Macbeth - Dialogue

This GCSE English Literature quiz tests your ability to recognise dialogue quoted from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. With rare exceptions, drama consists almost entirely of dialogue. This quality, which distinguishes drama from other forms, such as the novel, can make a play more difficult to read and understand. Whereas a novel will often describe the scene in which a conversation takes place, drama requires a reader to imagine a performance. Whenever you have the opportunity, try to watch performances or film adaptations of plays to see how directors and actors have interpreted the text. One benefit of reading a play, however, is that it gives you the chance to go slowly, to re-read and to think carefully about the dialogue.

Dialogue conveys meaning both through content and through language choice, including the use of dialect and even interruptions and pauses.

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As you read Macbeth, consider the following questions: Are different characters distinguished by their speech? Do different characters use different vocabularies? How does any character’s speech change over time or by circumstance? When reading Shakespeare, think about whether dialogue is written in poetry or prose. Does it make a difference whether characters speak in poetry?

Characterisation is partly accomplished through dialogue. Each character’s beliefs, intentions and preferences are conveyed through dialogue, but that is not its only function. Dialogue also gives the audience practical information, for example by explaining events which have taken place off stage, or in the past. In Macbeth, the murder of Duncan takes place off stage and the audience learns of it from the dialogue between Macbeth and his wife, as well as by observing the reactions of those who witness the aftermath.

If you want to impress your teacher, you can memorise some lines from Shakespeare. Making such an effort will also help you to prepare for writing about the play. Collect lines of dialogue from each character, aiming to find the most significant lines which exemplify the character or represent important stages in the plot.

The quiz below asks you to recognise who is speaking each of these lines. Consider the significance of the quoted dialogue before answering. What do the lines tell you about the speaker? Can you imagine another character speaking those words? If so, why? Think about the subtext of the lines. What information besides the practical is also being conveyed? Do you recognise foreshadowing, for example? Can you spot any other interesting effects or techniques?

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  1. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Fair is foul, and foul is fair, / Hover through the fog and filthy air"
    The witches conclude their meeting in Act One, Scene One, with these paradoxical lines
  2. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Welcome hither. / I have begun to plant thee, and will labour / To make thee full of growing"
    Naming his eldest son as heir to his throne following the successful battle against Sweno, King of Norway, Duncan first honours Macbeth and promises that he will help him to flourish in future
  3. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly"
    Macbeth's statement refers to the murder of the King both as certain and as something which might not come to pass; he imagines looking back from a time when the deed has been done already
  4. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "I must report they were / as cannons over-charged with double cracks, / So they doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe"
    In Act One, Scene Two, the Captain returns from the battlefield and informs Duncan, the King, of Macbeth's and Banquo's military success
  5. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "The gracious Duncan / Was pitied of Macbeth; marry, he was dead. / And the right-valiant Banquo walked too late, / Whom you may say, if't please you, Fleance killed, / For Fleance fled: men must not walk too late"
    By using these veiled references, Lennox makes it clear that he suspects Macbeth of murder; he continues to serve the new king despite this knowledge
  6. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Duncan is in his grave, / After life's fitful fever, he sleeps well; / Treason has done his worst"
    Macbeth portrays Duncan's grave as a peaceful place where he is beyond harm, almost as if he is to be envied by those still living and prey to the tortures of the mind
  7. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "If you can look into the seeds of time, / And say which grain will grow, and which will not, / Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear / Your favours, nor your hate"
    Banquo asks his fortune of the witches, who promise that his descendants will be kings, although he himself will not be king
  8. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Out, damned spot: out, I say. One; two. Why then 'tis time to do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier and afeared? What need we fear? Who knows it when none can call our power to account?"
    Lady Macbeth's guilty conscience prompts her sleep-walking confession. Yet she also defies judgement in this speech, asking who can call her and her husband to account for their deeds
  9. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "For the poor wren, / The most diminutive of birds, will fight , / Her young ones in her nest, against the owl"
    Abandoned by her husband in his hurry to flee Macbeth, Macduff's wife compares herself to the tiny wren, who will protect her young from the more powerful owl, knowing that she has no hope of success
  10. Match the dialogue to the correct speaker.

    "Thou wast born of woman, / But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn, / Brandished by man that's of a woman born"
    Macbeth believes himself invincible, according to the witches' prophecy that he cannot be defeated by anyone 'of woman born'. Macduff, of course, was not born, but 'from his mother's womb untimely ripped' (i.e. delivered by caesarean)

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