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John Ryan
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John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.

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LC English

Leaving Cert. English, Paper 1 – Part B (Composing Section): The Complete Guide

What are you being asked to do?

In the Part B/ composing sections you are being asked to do two things:

  1. Use language in one of five ways: to write either argumentatively, persuasively, informatively, narratively or aesthetically.
  2. Create a written medium aimed at someone (e. g a speech, letter to fellow students, parents). Before looking into these different ways of writing, we need to look at what the marker will be looking for in the answer regardless of what language genre you write in, that you are creating the written medium aimed at an audience asked of you in the question:

PCLM – the method the markers use to grade your answer

Clarity of Purpose (P): The task is to create the written medium asked of you, whether what you write reads, sounds, etc. like what you are asked to write, e. g. it sounds/reads as a letter, speech to a group of students, world leaders, etc. (the task also here is to use language in one of the five ways mentioned above. Therefore the marker will only view your answer as suitably answering the question also if you identify and use the type of writing that is suitable for answering the question you choose).

Coherence of Delivery (C): The examples, paragraphs and points you mention in your answer must link together and consistently and continuously answer the question asked of you: they must contribute to creating the written medium required of you – it is such points that should make your piece sound/read like a letter to students, or a speech to parents, etc. (and you need to consistently stick to using one language type throughout).

Accuracy of Mechanics (M)Spelling and grammar must be of a decent standard (few mistakes) and suitable for the question and language type chosen. The final part of the PCLM method contains the essential detail that will create the written medium asked of you, which will shape what you talk about and how you talk about this:

Efficiency of language use (L)

Here the marker will be looking for you to decide upon:

Who is the audience: the marker is told to look for evidence that shows you know who your audience is and that the subject matter (paragraph, points, examples, etc.) is suitable for them (AKA it is what they will relate and respond to). In addition, he/she will look to see that you are either formal/informal, humorous/serious, etc. to suit your audience. The written medium (e. g speech, letter, etc.) will always have to be directed towards someone, therefore what you say and how you say it must be suited to who you are talking to. Everything and anything you write will be affected by who your audience is. Finally, you need to write your Part B answer in the manner of what you are asked to write – e. g. shape and sound it like a letter, speech, etc.

THE AUDIENCE: You need to focus on your audience when you are writing. Your essay will be directed at someone, so you need to think about how your audience will be able to respond to your writing, that they can relate to and understand your essay. The best ways to ensure this are:

  • Register: Think about your audience and how you should write/speak to them – would they respond better and accept your piece if you spoke formally or informally, humorously or seriously?
  • Tone: What tone would your audience respond to best? Conversational, sarcastic, neutral, etc.?
  • Vocabulary: Should you use complicated or simple wording in your essay – which would suit the audience more?
  • Topics you write on: The topics you focus on should be relevant to your audience, things that they know of or can relate to.
  • Concise or detailed topics: Should you be concise (brief) or detailed with what you are mentioning? Which would your audience prefer?

Focusing on such things will ensure that you will create a written medium required of you. As said, all that is left is to make sure your essay sounds like e. g a letter, speech, report, etc.

The key questions you should be asking yourself before you answer the question here are:

  1. What am I being asked to do/what is the task (and what language type is best for this answer)? (Known as clear appreciation of the task)
  2. Who is my audience? How should I write to them (seriously/humorously, formally/informally)? (Known as register)
  3. What should I write about to them?
  4. Have I written in a suitable quality? Does this read like what the question wanted me to write? (e. g: does it read like a letter, speech to a certain audience, etc?)

As seen in the examples above, regardless of the language type you write in for your answer in the Part B/Essay sections, the marker will always look for evidence that you have focused on what has just been mentioned to see that you have suitably created your written medium. However, as mentioned in the above example, you will need to do so while writing in one of five ways, aesthetically, argumentatively, informatively, narratively or persuasively:

It is essential to know the functions of these types of writing, so you can identify if a question is asking you to write in a certain type of language:

  • Aesthetic – the description of feelings and events
  • Narrative – telling a (short) story
  • Informative – informing someone of something
  • Persuasive – persuading someone of something
  • Argumentative – trying to convince someone of something

Informative use of language: a good way to think of this is as if no audience is present, as all you are doing is saying what you think. You are not trying to persuade or convince someone of an argument, you are saying something irrespective of whether the audience agrees or disagrees.

Persuasive: This is more force here as you are trying to persuade an audience of something.

Argumentative: Even more force is used to convince an audience of something.

Aesthetic: This involves two steps:

  1. describing an event
  2. describing how you felt/feel about it

Narrative: The telling of an event, through the structure of a short story (introduction, complication, climax, conclusion).


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LC English

Guide to Answering Unseen Poetry, Leaving Cert. English – Paper 2

Unseen poetry does differ from the prescribed poetry in that you do not know the material you will be dealing with in the examination. However, you can still have the structure of your answer prepared out which can be suitably used to cover any question that comes up. All that will be needed is to use this structure in relation to the question and poem that is asked of you.

To begin with, we shall look at how we shall answer the unseen poetry question. There are four characteristics of whatever poem appears that you should focus on, in separate paragraphs. These are the poem’s imagery, suggestiveness, patterned nature of language and sensuous qualities. Regardless of the question, you should be focusing on these characteristics.

At this moment in time your structure for your poetry answer should look like so:

  • First paragraph: focusing on poem’s imagery.
  • Examples from the poem.
  • Second paragraph: focusing on poem’s suggestiveness.
  • Examples from the poem.
  • Third paragraph: focusing on poem’s patterned nature of language.
  • Examples from the poem.
  • Fourth paragraphs: focusing on the poem’s sensuous qualities.
  • Examples from the poem.

So you know what you will be writing on in your paragraphs, but what is left to do? A good deal, actually. To write an unseen poetry answer capable of receiving full marks from the marker, it must possess the four qualities looked for by the marker. You need to be aware of these before you go in. The best way to be aware of them and make best use of them is to practice using these qualities on sample questions. For the purpose of this section, I will be using a sample question “Did you like or dislike the poem?”

Clear & purposeful engagement with the set task

This quality refers to actual answering of the question. The best place to engage with this quality is at the beginning of each paragraph. The easiest method to show you are answering the question is, simply, to answer it. In the sample question you would simply answer with “I liked/ disliked the poem”.

In answering the question at the beginning of each paragraph you are:

  1. Ensuring by repeating the question in the answer the marker will be drawn to the fact that you are indeed addressing the question asked of you.
  2. Ensuring also that your paragraphs are answering the question. In anything written, the first lines of the piece should tell what it is about; this is a suitable introduction. Whoever is reading, and here the marker definitely, should know what he is going to read about in the coming essay/paragraph. Therefore, by answering the question in the first lines of each paragraph you are showing the marker that each of your paragraphs is about to, and will, answer the question.

There is further elaboration needed, and then we will be done with this quality. As said, each paragraph of your answer should focus upon a characteristic of the unseen poem you are given. The answering of the question in each paragraph should therefore include the characteristic you will focus upon. This can be achieved as simply as saying: “I liked/ disliked the poem because of its imagery/ suggestiveness/ patterned nature of language/ suggestiveness”.

Finally, you need to elaborate on why this characteristic has helped you answer the question. A line of two is all that is needed. This does not need to be in tune to the standard of a PhD, something simple will do. Something like “I liked the poem because of its imagery. The images presented in the poem help me realize that the poem is presenting a world of happiness”.

Then show examples of how the images are helping the poem present a world of happiness. This is all your paragraph will require. You have answered the question, as well as giving some brief elaboration. This is the majority of the work done, considering you will have examples of the poem right in front of you on the examination paper to back up your first few lines of the paragraph. The next quality needed in your answer is: Sustainment of the response in a manner appropriate over the entire answer.

In other words, cohesion. To put it simply, your answer has to link together and not be “all over the place”. This can be addressed and achieved easily by giving your essay cohesion in two key areas:

1. Cohesion between paragraphs

This is often not thought of and to address this will make your answer considerably more readable. Again this can be achieved easily, with the use of a few simple words. Rather than involving a common topic between two paragraphs like in prescribed poetry, here phraseology is suitable to link paragraphs, due to the lack of time and hence size of your answer will have compared to the prescribed poetry question. Continuing with the sample answer above, we have just finished writing the first paragraph on why you like the poem because of its imagery/ patterned nature of language/ sensuous qualities. Next, we will write a paragraph on why you liked the poem because of its suggestiveness. Linking the previous paragraph with this one can be achieved with a simple mention of what your previous paragraph covered (remember we are using the answering technique here again, as will be done to begin every paragraph): “As well as its imagery, I liked the poem because of its suggestiveness.”

Other examples could be:

  • “Equally, I admired the poem for its suggestiveness.”
  • “Another feature of the poem I loved was its suggestiveness.” You do not have to mention the previous characteristic every time; a linking phrase such as “Equally” will suffice also.

(It is of worth to use synonyms of “like” or whatever the question asks of you – it gives your answer more color and shows the strength and size of your vocabulary).

Immediately your two paragraphs are linked, by a couple of simple words. There is no stop-start quality which the marker may find irritating after correcting a couple of hundred exam papers. He or she can easily and fluidly read through your answer and thus will appreciate it more, because your paragraphs have a simple but effective link, giving your answer effective cohesion.

Also, if needed, is cohesion in paragraphs. Simply link the majority of the examples in the paragraph by phraseology akin to the linking phrases in your comparative answer such as “we see this again” “more of the same is seen”. The examples are all backing up your answer and elaboration so there should be no differentiation between them hence this quality will work to great effect.

2. Management of controlling language appropriate to the task

This simply focuses on your language use. There are only a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Poetic terminology is essential. You are talking about a poet and his/ her poetry, so the marker will presume, and rightly so, that you will talk about elements of the poetry (such as imagery) rather than the way “the poetry made me feel…”
  2. Focus on one of the poem’s suggestiveness, patterned nature of language, imagery and sensuous qualities in each paragraph.
  3. Short sentences are needed. This is of benefit for you for two reasons. The first is that it reads better for the examiner. The last thing he or she wants is to be following a long winding sentence through four or five lines waiting to see where it will end up. It makes the answer unreadable, and generally gives the writer the appearance of not knowing what he or she is talking about (similar to someone talking a lot to cover what he or she does not know).

This technique is also of benefit to you. If you write long sentences, you will get a tendency to lose some of your concentration and your focus. Writing short sentences keeps you in check and hence keeps you aware of whether or not you are writing an A1 standard essay.

The use of “I”. Remember the question may be aimed at “you” so respond accordingly.

Spelling and grammar

Spelling and grammar should be of a high standard. Remember you are writing for the examiner so make sure the answer is informative. Remember to engage with the poem and use plenty of examples.


So simple. As said above in Clear and purposeful engagement with the set task the first line(s) of any piece should tell the reader what you are writing about. What you will be writing about (and answering) is the question you are asked. Hence, the first line of your introduction, and the fist line of your essay, should simply answer the question. For the question we have focused upon for the entire answer this would be: “I liked/disliked the poem.”

What is then needed is to list the characteristics of the poetry you are going to talk about. Remember, the first lines of the essay will tell what is to be spoken about in the entire answer so the introduction, which should only be a few lines long, should focus on what the essay is going to answer on. Thus what is also needed is a list of characteristics you will be answering on. For the question dealt with this could be: “I liked the poem because of its suggestiveness, patterned nature of language, sensuous qualities and its imagery.”

That is all that is needed.


Like the prescribed poetry, an effective way to conclude an answer is to give it a feeling of completion. This can be easily achieved by creating a full-circle structure by simply repeating the first line of your essay in the first line of your outro: “I liked/disliked the poem.”

The marker will be put in mind of where they have heard this line before and your answer will thus be given the feeling of having begun, explored the poem while also answering the question, and finally completion. List the characteristics again but differently to the intro as repeating the entire intro is a bit cheeky!

“I loved the poem’s suggestiveness, sensuous qualities, imagery, as well as its patterned nature of language.”

So what are these qualities?


The simplest and one you will probably know best. These are the images in the poem. Often these could be of the natural sort or describing a person, place or thing.


The meaning of words can often change when juxtaposed or related to other words, or when placed in a framework such as the unseen poem. The meaning can often change by the way you say it. Hence the unseen poem, when read, can allude to multiple meanings. Look for a meaning or message in the poem different from the one you first created when you read the unseen poem; often a word or a few words can give you a different take on the poem.

Sensuous Qualities

Look for how the poem appeals to the five senses. Are the images that would be/ which are particularly striking to the eye? Does the poem mention things that you would smell, taste or hear? Is there mention of people talking, shouting, screaming?

Patterned nature of language

The form or pattern of the poem plays a part in how we respond to the poem. Look at parts of the poem such as words used, word order, sentence structures, rhythm, visual display, whether the poem has a metrical structure or not.

It is important here is to think about how these qualities are used by the poem to put across its message. When answering and elaborating on each of these qualities in each paragraph, think about how each quality of the poem aids the poem in expressing its message/themes etc. This would be good for your elaboration.

Suitable elaborations and answers

“Describe the impact the poem made on you as a reader”. A suitable answer would begin with “The poem had the impact of making me…” Then you can show how each of the characteristics (suggestiveness, patterned nature of language, imagery, sensuous qualities) helped with this impact.

“Did you like or dislike the poem?” A suitable answer would begin with “I liked/disliked the poem.” Then you can show how each of the characteristics helped make you like/dislike the poem. You could mention how you like/dislike how the characteristics are worked by the poem, how they explicitly/ do not explicitly reveal the poem’s message etc

“Write a personal response to the poem.” Again a “I liked/disliked the poem” will suffice. Same as above.

Some people prefer to choose an open-ended question like this to answer but often the more specific question is easier as it deals with a poem’s dealing of theme or message or specific parts, which is quite easy to answer for showing how the characteristics aids the poem in expressing its message/themes.

Your answer should now look like so:

  1. Intro: Answering of question. List of characteristics to be spoken about in separate paragraphs.
  2. First paragraph: Question answered with the use of imagery. Elaboration. Examples from the poem.
  3. Second paragraphs: Question answered with the use of suggestiveness, with cohesion to link above paragraph. Elaboration. Examples from the poem.
  4. Third and fourth paragraphs: Question answered with the use of patterned nature of language and sensuous qualities, with cohesion to link above paragraph. Elaboration. Examples from the poem.
  5. Outro: Answering of question again (repeating of first line). Listing of characteristics (different way from first paragraphs).


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LC English

Leaving Cert. English, Paper 1 – Part A: The Complete Guide

What are you being asked to do?

The marker is told to view each question as a task, which you must solve with your answer. Here the task is to show your comprehending skills; you are proving to the marker that you can read or look at a certain text and answer questions based on what you have read or seen. There are three question types used to test this: questions concerning what a written question is about, questions on the style of a written text, and questions on the style of a visual text.

If we look at the 2009 exam we see this. Text A contains three questions:

  1. Based on your reading of the above text, outline the views of Veronica Chrisp and Bernie Wright on animal welfare in zoos.
  2. Join the debate. Having considered the views expressed in the text, do you think zoos should be closed? Give reasons for your decision.
  3. Select four features of argumentative and/or persuasive writing evident in the text and comment on their effectiveness. Refer to the text in support of your answer.

Text B contains the questions:

  1. David Malouf evokes a strong sense of place in this extract from his short story. What impression do you get of the Australian town and its people? Support your answer with reference to the text.
  2. Do you think the boy has a good relationship with his parents? Give reasons for your answer.
  3. Identify and comment on four features of narrative and/ or descriptive writing evident in this text. Support your answer by illustration from the text.

Text C contains the questions:

  1. From your reading of this text what do you understand by the term ‘the decisive moment’? Refer to both the written and visual text in support of your answer.
  2. Select three features of the author’s style in the written element of the text and comment on their effectiveness. Support your answer with reference to the written text.
  3. Write a personal response to the visual image in Text 3 that makes the greatest impact on you. [You might consider the subject matter, setting, mood, caption, relevancy, photographic qualities/ technique, etc]

As seen, there are three question types throughout the three texts. However, regardless of the question type three things are asked of you to show your comprehending abilities:

  • to give a straight response – you are asked such questions as whether ‘you think zoos should be closed?’ which require to say whether you think something is so, or is not, or should be so, or should be not etc.
  • you are asked to give reasons for your response – mention is made of e.g ‘Give reasons for your decision’ (the likes of ‘Support your answer with reference to the written text’ etc also indicates this as it asking you to give reasons from the written text).
  • To give examples for your reasons – each question always requires you to e. g ‘Support your answer with reference to the written text’ (here referring to examples), ‘Refer to the text in support of your answer’ (here answer refers to your straight response and reasons which you use to back it up)

Sometimes you may be asked to give a personal response – questions may appear such as ‘From your reading of the text’, ‘Do you think..’ or ‘Write a personal response’.

The questions in Part A are thus asking for a straight answer to each question, reasons for your choosing of this straight answer, and examples to show that your reasons for choosing this straight answer can be chosen and thus that your straight answer is suitable for answering the question asked of you. Throughout this you may have to respond personally.

What do you need to have in these answers?

As well as the three (or four, if you include a personal response) requirements above, the marker will expect your answers in Part A to include the four qualities of Clarity of Purpose, Efficiency of Language useCoherence of Delivery and Accuracy of Mechanics. Hence, in any answer to a question in Part A, you are required to have these seven elements, meaning that you can answer any question on Part A with a suitable answer structure that contains all seven elements.

An effective way to structure your answer so as to contain all seven elements is with the ‘say and show’ method. This involves stating your answer to the question and then showing how this answer is suitable for answering the question with evidence. This method splits your answer into an introduction, main body of three/ four paragraphs and a conclusion. The broad outline of this answer already sets out to answer Part A in the manner required as shown above; the introduction will introduce your answer with your straight response to the question, the paragraphs of the main body of your answer will provide reasons for choosing this straight response and examples to prove that the reasons for and thus the straight response can be chosen, while including a personal response, if needed. The conclusion will conclude your answer. Using this method answers the question and thus solves the task as the marker wishes because it also includes the four qualities looked for by the marker, as shall be shown.

Clarity of Purpose

The introduction brings about the first quality needed in your answer.

This means that you are engaging with the set task, which here is proving that you can read/look at a text and answer questions based on it. As we have seen, the set task requires several things of you, and the introduction allows you to place the first of these in your answer. To show this, we will take the question: ‘Do you consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing?’ (2007, text 1, i)

Any introduction to a piece should tell its reader what it is about. Here, the first few lines of your answer should do this and thus your straight response to the question is suitable, because it will tell the marker in a concise manner what your answer is about. It will do so because the remainder of the answer will back this straight response up because it will be reasons for your choosing of this straight response and examples to back such reasons up – therefore the straight response is the perfect introduction because it tells your marker what the remainder of the answer will be about. A suitable straight response for the question above would be something such as ‘I do consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing.’

Immediately your answer has one requirement, the straight response to the question. It now requires reasons to show the marker why you chose this straight response to answer the question (these reasons may involve a personal response; even though the above is a personal response more is needed, as shall be shown). As said, an introduction should inform the reader of what the remainder of the piece is about, and therefore your introduction here should tell the marker of the reasons for why you chose the straight response, such as the one above. Each of these will be used in a paragraph of the main body of your answer, so you should list these to the marker, because they are the rest of your answer, and in your introduction you need to tell the marker what is in the rest of your answer. For the answer above something such as so should suffice:

‘I feel the first paragraph is so because it uses verbs and adjectives to create a vivid energetic picture, imagery which appeals to the sense of sight and sound, and it uses personification of the tree, which adds to the dramatic visual effect.’

Each of your reasons will be used in a paragraph to back up your straight response. In each paragraph a threefold method can be used to show a reason for choosing your straight response.

Firstly, like the first lines of any piece should indicate what the remainder of the written piece is about, the first lines of each paragraph should indicate what the rest of the paragraph is about. You should therefore firstly mention the reason you will concentrate on in the paragraph, such as

‘I do consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing, firstly because of its including verbs and adjectives to create a vivid, energetic picture.’

Secondly, you need to say how this reason helped you make your straight response to the question. This is an important part of Clarity of purpose because you are here showing to the marker that the reasons you have chosen for and thus your straight response do answer the question asked of you; in other words, you are showing that what you are writing is solving the task asked of you. Here you can insert another requirement sometimes needed in your answer, a personal response. You can here say why you chose this reason and thus why you are answering the question with the response you picked. Doing so for the question we have begun answering would continue its first paragraph in such a manner:

‘In doing so I think the first paragraph becomes alive and full of motion; it is not like a picture you would view in an art gallery which captures a specific moment, forever. Here the first paragraph is describing a tree being cut down so I feel it needs to describe the various stage of this, rather than capturing it in a one-off moment. The falling of the tree is not simply a one-off moment; it is a series of events which includes the tree’s struggle to stay up, its fall and after the fall. Therefore I expect a suitable description to be energetic and vivid to convey this variety and multitude of happenings. I felt using verbs and adjectives to create a vivid, energetic picture achieved this easily.’

If a personal response is not required, you can simply say why you chose this reason helps answers the question with your straight response, without inserting ‘I’, ‘me’ etc.

All that is then needed to conclude the paragraph are examples; these will provide evidence that your reason does help answer your question because the text shows instances of how you say it does, thus proving your statement of how it does so to be true.

If you use this threefold method for each paragraph of your main body you will be including the requirements for your answer; you will have given a straight response to your answer, provided reasons for doing so (as well as showing how these reasons prove your straight response to be suitable for answering the question) which can include a personal response, as well as backing up all of this with examples. Having done so in a well-structured and organised manner brings in another of the four qualities looked for by the marker in your answer.

Efficiency of language use

This quality focuses partially on your using of language (/writing) to form a suitably structured answer to the question/task required of you. Using the structure above would show that you are able to control your language to answer the question/task. This quality also concerns your writing/ language use within your answer structure, and that you are using suitable langauge to answer the question within a suitable answer structure, both of which are needed to show that you can use your language suitably to answer the question. Some things to keep in mind so that you are using suitable language are:

  • Correct terminology/phraseology is essential – if you are asked on a certain question, you will be expected to write about material which is in someway suitable; for example if you are asked to talk about a character, the marker won’t expect you to be mentioning such things as setting.
  • Short sentences are best; long sentences may take away from the point you are trying to make and the marker may view this as ‘waffle’.
  • The use of ‘I’ or ‘me’; if the question is aimed at ‘you’, answer accordingly.
  • Engage with the text and use plenty of examples to back up your answer.

Coherence of delivery

This marker will look for your answer to continuously and cohesively answer the question over its entirety without disruption or interruption. Providing your answer with examples will continuously provide evidence for your straight response and reasons for this – so use plenty of examples.

The other way to continuously and cohesively answer the question is to ensure that when you move from one part of your answer to another, such as a different part of the paragraph, or another paragraph, you link this new part of your answer to the previous part. This ensures that your answer remains unified and gaps do not form. There are two places in your answer to do so:

1) In paragraphs when different examples are used to provide evidence that your reason does help answer the question through the response you used. Use linking phrases to link your examples and present them as unified, all serving the same function, showing that your reason does help answer the question with your response. Use such phrases as ‘We see this again with..’, ‘We see more of the same’ etc.

For example, in the paragraph which we have been answering, after introducing the point about the verbs and adjectives and showing how this reason helps you answer the question with your response, you could use such examples and link them as so:

‘This is seen with the mention that the tree ‘twisted’ but later ‘keeled over’ and finally fell to the ground ‘with a thunderous hurricane crash’ all in the space of a couple of moments. However the description does not stop there; even after the tree has fallen the description continues and we hear how the boy saw ‘light flood in to the space where the tree had stood.’ I felt that the effect is that the description is alive and energetic, with a variety of happenings occuring in a small space of time which, when forcing these all together in one short paragraph, creates an intense feeling of energy, which the description (as shown above) aimed to convey.’

The linking phrase ‘However the description does not stop there’ links the first example, of the tree’s fall, to the second, of the boy’s viewpoint of the fall. In doing so, it shows both examples to be doing the same thing, showing that the verbs and adjectives present the fall as vivid and energetic, through portraying the fall as a series of happenings, and thus showing a suitable reason for answering with your straight response to the question asked, which furthermore presents your straight response a a suitable for answering the question.

2) In-between paragraphs; again linking phrases can be used to present your answer not as a group of separate paragraphs providing reasons for your straight response to a question, but a unified answer which makes a response to a question and then exapands upon this statement by providing reasons which all show why chose to respond to the question in the manner you did so. At the beginning of paragraphs you can link each paragraph to the last through linking phrases such as ‘Another reason I’, ‘As well as..’ etc.

For example, if you were to begin the next paragraph after the one just mentioned above, you may want to link it in such a way as ‘As well as its including verbs and adjectives to create a vivid energetic picture, another reason I consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing is its including of imagery which appeals to the sense of sight and sound.’

This, as said, achieves the same effect as linking examples in your paragraphs; it shows each paragraph linked to another to be doing the same thing, providing reasons for choosing to respond to the question in the way you chose to.

After completing the main body of the answer, all that is left is the conclusion. The purpose of the conclusion is to conclude your answer so here you should be reminding the marker of your response to the question, your reasons for doing so and how this suitably answers the question. Therefore, you should list your response, your reasons for this response and finally a couple of lines stating what these have shown over the entire answer; how your response and reasons are a suitable answer to the question. An example for the question we have been answering throughout could be:

‘As shown, I do consider the first paragraph to be an example of good descriptive writing. This is because the first paragraph uses verbs and adjectives to create a vivid energetic picture, it uses imagery which appeals to the senses of sight and sound and finally because of its personification of the tree, which adds to the dramatic visual effect. All of these combine to make the first paragraph an example of good descriptive writing because they allow the paragraph to show, rather than simply tell, what happened (the falling of the tree).’

Finally, with regards to the final quality needed, Accuracy of Mechanics, spelling and grammar should be of a high standard, with very few mistakes allowed before marks are deducted (this occurs when mistakes hamper the marker’s of your answer).


All in all, when you are answering your question for the part A/ comprehension section you should be focusing on:

  • Providing a response to the question
  • Providing reasons for this response
  • Stating why you can use these reasons
  • Evidence that proves your reasons are relevant
  • Clarity of Purpose: that you are answering the question (providing a response to the question)
  • Coherence of Delivery: that you are continuously answering the question
  • Efficiency of Language Use: that you are using the appropriate language (structure included) to answer the question
  • Accuracy of Mechanics: While doing all of the above you are using correct spelling and grammar


  • Introduction: list response and reasons for this
  • Main body: three paragraphs, each of which has linking phrase to the last paragraph to achieve coherency. Each paragraph should state the reason for your response in the introduction, explain why this reason justifies your response, while also giving examples to provide evidence of your reason.
  • Conclusion: Sum up your response and state its significance.


Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 1 – Summary & Analysis

The play begins in a heath in Scotland, where the infamous three witches (The Weird Sisters) suddenly appear. Amidst a conversation that is characterized largely by paradox they plan to meet at the same spot ‘when the battle’s lost and won’ and when ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’, so as to confront Macbeth. The witches then disappear as quickly as they arrived.


While many will focus upon other parts of the play for analysis and gloss over the play’s first scene due to its shortness, the introduction deserves suitable analysis as the beginning of any piece gives indication of what is to follow. The first scene of Macbeth serves an important purpose; it presents the world as a place where nothing is at it seems, or as it should be. The witches’ contradictory manner of speaking foreshadows later events in the play, such as Macbeth’s deception and forged calm manner when he is considering regicide, while their beards present a world where things are not as they should be, such as a place where a servant is plotting to kill the king. The witches’ phrase ‘fair foul and foul is fair’ is significant for another reason aside from its contradictory state, as shall be shown later.

In addition, the play’s first scene can be seen to present the witches as the leading players in the drama. They are the first characters we meet, which knowing Shakespeare is not coincidence; indeed they influence the major events of the play such as awakening Macbeth to his desire to be king, and their appearing first can be seen to represent their pivotal role in the drama. The weather is also noteworthy; whenever the witches are present there is thunder and lightning and here a storm is present, which symbolizes a disturbance from calmness. This once more suggests the witches as highly important to the events of the play as they are associated with change, and thus the catalysts for much of what happens. Furthermore, the mention of ‘fog and filthy air’ presents the witches as unwilling to present the truth in a straightforward manner, and represents the deception that is rife throughout the play.


Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 2 – Summary & Analysis

The play then switches to King Duncan of Scotland’s military camp, located close to his palace in Forres. The king speaks to a wounded captain (who was wounded helping the King’s son Malcolm escape the fighting), seeking an update regarding the Scots’ battle with the Irish invaders who are led by Macdonwald, a rebel. The captain tells the king how the Scottish general Macbeth and Banquo bravely overcame Macdonwald, with Macbeth killing Macdonwald and placing the rebel’s head on the castle’s battlements. The thane of Ross then enters as the the captain is taken away to be treated to, revealing how the thane of Cawdor has been defeated and the army of Norway fought off. The king orders the thane of Cawdor to be executed and for Macbeth to assume his title; the thane of Ross leaves to tell Macbeth of his promotion.


The second scene serves one overriding purpose, to present Macbeth as a character of supreme virtue. In a world where there is disloyalty and betrayal, symbolized by the traiterous thane of Cawdor, Macbeth is a brave and loyal servant to the king of Scotland. However as mentioned, the initial presentiaton of Macbeth as a character of virtue is the first stage in his state of tragic hero, as he will fall from this state of virtue due to his tragic flaw. This is foreshadowed in the captain’s description of Macbeth’s actions on the battlefield:

‘For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name! – Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel Which smoked with bloody execution, Like valour’s minion Carved out his passage till he faced the slave, Which ne’er shook hands nor bade farewell to him Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’chops, And fixed his head upon our battlements.’

As shall be seen, Macbeth is ‘disdaining of fortune’ when he upsets the natural order and kills the king, who is god’s representative on earth, ‘with bloody execution’ and later is killed by Macduff who is born from a Caesarian section, as his mother is ‘unseamed.. from the nave to th’chops’, who then hangs Macbeth’s head in public as Macbeth did to Macdonwald. The contradictory manner of this, with the captain foreshadowing Macbeth’s deception while praising his dedication to defending Scotland and its king, once more presents the world of the play as a place where all is not as it seems.

Points of note

The world of the play is one based on contradiction, which may be seen as a reason for the ambiguity and uncertainty in the play. While not going into the exact presence of religion in the play it is certainly a social convention, seen in such moments as Macbeth later attempting to say ‘amen’ with the chamberlains. The presence of religion immediately creates an association with morality and doing what is right, however in this scene Macbeth’s virtuous character is associated with his brutal murder of Macdonwald which culminates with his placing the head of his opponent on the battlements of the castle. This is at odds with religious ideals, and presents the play as similar to mythological times when heroism was linked to feats on the battlefield and devotion to the gods was held by all. However these gods were contradictory in their very nature, favouring certain individuals (usually heroes) over others and capable of cruelty, often so as to help the individuals they favoured (indeed there is mention of classical gods later in the play). This contradiction allows different ways to consider characters and their actions.

It is noteworthy to consider Macbeth, even though we only hear of him through description here. As shall be mentioned later, the Weird Sisters can be considered as goddesses of fate; does this mean we consider Macbeth the hero of the play, with the Weird Sisters the goddesses who look after him (this ties in with the aforementioned thought that Macbeth is the tragic hero whose role as king serves some purpose and reveals some new truth)? With this in mind how are we supposed to consider his regicide; is the play (and Shakespeare) advocating a departure from a world where influences such as religion are supreme? Or is it a not so radical departure as there is some form of religion associated with Macbeth (the goddesses of fate); is the play suggesting a world where religion plays a minor role is best? Another way to think about this is that Macbeth should not/ cannot be blamed for his actions, as they are caused by external influences such as the witches (and his wife).

In addition, Macbeth’s killing of Macdonwald may be considered significant. He does not just kill his opponent; he takes his head and places it on the battlement of the castle. While raising questions of morality (which can be considered in the above point about the role of religion) it allows a consideration of his character, most notably the idea of control. Is this instance an indicator that Macbeth is not capable of self-control as even when he kills Macdonwald he is unable to stop himself wreaking havoc on his opponent? As shall be shown later with the topic of imagination, this may be seen as a prominent character trait. There are also parallels to the play’s end, when Macbeth’s head is brought to Malcolm as he is proclaimed king; it is of worth considering if there are other similarities between the beginning and end of the play.

The frequent mention of ‘bloody’ in this scene introduces this much used phrase throughout the play. The play is certainly very ‘bloody’, seen in such instances as when Lady Macbeth believes she has blood on her hands. Here Duncan speaks of the battle and asks ‘What bloody man is that? He can report,/ As seemth by his plight’ and speaks of the ‘bloody execution.’ Similarly, Macbeth’s slaying of Macdonald is spoken of graphically, as it is revealed he ‘unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops’. It is of note to consider the heavy mention/ appearance of blood in the play as aside from the beginning and end of the play, in the battlefield, there are no other battle-like circumstances; is this a suggestion that the actions that take place in the royal court are as malicious and violent as on the battlefield and that both arenas are as dangerous as each other?

Deception is already present in the world of the play even before Macbeth’s traiterous journey to assuming the crown begins, shown with the actions of the Thane of Cawdor. This reveals to us that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are not the inventors of deception in the world of the play; indeed in a world where there is much war and fighting and a non-fixed concept of morality it is to be expected that underhandedness will be present in some form. Is it the case that deception is present due to a world of contradictions, where there is war and killing alongside religion and morality? Is this a world based on survival of the fittest, where one should act according to one’s own interests as opposed to according to the instructions of the king or morality, as these are linked to ideals such as killing on the battlefield? If we consider that the king, the instructor of the order of things, advocates gruesome fighting and a ‘bloody execution’ (he praises Macbeth for his feats in the battlefield later), does this suggest that this is a world where morality is secondary, and that the rule of the king can be questioned due to the inconsistencies in the world?

Finally, is it significant that Duncan is not in the battlefield leading his army? Mention was made earlier of classical references in the play; in classical/ mythological times the rulers of countries/ kingdoms fought alongside their armies in battle, and even if one does not have knowledge of this they would surely find it slightly surprising that the ruler of the country is not fighting with his army. Does this suggest Duncan is not a completely suitable ruler? Compare this to Macbeth who despite seizing the crown through wrongful means defends his kingdom from the front at the play’s end.


Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 3 – Summary & Analysis

The action then returns to the battlefield, where claps of thunder signal the return of the witches; one reveals she has just been ‘illing swine’ while another discloses her revenge plan for a sailor whose wife does not share her chestnuts. The third then announes Macbeth’s impending arrival when a drum sounds, and the titular character soon enters with Banquo, enroute to the king’s palace in Forres. Upon viewing the witches Banquo wonders if they are mortal, as they do not appear to be ‘inhabitants o’ th’ earth’, and also if they are indeed men due to their aforementioned beards. The witches however turn their attention to Macbeth, calling him thane of Glamis (a title he had previous to the battle) and also referring to him by his new title, thane of Cawdor, which he is perturbed by as he has not heard of the king’s decision from the previous scene. The witches then intrigue him with the revelation that he will be king one day but will not reveal further information regarding this, despite his repeated requests, as they then speak of Banquo and call him ‘lesser than Macbeth, and greater’, and ‘not so happy, yet much happier’. When Macbeth then asks why they called him thane of Cawdor they disappear immediately, in the same manner that they have come and gone previously.

Macbeth and Banquo ponder what has just occurred, with Macbeth wondering what the women meant when they told Banquo ‘Your children shall be king’s, and Banquo considering what they meant when telling Macbeth ‘You shall be king’. They do not have much time to consider the meeting further as Ross and Angus appear, telling Macbeth of his new title. Macbeth, astonished that the witches’ words have become truth, asks Banquo if he hopes his children will now become kings; Banquo however is not as eager, telling Macbeth that devils often only speak in half-truths so as to ‘win us to our harm’. Macbeth does not consider this however, as he is now fixated on the possibility of the witches’ second reference becoming reality, that he will be king; he wonders how he will become king, ether through external circumstance or an immoral deed needed to assume the position. He soon shakes himself from such thoughts and, as the group leave for the palace, tells Banquo he wishes to speak privately regarding the meeting with the witches at a later time.


Of significance here is Macbeth’s reaction to the witches’ words. When the witches announce he will be king he is intrigued, and immediately his desire to be king is revealed. This brings in the question of who is to blame for Macbeth’s predicament of which there are conventionally three parties considered: Macbeth, the witches and Lady Macbeth. As shall be shown later, Lady Macbeth pushes her husband towards his desire and plays a key role and, as has already been shown, the witches awaken his desire, but this scene presents Macbeth as blameworthy also. When the witches reveal he will be king Macbeth considers murder immediately, which can lead to criticism of the protagonist if we consider the role of king and others in the time of Shakespeare. In the time of the play, as mentioned, the king was seen as God’s representative, chosen by God to be king, and therefore no others were allowed influence this. By considering regicide and assuming a divinely-chosen position Macbeth is going against the natural order of things and, in addition, committing the cardinal sin of regicide. Indeed, Macbeth even attempts to justify the witches’ words, asking how their ‘supernatural soliciting’ can be ill when ‘it given me earnest of success’ and declaring not thinking of such thoughts further is ‘but fantastical’. However he does show a realisation, however slight, that what he is doing is fundamentally wrong, questioning why the prophecy which declares he will be king causes his ‘seated heart knock at ribs/ Against the use of nature’.

However there are other elements to consider. Like other Shakespearean protagonists Macbeth is indecisive; he is not committed wholly to killing the king and at this moment is only considering the action (this is highly important when considering his character, as we shall see in the run up the murder of Duncan, and the act itself – this plays into the theme of imagination as he is only imaging the act of regicide and being king). As mentioned, it should also be noted his wife plays a large role in this action being committed, and may be seen as the main player in the sin of regicide. The witches must also be considered, as they are the agents who bring about this desire; their name, the Weird Sisters, is significant as it comes from the Old English word ‘wyrd’ which means fate, and they may be seen to be connected to fate;  once they awaken Macbeth’s desire what they say will inevitably come to pass as his desire will be too strong to ignore even if it requires such an act as killing the king. Indeed it is significant that Macbeth’s first line is ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’, which is similar to the witches’ phrase ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’, suggesting Macbeth and the witches are connected, which thus adds weight to the theory that they have a hold over the titular character. Indeed, when considering that the witches tell Banquo that his sons will be kings and this occurs without Banquo acting upon this it seems as though once Macbeth is told he will be king this is impossible to avoid; Banquo’s fear that the witches’ revelation will cause his friend to ‘enkindle unto the crown’ is therefore founded. The witches cast the mood and set the scene for the entire play, causing unrest and disruption wherever they appear and in whatever they do; from their prophecies and their spoken blank verse to the thunder that accompanies them they disrupt the world and all in it. For Macbeth and all others life is no longer simply about winning battles; the witches may be seen to advocate a world where the king does not have complete control over the his kingdom any longer, able to send subjects to risk their lives on the battlefield while he remains in safety in the royal court. While the thane of Cawdor was unsuccessful in his ability to bring this about, it may be argued that Macbeth is able to as he has the help of the witches (which further presents him as akin to the classical/ mythological heroes who had gods, here the witches who can be linked to the goddesses of fate, overlooking and aiding them).

Points of note

Macbeth’s reaction to the witches’ words presents him as a character incapable of self-control, as mentioned previously. Once they suggest he may be king all loyalty to Duncan (which he was associated with earlier) disappears and he becomes fixated on the prospect of becoming king; his repeated demands for further information before the witches disappear suggest this further.

The issue of gender can be considered here. Much like Lady Macbeth is commonly seen as masculine due to such traits as lacking emotion and is often considered influential largely (or only) because of this, it may be seen that the witches are influential because of their masculine traits, namely their beards. Would Macbeth and Banquo notice or pay attention to the witches if they appeared as conventional women? Much like Lady Macbeth is unignorable due to such masculine traits as her lack of emotion, Banquo cannot but notice the women due to their masculine appearance. Indeed, the common perception of women at the time of the play was that they were passive and thus not capable of cruelty and destruction in the manner that males were, seen with Macbeth at war. The play may be seen as misogynistic, as it might suggest that for females to be influential they must be like males, both physically (the Witches) and psychologically (Lady Macbeth).

The witches tell Macbeth of his new title, but it is significant that they tell him of this in the scene after this has taken place? Is this a suggestion that they are not the agents of fate, or is this irrelevant (for example, might this scene take place around the same time as the king grants the new title to Macbeth?)? Either way it contributes to presenting the play as a world where uncertainty and ambiguity are dominant.

This is the first scene in which we meet Banquo, and he is presented as at odds with Macbeth; Macbeth is open to the prospect of fate and that the witches’ words might come to pass, while Banquo believes that such events might cause harm and thus is disinterested in the witches. Does Banquo represent the right way of thinking considering Macbeth meets his end at the play’s conclusion, or is he representative of a world that Shakespeare believes must be escaped from and/or changed; indeed Banquo worries about what is right and wrong (he associates the witches with the symbol of the devil, the epitome of evil), yet he has just previously been associated with the brutality of war. Throughout the play both represent different ways of thinking; should we admire Macbeth for eventually adopting a consistent way of thinking, whereas Banquo retains an inconsistent viewpoint throughout?

The witches are presented as not just evil but also powerful here, through description such as their ‘killing swine’ and association with death (arguably the most powerful force) through such mentions as ‘the devil’ and ‘killing swine’. Are such references designed to make us pity Macbeth later and suggest that any individual would be corrupted by such powerful beings?

Macbeth and Banquo speak of deception during this scene, presenting the world of the play as one where deception is common. Banquo asks ‘Were such things here as we do speak about? Or have we eaten on the insane root,/ That takes the reason prisoner?’, while Macbeth declares ‘present fears/ Are less than horrible imaginings’ and ‘Nothing is, but what is not’. Later this theme is developed upon further, with Macbeth raising the topic that appearance does not mirror reality in the play; he asks the witches ‘Why do you dress me/ in borrowed robes’, stressing that while they say he will be king this is not the case as Duncan is the king and Macbeth has no right to the crown. Banquo later suggests ‘new honours came upon him/ Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould, but with the aid of use’, alluding to what Macbeth says; Macbeth is given the honor but is not deserving as a king should be, as the king is god’s representative on earth, and thus is divinely chosen.


Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 4 – Summary & Analysis

The play returns to Duncan’s palace, where Malcolm tells his father that Cawdor was executed after confessing to and repenting of his sins. As Duncan laments about how he placed ‘absolute trust’ in Cawdor Macbeth and Banquo then enter and are thanked by the king for their feats in the battlefield, to which they respond with a declaration of loyalty to the king. However when Duncan then reveals that he will name Malcolm as heir to the throne Macbeth secretly views Malcolm as an obstacle to his desire, despite displaying an appearance of happiness. Plans are made for a feast at Macbeth’s castle that night for the king and Macbeth goes ahead to inform his wife of this.


The mention of the thane of Cawdor is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it raises questions over the suitability of Duncan’s rule; if he had been on the battlefield with the army this would surely have prevented the thane having the ability to act in such a traitorous manner. The link between the thane of Cawdor and the sudden appearance of Macbeth is designed to form a comparison of the two; Macbeth is taking over from Cawdor as the threat to the king. His actions here continue his role as tragic hero; initially he held a position of virtue but now, as a result of his tragic flaw (his ambition), he begins to lose his virtuous character as he plots against the king, seen as he deceptively declares his loyalty to the king while secretively viewing the king’s heir as an obstacle to his desire.

Points of note

In the space of four scenes we have seen how widely deception is accepted in the play. Firstly we have seen the Thane of Cawdor, who attempted to deceive Duncan, king of Scotland. Secondly Macbeth and Banquo, both of whom were praised for the brave and virtuous nature, speak of it. Now even the king of Scotland accepts that it is present in his kingdom, remarking of how he was deceived: ‘There’s no art/ To find the mind’s construction in the face./ He was a gentleman on whom I built/ An absolute trust’. Macbeth also forebodes his deception of Duncan, remarking ‘our duties/ Are to your throne and state, children and servants,/ which do but what they should by doing everything/ safe toward your love and honor’; he will soon do the complete opposite when he invites him to his castle.

The theme of corruption comes to light here as Duncan remarks to Macbeth that he has ‘begun to plant thee and will labor/ to make thee full of growing’, which alludes to the king’s control of all subjects in his kingdom. Macbeth’s killing of Duncan will corrupt the natural order of things, by severing himself from the very ‘root’ that feeds him. The idea of cutting yourself off from your source goes against the norm, and this is what will occur when Macbeth kills Duncan; the natural order will be upset and the world corrupted.


Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 5 – Summary & Analysis

In Iverness, the castle of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband that details the events that have occurred so far in the play, his new title and the meeting with the witches. While reading, Lady Macbeth remarks that while her husband is ambitious he is too full of ‘th’ milk of human kindness’ to do what is necessary to realize his ambitions, and plans to convince him to undertake the required actions. A messenger announces Macbeth is close to arrival and Lady Macbeth begs ‘you spirits/ That tend of mortal thought, unsex me here,/ And fill me from the crown to the toe too-full/ Of direst cruelty’, planning to abandon her natural femininity so as to be able to commit the bloody actions needed for Macbeth to attain the kingship. Macbeth then enters and tells his wife Duncan will stay the night, but Lady Macbeth responds that the king will not see tomorrow; she tells her husband to be patient and leave matters to her.


Our first view of Lady Macbeth raises various questions concerning not only her character but also the marriage between she and Macbeth. They are polar opposites; Macbeth is indecisive concerning the act of regicide despite it offering him the chance to realize his ambition, while Lady Macbeth is decisive and considers nothing except forcing her husband to realize his ambition. While it may be argued that she is a loyal and caring wife for doing so it is difficult not to criticize her here, as her decisiveness and plan to help her husband reveal an evil nature. She admits fearing Macbeth’s nature as it ‘is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way’ and her plan to convince him presents her as corrupting; it is possible to sympathize with Macbeth later in the play as her plans and words suggest he is corrupted by his wife into acting in an underhanded manner. She plans to ‘pour spirits in ear’ which suggests she will corrupt him unknowingly, which may be a reference to another Shakespeare play, Hamlet, when King Hamlet was killed while asleep as Claudius poured poison in his ear; the mention of ear may suggest that the person acted upon has no control or ability to stop the action. If she has her way, she will transform Macbeth from an ‘innocent flower’ to ‘serpent’, the epitome of corruption, which makes it difficult to consider Lady Macbeth as a supporting wife. She realizes that she has to manipulate and control her husband so as to achieve his and her aims.

Points of note

The issue of gender/ sex comes to light here. Lady Macbeth plans to help Macbeth but can only do so by removing her femininity and losing feminine compassion, ‘remorse’; this is the reason for her plea to ‘unsex me here’, so she can be cold and ruthless enough to convince her husband to kill the king. This may suggest why the Weird Sisters have beards; do they need some masculine trait so as to be ruthless enough to be part of an act such as murder or regicide?

The natural order has already been disturbed, evidenced by Lady Macbeth’s remark that ‘Thy letters have transported me beyond/ This ignorant present, and I feel now the future in the instant’. The future she refers to is the world when Macbeth becomes king and immorality reigns; this has already begun as two of the play’s principal characters plot to kill the king.

Lady Macbeth reveals herself as another character aware of deception and its role in the world as she instructs Macbeth to ‘bear welcome in your eye but be the serpent under’t’ when Duncan arrives. This does lessen some of the criticism towards Lady Macbeth as Macbeth has already shown himself to be able to deceive, as he presented himself as loyal to the king in the previous scene while still considering his ambition to be king, which would involve killing Duncan.


Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 6 – Summary & Analysis

Duncan and his party arrive at Macbeth’s castle and the king speaks of the castle’s pleasant surroundings while thanking Lady Macbeth for her hospitality; he then asks to see Macbeth, who he admits to loving greatly. Macbeth’s wife responds that it is her duty to be hospitable as she and her husband owe much to the king.


We see how deceptive the world is becoming as Duncan is deceived by the atmosphere at Iverness. He remarks that ‘the air/ nimbly and sweet/ recommends itself/ onto our gentle senses’, which shows how even the weather, the most natural of elements, is now also deceptive.

Points of note

The idea of the duty of the host dates back to classical/ mythological times. The host had a duty (xenia) to be as hospitable as possible to any who visited him/ her. This reference serves to emphasize how inhospitable, deceptive and immoral Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are in welcoming Duncan to their home, as this is done to kill him.

Duncan mentions that ‘the love that follows us sometime is our trouble’, which can be applicable to several things here. For Macbeth it might be his love of power and/ or ambition that he cannot escape, or on a more literal level it might be his love for Lady Macbeth, who will not allow him to forget these ambitions. It can also be linked to Duncan, whose love for Macbeth had led him to the place where he will be killed.

Like later when Lady Macbeth becomes affected by the act of murder, this is one of the few moments in the play when Macbeth and his wife can be compared. Macbeth was deceptive to Duncan earlier, proclaiming his loyalty while considering his plan to kill him, and now Lady Macbeth does the same. She deceives the king into thinking the will repay him with the utmost hospitality while having underhanded intentions: ‘were poor and single business to contend/ Against those honours deep and broad wherewith/ Your majesty loads our house’.


Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 7 – Summary & Analysis

While the feast is prepared Macbeth wanders anxiously throughout the castle, contemplating the thought of killing the king. He admits it would be easier were he certain that regicide would have no harmful consequences; while he is willing to risk damnation in the afterlife he is aware that on earth bloody actions ‘return/ To plague th’inventor’. After considering why he should not kill the king (he is Duncan’s host, subject and kinsman, and Duncan is unanimously assumed as a fair and great ruler) Macbeth realizes the only reason for killing Duncan is his own ambition, which as mentioned leaves open the possibility of harmful and unwanted consequences. This is not reason enough to justify the act, leaving Macbeth to lament that he has ‘vaulting ambition’ without the necessary ruthlessness and conviction to complete his goals. Lady Macbeth then enters, announcing Duncan has finished the feast and wishes to see Macbeth, who tells his wife that he no longer plans regicide. She is angered and mocks him, calling into question his masculinity, remarking ‘When you durst do it.. then you were a man’ and imploring him to ‘screw courage to the sticking place’. Macbeth asks what would come about if the plan fails but his wife assures him they will be successful if they are committed and bold in their actions, revealing her plan to inebriate the chamberlains, kill the king and smear his blood on the sleeping chamberlains so as to frame them. Macbeth is astonished and admiring of her cunning plan and after agreeing to it tells Lady Macbeth that he hopes she will only give birth to male children, due to the ‘undaunted mettle’ of her plan.


The final scene of the first act reveals much about Macbeth. Firstly, it shows he realizes that what he is doing is wrong, as he considers Duncan’s suitability as a ruler and that he cannot justify the act of regicide. However despite this he still considers the act, wanting the murderous deed to be done, but done quickly: ‘If it were done when ‘tis done, there ‘twere well/ If it were done quickly’ (it could be argued that this links him to the witches once more; he wishes the act to be over before the audience can even register it, in a manner that transcends time, which would be akin to the supernatural actions of the witches). He is willing to risk eternal damnation but fears the consequences on earth, displaying his disregard that the king is God’s representative on earth as the act of regicide will only be truly punished in the afterlife. The scene presents him as tortured between ambition and the consequences of his desire; he realizes the wrongness of his ambition but Lady Macbeth’s ambition drives him on and refuses to allow him to forget this. It seems so far that Macbeth is not an evil man but rather weak; if he had decisiveness this would not necessarily mean he would carry out his plan, but might allow him to challenge his wife. This weakness stretches to the idea of imagination; it can be seen that Lady Macbeth and the witches are strengthening his imagination, forcing him to consider the idea of being king more and more, which Macbeth is becoming unable to ignore.

Points of note

It may be argued that Lady Macbeth is the corrupt centre of the world; while the witches make Macbeth aware of his desirehe is indecisive and it appears possible that he would ignore this had it not been for his wife (that is if we do not consider it fate that Macbeth will become king). Lady Macbeth however will not allow him to forget this desire, instructing him ‘nor time, nor place/ Did then adhere, and yet you would make both./ They have made themselves and that their fitness now/ Does unmake you… screw your courage to the sticking place.’ Elsewhere she even says she would have killed her child if she had sworn to do so in order to make Macbeth honor his earlier agreement to kill the king: ‘how tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me, I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,/ And dash’d the brains out, so I had sworn as you/, have don to this’. In sharp contrast to Macbeth she has no qualms or misgivings about the impending evil deed or that she plans to frame this on another. She openly considers killing the king and going against the natural order, and has no problems having her husband committing such an act despite the possible repercussions in the afterlife (which we can presume she is aware of).

Macbeth’s fall from grace continues; he now openly admits he is deceptive to Duncan who ‘hath honoured me of late, and I have bought/ Golden opinions from all sorts of people… not cast aside so soon.’ This contrasts from earlier when he was restrained in this viewpoint.

The idea of gender arises again in this scene. Lady Macbeth attempts to goad Macbeth into committing the act of regicide by suggesting that to not do so would lead to self-emasculation; she asks ‘Art tho afeard/ To be the same in thine own act and valour/ As thou art in desire… live a coward in thine own esteem… you were a man’ as she believes that masculinity involves being decisive and not cowardly. This leads Macbeth to believe he must commit regicide to retain his masculine state and he thus declares ‘I dare do all that may become a man;/ Who dares do more is none.’

Children are mentioned in this scene, as Macbeth hopes his wife will bear ‘men-children only’ so they will be courageous and decisive like her; this suggests that Lady Macbeth holds masculine traits.