Below, you’ll find some thoughts, notes and comments on the idea of religion in “Macbeth”. These are intended as a starting point – you should also read essays on the topic, do your own research and develop your own more personal and detailed beliefs about each theme before attempting to write essays! Every essay or exam answer that you write should include your own personal thoughts and feelings on the question, so the notes and questions below are designed to help you develop a personal response to this theme, as well as developing a better contextual understanding of religion in Shakespeare’s day.
Themes and ideas form the foundation of most exam questions – even when a question seems character-based, there will almost always be a theme attached to it. Look at the following questions and see if you can identify the ways in which ‘religion’ could be used in each one:
- How far does Shakespeare present Lady Macbeth as an evil woman?
- In what ways does Shakespeare present witchcraft and the supernatural?
- To what extent is Macbeth’s rejection of spirituality the most significant factor in his downfall?
- Examine the ways in which Shakespeare presents the idea of religion in the play.
Once you feel comfortable with the key ideas and debates on a theme you should compile a list of quotations that relate to it, then practise analysing those too.
Thanks for reading! If you find this resource useful, you can take a look at our full online Macbeth course here. Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!
This course includes:
- A full set of video lessons on each key element of the text: summary, themes, setting, characters, context, attitudes, analysis of key quotes, essay questions, essay examples
- Downloadable documents for each video lesson
- A range of example B-A* / L7-L9 grade essays, both at GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-Level (age 16+) with teacher comments and mark scheme feedback
- A bonus Macbeth workbook designed to guide you through each scene of the play!
To get full, separate documents from ‘Macbeth’ analysis, click this link.
Religion: “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.”
Spirituality: “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.”
Evil: “sinful, wicked or morally corrupt”, also “causing harm, wickedness or suffering in the world”
NOTES AND QUESTIONS ON RELIGION IN MACBETH:
- The influence of God and the influence of the devil are represented in the text through the motifs of light and darkness respectively. What quotations can you find that relate to these motifs, and how does each one symbolise spirituality?
- As darkness takes over the castle, Macbeth finds himself abandoned by God: “Wherefore I could not pronounce “Amen”?”, “I had most need of blessing… “Amen”/ Stuck in my throat.”. He is unable to pray and physically cannot pronounce prayer words – he takes this as a sign that God has forsaken him. This perhaps signifies a turning point (peripeteia) in the plot, where Macbeth feels compelled to commit increasingly evil deeds because he assumes he has been abandoned by God.
- Jacobeans were very religious – they were predominantly Protestant Christians, with Catholics being an outlawed minority. The Gunpowder Plot, a Catholic plot to overthrow the monarchy by blowing up the Houses of Parliament, was a result of this religious tension. It occurred in 1605, one year before Macbeth was written and three years after King James I had become the King of England. What message is Shakespeare conveying about attempts to overthrow the king?
- How is nature and a disruption of the natural order in the play related to the Macbeths’ abandonment of religion?
- What are the connections between guilt, sin and peace?
- How does Macbeth’s spirituality directly reflect his mental health?
- Macduff is likened to the figure of Christ going into Hell when he enters Macbeth’s castle in 2.3 – how does Macduff’s faith in goodness and order help to restore the world back to its natural state?
- What does Lady Macbeth mean by the phrase “hell is murky” in 5.1?
- How does the Jacobean belief of the Divine Right of Kings relate to the play?
- How does the Renaissance belief of the Great Chain of Being relate to the play?