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Macbeth - Character

This GCSE English Literature quiz tests your knowledge of the characters in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. Although this play has a reasonably large number of roles, many of the scenes are dominated by Macbeth or his wife, leaving important figures such as Malcolm, Donalbain, and even Macduff apparently on the sidelines at times. The dramatis personae include the King, his sons, the Witches, Banquo and Fleance, in addition to a group of Macbeth’s fellow thanes, Lennox, Ross, Menteith, and Caithness, the hired murderers and household servants and those who oppose Macbeth’s tyrrany, especially Siward, Earl of Northumbria, and his son.

Because the play includes many minor characters as well as important figures who feature in only a few scenes, it is worth creating diagrams noting when and where these various characters appear in the play, as well as what role each plays.

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Pay close attention to the thanes who are expected to be loyal to the King, however he has gained his position. Are they implicated in Macbeth’s murders, too? What happens to anyone who opposes him?

Characterisation in drama is created through speech, actions and interaction with other characters. Gesture and costume are not described in the script, but in performance the audience of a play can understand characters better through observation of these additional details. If you can, try to watch productions of any play you study; this is an excellent way to see how its characters have been interpreted by different people. When reading Macbeth, pay close attention to asides and to any private dialogues, such as those between Macbeth and his wife, where you can learn what characters are thinking and planning. How do the two plotters in this play influence one another and overcome moments of indecision or even reluctance to carry out their plans? Who feels guilt and when?

Answer the questions below to see how well you understand the characters in Macbeth.

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  1. Which of the following does NOT describe the King?
    The King is presented as a wise leader concerned to reward those who are of service to him and to bind together his noblemen with ties of obligation. He does not hesitate to condemn traitors to death, but nevertheless serves as an ideal monarch to whom we may compare Macbeth
  2. How does Macbeth respond when the King formally names him Thane of Cawdor?
    Macbeth's immediate response is given in an aside to the audience: "The Prince of Cumberland: that is a step / On which I must fall down, or else o'er-leap." The King names his son the Prince of Cumberland and thus heir to his throne. Macbeth must skip this step in order to become King
  3. As Lady Macbeth prepares to help her husband in his treachery against the King, she says: "Make thick my blood, / Stop up th'access and passage to remorse, / That no compunctious visitings of nature / Shake my fell purpose." What is she requesting?
    These lines are from Lady Macbeth's monologue in Act One, Scene Five, when she asks to be "unsexed". She associates violence and resolve with masculine qualities, and pity and remorse with feminine qualities
  4. Which of the following is correct?
    Banquo compares them to the "bubbles" of the earth, wonders whether he and Macbeth have eaten an "insane root" and later describes the witches as having appeared in a dream
  5. Macbeth justifies killing the suspected murderers of the King, saying: "Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious, / Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man. / The expedition of my violent love / Outran the pauser, reason." What does he mean?
    Some emotions will overpower other emotions or virtues. Macbeth claims that his murder of the suspects arose from his great love for the King
  6. Who is portrayed as fatally abandoning his responsibilities in order to preserve his own life?
    Macduff's wife is shocked by his decision to flee, leaving her and her children to die. Macduff is horrified to hear of their deaths (which he does not seem to have foreseen) and later avenges them by killing Macbeth
  7. "Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all, / As the weïrd women promised, and I fear / Thou played'st most foully for't. Yet it was said / It should not stand in thy prosperity." What do Banquo's words tell us of his character?
    Banquo believes that if the witches' prophecy for Macbeth has come true, then their prophecy concerning his own descendants will also come true
  8. What does Lady Macbeth's handwashing tell us about how she is affected by the murder of the King?
    Lady Macbeth cannot metaphorically wash herself clean of the King's blood (and also of Lady Macduff's); she is stained with guilt. At the same time she questions the ability of anyone else to bring herself and her husband to account for their crimes
  9. Malcolm urges Macduff to avenge the deaths of his wife and children, turning his grief into anger. How does Macduff respond?
    Macduff says: "I shall do so, / But I must also feel it as a man: / I cannot but remember such things were / That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on, / And would not take their part?"
  10. Who does Macbeth claim he has avoided meeting in battle?
    Macbeth tells Macduff that he is already guilty of spilling too much of his blood (meaning that of Macduff's children)

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