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William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 6:
Some questions to test you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 23 January 2014
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King Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle. It is a scene of great tranquillity, where nature is at peace. Even Lady Macbeth's speech of welcome drips with human kindness.


In Shakespearian times, nature was considered to be God's playground, a place of peace and holiness.

Within this holiness lies human nature itself. A holy king -- like Duncan or Edward of England -- was seen to have had the gift of healing in his hands.

Evil, however, can destroy all of this -- and evil comes into human nature through the devil. Once corrupted, human nature will then wreak havoc in nature itself.

Shakespeare uses a clever counterbalance of good and evil in these scenes. While Act 1, Scene 6 presents the holiness of nature, Act 1, Scene 7 reveals the exact opposite: the triumph of evil in the person of Lady Macbeth.

Macbeth has thought out the logic of his loyalty to Duncan and how he should be defending the king and not murdering him. He is then confronted with a bullying wife who humiliates him into submission.

Lady Macbeth takes the perfect example of woman's nature -- a mother's natural instinct while suckling her baby -- and overturns it: "I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this."

The audience is left aghast at this barefaced barbarity -- and then one witnesses Macbeth crumble to become Lady Macbeth's lapdog once again.

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

Duncan and Banquo comment on the harmony of nature outside Macbeth's castle. Explain the signs of this harmony in terms of:
  • the castle's position. (2)

[Need help?]

  • the atmosphere surrounding the castle. (2)

[Need help?]

  • the fact that the "temple-haunting martlet" has made its nest there. (4)

[Need help?]

"The love that follows us sometime is our trouble
Which still we thank as love."
  • What does Duncan mean by this? (4)

[Need help?]

If you were a member of the audience, what advice would you want to shout to Duncan with regards to Lady Macbeth's honey-dripping speech of welcome? Explain why. (4)

[Need help?]

Does Duncan have any suspicion of Lady Macbeth's plans to murder him? Explain how you reach your conclusion. (4)

[Need help?]

What is the purpose behind the description of such absolute tranquillity at Macbeth's castle? (4)

[Need help?]

The notes in Rumboll's version of Macbeth explain that Banquo's description of the "temple-haunting martlet" is "superb irony".
  • Do you agree with Rumboll? Explain carefully. (10)

[Need help?]

Comment on the character of Lady Macbeth as she appears in this short scene. (4)

[Need help?]

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