Macbeth and The Winter's Tale: Comparison Task KS5

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This task compares the theme of ‘minds under stress’ in Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale. Read the two extracts from Act I of each play, which can be found at the end of this resource. Annotate these with your immediate impressions of Macbeth and Leontes, and how they are similar and different. Then, use the prompts below to extend your thinking around how these two dramatic extracts from Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale compare. 

You can capture your responses and ideas using any format that you wish: a chart; a mind map; a collage of images and/or references; a video, etc. This task assumes prior knowledge of the plot of both plays. To support you with this task, you might therefore want to use the Globe’s resources to watch a version of each production before beginning the task. For those who have prior knowledge, we would still encourage you to watch each production to see how the text is realised on stage, particularly both of the extract scenes. 

In the extracts:

1. What do both Macbeth and Leontes say that reveal their minds are under stress?

2. What (or who) has caused Macbeth and Leontes’ angst? Try to be really exact here.

3. Which phrases make Macbeth and Leontes appear: vulnerable/powerful; sympathetic /unsympathetic?

4. How are asides used? How are questions used?

5. How are the concepts of truth and falsehood/fiction explored?

6. How does the theme of appearance versus reality reveal itself?

7. How does the structure of each extract create tension?


Now consider the comparisons across the plays as a whole:

1. What decisions do Macbeth and Leontes make whilst under the influence of these stresses? What are the consequences of these decisions?

2. How do Macbeth and Leontes’ courts and/or subjects react to their decisions? Does this change across each play?

3. What role do Lady Macbeth and Hermione play in their husbands’ states of mind?

4. Some critics suggest that both plays explore tyranny. To what extent do you agree? Make notes to explain your answer.

5. What is the relationship between the genre of each play and Macbeth and Leontes’ states’ of mind?

[Aside] Too hot, too hot!
To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.
I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances;
But not for joy; not joy. This entertainment
May a free face put on, derive a liberty
From heartiness, from bounty, fertile bosom,
And well become the agent; ‘t may, I grant;
But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers,
As now they are, and making practised smiles,
As in a looking-glass, and then to sigh, as ‘twere
The mort o’ the deer; O, that is entertainment
My bosom likes not, nor my brows! Mamillius,
Art thou my boy?

Ay, my good lord.

I’ fecks! Why, that’s my bawcock. What, hast
smutch’d thy nose?
They say it is a copy out of mine. Come, captain,
We must be neat; not neat, but cleanly, captain:
And yet the steer, the heifer and the calf
Are all call’d neat.--Still virginalling Upon his palm!--How now, you wanton calf!
Art thou my calf

[Aside] Two truths are told, As happy prologues to the swelling act
Of the imperial theme.--I thank you, gentlemen.
This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good: if ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor:
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings:
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smother’d in surmise, and nothing is
But what is not.

Look, how our partner’s rapt.

[Aside] If chance will have me king, why, chance may
crown me,
Without my stir.

Yes, if you will, my lord.

Thou want’st a rough pash and the shoots that I have,
To be full like me: yet they say we are
Almost as like as eggs; women say so,
That will say anything but were they false
As o’er-dyed blacks, as wind, as waters, false
As dice are to be wish’d by one that fixes
No bourn ‘twixt his and mine, yet were it true
To say this boy were like me. Come, sir page,
Look on me with your welkin eye: sweet villain!
Most dear’st! my collop! Can thy dam?--may’t be?--
Affection! thy intention stabs the centre:
Thou dost make possible things not so held,
Communicatest with dreams;--how can this be?--
With what’s unreal thou coactive art,
And fellow’st nothing: then ‘tis very credent
Thou mayst co-join with something; and thou dost,
And that beyond commission, and I find it,
And that to the infection of my brains
And hardening of my brows.

What means Sicilia?

He something seems unsettled.

How, my lord!
What cheer? how is’t with you, best brother?

You look as if you held a brow of much distraction
Are you moved, my lord?

No, in good earnest.
How sometimes nature will betray its folly,
Its tenderness, and make itself a pastime
To harder bosoms!

New horrors come upon him,
Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould
But with the aid of use.

[Aside] Come what come may,
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.

Worthy Macbeth, we stay upon your leisure.

Give me your favour: my dull brain was wrought
With things forgotten. Kind gentlemen, your pains
Are register’d where every day I turn
The leaf to read them. Let us toward the king.
Think upon what hath chanced, and, at more time,
The interim having weigh’d it, let us speak
Our free hearts each to other.

Very gladly.

Till then, enough. Come, friends.



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