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One Night of Shakespeare - Introduction

ONE NIGHT OF SHAKESPEARE - EXPERT ADVICE


Expert answers to real questions on how to stage Shakespeare.

Throughout the preparation period for One Night of Shakespeare, we had a panel of experts on hand to answer any questions nervous directors might need to ask.

Although the experts are no longer answering new questions, we thought their advice was so good we'd leave it up for everyone to enjoy.

Below is a list of all the questions our panel of experts answered. Click on the question to read the answer.


  • Can you suggest some ideas for working with Kate and Petruchio to get the actor playing Kate wilder and more angry?

  • How do you get make-up ready in time for a play?

  • How do you get over the fear of acting in front of big crowds especially if you have a big part?

  • Our pupils, who have learning difficulties, are very inhibited in terms of their vocal range and bodily gestures. Do you have any suggestions for how to overcome this?

  • We are doing The Tempest. How can I get the actors to explore the relationships between the characters in more depth - and quickly?

  • I'm having difficulty with Ariel's 'You are three men of sin' speech in The Tempest. Could you give me any tips?

  • Is stage make up necessary if we are not attempting a special effect? Would normal make-up do the job, or can you recommend a UK supplier of stage make-up?

  • For Richard III, what swords would be safe/good to use? And how do you do the "a horse, a horse..." scene without looking silly, when pretending to ride horses?

  • We are planning to perform the text using call and response and inviting audience participation. Has anyone else used this approach?

  • How do you think Ariel should be played and portrayed?

  • Why does Macbeth act the way he does?



    Can you please suggest some ideas for working with Kate and Petruchio to get the actor playing Kate wilder and more angry? (Question from Cathy, Oxford High School)

    Directing expert Fiona Lesley answers:

    I suspect there are three layers to the situation you are grappling with here - all very common to any director.

    1. There is an emotional range needed for the character that you can't get the actor to access.

    2. Your view of the character is different to that of the actors.

    3. There is a lack of chemistry between the two actors playing Kate and Petruchio.

    Starting with the issue of emotional range, there are two main avenues I would suggest you explore; finding the emotion through a close connection to the stages of the story and key moments in the character's journey, and through a range of exercises about physicalising emotion in a heightened way.

    Kate's journey is a battle between dignity and self-possession versus degradation and humiliation. Some of the most successful performances I have seen have been where the actress playing Kate is able to both totally lose perspective and at the same time laugh at herself. I wonder if your actor would be more comfortable with letting her wild side out if she was able to see it as something she also finds funny.

    It may seem very high risk at this late stage in the day to come off text but improvisation can be an extremely useful way to access a response that works for the actor. You could look at the key moments in the story and set them up with contemporary parallel scenarios that may be closer to your actor's own world and give her objectives and very high stakes that will push her to extremes. I've offered the 'acting by numbers' exercises up before in a previous answer but it seems relevant again here:

    It can be a real challenge getting young actors to find a way of heightening truthful emotion and expressing it clearly both physically and vocally. One exercise for heightening physicality is 1-10. There are many versions of the exercise - here's the one I know.

    Two lines of actors face one another at opposite ends of the space. You ask everybody in one line to each think of an emotion. Then you give them a count of ten, explaining that on each number they must take a step forward, trying to make the emotion seem bigger each time. When you get to ten, count back down with the actors taking a step back on each count - the emotion getting smaller each time.

    Take the count slowly, and ask for the actors to freeze on each number but still try to keep the emotion true. Then ask the group watching what they noticed and give them a go.

    There's also a verbal version that can be quite fun. Two lines face each other close up. They are told they are going to have a conversation about something (improvised or from the play), but while they are talking you are going to give them a signal, like a clap or gong, every so often. When they hear this, they must each take a step back until the conversation is taking place across a long distance.

    Another great exercise for accessing heightened emotional response is setting up a rule that you can freeze the action at any point and ask any of the actors to show how their character is feeling at that moment using only sound and movement. In your case you might add the rule that they have to show it at level 10.

    In that moment they should feel free to express as wildly as they can while the other actor freezes. When a few seconds have passed you give a signal that returns them to the scene where they left off. It's important that the freeze moment is strong so that the return is clear.

    Playing with all of these exercises between Kate and Petruchio will help them to discover connections together.

    Ideally actor and director discover a way the character can be played that is both the truth that the actor can bring but also serves the need of the play and the production. Plus, if nothing else, the humour of The Taming of the Shrew relies on Kate being wild at times. Equally, if your actor has a strong still presence and you stage it powerfully, this will be exciting.

    Good luck!



    How do you get make-up ready in time for a play? (Question from Asha, The Warwick School)

    Make-up expert Claire Hedger answers:

    In order to schedule in make-up for the production you need to know exactly what will be required for each character.

    For more complicated designs or special effects I suggest that you draw the proposed design on paper first.

    It is always best to have a practice run at putting your make-up on a couple of times before the dress-rehearsal, this way you can solve any problems that may come up during the application and you have a chance to cut down on the amount of time it will take you to apply the look.

    The dress-rehearsal is the time when you can check the make-up from the audiences point of view. Any shadows that need correcting can be checked, as can the strength of the colours used in the make-ups. This is the first time you will see your make-up under the lights so be prepared to make some final adjustments to the tone and definition.

    The lighting is usually set at a 45 degree angle to the stage and must correct shadows.

    Lighting changes make-up colours as follows, so you have to adjust for it:
  • White make-up looks blue, so use cream
  • Blue make-up looks black, so use brown
  • Yellow looks too washed-out, so use stronger reds and oranges

    In general, the make-up for actresses on stage should include stronger eye make-up, brighter lipstick and a stronger colour on the cheeks. Although the colouring should be stronger everything should be blended to look natural.

    Knowing what is required for each character and practicing the length of time it will take to create will help in scheduling in the make-up for the production.

    On average for a natural look without special effects I would allow 45mins to get ready. The time it takes for special effects will really depend on what you have to do. If you plan ahead and practice you will know exactly how long you will need.



    How do you get over the fear of acting in front of big crowds especially if you have a big part? This is my first time performing! (Question from Rachel, St Francis Xavier)

    Acting expert Andrew Frame answers:

    Good question! In the 16 years I've been in this business I've only ever met two actors who said that they didn't get nervous or fearful before doing a show. I think they're both liars. Everybody gets first night nerves, no matter how many times they have performed. I think the trick is to accept that you are going to be frightened and find a way of using it.

    What are you actually frightened of? Forgetting your lines? Bumping into the furniture? Throwing up? Fainting? Turning into a jibbering wreck? Making a fool of yourself? All of these things may well happen, in fact, if you make a career out of performing, I reckon you can safely say that all these things will happen at some time or another. Performing is tightrope walking and everybody falls off (and frequently, those moments are the best moments in a show!).

    What you can do for yourself is ensure that you are well prepared for the performance. By this I mean that you understand your journey through the performance - much more than merely knowing the lines, knowing why you are saying them. A famous actor was once asked how he remembered all his lines in a one-man show. "By forgetting everything else" - he replied. Focus. Trust yourself.

    On the day of the performance you'll be aware of a lot of adrenalin coursing through you and those around you. It can manifest itself in many ways. Some people bounce off the walls, others behave as if they are very sea-sick, some spend most of the day not very far from the toilet - it's all perfectly natural leading up to the first performance. What's important here is mindset. Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by fearing what could go wrong - look forward to enjoying yourself.

    Use your time at the technical rehearsal well. Explore your new environment. I always like to imagine how it will be when the auditorium is full and there is the babble of excited chatter. Then a hush as the lights go down. Take the time to practice anything you might foresee as being troublesome. Fill the space with your voice. You'll have to speak twice as loud when the room is full of people.

    It is an act of courage to step onto a stage in front of a big crowd of people. I believe that having courage has nothing to do with being fearless, it's to do with acknowledging the fear and doing it anyway. This is what some people call 'Riding the Tiger'. It can be the most thrilling sensation in the world. At this point it's important to remember that the people out there watching you aren't baying for your blood or sitting in judgement of you, they are on your side, eager for you to do well.

    There will come a point in the evening when the energy you feel as anxiety will turn into excitement. This is normally after your first scene, when you realise that you didn't die or get tomatoes thrown at you and that, strangely enough, everything came out of your mouth in the right order (although you probably won't remember).

    Stay relaxed. Listen. All acting is energy - focussed energy. Don't let your mind run to what's coming up next, or judge how well you're doing. The most important thing is to be present, to live in the moment. If something does go wrong, forget about it - move on. And never apologise! You'll have plenty of time for reflection afterwards.

    In many ways I think it's easier to perform when you have a big part. You'll be in a number of scenes, so you'll get chance to relax a little and get over the shock of being onstage. If you have only one scene, or a few lines, the temptation is to overburden yourself with trying to make every millisecond count. Don't do it. Find a way to take the pressure off yourself. Imagine the scene you're about to be in is your fourth.

    I think much of our fear derives from wanting to be brilliant or perfect, or 'to get it right', to not let everyone down etc. If we accept that we are NEVER going to be perfect, we can relieve a lot of pressure on ourselves. Do your best. Take pride in your work. Don't give yourself a hard time, give yourself a good time. Enjoy it. If you enjoy it, your audience will too. Then you open yourself up to the biggest thrill of all - when you surprise yourself - a moment of genuine inspiration. As Hamlet says;

    "The readiness is all"



    Our pupils, who have learning difficulties including autistic traits, are very inhibited in terms of their vocal range and bodily gestures. Do you have any suggestions for how to overcome this? (Question from Julia, Forest Oak)

    Acting expert Andrew Frame answers:

    It's sometimes enormously difficult to cast inhibition to one side in a rehearsal. Part of the process of making a piece of theatre is concerned with venturing beyond our own comfort zones - embarrassment is only natural.

    I think one approach might be to locate an area where physical and vocal expression are abundantly free. In this case I'm thinking of the playground. Do your actors exhibit similar inhibitions there? Is there a way of bringing playground activities into rehearsal, or perhaps having some rehearsals outside or even in the playground?

    Have you tried team games, with incentives for the winning side? I've found that they can be very useful in getting people to commit to an objective which isn't so focussed on themselves.

    When it comes to expression, it's useful to explore how Shakespeare uses words to 'paint' his world into life - you could try miming the action of this.

    Another exercise would be to assemble an array of objects and ask the actors to pick up and use a different object for every word. An example; "If (pencil) music (ball) be (plastic cup) the (watch) food (plug) of (apple) love (rubber), play (glove) on (hairbrush)" etc etc. This exercise physicalises words and encourages ownership of them. It's a slow process, but it can yield amazing results.

    I have no experience of working with actors with autistic traits, but if you think think this exercise might be confusing in an associative way, you could always find objects that are more literal.


    Direction expert Fiona Lesley answers:

    It can be a real challenge getting young actors to find a way of heightening truthful emotion and expressing it clearly both physically and vocally.

    One exercise for heightening physicality is "1-10". There are many versions of the exercise, but here's the one I know:

    Two lines of actors face one another at opposite ends of the space. You ask everybody in one line to each think of an emotion. Then you give them a count of ten, explaining that on each number they must take a step forward, trying to make the emotion seem bigger each time. When you get to ten, count back down with the actors taking a step back on each count - the emotion getting smaller each time.

    Take the count slowly, and ask for the actors to freeze on each number but still try to keep the emotion true. Then ask the group watching what they noticed and give them a go.

    There's also a verbal version that can be quite fun. Two lines face each other close up. They are told they are going to have a conversation about something (improvised or from the play), but while they are talking you are going to give them a signal, like a clap or gong, every so often. When they hear this, they must each take a step back until the conversation is taking place across a long distance. The competition to be heard will naturally encourage physical gesture and projection!


    We are doing The Tempest. How can I get the actors to explore the relationships between the characters in more depth - and quickly? (Question from Gary, Drayton School)

    Acting expert Andrew Frame answers:

    I think the quickest way you can do this is by getting your actors to make a 10 bullet point narrative of their individual journeys, along with a list of their main 10 objectives. (All of the humans might share 'to get off this island', for example).

    It's also useful to ask a number of questions of your actors. These don't require an answer, they're ways of helping an actor focus specifically on their own action in the drama. Here's a few examples;
  • Who do love?
  • Who do you trust?
  • Who do you fear?
  • Who do you hate?
  • Are you honest? Do you tell the truth to everyone?
  • Are you clever?
  • Where do you come from?
  • Are you strong/powerful?
  • What are you best at?
  • Is there anything about you that makes you different from everyone else?
  • Are you dependant on anyone?
  • Who are your allies/enemies? Could they be the same people?

    The more questions you ask, the more your actors will discover about themselves in the fabric of the drama. From this point you can begin to explore relationships between characters. I would suggest finding exercises that reflect the specifics of relationships, given the 'facts' your actors now have about their characters.

    If we look at Miranda, for example. The text tells us that, her father apart, she has never encountered another human being (for the sake of argument, let's think of Caliban as another entity altogether). You might explore how this affects her behaviour. How is her relationship with her father expressed? Are they affectionate with each other? Does she fear him? Does she have any secrets from him? Is she courageous? Has she been schooled in the same way as she would have been in Milan? How socialised is she? Is she kind to Caliban?

    What happens to her when she sees Ferdinand for the first time? (You might recall that she asks her father if he is a spirit - does this mean that she initially doesn't recognise a fellow human being?) How do Miranda and Ferdinand interact? Is there a difference in their manners? I think it might be useful to do some work around people from entirely different cultures with different languages trying to communicate with each other.

    Or, look at Gonzalo, Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian. How long is it since they have had anything to eat or drink? Is there anything about their new environment that they recognise? Are any of them frightened? All four of them have many things in common apart from the circumstances in which they presently find themselves. What is common between them? How do they differ from each other? I would suggest that the relationships between these four are deeply complex. Does anything go unsaid? I think trust exercises would be very useful here - taking it in turns to be led, blindfold, for example. How much do Sebastian and Antonio trust each other? Does Sebastian really want to be Duke of Milan?

    A useful way of rehearsing is to give each of the individuals a secret, something which they absolutely cannot share with anyone else. Here are a few examples:

    Gonzalo is sick to death of dealing with such an utterly incompetent man as Alonso. Alonso snatched the first available piece of driftwood from Ferdinand during the shipwreck. You might tell Sebastian that he is much smarter than Antonio and vice versa. Prospero has always regretted that Miranda wasn't a boy. Stephano hates Trinculo. Ariel is plotting to kill Prospero the moment he is free, etc, etc.

    I think it's useful to get your actors to think of modern parallels for both their characters and the events of the drama, not necessarily to be used in your final production, but as an aid to the process of exploration.


    Direction expert Fiona Lesley answers:

    It's important to find the relationships between the characters and to make sure that everyone is clear about the history they share/don't share and who is who in the story. Here are some quick easy ways to provoke choices that might inform those things

    1. Place a chair in the centre of the circle - name the chair as either a crucial moment in the story, or a character in the story, then get everyone to think about their character and position themselves in relation to the chair. The position should show how near or far they feel to the thing represented by the chair, and their physical attitude/feeelings towards the event/person.

    2. Explore choices about family, friendship, master/servant etc by asking the students to think what type of relationship they think it is, create a still image and give it a title that says something about the relationship - eg "A father and daughter who are shy of each other," or "A father and daughter who trust each other," etc. Explore the role they have for one another and then the emotion/attitude they have to that role.

    3. Get the cast to work in twos or threes to summarise the 'journey' of the relationship, maybe including key events that are not seen in the play. Ask them to produce three snapshots of key moments - eg First meeting, Getting to know each other, betrayal, etc.

    4. If part of the thinking behind your question is that the actors are not really connecting in the scenes, there's a great exercise for two-hander scenes that forces connection. Just have each person repeat the last phrase of the previous speaker before they can say their line.


    I'm having difficulty with Ariel's 'You are three men of sin' speech in The Tempest when he warns Antonio, Sebastian and Alonso. Could you give me any tips on how to get the right amount of drama in? (Question from Jenny, Queen Elizabeth High School, Gainsborough)

    Acting expert Andrew Frame answers:

    The difficulty with this scene concerns our ability to really imagine engaging with the supernatural. I think the best way to go about this is to explore how truly terrifying such an experience would be. It's also important to examine the context of the scene for each of the characters involved. I think it would be useful to use the original text (rather than the Shakespeare Schools Festival abridgement) for at least part of your rehearsal process.

    With regard to Ariel, he is creating magic, conjuring 'strange shapes' out of the air and producing a sumptuous feast. He then transforms himself into a Harpy. I wonder how much fun he is having, creating a fantastic pageant and then terrifying the life out of Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian. Does Ariels voice change, does it multiply? What is his attitude to humans?

    You might ask your actors to really consider their journey to this scene and what happens to them during it. I think it could be useful for each of them to write a bullet point narrative for themselves, which they could share, or not, with anyone else.

    It would also be valuable to spend some time imagining the world they come from and how different it is to the one they now find themselves in. I would consider the following;

    The overthrow of Prospero is a very closely kept secret shared by these men. It makes them dependant on each other and therefore paranoid about each others' trustworthiness. They are the only survivors of a storm that appeared from nowhere and destroyed their ship. Alonso's son is dead. He is overwhelmed with grief. They are alone and lost in an alien environment without food or water. Gonzalo is utterly exhausted, Alonso is in despair. Antonio and Sebastian have determined to kill both the King and Gonzalo. Although their first attempt was thwarted they are now waiting to seize a second opportunity

    Suddenly, out of nowhere the most fantastic table of food that any of them have ever seen appears, carried by creatures they could not have imagined in their wildest dreams inviting them to eat. As they prepare to do so, an eagle with a hag's face appears to them and damns them, naming their deepest, darkest secret. A deed which, until that moment, they believed that no one else in the world was privy to. They are told that Destiny has 'belched' them up to suffer retribution for their wrongdoing at the hands of theses 'ministers of Fate' and that they are unfit to live.

    As they try to defend themselves, the Harpy takes control not just of their weapons, but all the elements around them, which he martials to confine them to eternal torment. I don't think this speech is heard as a warning, I think it's a curse. Ariel informs them that he has made them mad.

    Given all this, I think an exploration of what it would be like to go instantly insane would prove most fruitful. You might ask your actors to consider what it would be like to survive a huge natural disaster. What it would be like to confront the thing they fear the most. What it would be like to be truly powerless and at the mercy of another?

    It's interesting to explore what happens after. In the original text, Adriano and Francisco are part of the party. Along with Gonzalo, they appear to be unaffected by the Harpy's appearance. In which case, what do they experience that might be different from Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio? It's clear that Alonso is overwhelmed by what he has heard, but Sebastian and Antonio's response is to try to fight the 'fiends'.

    In the creation of your environment, it might be worth noting that for Caliban 'the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not'. You might perhaps explore that in this particular scene, the opposite applies.


    Is stage make up necessary if we are not attempting a special effect? Would normal make-up do the job, or can you recommend a UK supplier of stage make-up? (Question from Margaret, Mainholm Academy)

    Make-up expert Claire Hedger answers:

    It's best to use stage make-up on a stage with artificial lighting. Lighting has the effect of bleaching out skin tone and facial features which normal make-up is not strong enough to re-define.

    On a small stage with limited lighting and a very close audience you may be able to use normal make-up but I always prefer to use professional make-up on the stage.

    Stage make-up is applied as normal make-up is for a natural look. Its important to define the eye, lip and cheek areas of the face so the audience can clearly distinguish your features.

    You should always create a special effect with the correct stage make-up. Minor effects such as bruising can be achieved by using the right mixture of colours. The best products to use for this are cream based stage cosmetics.

    Charles Fox has a really good supply of stage make-up. The shop is in London's Covent Garden but can also be found on the internet at www.charlesfox.co.uk
    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.


    For Richard III, what swords would be safe/good to use? And how do you do the "a horse, a horse..." scene without looking silly, when pretending to ride horses? (Question from Deb, Toynbee School)

    Technical expert Jem Maynard Watts answers:

    We have seen a number of swords used over the years - the main issue to consider is safety. Obviously avoid anything that is actually sharp and anything that will splinter when the swords knock together.

    Generally swords were actually big heavy things, so don't worry about making something that too delicate - whether it be a simple piece of wood with a cross piece or something more crafted.

    A good idea is to use simple wooden sticks to fight with. I have also seen a great fight scene using lengths of cloth instead, where the cast members manipulated an end each.

    Regarding the "horse" - I would suggest a "shorthand" prop, such as carrying a saddle, which would make the horse reference clear.


    Direction expert Fiona Lesley answers:

    Yes indeed, swords and horses can be daunting, but the trick is to get excited about being creative with solving the challenge and recognising that imagination is the key.

    It's good to try out and explore lots of options. Essentially what, if any, props you end up using will be representational and minimal and so you're looking for a heightened movement style that will enable the audience to take that imaginative leap with your actors. Slow motion is key to this kind of work, really marking the sequences; be it fights or stages of movement.

    It may also help to use sound as a stimulus to these explorations. Again this can be stylised; for example, percussion to underscore the stages of a fight. Studying the way horses move and the posture of riders will help you find solutions too - look at clips from films, be they Westerns or Lawrence of Arabia. You're looking for the essence of particular movements that can become stylised by your actors. An actor could be moving their feet in patterns similar to the way horses hover on their feet when waiting at the beginning of a race and holding their upper body and head in angles and postures similar to riders.

    Similarly with swords, it's as much about studying how the sword is held and getting an accuracy of gesture and movement that makes the audience 'see' the sword whether the actor is holding a cut out sword, a representational stick or indeed nothing at all.


    We are planning to perform the text using call and response and inviting audience participation, and I wondered if others have used this approach? (Question from Keith, Charlton School)

    Direction expert Fiona Lesley answers:

    I don't know whether others are using participation or not - how exciting!

    It will be key to make sure you set this up in a way that makes the audience feel excited about being involved and given a real sense of purpose. Developing audience participation is a craft in itself and your cast will need to be very confident and clear in order to ensure people go with you.

    I don't know what structure your proposing to use but it sounds exciting, and building a sense of chorus out in the audience could be very effective.


    How do you think Ariel should be played and portrayed? (Question from Anna, Windsor Girls' School)

    Acting expert Andrew Frame answers:

    Clearly, this is dependent upon the choices you make about creating the world of your production - I've seen the character portrayed a number of ways, from several actors taking the role, giving the impression that Ariel can be everywhere at once, to a production in which the character is like an SS officer doing Prospero's bidding. I don't think that there is particular way in which the character should be played, but I think there are some key areas to explore:

    Ariel and Caliban are the only 'natives' of the island. It's important to establish their difference from the other characters of the play and also their difference from each other. Caliban, although savage and vulgar, is sensitive to the exquisite beauty of this world. Ariel, although a spirit, is capable of potent and terrifying manifestations. You may want to explore the different physical and vocal qualities that each of these characters might possess.

    Ariel and Prospero are the only characters we see performing magic. What are the similarities and differences in their practice? I think it might be fruitful to see the difference between a character who has studied magic and one for whom magic is natural and instinctive.

    Ariel is mainly invisible. You might try exploring how the actors may play with that.

    It's an old maxim that everyone else creates the king - by which I mean that it's impossible for an actor to assume kingly status unless everyone else treats them like a king. The same is true of delight and terror. It's important for us to see the effect of Ariel's manifestations and spells upon the other characters. You might also want to explore giving Ariel multiple voices - even as a rehearsal exercise.

    There are plenty of other questions you might try asking to get a grip on Ariel's character, such as: What is Ariel's main intention? What are the main narrative points of Ariel's story? Is it enjoyable for Ariel to serve Prospero? Why is Ariel is always at pains to point out to Prospero that he has performed the tasks he was set meticulously. Does Ariel have feelings? How are they expressed?

    And even more: What are Ariel's attitudes to the other characters in the play? As a spirit, living in a different dimension, does Ariel see the same world as everyone else? How does he make magic? How old is he? Does he have a moral code?



    Shakespeare expert Kate McLuskie answers:

    Ariel has been played in as many different ways as there are productions. It is up to you how you wish to interpret his lines (sad or angry; loyal or resentful) and that will depend on how you read the play.

    If you see Propsero as a pre-colonial oppressor, usurping the island, Ariel can be afraid of him, obedient only up to a point, desperate for his freedom. If you see Propsero as a magus, reigning for good, Ariel might be more in cahoots with him, enjoying the power that they both have over the shipwrecked visitors, playing with the magical resources at his disposal.

    It depends on the tone of your play and how you want to work out these relationship in rehearsal


    Why does Macbeth act the way he does? (Question from Sharon, Clapton Girls Technology College)

    Shakespeare expert Kate McLuskie answers:

    The short answer is "because that is the way that Shakespeare has written the part!"

    There are different ways of approaching this. You could look at the soliloquies in 1.3. and 1.7 where he addresses the question. You could look at how he reacts to different pressures, from the witches, from Lady Macbeth. You could look at the way the action moves from the murder to the ghost to the scene with the witches in 4.1. to the final battles. There is no set answer.

    It is part of the power of the play that it never answers the question but constantly leaves the puzzle open for an imaginative response to the play. The idea that it was ambition that prompted Macbeth is a later explanation given by Shakespeare's adaptater, William Davenant, who added a speech to that effect.

    You also need to ask how far answering that question will help you to perform or direct the play and how far you just have to trust the lines that Shakespeare gives his hero to communicate his struggle in the face of intolerable pressures.

    Good luck!




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