Archive | Plays

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Romeo and Juliet

Posted on 07 July 2011 by Aajiz



Romeo is son and heir of Montague and Lady Montague. He’s a handsome man of about sixteen who falls easily in and out of love demonstrating his immaturity.

At the beginning of the play he is hopelessly in love with Rosaline but immediately falls in love with Juliet at first sight – Could this be fate? Shakespeare encourages us to question Romeo’s feelings towards Juliet. However, Romeo proves his love through his integrity and actions and he secretly marries Juliet with the help of his friend and confident Friar Lawrence.

Romeo is not interested in the on-going feud between his family and the Capulets – he is not a violent man. Tybalt tries to provoke Romeo into fighting him but, true to character, Romeo is not drawn in. However, when his close friend is killed by Tybalt, Romeo retaliates and kills in a fit of rage and grief.


Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet, is the daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet. At thirteen, Juliet is beautiful and at a marriageable age. Before meeting Romeo, Juliet has thought little about love and marriage. Her parents are keen to marry her to a husband with good prospects and have the County Paris in mind for a husband – he has expressed his interest in Juliet.

However, Juliet soon stumbles upon her fate when she meets Romeo and instantly falls in love with him, despite him being the son of her family’s enemy. “My only love sprung from my only hate,” she exclaims.

Like many women in Shakespeare’s plays, Juliet has very little freedom, but she is connected to the outside world through her closest friend, the Nurse. However, Juliet is prepared to abandon the Nurse entirely when she turns against Romeo. Juliet matures throughout the plot of the play and is eventually prepared to abandon her family in order to be with Romeo.


The House of Montague in Romeo and Juliet is one of “fair Verona’s” two feuding families – the other being the House of Capulet. Montague’s son, Romeo, falls in love with the daughter of Capulet and they elope much to the anger of their respective families.

This guide provides commentary on all the main characters in the House of Montague. Commentary on the House of Capulet is also available.

House of Montague

  • Montague: Father to Romeo and married to Lady Montague. Head of Montague clan, he is locked in a bitter and on-going feud with the Capulets. He is concerned that Romeo is melancholy at the beginning of the play.
  • Lady Montague: Mother to Romeo and married to Montague. She dies in grief when Romeo is banished.
  • Romeo Montague: Romeo is son and heir of Montague and Lady Montague. He’s a handsome man of about sixteen who falls easily in and out of love demonstrating his immaturity. You can read a more detailed analysis in our Romeo Character Study.
  • Benvolio: Montague’s nephew and Romeo’s cousin. Benvolio is a loyal friend to Romeo who tries to counsel him in his love life – he attempts to distract Romeo from thinking about Rosaline. He avoids and tries to defuse violent encounters, but it is implied by Mercutio that he does have a temper in private.
  • Balthasar: Romeo’s serving man. When Romeo is in exile, Balthasar brings him news of Verona. He unwittingly informs Romeo of Juliet’s death, but is not being aware that she has taken a substance to only appear dead.
  • Abraham: Montague’s serving man. He fights Capulet’s serving men Samson and Gregory in Act 1, Scene 1, establishing the discord between the families.


The House of Capulet in Romeo and Juliet is one of “fair Verona’s” two feuding families – the other being the House of Montague. Capulet’s daughter, Juliet, falls in love with the son of Montague and they elope much to the anger of their respective families.

This guide provides commentary on all the main characters in the House of Capulet. Commentary on the House of Montague is also available.

The House of Capulet

  • Capulet: Head of the Capulet clan, married to Lady Capulet and father to Juliet. Capulet is locked in an on-going, bitter and unexplained dispute with the Montague family. Capulet is very much in charge and demands respect. He is prone to rage if he does not get his own way. Capulet loves his daughter very much but is out of touch with her hopes and dreams. He believes that she should marry Paris.
  • Lady Capulet: Married to Capulet and mother to Juliet. Lady Capulet appears distanced from her daughter, Juliet. It is interesting to note that Juliet receives most of her moral guidance and affection from the Nurse. Lady Capulet, who also married young, believes it was high time Juliet was married off and believes Paris to be the most appropriate candidate.
  • Juliet Capulet: Daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet. At thirteen, Juliet is beautiful and about to be married to Paris. However, Juliet soon stumbles upon her fate when she meets Romeo and instantly falls in love with him, despite him being the son of her family’s enemy. You can read a more detailed analysis in our Juliet Character Study.
  • Tybalt: Lady Capulet’s Nephew and Juliet’s cousin. Tybalt is antagonistic and has a deep hatred of the Montagues. He has a short temper and is quick to draw his sword when his ego is in danger of being damaged. Tybalt has a vindictive nature and is feared.
  • Juliet’s Nurse: A loyal maternal figure and friend to Juliet, who provides moral guidance and practical advice having breast fed and brought Juliet up from birth. She knows Juliet better than any other and provides comic relief in the play with her bawdy sense of humor. The Nurse does not really understand Juliet’s desire to be taken over completely by love but despite this, assists her in attaining it. The Nurse has a disagreement with Juliet near the end of the play which demonstrates her lack of understanding about the intensity of Juliet’s feelings.
  • Samson: Serving man of the Capulets. After the Chorus, he is the first character to speak and establishes the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues.
  • Gregory: Serving man of the Capulets. Along with Samson, he discusses the tension in the Montague household.
  • Peter: A serving man of the Capulets, illiterate and a bad singer. Peter invites guests to the Capulets’ feast and escorts the Nurse to meet with Romeo.

Other Characters

  • Friar Lawrence: A religious man and friend to both Romeo and Juliet. The Friar is intent on negotiating a friendship between the Montagues and Capulets in order to restore peace to Verona. He believes that the joining of Romeo and Juliet in marriage could establish this friendship and performs their marriage in secret to this end. The Friar is resourceful and has a plan for every occasion. He also has medical knowledge and uses herbs and potions. It is the Friar’s idea that Juliet administers a potion in order that she may appear dead until Romeo can return to Verona to rescue her.
  • Mercutio: The Prince’s kinsman and a close friend to Romeo. Mercutio is a colorful character who enjoys word-play and double entendres particularly of a sexual nature. He does not understand Romeo’s desire for romantic love believing that sexual love is sufficient. Mercutio can be easily provoked and hates people who are pretentious or vain. Mercutio is one of Shakespeare’s best loved characters. On standing up for Romeo against Tybalt, Mercutio is slain, uttering the famous line, “A plague on both your houses.” This prophecy is realized as the plot unfolds.
  • Paris: The County Paris is a kinsman to the Prince. Paris expresses his interest in Juliet as a prospective wife. Capulet believes that Paris is an appropriate husband for his daughter and encourages him to propose. With Capulet’s backing Paris arrogantly believes that Juliet is his and behaves accordingly.
  • Prince of Verona: The political leader of Verona and kinsman to Mercutio and Paris. The Prince is intent on keeping peace in Verona and as such has a vested interest in establishing a truce between the Montagues and Capulets.
  • Friar John: A holy man employed by Friar Lawrence to deliver a message to Romeo about Juliet’s faked death. Fate causes the Friar to be delayed in a quarantined house and, as a result, the message does not reach Romeo.
  • Rosaline: Never appears onstage but is the object of Romeo’s initial infatuation. Renowned for her beauty and vow of lifelong chastity she cannot (or will not) return Romeo’s love.


Act 1

  • Scene 1: Samson and Gregory, Capulet’s men, discuss strategies to provoke a fight with the Montagues – banter between the two sides soon starts. Benvolio encourages peace among the families just as Tybalt enters and challenges him to a duel for being a cowardly Montague. Montague and Capulet soon enter and are encouraged by the Prince to keep the peace. Romeo is feeling dejected and forlorn – he explains to Benvolio that he is in love, but that his love is unrequited.
  • Scene 2: Paris asks Capulet if he may approach Juliet for her hand in marriage – Capulet approves. Capulet explains that he is holding a feast at which Paris could woo his daughter. Peter, a serving man, is dispatched to give out invitations and unwittingly invites Romeo. Benvolio encourages him to attend because Rosalind (Romeo’s love) will be present.
  • Scene 3: Capulet’s wife informs Juliet of Paris’ desire to marry her. The Nurse also encourages Juliet.
  • Scene 4: A masked Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio enter the Capulet celebration. Romeo tells of a dream he had about the consequences for attending the celebration: the dream foretold “untimely death”.
  • Scene 5: Capulet welcomes the masked revelers and invites them to dance. Romeo notices Juliet among the guests and instantly falls in love with her. Tybalt notices Romeo and informs Capulet of his presence offering to remove him. Capulet allows Romeo to stay in order to preserve the peace. Meanwhile, Romeo has located Juliet and the couple kisses.

Act 2

  • Scene 1: Upon leaving the Capulet grounds with his kinsman, Romeo has run off and hid himself in the trees. Romeo sees Juliet on her balcony and overhears her profess her love for him. Romeo responds in kind and they decide to marry the next day. Juliet is called away by her Nurse and Romeo bids her farewell.
  • Scene 2: Romeo asks Friar Lawrence to marry him to Juliet. The Friar chastises Romeo for being fickle and asks what happened to his love for Rosalind. Romeo dismisses his love for Rosalind and explains the urgency of his request.
  • Scene 3: Mercutio informs Benvolio that Tybalt has threatened to kill Mercutio. The Nurse ensures that Romeo is serious about his love for Juliet and warns him of Paris’ intentions.
  • Scene 4: The Nurse delivers the message to Juliet that she is to meet and marry Romeo in Friar Lawrence’s cell.
  • Scene 5: Romeo is with Friar Lawrence as Juliet hastily arrives. The Friar resolves to marry them quickly.

Act 3

  • Scene 1: Tybalt challenges Romeo, who attempts to pacify the situation. A fight breaks out and Tybalt kills Mercutio – before dying he wishes “a plague on both your houses.” In an act of revenge, Romeo kills Tybalt. The Prince arrives and banishes Romeo.
  • Scene 2: The Nurse explains that her cousin, Tybalt, has been killed by Romeo. Confused, Juliet questions Romeo’s integrity but then decides that she loves him and wants him to visit her before he is exiled. The Nurse goes to find him.
  • Scene 3: Friar Lawrence informs Romeo that he is to be banished. The Nurse enters to pass on Juliet’s message. Friar Lawrence encourages Romeo to visit Juliet and fulfill their marriage contract before going to exile. He explains that he will send a message when it is safe for Romeo to return as Juliet’s husband.
  • Scene 4: Capulet and his wife explain to Paris that Juliet is too upset about Tybalt to consider his marriage proposal. Capulet then decides to arrange for Juliet to marry Paris the following Thursday.
  • Scene 5: Romeo bids Juliet an emotional farewell after spending the night together. Lady Capulet believes that Tybalt’s death is the cause of her daughter’s misery and threatens to kill Romeo with poison. Juliet is told that she is to marry Paris on Thursday. Juliet refuses much to her father’s distain. The Nurse encourages Juliet to marry Paris but she refuses and decides to go to Friar Lawrence for advice.

Act 4

  • Scene 1: Juliet and Paris discuss the marriage and Juliet makes her feeling clear. When Paris leaves Juliet threatens to kill herself if the Friar cannot think of a resolution. The Friar offers Juliet a potion in a vial which will make her appear dead. She will be placed in the family vault where she is to wait for Romeo to take her to Mantua.
  • Scene 2: Juliet begs her father’s forgiveness and they discuss Paris’ marriage proposal.
  • Scene 3: Juliet asks to spend the night alone and swallows the potion with a dagger by her side in case the plan does not work.
  • Scene 4: The Nurse discovers Juliet’s lifeless body and the Capulets and Paris grieve her death. The Friar takes the family and Juliet’s seemingly dead body to church. They hold a ceremony for Juliet.

Act 5

  • Scene 1: Romeo receives news from Balthasar about Juliet’s death and is determined to die by her side. He buys some poison from an apothecary and makes the return journey to Verona.
  • Scene 2: The Friar finds out that his letter explaining the plan about Juliet’s faked death was not delivered to Romeo.
  • Scene 3: Paris is in Juliet’s chamber grieving her death when Romeo arrives. Romeo is apprehended by Paris and Romeo stabs him. Romeo kisses Juliet’s body and takes the poison. The Friar arrives to find Romeo dead. Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead and no poison left for her, she uses the dagger to kill herself in grief.

When the Montagues and Capulets arrive, the Friar explains the events leading to the tragedy. The Prince pleads with the Montagues and Capulets to bury their grievances and acknowledge their losses. The Montague and Capulet families finally lay their feud to rest.



Shakespeare’s treatment of love in the play is complex and multifaceted. He uses love in its many guises to thread together the key relationships in the play.

Fickle Love

Some characters fall in and out of love very quickly in Romeo and Juliet. For example, Romeo is in love with Rosaline at the start of the play, which is presented as an immature infatuation. Today, we might use the term “puppy love” to describe this. Romeo’s love for Rosaline is shallow and nobody really believes that it will last, including Friar Laurence:

Romeo. Thou chid’st me oft for loving Rosaline.
Friar Laurence. For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.

Similarly, Paris’ love for Juliet is borne out of tradition, not passion. He has identified her as a good candidate for a wife and approaches her father to arrange the marriage. Although this was the tradition at the time, it also says something about Paris’ staid attitude towards love. He even admits to Friar Laurence that in his haste to rush the wedding through he hasn’t discussed it with his bride-to-be:

Friar Laurence. On Thursday, sir? the time is very short.
Paris. My father Capulet will have it so;
And I am nothing slow to slack his haste.
Friar Laurence. You say you do not know the lady’s mind:
Uneven is the course, I like it not.
Paris. Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt’s death,
And therefore have I little talked of love;

Romantic Love

Our classic idea of romantic love is embodied in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare presents this as a force of nature, so strong that it transcends societal conventions. This idea is established in the play’s prologue with the line “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”

Perhaps Romeo and Juliet’s love is fate – there love is given cosmic significance which can therefore overturn the social boundaries of “fair Verona.” Their love is disallowed by the Capulet and Montague households, and Juliet is to marry Paris – Yet, they inevitably find themselves drawn together.

Other Types of Love

Many of the friendships in the play are as sincere as Romeo and Juliet’s love for one another. The close relationships between Juliet and her Nurse, and between Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are meaningful and heartfelt. They care deeply for another and protect each others honor – this ultimately costs Mercutio his life.

This platonic love is offset by the sexual innuendos made by some characters – particularly Juliet’s Nurse and Mercutio. Their view of love is earthy and purely sexual, creating an effective contrast with Romeo and Juliet’s romanticism.

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.”

Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene V


In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare explores the theme of fate by allowing the audience to be party to his characters’ destiny. In the opening lines of the play the audience is told what is going to happen to the lovers: “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.” Throughout the story, the audience is put in an omnipotent, god-like position from the start encouraging them to think about fate and to what extent our actions are free.

Because we know Romeo and Juliet’s fate from the outset we are constantly hoping that they will take a different course – perhaps that Romeo will arrive just after Juliet has woken. However, their fate is sealed and we are forced to question our own destiny and ability to make free choices.

When Mercutio shouts “a plague on both your houses” in Act 3, Scene 1, we are reminded of the protagonists’ fate. This bloody scene in which characters are killed gives us a glimpse of what fate has in store, marking the beginning of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic downfall.

Fate permeates the events and speeches in the play. Is it fate that Friar Lawrence’s plan to inform Romeo of Juliet’s faked death is not realized due to unforeseen circumstances? Is it fate that Romeo kills himself when he does?

Romeo and Juliet see omens throughout the play, continually reminding the audience of their fate. Their death is a catalyst for change in Verona: the dueling families are united in their grief creating a political shift in the city. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet were fated to love and die for the greater good of Verona.

“O, I am fortune’s fool!”

—Romeo, Act III Scene I

Duality (light and dark)

Scholars have long noted Shakespeare’s widespread use of light and dark imagery throughout the play. Caroline Spurgeon considers the theme of light as “symbolic of the natural beauty of young love” and later critics have expanded on this interpretation. For example, both Romeo and Juliet see the other as light in a surrounding darkness. Romeo describes Juliet as being like the sun, brighter than a torch, a jewel sparkling in the night, and a bright angel among dark clouds. Even when she lies apparently dead in the tomb, he says her “beauty makes This vault a feasting presence full of light.” Juliet describes Romeo as “day in night” and “Whiter than snow upon a raven’s back.”This contrast of light and dark can be expanded as symbols—contrasting love and hate, youth and age in a metaphoric way. Sometimes these intertwining metaphors create dramatic irony. For example, Romeo and Juliet’s love is a light in the midst of the darkness of the hate around them, but all of their activity together is done in night and darkness, while all of the feuding is done in broad daylight. This paradox of imagery adds atmosphere to the moral dilemma facing the two lovers: loyalty to family or loyalty to love. At the end of the story, when the morning is gloomy and the sun hiding its face for sorrow, light and dark have returned to their proper places, the outward darkness reflecting the true, inner darkness of the family feud out of sorrow for the lovers. All characters now recognise their folly in light of recent events, and things return to the natural order, thanks to the love of Romeo and Juliet. The “light” theme in the play is also heavily connected to the theme of time, since light was a convenient way for Shakespeare to express the passage of time through descriptions of the sun, moon, and stars.

“O brawling love, O loving hate,
O any thing of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!”

Romeo–Act I


Time plays an important role in the language and plot of the play. Both Romeo and Juliet struggle to maintain an imaginary world void of time in the face of the harsh realities that surround them. For instance, when Romeo swears his love to Juliet by the moon, she protests “O swear not by the moon, th’inconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb, / Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.” From the very beginning, the lovers are designated as “star-cross’d” referring to an astrologic belief associated with time. Stars were thought to control the fates of humanity, and as time passed, stars would move along their course in the sky, also charting the course of human lives below. Romeo speaks of a foreboding he feels in the stars’ movements early in the play, and when he learns of Juliet’s death, he defies the stars’ course for him.

Another central theme is haste: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet spans a period of four to six days, in contrast to Brooke’s poem’s spanning nine months. Scholars such as G. Thomas Tanselle believe that time was “especially important to Shakespeare” in this play, as he used references to “short-time” for the young lovers as opposed to references to “long-time” for the “older generation” to highlight “a headlong rush towards doom”. Romeo and Juliet fight time to make their love last forever. In the end, the only way they seem to defeat time is through a death that makes them immortal through art.

Time is also connected to the theme of light and dark. In Shakespeare’s day, plays were often performed at noon in broad daylight. This forced the playwright to use words to create the illusion of day and night in his plays. Shakespeare uses references to the night and day, the stars, the moon, and the sun to create this illusion. He also has characters frequently refer to days of the week and specific hours to help the audience understand that time has passed in the story. All in all, no fewer than 103 references to time are found in the play, adding to the illusion of its passage.
“These times of woe afford no time to woo.”
—Paris, Act III Scene IV

Criticism and interpretation

Critical history

The earliest known critic of the play was diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote in 1662: “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life.” Poet John Dryden wrote 10 years later in praise of the play and its comic character Mercutio: “Shakespear show’d the best of his skill in his Mercutio, and he said himself, that he was forc’d to kill him in the third Act, to prevent being killed by him.” Criticism of the play in the 18th century was less sparse, but no less divided. Publisher Nicholas Rowe was the first critic to ponder the theme of the play, which he saw as the just punishment of the two feuding families. In mid-century, writer Charles Gildon and philosopher Lord Kames argued that the play was a failure in that it did not follow the classical rules of drama: the tragedy must occur because of some character flaw, not an accident of fate. Writer and critic Samuel Johnson, however, considered it one of Shakespeare’s “most pleasing” plays.

In the later part of the 18th and through the 19th century, criticism centred on debates over the moral message of the play. Actor and playwright David Garrick’s 1748 adaptation excluded Rosaline: Romeo abandoning her for Juliet was seen as fickle and reckless. Critics such as Charles Dibdin argued that Rosaline had been purposely included in the play to show how reckless the hero was, and that this was the reason for his tragic end. Others argued that Friar Laurence might be Shakespeare’s spokesman in his warnings against undue haste. With the advent of the 20th century, these moral arguments were disputed by critics such as Richard Green Moulton: he argued that accident, and not some character flaw, led to the lovers’ deaths.

Dramatic structure

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare employs several dramatic techniques that have garnered praise from critics; most notably the abrupt shifts from comedy to tragedy (an example is the punning exchange between Benvolio and Mercutio just before Tybalt arrives). Before Mercutio’s death in Act three, the play is largely a comedy. After his accidental demise, the play suddenly becomes serious and takes on a tragic tone. When Romeo is banished, rather than executed, and Friar Laurence offers Juliet a plan to reunite her with Romeo, the audience can still hope that all will end well. They are in a “breathless state of suspense” by the opening of the last scene in the tomb: If Romeo is delayed long enough for the Friar to arrive, he and Juliet may yet be saved. These shifts from hope to despair, reprieve, and new hope, serve to emphasise the tragedy when the final hope fails and both the lovers die at the end.

Shakespeare also uses sub-plots to offer a clearer view of the actions of the main characters. For example, when the play begins, Romeo is in love with Rosaline, who has refused all of his advances. Romeo’s infatuation with her stands in obvious contrast to his later love for Juliet. This provides a comparison through which the audience can see the seriousness of Romeo and Juliet’s love and marriage. Paris’ love for Juliet also sets up a contrast between Juliet’s feelings for him and her feelings for Romeo. The formal language she uses around Paris, as well as the way she talks about him to her Nurse, show that her feelings clearly lie with Romeo. Beyond this, the sub-plot of the Montague–Capulet feud overarches the whole play, providing an atmosphere of hate that is the main contributor to the play’s tragic end.


Shakespeare uses a variety of poetic forms throughout the play. He begins with a 14-line prologue in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, spoken by a Chorus. Most of Romeo and Juliet is, however, written in blank verse, and much of it in strict iambic pentameter, with less rhythmic variation than in most of Shakespeare’s later plays. In choosing forms, Shakespeare matches the poetry to the character who uses it. Friar Laurence, for example, uses sermon and sententiae forms, and the Nurse uses a unique blank verse form that closely matches colloquial speech. Each of these forms is also moulded and matched to the emotion of the scene the character occupies. For example, when Romeo talks about Rosaline earlier in the play, he attempts to use the Petrarchan sonnet form. Petrarchan sonnets were often used by men to exaggerate the beauty of women who were impossible for them to attain, as in Romeo’s situation with Rosaline. This sonnet form is used by Lady Capulet to describe Count Paris to Juliet as a handsome man. When Romeo and Juliet meet, the poetic form changes from the Petrarchan (which was becoming archaic in Shakespeare’s day) to a then more contemporary sonnet form, using “pilgrims” and “saints” as metaphors. Finally, when the two meet on the balcony, Romeo attempts to use the sonnet form to pledge his love, but Juliet breaks it by saying “Dost thou love me?” By doing this, she searches for true expression, rather than a poetic exaggeration of their love. Juliet uses monosyllabic words with Romeo, but uses formal language with Paris. Other forms in the play include an epithalamium by Juliet, a rhapsody in Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, and an elegy by Paris.Shakespeare saves his prose style most often for the common people in the play, though at times he uses it for other characters, such as Mercutio. Humour, also, is important: scholar Molly Mahood identifies at least 175 puns and wordplays in the text. Many of these jokes are sexual in nature, especially those involving Mercutio and the Nurse.

Psychoanalytic criticism

Early psychoanalytic critics saw the problem of Romeo and Juliet in terms of Romeo’s impulsiveness, deriving from “ill-controlled, partially disguised aggression”, which leads both to Mercutio’s death and to the double suicide. Romeo and Juliet is not considered to be exceedingly psychologically complex, and sympathetic psychoanalytic readings of the play make the tragic male experience equivalent with sicknesses. Norman Holland, writing in 1966, considers Romeo’s dream as a realistic “wish fulfilling fantasy both in terms of Romeo’s adult world and his hypothetical childhood at stages oral, phallic and oedipal” – while acknowledging that a dramatic character is not a human being with mental processes separate from those of the author. Critics such as Julia Kristeva focus on the hatred between the families, arguing that this hatred is the cause of Romeo and Juliet’s passion for each other. That hatred manifests itself directly in the lovers’ language: Juliet, for example, speaks of “my only love sprung from my only hate” and often expresses her passion through an anticipation of Romeo’s death. This leads on to speculation as to the playwright’s psychology, in particular to a consideration of Shakespeare’s grief for the death of his son, Hamnet.

Feminist criticism

Feminist literary critics argue that the blame for the family feud lies in Verona’s patriarchal society. For Coppélia Kahn, for example, the strict, masculine code of violence imposed on Romeo is the main force driving the tragedy to its end. When Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo shifts into this violent mode, regretting that Juliet has made him so “effeminate”. In this view, the younger males “become men” by engaging in violence on behalf of their fathers, or in the case of the servants, their masters. The feud is also linked to male virility, as the numerous jokes about maidenheads aptly demonstrate. Juliet also submits to a female code of docility by allowing others, such as the Friar, to solve her problems for her. Other critics, such as Dympna Callaghan, look at the play’s feminism from a historicist angle, stressing that when the play was written the feudal order was being challenged by increasingly centralised government and the advent of capitalism. At the same time, emerging Puritan ideas about marriage were less concerned with the “evils of female sexuality” than those of earlier eras, and more sympathetic towards love-matches: when Juliet dodges her father’s attempt to force her to marry a man she has no feeling for, she is challenging the patriarchal order in a way that would not have been possible at an earlier time.

Queer theory

Critics utilizing queer theory have examined the sexuality of Mercutio and Romeo, comparing their friendship with sexual love. Mercutio, in friendly conversation, mentions Romeo’s phallus, suggesting traces of homoeroticism. An example is his joking wish “To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle … letting it there stand / Till she had laid it and conjured it down.” Romeo’s homoeroticism can also be found in his attitude to Rosaline, a woman who is distant and unavailable and brings no hope of offspring. As Benvolio argues, she is best replaced by someone who will reciprocate. Shakespeare’s procreation sonnets describe another young man who, like Romeo, is having trouble creating offspring and who may be seen as being a homosexual. Gender critics believe that Shakespeare may have used Rosaline as a way to express homosexual problems of procreation in an acceptable way. In this view, when Juliet says “…that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, she may be raising the question of whether there is any difference between the beauty of a man and the beauty of a woman.




Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Posted on 06 July 2011 by Aajiz

Study Guide and Summary

The Renaissance in Shakespeare’s Time

Broadly speaking, the renaissance movement is used to describe how Europeans moved away from the restrictive ideas of the Middle Ages. The ideology that dominated the Middle Ages was heavily focused on the absolute power of God and was enforced by the formidable Catholic Church.

From the Fourteenth Century onwards, people started to break away from this idea. The renaissance movement did not necessarily reject the idea of God, but rather questioned humankind’s relationship to God – an idea that caused an unprecedented upheaval in the accepted social hierarchy. In fact, Shakespeare himself may have been Catholic.

This focus on humanity created a new-found freedom for artists, writers and philosophers to be inquisitive about the world around them.

Shakespeare: the Renaissance Man

Shakespeare was born towards the end of the renaissance period and was one of the first to bring the renaissance’s core values to the theater.

Shakespeare Embraced the Renaissance in the Following Ways:

  • Shakespeare updated the simplistic, two-dimensional writing style of pre-renaissance drama. He focused on creating “human” characters with psychologically complexity. Hamlet is perhaps the most famous example of this.
  • The upheaval in the accepted social hierarchy allowed Shakespeare to explore the humanity of every character regardless of their social position. Even monarchs are given human emotions and are capable of making mistakes.
  • Shakespeare utilized his knowledge of Greek and Roman classics when writing his plays. Before the renaissance, these texts had been suppressed by the Catholic Church.

Hamlet is the melancholy Prince of Denmark and grieving son to the recently deceased King. Thanks to Shakespeare’s skilful and psychologically-astute characterization, Hamlet is now considered to be the greatest dramatic character ever created.

Hamlet’s Grief

From our very first encounter with Hamlet, he is consumed by grief and obsessed by death. Although he is dressed in black to signify his mourning, his emotions run deeper than his appearance or words can convey. In Act 1, Scene 2, he says to his mother:

‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good-mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black …
Together with all forms, moods, shows of grief
That can denote me truly. These indeed ‘seem’,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show –
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

The depth of Hamlet’s emotional turmoil can be measured against the high spirits displayed by the rest of the court. Hamlet is pained to think that everyone has managed to forget his father so quickly – especially his mother, Gertrude. Within a month of her husband’s death, Gertrude has married her brother-in-law. Hamlet cannot comprehend his mother’s actions and considers them to be an act of treachery.

Hamlet and Claudius

Hamlet idealizes his father in death and describes him as “so excellent a king” in his “O that this too too solid flesh would melt” speech in Act 1, Scene 2. It is therefore impossible for the new king, Claudius, to live up to Hamlet’s expectations. In the same scene, he pleads with Hamlet to think upon him as a father – an idea that furthers Hamlet’s contempt:

We pray you to throw to earth
This unprevailing woe, and think of us
As of a father

When the ghost reveals that Claudius killed the king to take the throne, Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s murder. However, Hamlet is emotionally disorientated and finds it difficult to take action. He cannot balance his overwhelming hatred for Claudius, his all-encompassing grief and the evil required to carry out his revenge. Hamlet’s desperate philosophizing leads him into a moral paradox: that he must commit murder to avenge murder. Hamlet’s act of revenge is inevitably delayed amid his emotional turmoil.

Hamlet After Exile

We see a different Hamlet return from exile in Act 5: his emotional turmoil has been replaced by perspective, and his anxiety replaced by cool rationality. By the final scene, Hamlet has come to the realization that killing Claudius is his destiny:

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.

Perhaps Hamlet’s new-found confidence in fate is little more than a form of self-justification; a way to rationally and morally distance himself from the murder he is about to commit.

It is the complexity of Hamlet’s characterization that has made him so enduring. Today, it is difficult to appreciate how revolutionary Shakespeare’s approach to Hamlet was because his contemporaries were still penning two-dimensional characters. Hamlet’s psychological subtlety emerged in a time before the concept of psychology had been invented – a truly remarkable feat.

Hamlet Summary (Short)

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is visited by a mysterious ghost resembling his recently deceased father, the King of Denmark. The ghost tells Hamlet that his father was murdered by Claudius, the King’s brother, who then took the throne and married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. The ghost encourages Hamlet to avenge his father’s death by killing Claudius.

The task before Hamlet weighs heavily upon him. Hamlet’s uncertainty is what makes the character so believable – he is arguably one of literature’s most psychologically complex characters. He is slow to take action, but when he does it is rash and violent. We can see this in the famous “curtain scene” when Hamlet kills Polonius.

Hamlet’s Love

Polonius’ daughter, Ophelia, is in love with Hamlet, but their relationship has broken down since Hamlet learned of his father’s death. Ophelia is instructed by Polonius and Laertes to spurn Hamlet’s advances. Ultimately, Ophelia commits suicide as a result of Hamlet’s confusing behavior towards her.

A Play-within-a-play

In Act 3, Scene 2, Hamlet organizes for players to re-enact his father’s murder at the hands of Claudius in order to gauge Claudius’ reaction. He confronts his mother about his father’s murder and hears someone behind the arras – believing it to be Claudius, Hamlet stabs the man with his sword. It transpires that he has actually killed Polonius.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Claudius realizes that Hamlet is out to get him and professes that Hamlet is mad. Claudius arranges for Hamlet to be shipped to England with his former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who have been informing the king about Hamlet’s state of mind.

Claudius has secretly sent orders for Hamlet to be killed on arrival in England, but Hamlet escapes from the ship and swaps his death order for a letter ordering the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

“To Be or Not To be …”

Hamlet arrives back in Denmark just as Ophelia is being buried which prompts him to contemplate life, death and the frailty of the human condition.

Tragic Ending

Laertes returns from France to avenge the death of Polonius, his father. Claudius plots with him to make Hamlet’s death appear accidental and encourages him to anoint his sword with poison – putting a cup of poison aside in case the sword is unsuccessful.

In the action, the swords are swapped and Laertes is mortally wounded with the poisoned sword. He forgives Hamlet before he dies.

Gertrude dies by accidentally drinking the cup of poison. Hamlet stabs Claudius but is himself fatally wounded. Hamlet’s revenge is finally complete. In his dying moments, he bequeaths the throne to Fortinbras.

Hamlet Summary (Scene By Scene)

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1

Francisco, Barnardo, Horatio and Marcellus are guarding the castle. A ghost appears dressed in armor resembling Hamlet the King (Hamlet’s father), who recently died. They try to encourage the ghost to speak its purpose, but it does not. They decide to inform Prince Hamlet about the strange event.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2

Claudius is the new King of Denmark – he explains that after the death of his brother, he has taken over the throne and married King Hamlet’s recently widowed wife, Gertrude. Claudius speaks of young Fortinbras who has written to him demanding the land that King Hamlet won from Fortinbras’ father.

It is evident that Hamlet disapproves of Claudius. Hamlet explains that mourning for his father is normal, implying that everyone else has got over his death too quickly. This is a pointed remark to his mother who has married her dead husband’s brother only a month after his death. In a soliloquy, Hamlet explains his disgust for his mother’s actions but understands that he must hold his tongue. Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo tell Hamlet about the apparition.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3

Laertes is leaving for France. He warns Ophelia that Hamlet’s love for her may be fleeting and inconstant. Polonius enters to bid farewell to his son and wants to know what they were discussing. Polonius also suggests that Hamlet’s professed love for her may not be genuine.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 4

Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are looking for the ghost. As midnight comes, the ghost appears to them. Horatio and Marcellus cannot discourage Hamlet from following the ghost and consider the specter to be a bad omen for Denmark. This scene kick-starts the main story that drives ‘Hamlet’.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5

The ghost explains to Hamlet that he is the spirit of his father who cannot rest until revenge is taken upon his murderer. It is revealed that Claudius poured poison into the King’s ear while he was sleeping. Horatio and Marcellus enter and Hamlet explains that Claudius is a villain.

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 1

Ophelia claims that Hamlet came to her bedchamber, took hold of her, stared into her eyes and then left. She confirms to Polonius that she has sent back Hamlet’s love letters and refused to meet with him. Polonius believes that this may has angered Hamlet.

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are instructed by King mobile porn Claudius and Queen Gertrude to draw Hamlet out of his melancholy. Polonius suggests that Hamlet is upset because he has been rejected by Ophelia.

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1

Polonius and Claudius arrange to secretly watch a meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia. When they meet, Hamlet denies any affection for her which further confuses Polonius and Claudius. They decide that either Gertrude can get to the root of Hamlet’s “madness” or he will be sent to England.

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2

Hamlet directs the actors in a play to depict his father’s murder – he hopes to study Claudius’ reaction to this. Claudius and Gertrude leave during the performance. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern inform Hamlet that Gertrude wants to speak to him.

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 3

Polonius arranges to secretly listen to the conversation between Hamlet and Gertrude. When alone, Claudius speaks of his conscience and guilt. Hamlet enters from behind and draws his sword to kill Claudius but decides that it would be wrong to kill a man while praying.

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 4

Hamlet is about reveal Claudius’ villainy to Gertrude when he hears someone behind the curtain. Hamlet thinks it is Claudius and thrusts his sword through the arras – he has killed Polonius. Hamlet reveals all and speaks to the ghost. Gertrude, who cannot see the apparition, is now convinced of Hamlet’s madness.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 1

Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England when he hears of Polonius’ death.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 2

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ask Hamlet what he has done with Polonius’ body because they want to take it to the chapel. Hamlet scorns them for their loyalty to Claudius.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 3

Claudius demands that Hamlet reveals the location of Polonius’ body and informs him that he will soon be traveling to England. The King hopes that the English authorities will obey the orders he has sent with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 4

Fortinbras sends a message to Claudius that he will be marching on his land. He encounters Hamlet who considers humanity’s capacity for violence. Hamlet decides to be more brutal in his revenge.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 5

Ophelia is behaving strangely, singing a song about death. Claudius thinks that Ophelia is suffering from grief following the death of her father. Laertes also discovers that his father is dead.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 6

A sailor gives Horatio a letter from Hamlet explaining that he has been captured by pirates reroute to England.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 7

Laertes wants to avenge the death of his father and strikes a deal with Claudius. Laertes is to stab him with a poisoned rapier and Claudius is to have a standby cup of poison prepared. Gertrude reports that Ophelia has drowned herself.

Hamlet Act 5, Scene 1

At Ophelia’s freshly dug grave, Hamlet contemplates the lives belonging to the graveyard’s skulls and their dignity in life compared to their apparent treatment in death. Hamlet addresses the skull of Yorick, the King’s jester, who he once knew.

The funeral procession enters to bury Ophelia. Hamlet, observing, realizes who they are burying and confronts Laertes. As Hamlet professes his love for Ophelia, Claudius announces that Hamlet is mad.

Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2

Hamlet tells Horatio that Claudius had ordered his death in England. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern unsuspectingly carried the orders in a letter; which he replaced with an order for their deaths.

A duel between Laertes and Hamlet is fought. Hamlet fights well, so Claudius offers him the poison cup – which he refuses. Unknowingly, Gertrude drinks from the cup. In the fight, Laertes and Hamlet swap rapiers and Laertes is injured with his own rapier. He dies from the poison. In his dying moments, Laertes informs Hamlet of Claudius’ plan and forgives him for killing his father.

A fatally wounded Hamlet kills Claudius before drinking the poison to take the agony out of his death. Fortinbras, whose army has invaded Denmark, enters just as Hamlet is dying. Hamlet bequeaths the throne to Fortinbras and is promised a soldier’s send off by the new King.

Hamlet Themes


It is interesting that Hamlet is a revenge tragedy driven by a protagonist unable to commit to the act of revenge. In the story, it is Hamlet’s inability to avenge the murder of his father that drives the plot forwards and the deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern all result from Hamlet’s delay.

Action verses Inaction

To highlight Hamlet’s inability to take action, Shakespeare includes a number of other characters capable of taking resolute and headstrong revenge as required. Fortinbras travels many miles to take his revenge and ultimately succeeds in conquering Denmark; Laertes plots to kill Hamlet to revenge the death of his father, Polonius.

Compared to these characters, Hamlet’s revenge is ineffectual. Once he decides to take action, he delays any action until the end of the play. It should be noted that this is not uncommon in Elizabethan revenge tragedies. What makes Hamlet a unique piece of writing is the remarkable way in which Shakespeare uses the delay to build Hamlet’s emotional and psychological complexity.

Hamlet’s revenge is delayed in three significant ways:

  1. Hamlet must first establish Claudius’ guilt, which he does in Act 3, Scene 2 by presenting the murder of his father in a play. When Claudius storms out during the performance, Hamlet becomes convinced of his guilt.
  2. Hamlet then intellectualizes his revenge, contrasting with the rash actions of Fortinbras and Laertes. For example, Hamlet has the opportunity to kill Claudius in Act 3, Scene 3. He draws his sword, but is concerned that Claudius will go to heaven if killed while praying.
  3. After killing Polonius, Hamlet is sent to England making it impossible for him to gain access to Claudius and carry out his revenge. During his trip, he decides to become more headstrong in his desire for revenge.

Although he does ultimately kill Claudius in the final scene of the play, we cannot credit Hamlet with plotting the revenge – rather, it is Claudius’ plan to kill Hamlet that backfires.

Perhaps if Hamlet had acted earlier, lives could have been saved?


Death permeates Hamlet right from the opening scene of the play, where the ghost of Hamlet’s father introduces the idea of death and its consequences. The ghost represents a disruption to the accepted social order – a theme also reflected in the volatile socio-political state of Denmark and Hamlet’s own indecision.

This disorder has been triggered by the “unnatural death” of Denmark’s figurehead, soon followed by a raft of murder, suicide, revenge and accidental deaths.

Hamlet is fascinated by death throughout the story. Although this is deeply rooted in his character, it could be a product of his grief. Hamlet’s most potent consideration of death comes in Act 4, Scene 3. His almost morbid obsession with the idea is revealed when asked by Claudius where he has hidden Polonius’ body.

At supper … Not where he eats, but where a is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service – two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end.

Hamlet is describing the life-cycle of human existence. In other words: we eat in life; we are eaten in death. The frailty of human existence haunts Hamlet throughout the play and it’s a theme he returns to in Act 5, Scene 1: the iconic graveyard scene. Holding Yorick’s skull, he explores the brevity and futility of the human condition and the inevitability of death:

HAMLETNo, faith, not a jot; but to follow him thither with modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it, as thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam, and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop at a beer-barrel?

This sets the scene for Ophelia’s funeral where she too will be returned to the ground.

The idea of suicide also emerges from Hamlet’s preoccupation with death. Although he seems to consider this is an option, he does not act. Similarly, he does not act when he has the opportunity to kill Claudius and avenge the murder of his father in Act 3, Scene 3. Ironically, it is this lack of action on Hamlet’s part that ultimately leads to his death at the end of the play.

Alongside Hamlet’s main themes, like death, revenge and Hamlet’s inability to act, a number of sub-themes emerge in the play:

The State of Denmark

The political and social condition of Denmark is referred to throughout the play and the ghost is an embodiment of Denmark’s growing social unrest. This is because the blood-line of the monarchy has been unnaturally disrupted by Claudius, an immoral and power-hungry king.

At the time this play was written, Queen Elizabeth was 60 and there was concern about who would inherit the throne. Mary Queen of Scots’ son was an heir, but had the potential to ignite the political tension between Britain and Scotland. Therefore, the state of Denmark in Hamlet could be a reflection of Britain’s own social unrest.

Sexuality and Incest

Gertrude’s incestuous relationship with her bother-in-law plagues Hamlet more that his father’s death. In Act 3, Scene 4, he accuses his mother of living “In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, / Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty.”

Gertrude has destroyed Hamlet’s faith in women, which is perhaps why his feelings towards Ophelia become ambivalent.

Yet, Hamlet is not so angered by his uncle’s incest – it is Gertrude, not Claudius that he blames. Perhaps the reason for this is a combination of women’s passive role in society and Hamlet’s overpowering (maybe even verging on incestuous) passion for his mother.

Ophelia’s sexuality is also controlled by the men in her life. Laertes and Polonius are overbearing guardians and insist that she rejects Hamlet’s advances, despite her love for him.


In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses uncertainty more like a dramatic device than a theme. The uncertainties of the unfolding plot are what drive the actions of each character.

From the very beginning of the play, the ghost poses a great deal of uncertainty for Hamlet. He (and we) are uncertain about the ghost’s purpose – is it a sign of Denmark’s socio-political instability, a manifestation of Hamlet’s own conscience, an evil spirit provoking him to murder, or his father’s spirit unable to rest?

Hamlet’s uncertainty delays him from taking action, ultimately causing the unnecessary deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Even at the end of the play, we are left with a feeling of uncertainty when Hamlet bequeaths the throne to the rash and violent Fortinbras. In the closing moments of the play, Denmark’s future looks less certain than it did at the beginning.



Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Posted on 05 July 2011 by Aajiz

‘Macbeth’ Study Guide

Macbeth Summary

King Duncan hears of Macbeth’s heroics at war and bestows the title Thane of Cawdor on him. The current Thane of Cawdor has been deemed a traitor and the king orders that he be killed.

The Three Witches

Unaware of this, Macbeth and Banquo meet three witches on a heath who predict that Macbeth will inherit the title and eventually become king. They tell Banquo that he will be happy and that his sons will inherit the throne.

Macbeth is then informed that he has been named Thane of Cawdor and his belief in the witches’ prophecy is confirmed.

King Duncan’s Murder

Macbeth contemplates his fate and Lady Macbeth encourages him to act to ensure the prophecy is realized.

A feast is organized to which King Duncan and his sons are invited. Lady Macbeth hatches a plot to kill King Duncan while he sleeps and encourages Macbeth to carry out the plan.

After the murder, Macbeth is full of regret. Lady Macbeth scorns him for his cowardly behavior. When Macbeth realizes that he has forgotten to leave the knife at the scene of the crime, Lady Macbeth takes over and completes the deed.

Macduff finds the dead King and Macbeth accuses the Chamberlains of murder. King Duncan’s sons flee in fear of their lives.

Banquo’s Murder

Banquo questions the witches’ predictions and wants to discuss them with Macbeth. Macbeth sees Banquo as a threat and employs murderers to kill him and his son, Fleance. The murderers botch the job and only manage to kill Banquo. Fleance flees the scene and is blamed for his father’s death.

Banquo’s Ghost

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth host a feast to lament the death of the King. Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost sitting in his chair and his concerned guests soon disperse. Lady Macbeth urges her husband to rest and forget his wrongdoings, but he decides to meet with the witches again to discover his future.


When Macbeth meets the three witches, they concoct a spell and conjure apparitions to answer his questions and predict his fate. A bodiless head appears and warns Macbeth to fear Macduff. Then a bloody child appears and assures him that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” A third apparition of a crowned child with a tree in his hand tells Macbeth that he will not be vanquished until “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.”

Macduff’s Revenge

Macduff travels to England to help Malcolm (King Duncan’s son) avenge his father’s death and overthrow Macbeth. By this time, Macbeth has already decided that Macduff is his enemy and kills his wife and son.

Lady Macbeth’s Death

The doctor observes Lady Macbeth’s strange behavior. Every night she acts out washing her hands in her sleep as if trying to wash away her guilt. She dies shortly after.

Macbeth’s Final Battle

Malcolm and Macduff have assembled an army at Birnam Wood. Malcolm suggests the soldiers each cut down a tree in order to advance on the castle unseen. Macbeth is warned that the wood seems to be moving. Scoffing, Macbeth feels confident that he will be victorious in battle as his predicted invincibility that “none of woman born shall harm him” will protect him.

Macbeth and Macduff finally confront each other. Macduff reveals that he was ripped from his Mother’s womb in an untimely manner, so the “none of woman born” prophesy does not apply to him. He kills Macbeth and holds his head aloft for all to see before declaring Malcolm’s rightful place as king.


Characters Analysis


At the beginning of the play Macbeth is celebrated as a brave soldier and is rewarded with a new title from the king. He becomes the Thane of Cawdor as predicted by the three Macbeth witches, whose scheming helps drive Macbeth’s Ambition and transform him into a murderer and tyrant.

Our perception of Macbeth as a brave soldier is eroded when we see how easily he is manipulated by Lady Macbeth.

Macbeth is soon overwhelmed with ambition and self-doubt. Although he constantly questions his own actions, he is also compelled to commit further atrocities in order to cover up his previous wrong-doings.

Is Macbeth Evil?

It is difficult to view Macbeth as an inherently evil character because it is clear that he lacks strength of character. The events of the play also affect his mental stability – his guilt causes him a great deal of mental anguish and leads to hallucinations. In this respect, Macbeth has more in common with Hamlet than with Shakespeare’s other out-and-out villains like Othello’s Iago. However, unlike Hamlet, Macbeth is quick to act in order to fulfill his desires.

Macbeth’s Downfall

Macbeth is never happy with his actions, even when they have earned him his prize, because he is acutely aware of his own tyranny. At the end of the play there is a sense of relief when the soldiers are at his gate. However, he continues to remain foolhardily confident – perhaps due to his unerring belief in the witches’ predictions.

The play ends where it began: with a battle. Although Macbeth is killed as a tyrant, there is a sense that his soldier status is reinstated in the final scenes of the play. Throughout the course of the play Macbeth comes full circle.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most infamous female characters because she exerts a great deal of influence over the events of the play and is the main instigator in the plot to kill the king.

In many respects, Lady Macbeth is a classic femme fatal. She is more ambitious and power hungry than Macbeth, her husband, and when he tries to back out of the murder she has plotted, she calls his manhood into question.

A Misogynistic milf porn Character?

This presentation of Lady Macbeth has attracted accusations of misogyny from critics because the women in the play (Lady Macbeth and the witches) are manipulative and evil. Lady Macbeth is equally as ambitious as her husband but is unable to take action herself – perhaps because of the social constraints of the time. She therefore cajoles her husband to act on her behalf.

Masculinity is defined in the play by ambition and power – two qualities that Lady Macbeth possesses in abundance. By constructing the character in this way, Shakespeare challenges our preconceived views of masculinity and femininity. But what exactly was Shakespeare suggesting? On one hand it was a radical idea to present a dominant female character, but on the other hand she is presented negatively.


Lady Macbeth’s guilt soon overwhelms her. She has nightmares and tries to wash the blood from her hands. By the end of her life, guilt has replaced her incredible ambition in equal measure. We are lead to believe that her guilt ultimately leads to her suicide.

Lady Macbeth is therefore a victim of her own ambition – and also possibly of her sex. As a woman, she is not resilient enough to deal with such strong emotions, whereas Macbeth fights on to the very end despite his misgivings.

The Macbeth Witches

Shakespeare used a number of devices to create a sense of otherness and malevolence for the Macbeth witches (also referred to as the “weird sisters”). For example:

  • The Macbeth witches speak in rhyming couplets which distinguishes them from all other characters in the play
  • The Macbeth witches are said to have beards, making them difficult to gender
  • They are always accompanied by storms and bad weather

During the play, the Macbeth witches make five key predictions:

  1. Macbeth will become Thane hentai porn of Cawdor
  2. Banquo’s children will become kings
  3. They advise Macbeth to “beware Macduff”
  4. Macbeth cannot be harmed by anyone “of woman born”
  5. Macbeth cannot be beaten until “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane shall come”

Four of these predictions are realized; one is not. Although Banquo’s children do not become Kings during the course of the play, Banquo’s children do escape murder and could return at some point in the future. At the end of the play it is left for the audience to decide whether or not they believe the Macbeth witches.

But are the witch’s prophesies preordained? Or do they simply encourage Macbeth to become active in constructing his own fate? It is perhaps part of Macbeth’s character to shape his life according to the predictions – whereas Banquo does gay porn not. This might explain why the only prophesy not realized by the end of the play relates directly to Banquo and cannot be shaped by Macbeth (although Macbeth would also have little control over the “Great Birnam Wood” prediction).

By writing the Macbeth witches in this manner, Shakespeare is asking an age old question: are our lives already mapped out for us or do we have a hand in what happens to us? Therefore, at the end of the play the audience is forced to consider the extent to which the characters have control over their own lives.

‘Macbeth’ Themes

Macbeth: Ambition

Macbeth’s ambition is driven by a number of factors including:

  • Prophesy: The Macbeth witches prophesize that Macbeth will become King. Macbeth believes them and the various prophesies are realized throughout the play. However, it is unclear whether these prophesies are preordained or self fulfilling.
  • Lady Macbeth: his wife is the driving force that encourages Macbeth to overcome his strong sense of guilt and take action on the prophesies.

Macbeth’s ambition soon spirals out of control and forces him to murder again and again to cover up his previous wrongdoings. Macbeth’s first victims are the Chamberlains who are blamed and killed by Macbeth for the murder of King Duncan. Banquo’s murder soon follows once Macbeth fears that the truth could be exposed.


Ambition has series consequences in the play: Macbeth is slain as a tyrant and Lady Macbeth commits suicide. Shakespeare does not give either character the opportunity to enjoy what they have achieved – perhaps suggesting that it is more satisfying to achieve your goals fairly than to achieve them through corruption.

Ambition and Morality

In testing Macduff’s loyalty, Malcolm outlines the difference between ambition and morality by pretending to be greedy and power hungry. He wants to see if Macduff believes these are good qualities for a King to posses. Macduff does not and therefore demonstrates that a moral code is more important in positions of power than blind ambition.

At the end of the play, Malcolm is the victorious King and Macbeth’s burning ambition has been extinguished. But is this really the end to over-reaching ambition in the kingdom? The audience is left to wonder if Banquo’s heir will eventually become king as prophesized by the Macbeth witches. Will he act on his own ambition or will fate play a part in realizing the prophesy? Or were the witches’ predictions wrong?

Macbeth: Guilt

Macbeth’s guilt prevents him from fully enjoying his ill gotten gains. At the start of the play he is described as a hero and this quality is still present even in his darkest moments. Shakespeare suggests this idea by engendering Macbeth with a strong sense of guilt.

For example, Macbeth is visited by the ghost of Banquo, who he murdered to protect his secret. The apparition embodies Macbeth’s guilt and therefore causes Macbeth to nearly reveal the truth about King Duncan’s murder.

However, Macbeth’s guilt is not enough to discourage him from murder. This perhaps indicates a lack of morality – Macbeth’s key character failing.

Lady Macbeth’s Guilt

Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind her husband’s actions. In fact, Macbeth’s strong sense of guilt suggests that he would not have realized his ambitions without Lady Macbeth there to encourage him.

Unlike Macbeth’s conscious guilt, Lady Macbeth’s guilt is subconsciously expressed through her dreams. By presenting her guilt in this way Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that we are unable to escape guilt for wrongdoing.

By the end of the play Lady Macbeth’s guilt becomes untenable and she eventually kills herself. Evidently, the intensity of her guilt and shame was stronger than anything she consciously conveyed.



Comments (0)

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here