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Macbeth - Acts 3-4 - Summary and Study Guide

Acts 3-4



***A note on reading Shakespeare: this stuff was written between 1564-1616 and it’s…different. I read this at school and I distinctly remember thinking: “This is nonsense.” Written before humans cracked electricity, Shakespeare (the work) is challenging, but try to do two things as you read: 1. Don’t sweat not understanding huge chunks of text (I still don’t). 2. This is a foundation of English literature and language, 

So, enjoy the ride!


Also, because we love you, we’ve written a summary of Acts 3-4. You’re welcome!*** 


Jool Listening 8.1.6 - Watch this before you continue:



Illustrate and explain the key ideas in the video:












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The Jool Summary - Macbeth - Acts 3-4

By someone who still has nightmares about studying Macbeth at school…*gurgle*

In acts 3 and 4 of "Macbeth," the plot thickens so much, you could cut it with a butter knife your Nan used to butter your toast with as a kid. If you thought things couldn't get more twisted than a season finale of your favourite drama, Shakespeare is here to prove you wrong. Let's dive into the madness, shall we? And…it really is INSANE!

Act 3: The Banquet of Woeful Decisions

Macbeth, now King, is feeling about as secure on his throne as a cat on a hot tin roof. Why? Because Banquo’s around, and he remembers those witchy prophecies too well for Macbeth’s comfort. Solution? Kill Banquo and his son, Fleance, because apparently, Macbeth’s solution to everything is murder. Banquo bites the dust, but Fleance pulls a Harry Houdini and escapes.


Then comes the world's worst dinner party. Macbeth throws a feast, hoping to enjoy his ill-gotten gains, but instead, he's haunted by Banquo's ghost. Cue Macbeth talking to thin air, while his guests wonder if their king's cheese has slid off his cracker. Lady Macbeth tries to save face, blaming it on a quirky illness, but let's be honest, the only thing ill here is Macbeth's conscience.


Act 4: Double, Double, Toil, and Trouble

Macbeth visits the witches again because when you're in this deep, why not? They hit him with three new prophecies: beware Macduff, no one born of a woman will harm Macbeth, and he's safe until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Macbeth takes this to mean he's invincible, missing the memo on reading between the lines.


Feeling untouchable, Macbeth decides to kill everyone Macduff loves, because if you're going to be a tyrant, might as well go full throttle. Meanwhile, Macduff is in England, joining forces with Malcolm (Duncan’s son) to give Macbeth the boot.


Key Character Analysis

Macbeth: He's gone from brave warrior to a paranoid tyrant, seeing threats in every shadow. His solution to every problem is more violence, which is about as effective as a chocolate teapot.

Lady Macbeth: Her role dims in these acts, but her influence lingers like a bad smell. She starts to unravel, haunted by the guilt of her deeds. Turns out, a spotless conscience is harder to clean than she thought.

The Witches: Still the reigning champions of chaos, they're like the mean girls of mediaeval Scotland, stirring the pot (quite literally) and watching the fallout with glee.



Key Themes

Power: Power's a slippery slope covered in ice. Macbeth's guilt manifests in paranoia and hallucinations, showing that power obtained by foul means is as stable as a house of cards in a wind tunnel.

Violence and Tyranny: Macbeth's reign is marked by bloodshed and fear. His tyrannical rule is a textbook example of how not to be king.


Notes on the Language

Shakespeare cranks up the dramatic irony and symbolism in these acts. The imagery of blood and darkness continues to play a starring role, symbolising guilt and the moral decay of Macbeth's reign. The language is rich, with Macbeth’s speeches delving into existential angst that would make a modern-day philosopher nod in approval. The dialogue between characters crackles with tension, making every scene a linguistic tightrope walk.


And that's Acts 3 and 4 of "Macbeth," a tale of murder, madness, and making all the wrong choices. Shakespeare delivers a masterclass in how not to deal with guilt and ambition, wrapping it up in a package of poetic brilliance that's as entertaining as it is tragic.


Questions - do what they say on the tin!

By now, you know your Macbeth from your Macduff from your MacMuffin - it’s going to get tragic! Here are some questions to ponder - all written thematically to get you thinking not so much about simply WHAT is happening, but SO WHAT?


The Consequences of Tyranny:

In Acts 3 and 4, Macbeth transitions from a troubled ruler to a tyrant consumed by paranoia and guilt. Discuss how Macbeth's rule reflects the play's exploration of the consequences of tyranny. How does Shakespeare use Macbeth's actions and the reactions of other characters to critique the nature of tyrannical power and its impact on both the ruler and the realm?

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The Role of the Supernatural:

The witches play a crucial role in Macbeth's decision-making process in these acts. Analyse the impact of the supernatural elements, particularly the witches' prophecies, on the plot's development. How do the supernatural predictions influence Macbeth's sense of invincibility and his subsequent actions? What does this suggest about the theme of fate versus free will in the play?

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The Isolation of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth:

As Macbeth delves deeper into tyranny and madness, both he and Lady Macbeth become increasingly isolated from each other and those around them. Discuss the evolution of their relationship in these acts and how their isolation contributes to their downfall:


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Imagery and Symbolism:

Acts 3 and 4 are rich with imagery and symbolism, particularly related to blood, darkness, and the natural world. Choose one recurring symbol or motif and analyse its significance in these acts. How does Shakespeare use this imagery to enhance the play's themes and characters' emotional states? What effect does this have on the audience's understanding of the play's moral and philosophical questions?

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Task 1: Thematic Art Series - Symbols of Power and Guilt

Create a series of artworks (3-5 pieces) that explore the symbols of power and guilt in Acts 3 and 4, such as the crown, blood, and the apparitions.Use any medium you feel comfortable with (painting, digital art, sculpture, STICK-FIGURES!!!! etc.). Accompany each piece with a brief explanation of its symbolism and relevance to the acts.


Task 2: The Unseen Banquet Write a creative piece (short story, monologue, or a series of diary entries) from the perspective of an unseen character at Macbeth's banquet (Act 3, Scene 4) or someone affected by Macbeth's tyranny in Acts 3 and 4.

Through your character's eyes, explore the atmosphere of fear and suspicion, the impact of Macbeth's actions on Scotland, and the role of supernatural influences.

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