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William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 5:
Easier questions to cut your teeth on!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 23 January 2014
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In this scene we are introduced to Lady Macbeth. Unlike her husband whom we saw as a valiant soldier and one whom all Scotland honoured as its saviour, Lady Macbeth is presented as a cunning manipulator.

Indeed, she's a ruthless woman who will stop at nothing to attain her objectives. From the very first word she speaks, one realises that murder is never far from her mind.


Macbeth's visit to the witches puts him in a state of mental vacillation. They had promised him the crown but didn't say how he would obtain it.

Lady Macbeth puts all doubt out of mind. The moment she receives her husband's letter explaining his strange visit to the witches, she jumps to an immediate conclusion that her husband will indeed be king although he must murder Duncan to win the crown.

At the same time, she realises that Macbeth has a loyal nature. He has the ambition to become king but not the courage to murder.

She decides that it will be her task to manipulate him into the deed. To do this, she calls upon all the evil spirits in the world to fill her with absolute cruelty, that no hint of kindness will remain in her body.

When Macbeth arrives and announces that Duncan intends to spend the night in their castle, Lady Macbeth leaps into action. She immediately instructs her husband how to act so that he will not be suspected of any foul plans.

The audience knows that, with such an introduction, Macbeth has little chance to resist. He will be coaxed and bullied into murder.

We are also presented with a man who would appear to be much weaker than his wife -- or is her strength merely a facade to hide a softer inner nature?

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Lady Macbeth enters the stage reading a letter.
  • Who wrote this letter and why was it written? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What was Lady Macbeth's immediate reaction to the letter? What was her intention after reading it? (4)

[Need help?]

"Yet do I fear thy nature:
It is too full o'the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way."
  • What did Lady Macbeth mean when she said this of her husband? (4)

[Need help?]

When the attendant announced that the king would be coming to their castle for the night, Lady Macbeth responded, "Thou'rt mad to say it."
  • Explain her peculiar answer. (4)

[Need help?]

"The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements."
  • What is the significance of the raven? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why should the raven be "hoarse"? (2)

[Need help?]

Contrast what we already know of the character of Macbeth with Lady Macbeth as she is presented in this scene. (6)

[Need help?]

"Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry 'Hold, hold!'"
  • Comment on Lady Macbeth's character as revealed in these lines. (4)

    [Need help?]

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