For your one paragraph essay, you will trace one of the following themes or motifs throughout

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English 2 Macbeth
Essay Prompt:

For your ONE PARAGRAPH essay, you will trace one of the following themes or motifs throughout Macbeth, using concrete examples from the play. You will want to incorporate Shakespeare’s use of language through the literary and poetic devices listed below (i.e. paradox, metaphor, simile, personification, imagery, meter, rhyme, etc.), just like you did with your gems.

For example, you may say choose the following theme: “Appearances are deceiving” or explore how Shakespeare uses a motif, like manliness. Then, choose one or two literary or poetic devices to analyze to prove your thesis. This is very similar to what you did for your group essay for 1984. See your green diction packet for further help.
A theme is a complete statement that explains the author’s message to the reader.

A motif if a recurring image or idea throughout the work. (You must use these to create an argument. Ask, “What is Shakespeare saying about this motif?”)

Possible Themes—you can also be creative and formulate your own theme!

  1. Appearances can be deceiving.

  2. Great ambition, or inordinate lust for power, ultimately brings ruin.

  3. Temptation can defeat even the strongest human beings.

  4. Guilt haunts the evildoer.

Example thesis: Through the use of metaphor, Shakespeare traces the theme that appearances are deceiving.
Or, you may choose a motif, like gender/definition of manliness:

Example thesis: Shakespeare, through his use of imagery, demonstrates that manliness is not always defined by physical strength.

**NOTE: Creating a unique thesis is the first step to an “A” paper. Boring thesis statements lead to boring papers.

With a motif, explore the use of the image throughout the work and create an argument. In other words, answer the question: “What is Shakespeare showing through the image of blood?” or “What is Shakespeare saying about manliness?”



Near the end of the third scene in Act I, Banquo foreshadows the terrible events to come with an allusion to the witches as “instruments of darkness” that sometimes speak the truth in order to bring their listeners to ruin. Banquo says that 

      oftentimes, to win us to our harm,

The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray ’s [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)

Example: Lady Macbeth trying to gain courage to convince Macbeth to kill Duncan:

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. (1. 5. 48-51)
Allusions to the Bible: 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)
...... Second Passage: Lady Macbeth challenges her husband to be a man.
.................. 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)

Imagery: 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 king–humble, 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)
Gender/Meaning of manhood:

Lady Macbeth often questions Macbeth’s manhood in order to persuade him to do what she wants him to do, like kill King Duncan.

Later, Macbeth uses this technique to convince Banquo’s murderers.

“What does it mean to be a man?” is asked throughout the play.

Lady Macbeth: She asks the spirits, “unsex me here” (I.iv) and tells Macbeth if he killed Duncan he “would/Be so much more the man” (
Examples of Figurative Language:
Similes: a comparison of two unlike things using like or as

(Flower imagery)

Look like the innocent flower,

But be the serpent under it. (I.v)


Your face, my Thane, is as a book where men

May read strange matters. (I.v)

Metaphors: a comparison of two unlike things NOT using like or as

(Planting imagery)

I have begun to plant thee, and will labor

To make thee full of growing. (I.iv)

(Clothing imagery)

Why do you dress me

In borrowed robes? (I.iii)

Personification: giving an inanimate object human qualities

If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me,

Without my stir (I.iii)

Was the hope drunk

Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since? (I.vii)

Alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of the words

But now I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in

To saucy doubts and fears. (III.iv)

Symbol: an object that represents something else

the presence of birds is one aspect of nature which symbolizes the theme of superstitions/omens.

When Duncan and Banquo note that Macbeth's castle enjoys the good omen of nesting martlets, the audience already realizes the danger Duncan will be facing if he spends the night at Inverness (I.v). Therefore, the "fair" omen is to become "foul."

Other motifs you might choose to locate and discuss are

  • water/washing ("A little water clears us of this deed" II.ii)

  • weather "Hover through the fog and filthy air," I.i)

  • clothing ("borrowed robes" worn by the Thane of Cawdor, (I.iii)

  • sleep ("Not so sick, my lord, as she is troubled with thick-coming fancies that keep her from her rest" (V.iii).

3. Foreshadowing: a hint of what will happen later in the play

The witches set the tone in Act I, scene 1 with a storm and predictions that Macbeth's life will become so confused he will find it difficult to differentiate between right and wrong (fair and foul), and their later predictions foreshadow a downfall the audience is aware of long before Macbeth is willing to accept their implications.

- The play opens with thunder and lightning as three witches enter. What does this tell about the mood of the play? Is this play going to be a tragedy or a comedy?

- What do the witches mean when they say, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" (I.i)? What does this tell you about what is likely to go on during the play?
4. Dramatic Irony: when the audience knows something the characters do not know

Shakespeare's audience enjoyed being informed of events before the characters were aware of the implications.

- The example given of Macbeth's lack of awareness of his new title, Thane of Cawdor

- Another is Duncan commenting on the pleasantness of Macbeth's castle while the audience knows the

Macbeths have just planned his murder to take place there that very night (

- The most powerful examples of dramatic irony include Macbeth's acceptance of the apparitions' seeming assurances that no man "of woman born shall harm Macbeth" and that he is safe until Birnam Woods move

Other terms to know from this unit:
Oxymoron: 2 words next to each other that seem to contradict each other (icy fire, slow speed)

Paradox: 2 ideas that seem to contradict themselves but could present a truth (be cruel to be kind)

Pun: a play on words; to words that sound the same, but have different meanings

(Hamlet says to his step-father, “I am too much in the sun”—“sun means both the sunshine and being his new step-son)

Character foil: A minor character whose situation or actions parallel those of a major character, and thus by contrast sets off or illuminates the major character; most often the contrast is complimentary to the major character.

Antagonist: anti-hero

Allusion: a reference to something else (usually the Bible or Shakespeare or something else that is famous) (ex. Neptune’s ocean—allusion to mythology)

Rhyming couplet: two lines that rhyme; Shakespeare uses these to end his scenes

Iambic pentameter: 5 feet in the pattern of unstressed, stressed syllables (10 syllables)

Blank verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter

Prose: normal speech that is not metered nor poetic

Double entendre: double meaning, usually with a sexual connotation

Connotation (n.)/ connotes (v.): the association a word has

Denotation (n.)/ denotes (v.): the literal/dictionary definition of a word

Hyperbole: exaggeration (ex. Macbeth says it would take all of Neptune’s ocean to wash the blood away from his hands.)

Juxtaposition: placing two things next to each other to show contrast (ex. Macbeth says it would take the entire ocean to wash away the bloody guilt, but Lady Macbeth says it only takes a little water.)

Aside: a part of an actor's lines supposedly not heard by others on the stage and intended only for the audience. (ex. [aside to Lady Macbeth; aside to audience] )

Monologue: a long speech given by a character to the audience, himself, or another character

Soliloquy: a type of monologue in which the character is alone on stage and expresses his deepest emotions
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