Dr. Zotos

Essay 1 –Psychological Analysis of Macbeth

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Great dramatists have always given actors rich language tools which enable them to portray human beings revealing their thoughts and motivations and conducting their relationships. What makes William Shakespeare the greatest of all is that he brought to dramatic art not only revelation of character to the audience, but opened up the characters’ psyches to show self-reflection – their own contemplation of why they do the things they do.

For example – in Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, a young man contemplates suicide. He examines the reasons why ending his life would be a rational choice (“… to take arms against a sea of troubles… we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to…”), but then chooses not to, out of fear of what happens after death: a fear “that makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.” (3.1.78-82)

We’ve now spent some time reading, hearing, and discussing what Shakespeare tells us, through dramatic language, about the psyches of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. What are the thought processes that lead them to make the choices that propel the plot of the play? (The excerpts we’ve read focus on the desire of both of them that Macbeth be king, the plot to murder Duncan, their feelings about the regicide after they’ve committed it, the “necessity” of murdering Banquo and others, Lady Macbeth’s guilt, and Macbeth’s reaction to her suicide.)

What you’re being asked to do in this essay is to play amateur psychoanalyst. Examine what Macbeth and Lady Macbeth say – to us, and to each other, and to themselves – and argue a thesis that draws some conclusions about what kind of mentality compels them to do the things they do.

I’m looking for 750-1000 words. Make sure you use specific textual references from Shakespeare to support your assertions about the characters’ motivations. Your references should indicate act, scene and line in this fashion: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition…” (1.7.25-27).

Important Reminder: This is the first of three writing assignments this semester that you will be required to submit to SafeAssign via Blackboard. I will set the due date/time for ________ at 9:00am, so you can work on it right up till the moment you walk into class!

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