Some of the strongest themes (or my favorites) from this play are psychological reality vs. objective reality (and the exploration of mental states affected by stress and by shift moral thinking) as well as the ideas of guilt and responsibility.
To help students explore these themes in an essay, I might ask:
- Who is ultimately more guilty for the murder of Duncan - Macbeth or Lady Macbeth? Who is more responsible? How are these two ideas different?
- How would you defend Macbeth's actions if you were an attorney and he was on trial?
- How can the illusions in Macbeth be interpreted as self-serving?
Harold Bloom, renowned Shakespearean critic, writes that Freud learned from Shakespeare.
- As our first psychologist, what do we learn of "vaulting ambition" from Shakespeare?
- Which modern leader sufferend many of the same psychoses as Macbeth?
- How was this person's life altered by such "vaulting ambition"?
If you want to focus on the language of the play (perhaps from an Advanced Placement English Language and Composition perspective), you could discuss various rhetorical strategies prevalent in the play, such as:
1. How does Lady Macbeth rely upon Aristotle's three appeals--logos, ethos, and pathos--to advance her argument?
2. How does equivocation affect Macbeth's interpretation of the witches' "prophecies"?
3. What does Shakespeare's altering from verse to prose within the play demonstrate about his characters' state of mind?
You might want to focus on a particular scene and discuss the following issues:
(1) how does it contribute to the over-all design of the play?
(2) how and why would the play be deficient without that scene?
(3) how is the scene constructed?
(4) how is the scene effectively phrased? what makes it memorable and worth re-reading.
One advantage of this approach is that it will allow you to be both focused and comprehensive at the same time. It will also allow you to explore the qualities that make Shakespeare a great writer, both for the page and for the stage.
Shakespeare's tragedies always invite an analysis of the tragic hero. You could investigate the traditional qualities of the tragic hero and then analyze where and how Macbeth fulfills that definition. You could also do the same for the genre of tragedy as a whole. Ask yourself, what is the tragedy of the play? Is it a character's death, or something more important than that?
I also think that an essay on the role of "personal responsibility" is interesting. Macbeth is surrounded by people that influence his actions, but ultimately, he makes his choices. What is Shakespeare suggesting about the importance of personal responsibility?
There are LOADS for you to choose from. For me, my personal favourites are as follows:
Comment on the theme of appearance vs. reality.
Discuss the development of the character of Macbeth, in particular focusing on his presentation in the final scenes of the play.
Compare and contrast Banquo and Macbeth and their responses to the prophecies of the witches.
Analyse the marriage of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth.
In addition to these, you can also examine any one of Macbeth's soliloquies and analyse how it relates to the play as a whole and the development of his character.
Thank you. Your responses are greatly appreciated. This will really help me revise :)