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Index of Shakespeare Plays on DVD  Available at Amazon.com, Including Two Versions of Macbeth
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Macbeth
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Key Dates
Sources
Settings
Characters
Plot Summary
Themes
Climax
Imagery
Witchcraft
Essay: Fair Is Foul
Influence of Seneca
 Dates and Sources
Type of Work
First Performance
Questions & Essay Topics
Fascinating Fact
What Was a Castle?
Biography of Shakespeare
Complete Text: MIT
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Gruesome Glossary:  Animals and Animal Parts in the Witches' Cauldron (Definitions and Descriptions)
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This Page Has Been Revised, Enlarged, and Moved to 

http://www.shakespearestudyguide.com/Macbeth.html#Macbeth
 
 

Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings.©.2003
Revised in 2010.©

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Type of Work

.......Macbeth is a stage play in the form of a tragedy. It is one of several Shakespeare plays in which the protagonist commits murder. Other such plays are Richard III, Othello, and Julius Caesar (Brutus). Macbeth is the shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies. It has no subplots. 

Key Dates

Date Written: Probably by 1605 but no later than 1607.
First Performance of Play: Probably between 1605 and 1607 at the Globe Theatre. 
Publication: 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's play..

Sources

.......Shakespeare based Macbeth primarily on accounts in The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (Holinshedu0092s Chronicles), by Raphael Holinshed (?-1580?), who began work on this history under the royal printer Reginald Wolfe. The first edition of the chronicles was published in 1577 in two volumes. Shakespeare may also have used Declaration of Egregious Popishe Impostures (1603), by Samuel Harsnett; Rerum Scoticarum Historia (1582), by George Buchanan; and published reports of witch trials in Scotland.

Settings

.......Macbeth takes place in northern Scotland and in England. The scenes in Scotland are set at or near King Duncanu0092s castle at Forres, at Macbethu0092s castle on Dunsinane Hill in the county of Inverness, and in countryside locales where the three witches meet. A scene is also set at a castle in England.

Characters
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Protagonist: Macbeth
Antagonists: Psychological and Supernatural Forces, Including the Witches and the Three Apparitions
Foils of Macbeth: Banquo, Macduff, Malcolm, Lady Macbeth 
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Macbeth: Ambitious army general in Scotland. His hunger for kingly power, fed by a prophecy of three witches, causes him to murder the rightful king, Duncan I of Scotland, and take his place. Macbeth presents a problem for the audience in that he evokes both sympathy and condemnation; he is both hero, in a manner of speaking, and villain.
Lady Macbeth: Wife of Macbeth, who abets his murder. Her grandfather was a Scottish king who was killed in defense of his throne against the king who immediately preceded King Duncan I. On the surface, she appears ruthless and hardened, but her participation in the murder of Duncan gnaws at her conscience and she goes insane, imagining that she sees the blood of Duncan on her hands.
Duncan I: King of Scotland.
Malcolm, Donalbain: Sons of King Duncan. Malcolm, the older son, is the Prince of Cumberland. He becomes King of Scotland (as Malcom III) at the end of the play.
Banquo: Army general murdered on Macbeth's orders to prevent Banquo from begetting a line of kings, as predicted by the three witches whom Macbeth and Banquo encounter on a heath. Banquou0092s ghost later appears to Macbeth.
Three Witches: Hags who predict Macbeth will become king. Shakespeare refers to the three witches as the weird sisters. Weird is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word wyrd, meaning fate. Thus, the witches appear to represent fate, a force that predetermines destiny. The Greek poet Hesiod (eighth century BC) was the first writer to represent fate as three old women. These three hags were actually goddesses. Clotho was in charge of weaving the fabric of a person's life. Lachesis determined a person's life span and destiny. Atropos cut the threads of the fabric of life when it was time for a person to die. No oneu0096not even the mightiest godu0096could change the decisions of the Fates. Collectively, the Greeks called them Moirae. Latin speakers referred to them as Parcae. The given name Moira means fate.
Hecate, Witch 4: Mistress of the witches' charms and queen of Hades. She is the fourth witch in the play (or the fifth for those who believe Lady Macbeth, in view of her invocations of evil, is a witch.) 
Macduff: Scottish nobleman and lord of Fife who is known for his wisdom and integrity. He becomes Macbeth's enemy. He and Macbeth cross swords at the end of the play.
Lady Macduff: Wife of Macduff. She is murdered on Macbethu0092s orders.
Son of Macduff: One of the Macduff children who are murdered on Macbethu0092s orders.
Lennox, Ross, Menteith, Angus, Caithness: Scottish noblemen
Fleance: Son of Banquo.
Siward:  Earl of Northumberland, general of the English forces.
Young Siward: Son of Siward.
Seyton: Officer attending Macbeth.
Sweno: King of Norway during the war against Scotland. Sweno, referred to in Act I, Scene II, has no speaking part in the play.
English Doctor: He treats the King of England (who does not appear in the play) for an illness while Macduff and Malcolm are at the kingu0092s palace planning the overthrow of Macbeth.
Scottish Doctor: Doctor who attends Lady Macbeth during her descent into madness.
Soldier
Porter
Old Man
Gentlewoman: Lady Macbeth's attendant.
First Apparition: : A head with arms. This apparition, conjured by the witches, warns Macbeth to beware of Macduff..
Second Apparition: : A bloody child. This apparition, conjured by the witches, tells Macbeth that no one born of woman can kill him.
Third Apparition: : A crowned child holding a tree. This apparition, conjured by the witches, tells Macbeth that no one can defeat him until a forest, Birnham Wood, marches against him. Macbeth is heartened, believing it is impossible for a forest to march.
Sinel: Macbeth's deceased father. Macbeth refers to him in Act I, Scene III, when he says, "By Sinel's death I know I am Thane of Glamis. . ." (1.3.75).
Minor Characters: Lords, gentlemen, officers, soldiers, murderers, attendants, and messengers.
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Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings © 2003

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.......In a desert place during a thunderstorm, three witches conclude a meeting. They decide to convene next on a heath to confront the great Scottish general Macbeth on his return from a war between Scotland and Norway. As they depart, they recite a paradox that foreshadows events in the play: u0093Fair is foul, and foul is fairu0094 (1. 1. 14). In other words, what is perceived as good will be bad; what is perceived as bad will be good. 
.......While camped near his castle at Forres in the Moray province of northeastern Scotland, the Scottish king, Duncan, receives news of the fighting from a wounded sergeant: Macbeth has defeated and beheaded a turncoat rebel leader named Macdonwald and u0093fixu0092d his head upon our battlementsu0094 (1.2.27). When the Norwegians launched a new assault, the sergeant says, Macbeth and another general, Banquo, set upon their foes like lions upon hares. Ross, a Scottish lord, then arrives to report the coup de grâce: Duncanu0092s forces have vanquished the Norwegians and a Scottish defector, the thane (lord) of Cawdor1. The Scots extracted a tribute of ten thousand dollars from the Norwegian king, Sweno, who is begging terms of peace. After ordering Cawdoru0092s execution, Duncan decides to confer the title of the disloyal Cawdor on the heroic Macbeth.
.......Meanwhile, on their way to the kingu0092s castle, Macbeth and Banquo happen upon the three witches, now reconvened in the heath, while thunder cracks and rumbles. The First Witch addresses Macbeth as Thane of Glamis2, a title Macbeth inherited from his father, Sinel. When the Second Witch addresses him as Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth is dumbfounded. (He has not yet received news that the king has bestowed on him the title of the traitorous Cawdor.) The Third Witch then predicts that Macbeth will one day become king and that Banquo will beget a line of kings, although he himself will not ascend the throne. Macbeth commands the witches to explain their prophecies, but they vanish. Shortly thereafter, other Scottish soldiersu0096Ross and Angusu0096catch up with Macbeth and Banquo to deliver a message from the king: He is greatly pleased with Macbethu0092s battlefield valor and, says Ross, u0093He bade me, from him, call thee Thane of Cawdoru0094 (1.3.112). The almost immediate fulfillment of the Second Witchu0092s prophecy makes Macbeth yearn for the fulfillment of the Third Witchu0092s prophecy, that he will become king. He begins to think about murdering Duncan even though the prospect of committing such a deed u0093doth unfix my hair / And make my seated heart knock at my ribsu0094 (1.3.147-148). 
 
Forres Castle

.......Forres is in northeastern Scotland. After William I became King of Scotland in 1165, the castle at Forres served as a sort of hunting lodge for royalty. The real-life Macbeth and Duncan were among those said to have used the castle. Nearby is a curious tourist attraction, the Witchesu0092 Stone, where accused witches were burned.
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.......After Macbeth presents himself before Duncan, the king heaps praises on the general for his battlefield prowess and announces that he will visit Macbeth at his castle at Inverness. Macbeth is in his glory, but his jubilation is tempered by the fact that the kingu0092s sonu0096Malcolm, Prince of Cumberlandu0096is heir to the Scottish throne. In a whisper, he says to himself:

.......The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
.......On which I must fall down or else ou0092erleap,
.......For in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires,
.......Let not light see my black and deep desires. (1.4.58-61)

Thus his appetite is further whetted for murder. Bursting with pride and ambition, Macbeth sends a letter home to his wife, Lady Macbeth, informing her of the prediction of the witches, who u0093have more in them than mortal knowledgeu0094 (1. 5. 3), that he will one day become king. Lady Macbeth immediately wonders why he should wait for that u0093one day.u0094 He could murder Duncan and gain the throne now. But she fears he lacks what it takes to do the deed. She says that his nature u0093is too full u0091o the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way [murder]. . .u0094 (1.5.6-7). A messenger arrives to tell Lady Macbeth that King Duncan will visit her and Macbeth that very night. Excited by the prospect of the kingu0092s visitu0096and the murderous reception he will receiveu0096Lady Macbeth recites some of the most chilling and cold-hearted lines in all of Shakespeare:
........A messenger arrives to tell Lady Macbeth that King Duncan will visit her and Macbeth that very night. Excited by the prospect of the kingu0092s visitu0096and his deathu0096Lady Macbeth recites some of the most chilling and cold-hearted lines in all of Shakespeare:

............................The raven himself is hoarse
..............That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
..............Under my battlements. 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!' (1.5.31-46)
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.......When Macbeth arrives home, he and his wife read murder in each otheru0092s eyes. In anticipation of Duncanu0092s visit, she tells her husband to 

.............. look like the innocent flower,
..............But be the serpent under u0092t. He thatu0092s coming
..............Must be provided for; and you shall put
..............This nightu0092s great business into my dispatch. (1.5.63)

.......After Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle with his sons and his entourage, Lady Macbeth greets the king while Macbeth broods elsewhere in the castle. He is having second thoughts about the murder plot. After the feast begins, Macbeth enters the dining hall, still ruminating about his sinister plans. To kill a king is a terrible thing. His wife, who has been looking for him, follows not far behind him. Macbeth speaks his mind to her:
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..............We will proceed no further in this business
..............He [Duncan] hath honour'd me of late; and I have bought
..............Golden opinions from all sorts of people, 
..............Which would be worn now in their newest gloss
..............Not cast aside so soon. (1.7.36-40)
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.......But Lady Macbeth holds him to his vow to kill Duncan, telling him that

.......       I have given suck, and know
.......How tender u0091tis to love the babe that milks me: 
.......I would, while it was smiling in my face, 
.......Have plucku0092d my nipple from his boneless gums, 
.......And dashu0092d the brains out, had I so sworn as you 
.......Have done to this.u0094 (1.7.62-67)
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.......Macbeth, swayed, asks her: u0093If we should failu0096?u0094 (1.7.68) She answers, u0093But screw your courage to the sticking-place, / And weu0092ll not failu0094 (1.7.70-71).  She then lays out the plan. While the king sleeps, she will ply his guards with u0093wine and wassail"3 (1.7.74), enough to make them fall into deep repose. Macbeth will then kill the king with the guardsu0092 daggers and stain their clothing with blood to cast suspicion on them.
.......After midnight, while King Duncan sleeps, Lady Macbeth gives the guards a nightcap of milk and ale (called a posset) spiked with a drug. She then rings a bell signaling Macbeth that all is ready. Before going into the kingu0092s chamber, Macbeth hallucinates, seeing a dagger in mid-air that leads him to the kingu0092s bedside. After committing the murder, he tells Lady Macbeth that he thought he heard a voice saying, u0093Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleepu0094 (2. 2. 46-47) and that he u0093shall sleep no moreu0094 (2.2.47). Lady Macbeth attempts to hearten him, telling him not to dwell on u0093brainsicklyu0094 things (2.2.58). When she notices that Macbeth is still carrying the bloodied daggers, she tells him to return them to the kingu0092s chamber and plant them on the guards as they had planned. But Macbeth, guilt-stricken, cannot bring himself to return to the room. Lady Macbeth, still bold with resolve, scolds him, then plants the daggers herself, smearing blood on the guards. 
.......Early in the morning, two noblemen, Macduff and Lennox, call at the castle to visit Duncan. u0093O horror, horror, horror!u0094 (2.3.42), Madcuff exclaims upon entering Duncanu0092s chamber and discovering the body. Macbeth and Lennox, standing outside, ask what the matter is. Macduff says, 
 

..............Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight
..............With a new Gorgon4. Do not bid me speak. 
..............See, and then speak yourselves. (2.3.51-53)

.......Macduff then awakens everyone, shouting, u0093Murder and treason!u0094 (2.3.55). Before anyone can investigate, Macbeth kills the guards, claiming their bloodied daggers are proof  that they committed the foul deed. Duncanu0092s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, do not for a moment believe Macbeth. However, fearing for their own lives, they flee Scotlandu0096Malcolm for England and Donalbain for Ireland. Because their hasty departure makes them appear guiltyu0096Macduff speculates that they may have bribed the guards to kill Duncanu0096the crown passes to the nearest eligible kin, Macbeth. Duncanu0092s body is removed to Colmekill, a burial place for the kings of Scotland.
.......But now that he is king, Macbeth cannot rest easy. He remembers too well the prophecy of the witches that Banquo will father a kingly line. So Macbeth sends two hired assassins to murder Banquo and his son Fleance as they travel to Macbethu0092s castle (now the royal palace at Forres) for dinner. Ambushing their prey, the assassins slay Banquo u0093with twenty trenched gashes on his headu0094 (3.4.32), the First Murderer tells Macbeth. But Fleance escapes. 
.......Just as the dinner begins, one of the assassins reports the news to Macbeth. When Macbeth sits down to eat, the bloodied ghost of Banquo appears to him but to no one else. Macbeth begins to act and speak strangely, and one guest, Ross, says, u0093Gentlemen, rise: his highness is not wellu0094 (3.4.64). But Lady Macbeth entreats the guests to remain in their seats, for u0093my lord is often thus, / And hath been from his youth. . . .The fit is momentary; upon a thought / He will  again be well. . .u0094 (3.4.65-68).  After the ghost vanishes, Macbeth regains himself and tells his guests that he has a strange infirmity u0093which is nothing / To those that know meu0094 (3.4.103-104). The ghost then reappears and Macbeth shouts,
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..............Avaunt5! and quit my sight! let the earth hide thee! 
..............Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold; 
..............Thou hast no speculation6 in those eyes 
..............Which thou dost glare with! (3.4.112-115)
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.......When Ross questions Macbeth about what he has seen, Lady Macbeth says the kingu0092s fit has grown worse, and she sends the guests away. Later, preoccupied with the fear of being discovered, Macbeth begins to suspect that Macduff, who refused to attend the feast, is onto him. 
.......When Macbeth meets with the witches againu0096this time in a cavernu0096they conjure an apparition of an armed head that tells him he has good reason to fear Macduff. But they also ease his fears when they conjure a second apparition, that of a bloody child, which tells him that no one born of woman can harm him. A third apparition, that of a crowned child holding a tree, tells him that no one can conquer him until Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane. 
.......After the meeting, Macbeth learns that Macduff is urging Duncan's son, Malcolm, to reclaim the throne. In revenge, Macbeth has Macduff's wife and son murdered. When Macduff hears the terrible news, he organizes an army to bring down Macbeth. 
.......Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth's conscienceu0096long absent earlieru0096now begins to torture her. She talks to herself and hallucinates, imagining that her hands are covered with blood. After the forces of Malcolm and Macduff arrive at Birnham Wood and advance on Macbethu0092s castle, Macbeth prepares for battle just as Lady Macbeth's battle with her conscience ends in her suicide.
.......As they advance, the invaders cut branches of trees to hold in front of them as camouflage. Birnham Wood is coming to Dunsinaneu0096a hill near the castleu0096just as the witches predicted. Finally, Macbeth meets Macduff in hand-to-hand combat, bragging that he will win the day because (according to the apparition of the bloody child) no man born of a woman can harm him. However, Macduff reveals that he was not of woman born but was u0093untimely rippu0092du0094 (5.7.62) from his motheru0092s womb (in a cesarean birth). Macduff then kills Macbeth, and Malcolm becomes king.
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Themes

Ambition

.......Great ambition, or inordinate lust for power, ultimately brings ruin. For ignoring this ancient rule of living, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth pay with their lives. 

Deceit

.......In Macbeth, evil frequently wears a pretty cloak. Early in the play, the three witches declare that  u0093fair is foul,u0094 a paradox suggesting that whatever appears good is really bad. For example, murdering Duncan appears to be a u0093fairu0094 idea to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, for Macbeth would accede to the throne. But the Macbeths soon discover that only bad has come of their deed, and their very livesu0096and immortal soulsu0096are in jeopardy. Macbeth also perceives the prophecies made by the u0093armed headu0094 and the u0093bloody childu0094 as good omens; in fact, these prophecies are deceptive wordplays that foretell Macbethu0092s downfall. In a further exposition of the theme of deceptive appearances, King Duncan speaks the following lines when arriving at Macbethu0092s castle: u0093This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air / Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself / Unto our gentle sensesu0094 (1. 6.3-5). 
.......Other quotations that buttress this theme are the following:

Look like the innocent flower, 
But be the serpent under u0092t. (1.5.63-64)

Away, and mock the time with fairest show: 
False face must hide what the false heart doth know. (1.7.94-95)

To show an unfelt sorrow is an office 
Which the false man does easy. (2.3.135-136)

Temptation

.......Temptation can defeat even the strongest human beings. On the battlefield, Macbeth is a lion and a leader of men. But when the witches tempt him by prophesying that he will become king of Scotland, he succumbs to the lure of power. When his resolve weakens, Lady Macbeth fortifies it with strong words. 

Guilt

.......Guilt haunts the evildoer. Whether from prick of conscience or fear of discovery, Macbethu0092s guilt begins to manifest itself immediately after he murders Duncan and the guards (Act II, Scene II). u0093This is a sorry sightu0094 (2.2.29), he tells Lady Macbeth, looking at the blood on his hands. When he speaks further of the guilt he feels, Lady Macbethu0096foreshadowing her descent into insanityu0096says, u0093These deeds must not be thought / After these ways; so, it will make us madu0094 (2.2.44-45). Macbeth then says he thought he heard a voice saying, u0093Sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleepu0094 (2.2.46-47). When they hear knocking moments later at the castle door, it is the sound of their guilt as much as the sound of the knocker, Macduff..

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Climax 
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.......The climax of a play or another literary work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Macbeth occurs, according to the first definition, when Macbeth murders Duncan and becomes king. According to the second definition, the climax occurs in the final act when Macduff corners and kills Macbeth.
 

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Imagery

Darkness

.......Shakespeare casts a pall of darkness over the play to call attention to the evil deeds unfolding and the foul atmosphere in which they are taking place. At the very beginning of the play, Shakespeare introduces an image of dark clouds suggested in the words spoken by the First Witch:

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain? (1.1.3-4)
Near the end of the third scene in Act I, Banquo foreshadows the terrible events to come with an allusion to the witches as u0093instruments of darknessu0094 that sometimes speak the truth in order to bring their listeners to ruin. Banquo says that 
      [O]ftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray u0092s [betray us]
In deepest consequence. (1.3.133-137) 
Lady Macbeth later entreats blackest night to cloak her when she takes part in the murder of Duncan, saying: 
  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. (1.5.43-46)
Late at night in Inverness Castle, after the King Duncan goes to bed and the Macbeths make final plans for his murder, Banquo and Fleance meet in a courtyard within the castle walls while a servant holds a torch. Their conversation centers on the blackness of the night and on sleep:
BANQUO How goes the night, boy?
FLEANCE The moon is down; I have not heard the clock.
BANQUO And she goes down at twelve.
FLEANCE   I takeu0092t, u0092tis later, sir.
BANQUO   Hold, take my sword. Thereu0092s husbandry in heaven;
Their candles are all out. Take thee that too.
A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,
And yet I would not sleep: merciful powers,
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
Gives way to in repose!
.......In his analysis of the images of darkness in Macbeth, Shakespearean scholar A.C. Bradley writes:
    It is remarkable that almost all the scenes which at once recur to memory take place either at night or in some dark spot. The vision of the dagger, the murder of Duncan, the murder of Banquo, the sleep-walking of Lady Macbeth, all come in night-scenes. The witches dance in the thick air of a storm, or, 'black and midnight hags' receive Macbeth in a cavern. The blackness of night [makes] the hero a thing of fear, even of horror; and that which he feels becomes the spirit of the play."u0096Quoted in Eastman, A.M., and G.B. Harrison, eds. Shakespeare's Critics: From Jonson to Auden. Ann Arbor, Mich.: U of Michigan, 1964 (Pages 238-239)
Blood

.......Shakespeare frequently presents images of blood in Macbeth. Sometimes it is the hot blood of the Macbeths as they plot murder; sometimes it is the spilled, innocent blood of their victims. It is also blood of guilt that does not wash away and the blood of kinship that drives enemies of Macbeth to action. In general, the images of bloodu0096like the images of darknessu0096bathe the play in a macabre, netherworldly atmosphere. Here are examples from the play:

    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. (Lady Macbeth: 1.5.48-51)

    Is this a dagger which I see before me,
    The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
    I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
    .............................[ellipsis of seven lines]
    And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
    Which was not so before. There's no such thing:
    It is the bloody business which informs
    Thus to mine eyes (Speaker, Macbeth: 2.1.44-46, 57-60)

    MACBETH...Will all great Neptune's7 ocean wash this blood
    Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
    The multitudinous seas in incarnadine8,
    Making the green one red.
    LADY MACBETH...My hands are of your colour; but I shame
    To wear a heart so white. (2.2.75-80)

    To Ireland, I; our separated fortune
    Shall keep us both the safer: where we are,
    There's daggers in men's smiles: the near in blood,
    The nearer bloody. (Donalbain: 2.3.137-140)

In their analysis of the images of blood and darkness in Macbeth, Shakespearean scholars K.L. Knickerbock and H. Willard Reninger write:
    The very title of Macbeth conjures up the dense, suffocating metaphoric climate of primeval evil, darkness, blood, violated sleep, and nature poisoned at its source."u0096Interpreting Literature. 4th ed. New York: Holt, 1969 (Page 854).
Adam and Eve

.......Critic Maynard Mack and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud both noticed that Lady Macbeth resembles Eve in her eagerness to tempt Macbeth to eat of forbidden fruit (in this case, murder) and that Macbeth resembles Adam in his early passivity. Supporting their views are these two passages in Act 1, Scene VII, in which Lady Macbeth goads her wavering husband: 

First Passage: Lady Macbeth tells her husband it is cowardly to hesitate like a scared cat.
.
Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting "I dare not" wait upon "I would,"
Like the poor cat i' the adage? (1.7.45-51)
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Second Passage: Lady Macbeth challenges her husband to be a man.
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What beast was't, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this. (1.7 55-67)
Ambition

.......Raging ambition drives Macbeth to murder. After the witches play to his ambition with a prophecy that he will become king, he cannot keep this desire under control. He realizes that Duncan is a good kingu0096humble, noble, virtuous. But he rationalizes that a terrible evil grips him that he cannot overcome.

I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other. (1.7.27-30)
The Real Macbeth

.......Macbeth was an eleventh-century Scot who took the throne in 1040 after killing King Duncan I, his cousin, in a battle near Elgin in the Moray district of Scotland. Of his reign, Fitzroy MacLean has written the following: "Macbeth appears, contrary to popular belief, to have been a wise monarch and to have ruled Scotland successfully and well for seventeen prosperous years. In 1050 we hear that he went on a pilgrimage to Rome and there [lavished money to the poor]." (Work cited: MacLean, Fitzroy. A Concise History of Scotland. New York: Beekman House, 1970, Page 23.) In 1057, Duncan's oldest son, Malcolm, ended Macbeth's reign by killing him in battle and later assuming the throne as Malcolm III.

The Real Banquo

.......In Holinshed's Chronicles, the historical work on which Shakespeare based his play, the real Banquo is depicted as a conniver who took part in the plot to assassinate King Duncan. Why did Shakespeare portray Banquo as one of Macbeth's innocent victims? Perhaps because James I, the King of England when the play debuted, was a descendant of Banquo. It would not do to suggest that His Royal Majesty's ancestor was a murderer. 

Influence of Seneca

.......The Roman dramatist Seneca (AD 4-65), a tutor to Emperor Nero, wrote plays that described in elaborate detail the grisly horror of murder and revenge. After Elizabethans began translating Seneca's works in 1559, writers read and relished them, then wrote plays imitating them. Shakespeare appears to have seasoned Macbeth and an earlier play, Titus Andronicus, with some of Seneca's ghoulish condiments. 
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Witchcraft in Shakespeare's Time
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.......In Shakespeare's time, many people believed in the power of witches. One was King James I. In 1591, when he was King of Scotland during the reign of Elizabeth I, a group of witches and sorcerers attempted to murder him. Their trial and testimony convinced him that they were agents of evil. Thereafter, he studied the occult and wrote a book called Daemonologie (Demonology), published in 1597. This booku0096and an earlier one called Malleus Maleficarum (The Witches' Hammer, 1486), describing the demonic rites of witchesu0096helped inflame people against practitioners of sorcery. 
.......Shakespeare, good businessman that he was, well knew that a play featuring witches would attract theatergoers and put a jingle in his pocket. Moreover, such a play would ingratiate him with James, who became King of England in 1603. So, about two years after James acceded to the English throne, Shakespeare began working on Macbeth. When it was first performed in about 1605, it probably frightened audiences in the same way that The Exorcist, the 1973 film about diabolical possession, scared American audiences. Magically, this play about murder and witches swelled Shakespeare's bank account and reputation. Shakespeare himself, a man of extraordinary intellect and insight, probably regarded witchcraft for what it was: poppycock. 
.......Four named witches appear in Macbethu0096the three hags who open the play and later Hecate, the goddess of sorcery. But is there a fifth witch, Lady Macbeth? In fact, she invokes spirits to u0093unsexu0094 (1.5.34) her and bids u0093thick nightu0094 (1.5.43) to dress u0093in the dunnest smoke of hellu0094 (1.5.44) so that she may assist her husband in the murder of King Duncan.
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Questions and Essay Topics

  • Murdering a king was considered an especially heinous crime in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot in England in November 1605. What was the Gunpowder Plot? 
  • Did Shakespeare intend the witches to be symbols of something everyone facesu0096temptation? 
  • The word fear occurs 48 times in Macbeth in noun and verb forms and as a root in words such as afeard and fearful. Which characters exhibit the most fear? What causes their fear? How does fear differ from guilt? 
  • Julius Caesar, the title character of a Shakespeare play set in ancient Rome, was also a military commander, like Macbeth, who was consumed by ambition and died because of it. What other great leaders in history or fiction fell to ruin, or death, because of their ambition? 
  • Lady Macbeth repeatedly washes her hands to expiate her guilt. In modern psychology, what is the term used to describe Lady Macbeth's disorder? If you were a psychologistu0096or a priestu0096what would you advise Lady Macbeth to do to unburden her conscience?
  • Read the information under Theme 2 (above). Then write an essay about persons, places, things or ideas that appear "fair" when they are really "foul"u0096or appear "foul" when they are really "fair." 
  • Lady Macbeth advises her husband to u0093Look like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under itu0094 (Act I, Scene V, Lines 66-67). Write an essay about things in the modern world that present themselves as "innocent flowers" even though they are really "serpents."
Fascinating Fact

.......The words blood and night (or forms of them, such as bloody and tonight) occur more than 40 times each in Macbeth. Other commonly occurring words that help maintain the mood of the play are terrible, horrible, black, devil, and evil.
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.Essay
In Macbeth True Is False and Fair Is Foul
By Michael J. Cummings © 2006

.......The world of Macbeth is a world of contradiction. Good is bad. True is false. Light is dark.
.......In the opening scene of the play, the three witches introduce the contrary nature of this world with two paradoxes. First, while ending a meeting, they agree to reconvene u0093when the battleu0092s lost and wonu0094 (1. 1. 7). Then they warn the audience that u0093fair is foul, and foul is fairu0094 (1. 1. 14). In Scene II, the nobleman Ross informs King Duncan that a trusted lord, the thane of Cawdor, is a traitor who conspired with the enemy. In other words, the fair Cawdor is foul. After ordering Cawdor executed, the king confers his title on Macbeth, the hero of the battle. Macbeth, of course, goes on to commit an even more heinous crime, murder.
.......Why is the world of Macbeth topsy-turvy? Because it reflects the world at large as it really isu0096not a monolith of white or black but an amalgam of both. It is good and evil, innocent and guilty, honest and treacherous. It is a world of sun and clouds, of calm and storm, of cold and warmth. In Macbeth, Shakespeare holds up a mirror that reflects not only the outward substance of man but also his conflicting inner essence. This mirror reveals glory as blood-stained, safety as dangerous, friends as inimical.
.......In our own age, we can see the truth of Shakespeareu0092s thesis. For example, critics of the Iraq War say the U.S. won it but lost it, echoing the words of the witches. Clintonu0092s second term as U.S. president was fair (in terms of the economy) and foul (in terms of the sex scandal that led to his impeachment). And consider that it is sometimes the u0093uprightu0094 clergyman who swindles his TV viewers, the u0093caring motheru0094 who drowns her children, the u0093harmless neighboru0094 who takes a gun to work and opens fire, and the u0093respected politicianu0094 who, though personally opposed to abortion, votes in favor of it. Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
.......When the witches predict that Macbeth will become king and that Banquo will beget a line of kings, both men react by speaking contradictions reflecting caution and confusion. Banquo says that 

           oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray u0092s [betray us]
In deepest consequence. (1.3.134-137)
Macbeth observes that the prophecy is neither favorable nor unfavorable, although he admits it unnerves him:
    This supernatural soliciting
    Cannot be ill, cannot be good:
    ..........................................................
    If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
    Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
    And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
    Against the use of nature? Present fears
    Are less than horrible imaginings:
    My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
    Shakes so my single state of man that function
    Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is
    But what is not. (1.3.142-154)
The final words of his responseu0096nothing is but what is notu0096sum up Shakespeareu0092s theme of contradiction. Unfortunately, the ambitious Macbeth ignores cannot be good in favor of cannot be ill and bends his mind toward murdering the king. But he is full of doubt, full of fears.
.......Enter Lady Macbeth. Excited by the prospect that the throne of Scotland is within a daggeru0092s reach, she becomes the ultimate paradox: a ruthless, hell-bent u0093man-womanu0094 brimming with testicular gall and machismo. In one of the most chilling soliloquies or speeches in all of literature, she prays to be hardened into a remorseless killer:
    ................................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!' (1.5.43-57) 
.......When Macbeth arrives home and discusses the murder plot with Lady Macbeth, she advises him to u0093look like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under u0091tu0094 (1.5. 63-64).
.......After King Duncan arrives at the door of Macbethu0092s castle, he comments on the tranquillity and peacefulness of the setting while, inside, a whetted dagger awaits him. Before admitting the king, Lady Macbeth further prods her husband: u0093Away, and mock the time with fairest show: / False face must hide what the false heart doth knowu0094 (1. 7.94-95).
.......In other words, look fair but be foul.
.......And so, in the night, they murder the king. In the morning, when Macduff knocks at the door, the porter responds tardily and explains that he and his friends were up late drinking. The observations he makes about the effects of drinking are humorous, providing the audience momentary relief from the tension of the previous scenes. But even this comic interlude continues the theme of paradox, as the porteru0092s dialogue demonstrates when he tells what drinking causes: 
    Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance: therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him. (2.3.9)
.......Moments later, when Macduff walks to Duncanu0092s bedroom, unaware that the king has been murdered, he tells Macbeth, u0093I know this is a joyful trouble to youu0094 (2.3.22). Joyful trouble is an oxymoron/paradox that is also ironic, inasmuch as Macbeth is anything but joyful. He answers with irony: u0093The labor we delight in physics [heals] painu0094 (2.3.24).
.......After Macduff discovers the dead body and alerts the kingu0092s entourage, Macbeth kills the kingu0092s guards, blaming them for the murder. But the kingu0092s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, suspect Macbeth as the culprit and fear that they will ultimately come under suspicion. In the second act, Malcolm says, using oxymoron/paradox:
    What will you do? Let's not consort with them:
    To show an unfelt sorrow is an office
    Which the false man does easy. I'll to England. (2.3.134-136)
Outside, an old man and Ross discuss (strange events: Day has turned to night, an owl has killed a falcon, and horses have broken free of their stalls to roam the countryside.
    ROSS...Ah, good father,
    Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man's act,
    Threaten his bloody stage: by the clock, 'tis day,
    And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp:
    Is't night's predominance, or the day's shame,
    That darkness does the face of earth entomb,
    When living light should kiss it?
    OLD MAN...'Tis unnatural,
    Even like the deed that's done. On Tuesday last,
    A falcon, towering in her pride of place,
    Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd.
    ROSS...And Duncan's horsesu0096a thing most strange and certainu0096
    Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
    Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
    Contending 'gainst obedience, as they would make
    War with mankind.
    OLD MAN...'Tis said they eat each other. (2.4.7-23)
.......The play continues to present contradictions, reversals, and impossibilities that become possible. In the witchesu0092 cavern, an apparition of a bloody child tells Macbeth that no one born of a woman can harm him. Then another apparition, a crowned child, tells him that he cannot die unless the trees of Birnam Wood march against him. But Birnam Wood does march against Macbethu0096in the form of soldiers using foliage as camouflage. And a man not u0093bornu0094 of woman, Macduffu0096who, Macbeth discovers, was delivered in a cesarean birthu0096confronts Macbeth and slays him. Macduff then hails Malcolm as the new king of Scotland. 

What Was a Castle?

.......Many of the scenes in Macbeth are set in a castle. A castle was a walled fortress of a king or lord. The word castle is derived from the Latin castellum, meaning a fortified place. Generally, a castle was situated on an eminence (a piece of high ground) that had formed naturally or was constructed by laborers. High ground constructed by laborers was called a motte (French for mound); the motte may have been 100 to 200 feet wide and 40 to 80 feet high. The area inside the castle wall was called the bailey
.......Some castles had several walls, with smaller circles within a larger circle or smaller squares within a larger square. The outer wall of a castle was usually topped with a battlement, a protective barrier with spaced openings through which defenders could shoot arrows at attackers. This wall sometimes was surrounded by a water-filled ditch called a moat, a defensive barrier to prevent the advance of soldiers, horses and war machines. At the main entrance was a drawbridge, which could be raised to prevent entry. Behind the drawbridge was a portcullis [port KUL is], or iron gate, which could be lowered to further secure the castle. Within the castle was a tower, or keep, to which castle residents could withdraw if an enemy breached the portcullis and other defenses. Over the entrance of many castles was a projecting gallery with machicolations [muh CHIK uh LAY shuns], openings in the floor through which defenders could drop hot liquids or stones on attackers. In the living quarters of a castle, the king and his family dined in a great hall on an elevated platform called a dais [DAY is], and they slept in a chamber called a solar. The age of castles ended after the development of gunpowder and artillery fire enabled armies to breach thick castle walls instead of climbing over them.

Glossary of Animals and Animal Parts in Witches' Brew (Act IV, Scene I)

Adderu0092s Fork: Forked tongue of an adder, a poisonous snake.
Baboonu0092s Blood: Blood of a fierce monkey (genus, Papio) with long teeth.
Blindworm: Legless lizard common in Great Britain. When fully grown, it is usually about a foot long. 
Eye of Newt: Eye of a type of salamander (an amphibian with a tail) that spends part of its time in the water and part of its time on land. The young newt (larval stage) is called an eft. It is bright red with black spots. The adult newt is generally olive green with red spots circumscribed with black spots. In mythological tales, the salamander was a creature that was said to be able to live in fire.
Fillet of Fenny: Slice of a snake that inhabits fens (swamps, bogs).
Gall of Goat: Gallbladder of a goat.
Lizard: Reptile with four legs. Examples are the iguana, the chameleon, and the gecko.
Maw and Gulf of Ravined Salt-Sea Shark: Stomach of a hungry (ravined) shark.
Owletu0092s Wing: Wing of a baby owl. 
Scale of Dragon: Scales (overlapping plates covering the body) of a dragon, a mythological flying reptile of gigantic size.
Tigeru0092s Chaudron: Tigeru0092s intestines or guts.
Toad: Hopping amphibian, resembling a frog, with short legs and rough skin. Unlike a frog, which has moist skin, a toad has dry skin. 
Toe of Frog: Toe of an amphibian with webbed feet and strong hind legs for leaping. Unlike a toad, a frog has moist skin. 
Tooth of Wolf: Fang of a wolf, a canine that lives in the wilds.
Wool of Bat: Fur or hair of a bat, the worldu0092s only flying mammal. A bat can weigh up to three pounds and fly at speeds up to 60 miles an hour. Although literature often portrays bats as sinister, evil creatures, they are beneficial to humankind because their insect diet eliminates many annoyingu0096and dangerousu0096pests.
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Notes

1. Cawdor: Village in the Highlands of Scotland, near Inverness.
2. Glamis: Village in the Tayside region of Scotland.
3. Wassail: Spiced ale.
4. Gorgon: Snake-headed monster in Greek mythology. Looking upon it turned the viewer to stone.
5. Avaunt: Go away; begone; get out of here.
6. Speculation: Ability to see.
7. Neptune: Roman name for the Greek sea god, Poseidon.
8. Incarnadine: Verb meaning to make something blood red.

Plays on DVD (or VHS) 
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Play Director Actors
Antony and Cleopatra (1974) Trevor Nunn, John Schoffield Richard Johnson, Janet Suzman
Antony and Cleopatra BBC Production Jane Lapotaire 
As You Like It (2010)  Thea Sharrock Jack Laskey, Naomi Frederick
As You Like It (1937)  Paul Czinner Henry Ainley, Felix Aylmer
The Comedy of Errors BBC Production Not Listed
Coriolanus BBC Production Alan Howard, Irene Worth
Cymbeline Elijah Moshinsky Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Helen Mirren
Gift Box: The Comedies BBC Production Various
Gift Box: The Histories BBC Production Various
Gift Box: The Tragedies BBC Production Various
Hamlet (1948)  Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons
Hamlet (1990)  Kevin Kline Kevin Kline
Hamlet(1991)  Franco Zeffirelli Mel Gibson, Glenn Close
Hamlet (1996)  Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, 
Hamlet (2009) Gregory Doran David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie
Hamlet (1964)  John Gielgud, Bill Colleran Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn
Hamlet (1964)  Grigori Kozintsev Innokenti Smoktunovsky
Hamlet (2000)  Cambpell Scott, Eric Simonson Campbell Scott, Blair Brown
Henry V (1989)  Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branaugh, Derek Jacobi
Henry V( 1946)  Laurence Olivier Leslie Banks, Felix Aylmer
Henry VI Part I BBC Production Peter Benson, Trevor Peacock
Henry VI Part II BBC Production Not Listed
Henry VI Part III BBC Production Not Listed
Henry VIII BBC Production John Stride, Claire Bloom, Julian Glover
Julius Caesar BBC Production Richard Pasco, Keith Michell
Julius Caesar (1950)  David Bradley Charlton Heston
Julius Caesar (1953)  Joseph L. Mankiewicz Marlon Brando, James Mason
Julius Caesar (1970)  Stuart Burge Charlton Heston, Jason Robards
King John BBC Production Not Listed
King Lear (1970) Grigori Kozintsev Yuri Yarvet
King Lear (1971) Peter Brook Cyril Cusack, Susan Engel
King Lear (1974)  Edwin Sherin James Earl Jones
King Lear (1976)  Tony Davenall Patrick Mower, Ann Lynn
King Lear (1984)  Michael Elliott Laurence Olivier, Colin Blakely
King Lear (1997)  Richard Eyre Ian Holm
Love's Labour's Lost (2000) Kenneth Branagh Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone 
Love's Labour's Lost  BBC Production) Not Listed
Macbeth (1978)  Philip Casson Ian McKellen, Judy Dench
Macbeth BBC Production Not Listed
The Merchant of Venice BBC Production Warren Mitchell, Gemma Jones
The Merchant of Venice (2001)  Christ Hunt, Trevor Nunn David Bamber, Peter De Jersey
The Merchant of Venice (1973) John Sichel Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1970)  Not Listed Leon Charles, Gloria Grahame
Midsummer Night's Dream (1996)  Adrian Noble Lindsay Duncan, Alex Jennings
A Midsummer Night's Dream  (1999) Michael Hoffman Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)  Kenneth Branaugh Branaugh, Emma Thompson
Much Ado About Nothing (1973)  Nick Havinga  Sam Waterston, F. Murray Abraham
Othello (2005)  Janet Suzman Richard Haines, John Kaki
Othello (1990)  Trevor Nunn Ian McKellen, Michael Grandage
Othello (1965)  Stuart Burge Laurence Olivier, Frank Finlay
Othello (1955)  Orson Welles Orson Welles
Othello (1983)  Franklin Melton Peter MacLean, Bob Hoskins, Jenny Agutter
Ran  (1985) Japanese Version of King Lear  Akira Kurosawa Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao
Richard II (2001) John Farrell  Matte Osian, Kadina de Elejalde
Richard III (1912)  André Calmettes, James Keane  Robert Gemp, Frederick Warde
Richard III - Criterion Collection (1956)  Laurence Olivier Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson
Richard III (1995)  Richard Loncraine Ian McKellen, Annette Bening
Richard III BBC Production Ron Cook, Brian Protheroe, Michael Byrne
Romeo and Juliet (1968)  Franco Zeffirelli Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey
Romeo and Juliet (1996)  Baz Luhrmann Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes
Romeo and Juliet (1976)  Joan Kemp-Welch Christopher Neame, Ann Hasson
Romeo and Juliet BBC Production John Gielgud, Rebecca Saire, Patrick Ryecart
The Taming of the Shrew Franco Zeffirelli Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton
The Taming of the Shrew Kirk Browning Raye Birk, Earl Boen, Ron Boussom
The Taming of The Shrew Not Listed Franklin Seales, Karen Austin, 
The Tempest Paul Mazursky John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands
The Tempest (1998) Jack Bender Peter Fonda, John Glover, Harold Perrineau,
Throne of Blood (1961) Macbeth in Japan  Akira Kurosawa Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada
Twelfth Night (1996)  Trevor Nunn Helena Bonham Carter
Twelfth Night BBC Production Not Listed
The Two Gentlemen of Verona BBC Production John Hudson, Joanne Pearce
The Winter's Tale  (2005)  Greg Doran Royal Shakespeare Company
The Winter's Tale BBC Production Not Listed

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