Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights
Readers should look for incidents or comments that support or refute these major themes in the play:
Fate and Free Will
Throughout the play, Macbeth delights in the prophecy of the witches, but then attempts to change it to suit his own interests. Does Macbeth have any choice in the matter? Can he truly change anything in his future, or is he confined to a specific destiny despite any action he takes?
The Various Types of Rulers
Characters in positions of influence and responsibility demonstrate several styles of leadership throughout the play. Try to figure out what type of leadership Duncan, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Malcolm represent. Are they tyrants? Motherly or fatherly? Generous? Democratic?
Ambition as Evil
Macbeth, at first a loyal and valiant servant to his king and country, finds himself caught in an unbreakable chain of events once he learns of his potential sovereignty and wealth. Why does Macbeth, who seems to “have it all” already, insist on outdoing the prophecy so that he gets even more?
Guilt and Fear as a Single Emotion
Is Macbeth troubled more by guilt over his evil acts or by fear of punishment?
As you read, be aware of the following elements and terms, and note when each appears:
allusion pun comic relief tragic hero
Symbols. As you read, consider how the following items relate to the overall play. What, or who, might each one represent?
blood owls martins birds of prey sleep night snakes weather
Styles of speech determined by characters’ social status or emotional state. Watch for changes in rhyme and meter, and note which character is speaking when a change occurs.
armor heavy enough to deflect arrows