Macbeth - Setting

This GCSE English Literature quiz tests your knowledge of setting in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. A text's setting includes the location and the time in which events take place, in addition to atmosphere. In a play, events which occur offstage also affect the plot and the characters. Such offstage events represent a key component of a play’s setting, and are known as context (bear in mind that “context” in this sense differs from the author’s real-life context). A play’s setting is enhanced by the decisions a director makes when staging, although some aspects of setting are made clear by the playwright. The sinister atmosphere of Macbeth is created through language and events, as well as the inclusion of the supernatural witches.

Think carefully about the setting of the text you are studying.

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This is an important step in your analysis. How does setting affect the decisions which characters take? In some of the scenes of Macbeth the private, secretive atmosphere becomes almost claustrophobic and in other scenes the natural or supernatural world begins to advance upon or intervene in human affairs. Think about the various places of the text: the heath, the battlefield, private rooms within fortified castles. Which of these places are wild and violent? Are any safe?

Geographical setting includes the country, region or city; any buildings or other places where events occur; and also the weather, season or time of day. Which events occur in the same place and which occur elsewhere? Is the time in which the text set made clear? How? Do any characters travel to or from other places? What is the effect created by this travel? Are different settings contrasted with one another?

Whenever you read a text which is set in a different time and place to when and where it was written, it is a good idea to think of the reasons which might be behind the author’s choices. What reasons might Shakespeare have had for not setting his play in seventeenth-century England? How is our understanding of the play affected by comparing its setting with its context?

Answer the questions below on setting in Macbeth.

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  1. Where is Macbeth set?
    Other places mentioned include Northumbria and Ireland (Duncan's sons flee to these two) and Norway, whose King has invaded Scotland at the beginning of the play
  2. When is Macbeth set?
    Macbeth ruled Scotland between 1040 and 1057
  3. Where does Macbeth encounter the weïrd sisters?
    The word "heath" means a large space of open ground, wild rather than cultivated
  4. Where does Macbeth send the murderers to find Lady Macduff?
    Macbeth tells Lennox: "The castle of Macduff I will surprise, / Seize upon Fife, give to th'edge o'th'sword / His wife, his babes and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line." The scene in Macduff's castle is one of the few which takes place outside Macbeth's own castles
  5. Which of the following settings does NOT appear on stage?
    The murder of the King and his two men takes place off stage; characters come and go, describing the scene which they experience, but the audience only experiences through their reactions
  6. Most of Act Two takes place when?
    Most of Act Two takes place during the night, ending in the morning discovery of the King's body and in the fleeing of his sons. The fact that it is night is mentioned often by the characters
  7. Who is associated with the sound of thunder in the play?
    In Act One, Scenes One and Three, and again in Act Three, Scene Five, and Act Four, Scene One, the witches' appearance is marked by thunder
  8. Where is Macbeth finally defeated?
    The witches' prophecy in which Macbeth places great faith promises that he cannot be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Siward, Earl of Northumberland, refers to Macbeth keeping still in Dunsinane, not fearing a siege
  9. Scenes which take place in the interior often present Macbeth plotting with one or two other characters. What is the effect of setting in these scenes?
    Power - or at least power gained through betrayal - appears to be psychologically isolating, leading to paranoia; these psychological effects would be emphasised by a castle interior which receives little natural light
  10. Where is Banquo murdered?
    The murderers discuss the fact that Banquo is walking the final mile to the palace gates

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