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Macbeth - Understanding the Text
How does Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane?

Macbeth - Understanding the Text

This GCSE English Literature quiz tests your understanding of William Shakepeare’s Macbeth. This play was written over four hundred years ago and the form of English in which it is written is known as “Early Modern”. Sounds easy to understand, right? You have already noticed, of course, that Shakespeare’s English differs from your own. Sometimes these differences appear in the spelling, sometimes in unfamiliar words, and sometimes in the jokes. It is worth persevering with Early Modern English, however. This is certainly a case where practice helps! Reading slowly, reading sections more than once and reading aloud will all help with comprehension.

Pay close attention to the methods and techniques which have been used to convey meaning, analysing character, setting, plot, theme and dialogue.

Comprehension of literary texts involves several different levels simultaneously, from basic understanding of plot to a more sophisticated understanding of the themes. Pay attention to events which the audience observes, and those which are only reported. In Macbeth some violent scenes are staged while others are reported by characters. Why might that be?

As when studying other types of fiction, it is a good idea to create a timeline. This will help you to remember the chronology of events and the structure of the play. Although the main events of the play are ordered chronologically, time in Macbeth is rather vague and it is not always clear how much time passes between events. Create act and scene summaries to help your revision of the text.

Take some time to analyse the beginnings and endings of acts and scenes in the play. Consider possible reasons for the play beginning as it does with the witches, rather than with Duncan or on the battlefield with Macbeth. What do we learn in the first scene? What, if anything, do we know about past events? How do we learn about characters? In what way are future events foreshadowed? Undertaking detailed analysis of this sort will boost your knowledge and understanding of the text!

Read the questions below on Macbeth and test your knowledge and understanding of the text.

How does Duncan, King of Scotland, reward Macbeth's role in the battle against Sweno?
He awards him the title, Thane of Cawdor
He appoints Macbeth to be his heir
He makes Macbeth King of Scotland
He rewards Macbeth by treating him with suspicion
Macbeth defeats the Thane of Cawdor, who traitorously supported the King of Norway's invasion of Scotland
From whom does Macbeth first learn he shall be the new Thane of Cawdor?
The witches
Because the witches' prophecy proves to be true when Ross informs him of the King's favour, Macbeth more easily believes their prophecy that he shall be also be king
Lady Macbeth learns of the witches' prophecy in a letter from her husband. What does she decide to do in response?
Encourage him to be patient and hope that the prophecy comes true
Persuade her husband to act to take the crown
Discourage her husband from fruitless ambitions
Encourage her husband to attempt to win the crown by noble deeds
Lady Macbeth describes her husband as a man who would be content to have achieved his ambitions by foul means, but who does not wish to take the necessary actions
In Act Two, Scene Two, Lady Macbeth says, "My hands are of your colour." Why do the hands of Lady Macbeth come to resemble those of her husband?
Her hands are covered with blood when she helps to murder the King
Her hands are covered with blood when she plants the bloody daggers on the grooms as incriminating evidence
Her hands are covered with blood when she murders the grooms
Macbeth does not participate in the murders; therefore Lady Macbeth's bloody hands do not resemble her husband's
Lady Macbeth reports that she found herself unable to murder the king herself. She is, however, able to look upon his dead body when she returns the daggers to the chamber after Macbeth fails to plant them on the grooms
Malcolm and Donalbain flee Macbeth's home after their father's murder. What is the effect of this action?
Neither son can challenge Macbeth for the throne
Both sons are suspected of the murder
They save their own lives
All of the above
The two sons suspect a plot and flee for their lives, leaving the succession open for Macbeth. Their actions leave them vulnerable to suspicion of plotting against their own father, an idea mentioned later both by Macduff and Lennox
What does Macbeth instruct the murderers to do?
To kill Banquo
To kill the King
To kill Lennox
To defeat Malcolm, Siward, Macduff and the other lords
Macbeth distances himself from the murder of Banquo, ordering the assassination of the man he sees as a rival. For the murderers he chooses men with a grudge against Banquo and whips up their resentment against him
Why does Macbeth see Banquo as a rival?
The witches prophesy that Banquo will be King after Macbeth
Macbeth knows that Banquo is plotting to overthrow him
The witches prophesy that Banquo's line of descendants will include kings
Macbeth has always been enemies with Banquo
In his determination to hold onto the power which he has achieved by treason, Macbeth becomes paranoid, viewing former comrades as enemies and usurpers
How does the prophecy that he shall not be defeated until 'Great Birnam Wood come to high Dunsinane Hill' make Macbeth feel?
Although he himself made the witches' unlikely prophecy that he should be king come true, Macbeth forgets the lesson that the seemingly impossible can be made to happen. He becomes complacent and believes himself to be invincible
What appears to cause Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking?
The sounds of battle
Lady Macbeth reveals her innermost feelings while sleepwalking, both confessing her crimes and betraying her sense that she and Macbeth ought to be above judgement. In her dreams she cannot wash her hands clean of the blood of their victims
How does Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane?
'Birnam Wood' is the code name of the attacking army
The prophecy is false: Birnam Wood does not come to Dunsinane, but Macbeth is defeated nevertheless
The attacking soldiers carry tree branches
The wood is magical and can shift positions
The attacking army wishes to conceal its size by hiding behind the branches
Author:  Sheri Smith

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