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TERM PAPER IDEAS / ESSAY IDEAS / BOOK REPORT TOPICS
• THE NATURE OF EVIL
1. How does the play portray evil as a perversion of human nature? Show how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have to go against their own natures in order to kill Duncan. Trace the effect the betrayal of human nature has on each of them.
2. How does the imagery of disease function in Macbeth? Trace the way in which evil works on Macbeth and on Scotland like a sickness. Find imagery to support the idea that Malcolm and Macduff "heal" the country by overthrowing Macbeth.
3. What makes Macbeth susceptible to evil? Explore the nature of Macbeth's ambition, and show how it overrides his sense of right and wrong.
4. Evil within vs. evil without. Is evil an outside force, or does it come from within a person? Find instances in the play to support either theory, or both.
5. How is Macbeth destroyed by evil? Trace the path of Macbeth's downfall and show how it happens as a consequence of his murdering Duncan.
6. As Macbeth becomes more evil, how do his feelings change? Start by exploring how his feelings at the beginning of the play are much like anybody else's. Trace the way in which his feelings about people and his responses to events become twisted and abnormal.
7. Trace how Lady Macbeth is destroyed by evil. Show how she renounces all human feeling in Act I and seems to be successful. After the murder, follow her downward course into madness and death.
8. How does evil work by deception? Contrast what Macbeth and Lady Macbeth believe they are gaining through murder with what they actually get. Do they deceive themselves, or are they deceived by others?
9. How can evil be avoided? Macbeth gives in to temptation. Take several characters who maintain their integrity and investigate what the play says about how they do it.
10. How does Shakespeare establish the atmosphere of evil which pervades Macbeth? Start with the witches, and show how their presence reflects on all the events of the play. Give examples of how the imagery in the language creates a feeling of evil. Also examine the setting.
• THE SUPERNATURAL
1. How does Macbeth's changing attitude toward the supernatural reflect the change in his character? Contrast Macbeth's reaction to the witches when he first sees them with his attitude toward them in Act IV.
2. Supernatural events occur throughout the play. Discuss their dramatic function. Each time Macbeth encounters something supernatural-the witches, the floating dagger, a ghost-he moves more deeply into evil. List the supernatural events and comment on how each marks a step in Macbeth's downfall.
3. Do the supernatural events really occur, or are they projections of Macbeth's inner state? Some readers believe that the floating dagger, Banquo's ghost, and even the witches are products of Macbeth's imagination. Explore that possibility. Point out in what way, if any, the meaning of the play is changed by accepting or rejecting the reality of the supernatural.
4. How do the witches' predictions influence Macbeth's actions? Analyze what they tell Macbeth at the beginning of the play. How do they win his confidence? Why do those particular prophesies have such an effect on him? Do the same for the second set of predictions.
5. Nature itself reacts to some of the events in a super-natural manner. Explore how the theme of good vs. evil is supported by such occurrences. "Good" in the play is not relative; it is absolute. Give examples in which nature itself seems to be condemning an evil action.
• THE CHARACTERS
1. Describe the way Macbeth and Lady Macbeth influence each other in the play. What effect does Lady Macbeth's determination to kill Duncan have on her husband? After the murder, how does Macbeth change, and how does that affect Lady Macbeth?
2. Contrast Macbeth's imaginative nature with Lady Macbeth's pragmatic nature. Compare their attitudes toward Duncan's murder, both before and after the deed. Throughout the play, give instances of his poetic description of feelings and situations and her prosaic, practical way of thinking and expressing herself.
3. Compare Malcolm, the rightful king, with Macbeth. What motivates each of them? Does Malcolm care about his people? Does Macbeth? Compare the way Macbeth manipulates the two murderers for his own purposes and the way Malcolm temporarily deceives Macduff for the good of their country.
4. How does Shakespeare establish that Macduff is a good man? Show how Macduff's character is revealed through his actions and reactions. Focus on how he handles himself after Duncan's murder and after hearing that his wife and children have been killed.
5. Does Macbeth's character determine his fate? How does Macbeth's nature make him a prime target for the witches' temptations? Why does he choose to ignore the inner voices that tell him not to murder Duncan?
6. Is Macbeth a good man at the beginning of the play, or is he already plotting to be king? Macbeth's quick response to the suggestion that he will be king could be interpreted as proof that he has already been plotting, or it could simply show that the forces of evil have been clever in choosing their temptation. Using Macbeth's soliloquies and his scenes with Lady Macbeth, take a stand on the question and defend it.
7. Would Macbeth have murdered Duncan without Lady Macbeth's influence? The discussion will be a matter of opinion, of course. Use the scenes between Macbeth and his wife to develop and defend your view.
1. How does the imagery of light and darkness work through the play? List instances of characters calling upon darkness to hide their evil deeds. Through light-dark imagery, trace the contest between good and evil.
2. Trace the theme of honor and loyalty throughout the play. Show how "noble Macbeth" betrays the trust placed in him, and what the consequences are. Discuss why references to loyalty and honor disappear in the middle of the play and come back at the end.
3. Fate and destiny: what is man's proper relation to them? Explore what the play is saying about this question by dividing the characters into two groups-those who trust their fate to a higher power, and those who take destiny into their own hands. Which group fares better?
4. How does the imagery relating to time work in the play? Show how Macbeth tries to compress time. Contrast his effort to "jump the life to come" with the way the honest characters let things happen as nature intends for them, in their own time.
• OTHER ELEMENTS
1. How does the setting contribute to the play? Describe the settings of the various scenes. Show how the text indicates where a scene takes place. Discuss how the imagery of light and darkness is reflected in the setting.
2. How does the fact that Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays contribute to its effectiveness? Discuss the economy of the writing. Show how each detail contributes to the advancement of the plot; and how Macbeth seems to plunge to his destruction at a sickening pace.
3. Discuss the use of dramatic tension in Macbeth. Chart what Shakespeare lets us know and what information he withholds from us in order to maintain suspense.
4. Social structure: How is the Scottish society of Macbeth's time ordered? How is peace maintained? Evaluate how Macbeth affects the social structure and what happens to it after Malcolm takes over.