncan reacts sadly, and talks about how Cawdor had been a trustworthy friend. He then tells Malcolm that one can never tell what is in someone's heart by looking at their face. This foreshadows, or signals, what is to going to happen between King Duncan and Macbeth, who Duncan knows as a fiercely loyal soldier and subject.

Lady Macbeth

The Letter

What does Lady Macbeth say after she reads Macbeth's letter?

Macbeth, still away from his castle, writes Lady Macbeth and tells her all about the witches' prophecies and his ambitions to be king. But she has her doubts about him. Lady Macbeth does not believe that her husband is ruthless enough to do what it takes to become king. She decides that she must take matters into her own hands, and convince Macbeth to do what he must to rise to the throne.

Doubts

How does Macbeth react to Lady Macbeth's idea to kill King Duncan?

After Macbeth comes home, he tells Lady Macbeth that King Duncan will be over for dinner that evening. Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth that he must use this opportunity to kill King Duncan and take over the throne. Lady Macbeth tells her husband that he must be the perfect host so he won't arouse any suspicions, but also be ready to act when the time comes.

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