RQ: Macbeth, Acts 4-5

Macbeth, Acts 4 & 5


1. Why do the weird sisters, Hecate, and “their masters” (4.1.78) want to effect the affairs of state? What’s their stake in the outcome of battle for the throne of Scotland?

2. How are we supposed to read the spells? Are the spells a metaphor for how nature effects culture? Or are they just silly—nothing would happen if all those items were mixed together.

3. What three apparitions does Macbeth see and what prophesies do they bring him? How does Macbeth respond? Is his response consistent with Hecate’s expectations?

4. Why does MacBeth kill MacDuff’s family? What’s your assessment of Lady MacDuff and her son?

5. Of what is MacDuff attempting to persuade Malcolm? Why is Malcolm suspicious of MacDuff? How does Malcolm test MacDuff’s character? Will Malcolm make a better king than Macbeth, why or why not?

6. What do the Gentlewoman and the Doctor observe Lady Macbeth doing? What conclusions do they draw from their interpretation?

7. How do Malcolm and his forces disguise themselves as they move on Macbeth’s castle? What are the implications of their disguise?

8. How does Macbeth respond to the news of Lady Macbeth’s death & how does the form of his response fit into the larger scene? Does Lady Macbeth kill herself? Why does Malcolm make such a report?

9. Why might it matter that Malcolm is not “of woman born” (5.10.13)?

10. Close read the following passages and then compare them:

Passage One

Wisdom—to leave his wife, to leave his babes,

His mansion, and his title in a place

From whence himself does fly? He loves us not,

He wants the natural touch, for the poor wren,

The most diminutive of birds, will fight,

Her young ones in her nest, agaist the owl.

All is the fear and nothing is the love;

As little is the wisdom, where the flight

So runs against all reason. (4.1.6-14)

Passage Two

I will not yield

To kiss the ground before yourn Malcolm’s feet,

And to be baited with the rabble’s curse.

Though Birnam Wood be come to Dunsinane,

And though opposed being of no woman born,

Yet I will try the last. Before my body

O throw my warlike shield. Lay on, MacDuff

And damned be him that first cries ‘Hold, enough!’ (5.10.27-35)





RQ: Macbeth, Acts 1-3

Macbeth, Act I, Questions

1.Why is it bad luck to say Macbeth backstage during a production of any play? 

2. Do the Weird Sisters, the First, Second, and Third Witch remind you of the Furies?

3. What sorts of offstage sounds do we hear in 1.1? Does it matter that the animals in the first scene are named and the people are not?

4. Who, what, and where are the Witches talking about in 1.1?

5. We get two accounts of the battle in 1.2, compare the account given by the Bloody Captain to the account that Ross gives. Why tell the same story twice? Why does the Captain use such awesome similes?

6. Do the Witches cause the thunder?

7. What sort of spell do the Witches cast at the beginning of 1.3 and why?

8. What do the Witches predict will happen to Macbeth? To Banquo? Compare the way in which each character reacts to the sisters and their predictions. Esp. Macbeth (1.3.126-42). COMPARE TWO SCENES.

9. How did Cawdor die? Who inherits after Duncan dies?

10. When does Macbeth choose to kill Duncan (1.4.48-53)?

11. What does Macbeth say in the letter he writes to Lady Macbeth? How does she respond? Is she a good reader–compare her reading practices with Julia or Silvia’s. Would Macbeth have committed the murders if not for Lady Macbeth?

12. Lots of birds so far. What do you make of “The raven himself is hoarse/That croacks the fatal entrance of Duncan” (1.5.37) and “This guest of summer,/The Temple-haunting marlet, does approve/By his loved masionry that the heavens’ breath/Smells wooingly her” (1.6.2-5).

13. In his famous soliloquy (1.7.1-28), Macbeth reasons through the pros and cons of killing Duncan. What are some arguments against the murder? What are some arguments in favor?

14. How does Lady Macbeth finally convince Macbeth to go through with the murder?

Act 2

1. Banquo tells Macbeth something the king did right before going to bed. What is this final action of King Duncan’s life? What does it tell us about King Duncan? How does it reinforce the themes of the play?

2. What is the significance of the floating dagger (2.1.32-40)? Why Macbeth can see it but not touch it? In what way is the dagger similar to the prophecies?

3. When Macbeth says, ”I go, and it is done” (2.1.62), what has finally convinced him to murder Duncan?

4. How does Shakespeare show in this scene that Macbeth’s natural relationship with god, man, animals, and the world has been disrupted?

5. What is the relationship between sleep and death in Macbeth? For instance, Macbeth says that he heard a voice cry, ”Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep” (2.2.33-34); Lady Macbeth says “The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures” (2.2.51-52); and Macbeth says of the knocking, “Wake Duncan with thy knocking. I would thou couldst” (2.2.72). How do the Macbeths’ musings on sleep in 2.2 anticipate the alarum raised when everyone discovers Duncan has been murdered in 2.3?

6. Where does blood show up in 2.2, and why do Macbeth and Lady Macbeth respond so differently? How do you think the Shakespeare’s theater staged the blood? Do you think stage blood might behave in ways the actors cannot control?

7. Why stage MacDuff and Lennox’s entrance to Macbeth’s castle as passing through the gates of Hell? Is Macbeth’s castle really a place of torment and punishment?

8. What sort of night have MacDuff and Lennox passed through (2.3.50-56)?

9. Which characters’ description of the murder scene is the best?

10. How do the character react to the murder?

11.In 2.4, how does the natural world both predict and react to Duncan’s death?

Act 3

In 3.1, Macbeth invites Banquo to dinner? Are the Macbeths good hosts?

How does Macbeth persuade the murders to kill Banquo? Why do the Murders agree to take the job? Why does Macbeth want Banquo and Fleance dead?

How do Macbeth and Lady Macbeth feel about their new positions? What do the phrases, ”doubtful joy” (3.29) and ”sorriest fantasies” ( reveal

Lady Macbeth says, ”Naught’s had, all’s spent, Where our desire is got without content.” What does this line mean? Why is it significant for her character?



DQ, Two Gentlemen of Verona

Featured Image, TGV, First Folio (1623)


Keep the following questions in mind as you read The Jew of Malta

Act 1

  • 1. Why does Proteus stay at home and why does Valentine prepare to travel to Milan?
  • 2. What request does Proteus make of Valentine before he leaves for Milan?
  • 3. How does love transform Proteus?
  • 4. How does this play define “love” in the first act? Why is love so hard to define?
  • 5. What’s going on with the letter that Proteus sends Julia? Why are Julia’s reading practices so fraught?
  • 6. Why does Proteus’s dad, Antonio, want to send him to the “Emperor”?
  • 7. What lie does Proteus make up about the letter Julia sends him? Why?

Acts 2-3

  • 1.Why does Silvia trick Valentine into writing a letter to himself? How does her trick comment on the quality of his writing and his love for her?
  • 2. What do you think of Silvia and Valentine’s relationship? How do they compare with Julia and Proteus?
  • 3. Why dangers does the “cult of courtly love” pose to the larger social structures in TGV?
  • What are some examples from that we’ve read so far in which “love” shapes the lover’s perception of the beloved? Do tropes of “courtly love” suggest that perception always shapes objects we perceive (i.e. is beauty always in the eye of the beholder)?
  • 5. Can we spend a minute with Lance, Crab, and the pantomime-with-in the larger play? What’s going on in the pantomime? Are we supposed to read the rest of the play against this moment? Who is the dog? Why does the answer to that question matter?
  • 6. Who gets the best in the contest over Silvia, Thurio, Valentine, or neither man?
  • 7. Are Proteus and Julia married?
  • 8. Does Valentine really know Proteus?
  • 9. How and why has Valentine changed since he left Verona?
  • 10. Why does Proteus betray Valentine’s secret to the Duke?
  • 11. How has Julia changed since we saw her last? Why does she plant to dress in “such weeds/As may beseem some well-reputed page” (2.742-3)?
  • 12. How does the Duke trick Valentine into admitting to his plan to “enfranchise” (3.1.151) Silvia?
  • 13. What’s your assessment of Valentine’s letter to Silvia:

    My thoughts do harbor with my Silvia nightly,
    And slaves they are to me, that send them flying.
    O, could their master come and go as lightly,
    Himself would lodge where, senseless, they are lying.
    My herald thoughts in thy pure bosom rest them,
    While I , their king, that thither them importune,
    Do curse the grace that with such grace hath blessed them,
    Because myself do want my servants fortune.
    I curse myself for they are sent by me,
    that they should harbor where their lord should be. (3.1.140-49)

  • 14. How does Lance’s inventory of his ideal woman comment on the Valentine and Proteus?
  • 15. How do Thurio, the Duke, and Proteus plan to trick Silvia into falling out of love with Valentine?
  • 16. Does this play advocate violence against women and sexual assault, OR is the play trying to think about systemic causes of rape culture?
  • 17. How does the figure of the animal intersect with questions about gender and sexuality in this play?

Acts 4-5

  • 1. What happens to Valentine after he is exiled from the court of Milan? What reason does he give when the outlaws ask why he was exiled? Why does he lie?
  • 2. Is the world out of doors different from the world inside? If yes, how?
  • 3. What techniques or actions does Proteus employ to woo Silvia once Valentine is exiled? How does Silvia respond?
  • 4. What’s your assessment of Julia? Why does she persist in her love for Proteus? Why does she “pity him/That with his very heart despiseth me?” (4.4.86-7)
  • 5. Is Silvia a good rhetorician? To answer this question, may want to look at how she persuaded Sir Eglamour to help her escape her father (4.3.11-36), or her response to Proteus (4.286-98).
  • 6. In 4.2, the Host perceives that Julia, who is disguised as Sebastian, does not like Proteus’s song. One reasons she gives for not liking the song is that the change in the music is the “spite” (4.2.64). Is this a play about the relative merits of change and constancy? If yes, what is your final assessment of the those concepts as they pertain to the play?  “O heaven, were man/But constant, he were perfect” (5.4.108-9).
  • 7. Who rescues Silvia from the Outlaws and what does her rescuer expect in return?
  • 8. How does Valentine respond to Proteus’s apology? Were you surprised?
  • 9. What sort of future does Valentine have planned according to the final five lines of the play?
  • 10. The Jew of Malta and The Two Gentlemen of Verona were both written, and maybe played, in 1589, so the plays share many staging/acting techniques unique to early modern drama. What are some techniques that the two plays share? What do those techniques help communicate to the audience?
  • 11. Is Silvia a good friend? In your final assessment, who are the best pair of friends we have seen so far this semester?

DQ. Jew of Malta, Acts 1-5


Keep the following questions in mind as you read The Jew of Malta

Act 1

  • 1. Who is Machiavel and why does he open the show? What does he tell audiences about Barabas? Does his description of Barabas square with the character when we meet him?
  • 2. Describe Barabas and/or Machiavel’s world views. Do they challenge or corroborate plays we’ve seen so far this semester?
  • 3.How wealthy is Barabas? How does Marlowe convey his wealth to the audience?
  • 4. How does Barabas describe Christians? Jews? Does his description of either or both square with the Christians and Jews we meet later on? What’s Barabas’s point of view on state power?
  • 5. What role does the aside play in this play?
  • 6. Why does Ferneze take all of Barabas’s money? What’s your assessment of Fereneze’s leadership style? Of Calymath’s?  
  • 7. What do you think about Barabas’s relationship with Abigail? How does the Aeschylus reference overshadow it? 
  • 8. What’s the relationship between race and animals in Jew of Malta, Act 1?

Act 2 (& a little bit of Act 1)

  • 1. We see all sorts of new staging in this play. In what way is meaning effected by not only the asides, but also the funny business around the sign of the cross & X marks the spot at the end of act one? This play makes a lot of use of the balcony. What might the Romeo and Juliet resonances suggest: “What star shines yonder in the east” (2.1.42). Why all the little scenes?  
  • 2. What’s the effect of all the birds: “Birds of the air will tell of murders past” (Prologue 16), “Halycon’s bill” (1.1.39), “Raven Wakes the morning lark,” (2.1.60).  
  • 3. What work do all the other animal allusions do?  
  • 4. Slave Market Scene, 2.3: Who and what authorizes the sale of slaves?
  • 5. Who has done more terrible things, Barabas or Ithamore?
  • 6. How does Barabas plan to get his revenge against Fereneze? Is his revenge justified? 

Act 3

  • 1. How do Katherine, mother of Mathias, and Ferenze, father of Lodowick, respond to the deaths of their respective sons?
  • 2. What does Barabas’s orchestration of Lowick and Mathias’ death say about the theater? OR theater producers?
  • 3. Compare Abigail and Barabas.
  • 4. What do you make of Barabas and Ithamore’s relationship? What does it mean the Ithamore is Barabas’s heir?
  • 5. There are a lot of curses in this play? What rhetorical function does the “curse” serve?
  • 6. How does Barabas react to Abigail’s return to the convent? Is it out of proportion to her decision? 
  • 7. What’s Abigail’s dying wish? How can this scene be played for laughs?

Acts 4 & 5

Discussion Questions

  • 1. Compare the list of deeds Barabas says he done to the deeds he does over the course of the play. Is the speech at the end of 3.2 a spell or a script? Does Barabas determine, through language, the play’s outcome and his own tragic fate? 
  • 2. On Tuesday, we forgot to talk about Barabas and Ithamore’s relationship. So…what do you make of their relationship? How does their “friendship” compare to the other “parings” in this play?
  • 3. Let’s take a minute and read through Ithamore’s report of the Bernardine’s hanging (4.2.24-29). Compare this moment to other instances of “reporting” in Jew of Malta, 3.3.20-24 or 4.1.30-43. 
  • 4. There are a lot of letters in this play–Barabas’ forgeries to Lodowick and Mathias (4.1.49) and the blackmail letters Bellamira conns/demands that Ithamore write to Barabas (4.274-90) are just two examples. Why is reading and writing letters so important in this play? What do the letters tell us about the status of authorship in the this play?
  • 5. How does get revenge against Ithamore, Pilia-Borza, and Bellamira? 
  • 6. How does Barabas escape being prosecuted for the muders of the nuns, his daughter, the two friars, Lodowick, and Mathias?
  • 7. Who’s the best governor of Malta?  
  • 8. The final parting shot of Jew of Malta is of Barabas, first falling and the boiling to death inside the cauldron he set up for Calymath. How can we read Barabas’s fall? 
  • 9. What’s for dinner? Also how does the big cauldron at the end echo the pot that Barabas poisons?
  • 10. What is your final assessment of Barabas? Of the relative status of humans?

DQ: Second Shepherd’s Play

Featured Image from Folger Library 2016 Production


Keep the following questions in mind as you read The Second Shepherd’s Play

1.What’s the gist of Coll’s opening complaint?

2. Describe the verse structure. What are some instances in which the verse structure reinforces the content of the speeches?

3. Who is Coll talking about in line 40? Why is this man taking away all his stuff?

4. What are some of Gib’s complaints against marriage? What does Gib’s wife look like?

5. What con-job does Mak try to pull to steel the sheep initially?What is Coll’s reaction to Mak’s potential acting career? (I.e., where does he tell him to stick his fake southern accent?)

6. How frequently does Mak’s wife Gill give birth according to lines 347 and following?

7. Why does Mak draw a circle on the ground around the sleeping shepherds? What is he trying to do? What does Mak steal from the Shepherds as they sleep? How does this symbolically connect to the Christmas story?

8. What excuse does Mak give to leave the shepherds and return to his wife? (i.e., what does he say he saw in a dream as he slept?

9. Where do Gill and Mak hide their future dinner? How does that symbolically connect to the Christmas story?

10. When the shepherds “inform” Mak that one of their sheep has been stolen, Mak claims, “Had I been thore, / Some should have bought it full sore.” How is this funny or ironic?

11. Gill vows to the shepherds, “If ever I you beguiled, / That I eat this child / That lies in this cradill.” Why is this funny or ironic?

12. Explain how all these jokes about eating the child connect with the Christian ritual of eucharist or communion.

13. Coll, Gib, and Daw leave Mak’s house completely tricked. What do they realize as they leave that gives them the desire to go back? (What have they overlooked doing earlier that they now want to do out of generosity?

14. When Daw bends down to kiss Mak’s child, what about the “child” gives away its real identity?

15. How does Mak try to talk his way out of the problem in lines 867-68 and 882-84? How does Gill try to talk her way out of the situation after that?

16. After talking about burning Gill alive or cutting off Mak’s head, what punishment does the group settle on for Mak? Lecture Question: What was this activity associated with in the medieval period?

17. Who or what appears with good news after the shepherds lie down?

18. After receiving this message, Gib, Daw and Coll discuss the way the messenger sang, and they try to “croon” and imitate it? How is this symbolic?

19. Gib turns out to be something of a bible scholar. What does he connect with the angelic message in terms of prophecy?

20. How do themes of animal, gender, and work translate from Greek comedy & tragedy into the Medieval mystery tradition?


DQ: Wasps

Featured Image, The Jury, John Morgan


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Aristophanes, Wasps

Wasps (p.p. 3-36)

  • 1. Point out your favorite stage direction. What do the stage directions tell us about how ancient comedy was staged? How does the comedy staging differ from the staging of the tragedy? 
  • 2. What are some connections between The Oresteia and Wasps? How/why does Wasps talk back to The Oresteia?  
  • 3. Why does Bdelycleon lock his father up? What’s so terrible about being a “trialophile”(90)?
  • 4. To what sorts of animals does Philocleon get compared? Why?
  • 5. How does Philocleon’s description of the life of a juror differ from what the Chorus-Leader explains life as a juror is like?
  • 6. Is a juror a slave? Why/why not? What difference does it make?

(Wasps, 37-67)

  • 1. What are some reasons Bdelycleon uses to persuade his father to “try his own household” (767)? Which of the reasons that Bdelycleon proves to be most persuasive and why?  
  • 2. Describe the staging of the domestic courtroom. Of what is the Dog from Cydathenaeum accused? What is the most absurd aspect of the domestic court? Compare the domestic court scene to mock trial (is a juror a slave) in 1.1?
  • 3. What persuades Philocleon to acquit the first dog? 
  • 4. Towards the end of the first act, the Chorus leader addresses the audience directly for a second time and on behalf of the audience. Of what is he trying to persuade the audience? Is he successful?.
  • 5. How/why does Aristophanes cast the audience of his plays as a jury? What sorts of metaphors does he use to figure his complaint? How do all the examples of poor judgement complicate the decision the jury has to make?
  • 6.How does the figure of the animal complicate ideal masculinity in the final choral ode at in Act 1 (1060-1122)? 
  • 7. What sorts of clothes is Bdelycleon trying to get Philocleon to wear? Why does Philocleon initially resist? What persuades him to finally give in?
  • 8. What’s ironic about having so many rules at a “drinking party”? What sorts of stories Bdelycleon want his dad to tell? What sorts of stories does Philocleon want to tell?
  • 9. Is the drinking party as treacherous as Bdelycleon expects?
  • 10. How does the Philocleon ruin the party? Why does he try to convince Bdelycleon that the flute girls is a torch holder?
  • 11. Of what do the citizens accuse Philocleon at the end of the play?
  • 12. The play concludes with Philocleon and the chorus spinning around in circles. What are we supposed to take away from this final image? Do you agree with the Chorus’s final assessment that “No comic poet till today/Has hit on such a clever way/Of leading off his chorus” (1541-43)?

DQ: The Eumenides

Highlights from The Libation Bearers:

  • The chorus is made up of the procession of black robed women
  • Now, in the longest and most structurally complex lyric passage in extant Greek tragedy, the chorus, Orestes, and Electra, conjure the departed spirit of Agamemnon to aid them in revenging his murder.
  • Orestes then asks “why she sent libations, what calculation led her to offer too late atonement for a hurt past cure”(l.515-516). The chorus responds that in the palace of Argos Clytemnestra was roused from slumber by a nightmare: she dreamt that she gave birth to a snake, and the snake now feeds from her breast and draws blood along with milk.
  • Clytemnestra bears her breast and pleads, “Hold, oh child, and have shame” to which he responds by saying to his close friend Pylades, the son of the king of Phocis: “Shall I be ashamed to kill [my] mother ?”(l.896-899).
    • Some interpreters have suggested that Orestes’ question may be connected to a greater theme in the Oresteia: that sometimes we are faced with impossible decisions; in this case, Orestes’ familial duty to his father is fundamentally opposed to his familial duty to his mother
  • Chorus ends the play with the open ended question—where will the curse end, and we know that we’ll get the answer in the final play of the trilogy


The Eumenides (583-600)/Also called The Furies

1.Does Orestes murder of his mother justify the torment the Furies have inflicted on him and want to inflict on him after his death—hound him to a mad grave?

2.The opening scenes of this play contained a number of surprises for the Greek audience, departures from the conventional structure of tragedy. What are these surprises and how effective do you imagine they were when the play was actually performed?

3.Who is the speaker of the prologue? What story does she tell in her opening prayer?

4. What are some major themes in her prayer? How do these themes play out in the rest of the play?

5. What unusual gesture does she make? Why do you think she makes it, and how may the audience have responded? How do you respond?

6. Who are the Chorus? What is unusual about their entrance? What is unusual about their role in the play as a whole? How does the Priestess describe them?

7. First Episode: How does Apollo describe the Furies and what advice does he give to Orestes?

8. First Stasimon: Why are the Furies sleeping? What does their dream of Clytemnestra ask of them? How do they respond

DQ: The Agamemnon

Eagles and the Hare (111-160)
• Which characters does Calchas, the seer, think the eagles refer to? To what other characters might the eagles refer? To what characters does Calchas suggest the hare refers?
• What is the connection between the pregnant hare the eagles kill and Agamemnon’s sacrifice of Iphigenia? What exactly is Artemis angry about and how does her motivate the whole action of the play?

The “Hymn to Zeus” (162-92)
• What are we to make of these lines? Why does the Chorus begin as if they are praying and then switch to a description of the events on Aulis that they just talked about?
• What characters are they talking about here? Is the Chorus talking about Agamemnon or Paris? Or are they talking about Uranus, Kronos, and Zeus?
• Why does the Chorus retell the story of Iphigenia’s sacrifice? What new information do they add to the events that have come before?

Clytemnestra and the Chorus (258-356)
• Why does the Chorus as Clytemnestra for proof of the fall of Troy? Where do they accuse her of getting the knowledge? What proof does she give?
• What does her description and maintenance of the beacon system suggest about her powers as a ruler?
• What does Clytemnestra say about the Greeks at Troy in regard to the gods and temples of Troy? What does the chorus mean when it says, “let me loose myself in the wonder of it all” (320)?

The Herald (493-682)
• Which five things/gods does the Herald first greet when he arrives? What does each of these five mean to him?
• What instructions does he give to the chorus at first?
• What does the Herald say about the altars and gods of Troy (527 ff), and how does this hearken back to Clytemnestra’s words at 338ff? What is the effect on the audience?
• What does he mean when he says, “for years now/only my silence kept me free from harm” (538-9)? Is this an odd characteristic in a Herald? What does he keep silenced about? What does he say the conditions were like at the front?

Carpet Sequence (816-945)
• What is you assessment of Agamemnon’s character? Does he display excessive pride?
• How does Agamemnon respond to Clytemnestra’s speech? What three criticisms of her does he make?
• What’s going on with the crimson tapestries as out text translates it? Why is Agamemnon reluctant to step on the carpet?
• What/how does she persuade him to walk on the tapestries?

Cassandra’s Vision (1070-1317)
• What does Cassandra tell the Chorus at 1090 ff that they do not understand at first? Who are the small children wailing? See also line 1218. What does the Chorus finally understand about it? (1242)
• Why does Cassandra repeatedly mention a bath? Other than the past, what else does Cassandra see and how does the chorus react? (1108, 1127)
• When does the chorus change their minds? What makes them believe her? How can we deal with their seeming inconsistency?

The Murder of Agamemnon & Cassandra (1390-1551)
• How does Clytemnestra justify her murder of Agamemnon (1414ff, and 1445), and what reference does she make to the inactivity of the Chorus when Agamemnon committed his outrage at Aulis? (1414)
• What is the ‘triple-gorged spirit’ which Clytemnestra and the Chorus refer to? (1476, 1481) How is Zeus involved?
• Clytemnestra says that she was only an agent, but the real killer was something else. What does she claim that it was? And what is the Chorus’ response to her claim? (1500)
• What kind of burial will the murdered Agamemnon have? Who will kiss him after he dies, according to Clytemnestra? (1551)

Tomb of Aegisthus