Aim: to practise an exam essay in order to improve on last week’s essay.

Assume you have chosen the following essay question:

Analyse how imagery was used to present one or more themes.

This question asks you to link imagery and theme. You therefore need to know what each term means.
What are the important themes in the play?
  • Trust and betrayal
  • Appearance andreality
  • Leadership andkingship

What sort of imagery is used throughout the play?
  • Darkness, light anddark
  • Animals, esp nastystingy bitey animals like snakes
  • Blood
  • Omens, curses,demonic images, devils, supernatural and witchcraft

In your essay, you need to analyse the imagery, quote it and then explainhow it helps develop a theme. Here is avery basic example:
Shakespeare uses animal imagery to help present the theme of appearance and reality. Macbeth is being deceitful in killing Duncanand he has to hide his true intentions. Lady Macbeth tells him to “look like th’innocent flower but be theserpent under it.” The image of theserpent is Macbeth’s true nature. It has connotations of evil and is often associated with the devil, as it is in TheBible. Macbeth is told to appear innocent but in reality be ruthless.
Achievement Criteria
Achievement with Merit
Achievement with Excellence
Analyse specified aspect(s) of extended written text(s), using supporting evidence.
Analyse specified aspect(s) of extended written text(s) convincingly, using supporting evidence.
Analyse specified aspect(s) of extended written text(s) convincingly and with insight, using supporting evidence.
Overall level of performance:
Comments: …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..


Here is an example of an Excellence essay that was actually written in the exam.

Analysehow internal and/or external conflict were important to the text. (2008)

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth isa tale of contrasts and conflict; of thestruggle between vice and virtue, good and evil, and the fight for anatural order. Conflict is the major driving force for theplay – in particular, it is Macbeth’s internal battle which draws it out to itsconclusion.

Macbeth is a study of blatantcontradictions – he desires what he can gain from acts of brutality, butinitially hesitates to commit them himself. By the play’s end he has not so much overcome this hesitation than hehas utterly destroyed the emotions which drive it in the first place. In a sense, Shakespeare has made it so thatthe true tragedy of the play is not the death of individuals, but the decayingof Macbeth’s humanity; his slow declineinto becoming little more than a mechanical warrior – and what drives him tothis devastating end is his failure to win the battle raging within himself.

At the play’s onset, the reader isintroduced to “brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name – disclaiming Fortunewith his brandished steel” – and here, already, Shakespeare allows a glimpse of the conflict which controlshim. He is loyal, but brutal, with noqualms about killing for King and country. These ideas already deep-seated when he is introduced into the play,only truly come to a head after his meeting with the witches, who hail him“King hereafter”. From this point on,the internal struggle taking place within Macbeth is what drives the play downthe long road to its ending, and his own ultimate destruction.

Macbeth truly desires to commit evil,but despairs over the physical act of it. He is a self-conscious killer, at times horrified by his own actions,whose honesty with himself is often chilling “I have no spur to prick the sidesof my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’er leaps itself and falls uponthe other.” Shakespeare goes to greatlengths to expose every nuance of Macbeth’s fight between humanity anddepravity particularly during the scene in which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth argueabout committing the murder of Duncan.

Lady Macbeth is, without doubt, thecatalyst of Macbeth’s internal conflict. She is the one to tip the scale, to take advantage of his flaws, In a way, Lady Macbeth understands hisdesires better than Macbeth does, as he is constantly hiding them fromhimself. She appeals to his manhood andscorns it in turn. “When you durst do itthen you were a man and, to be more than what you were, you would be so muchmore than man”. Shakespeare uses LadyMacbeth to not only aid the battle within Macbeth, but to provide an externalconflict that Macbeth cannot win, taking advantage of his love and devotion toLady Macbeth to further tip the balance between the desire to do evil, and theacting out of it.

This is a pivotal moment within theplay, because this is when Macbeth truly starts to lose the battle withinhimself. The destruction of hishumanity, and the unleashing of his darker side, are what drives him to notonly have Banquo murdered, but to kill off Macduff’s family, which are bothimportant links in the chain leading to his downfall.

Though Macbeth’s internal conflict isone of the biggest forces driving the play, it is not the only one Shakespeareuses. Macbeth and Macduff are setagainst each other – one defined as a natural man “I must also feel it as aman”, the other a tyrant, whose evil simply grows as the play progresses. “Things bad begun make strong themselves byill”. Indeed it is not until these twocome head to head and the simmering animosity between them truly comes to ahead, that Shakespeare allows the reader a glimpse past the monster Macbeth hasbecome, and into the man he once was. Atthe play’s end, Macbeth does not truly wish to kill Macduff “of all men else I have avoided thee but getthee back! My soul is too much chargedwith blood of thine already”. Shakespeare uses Macduff to show another important development in theplay – that of the re-emerging of Macbeth’s humanity.

Conflict is also shown between naturaland unnatural – the witches are held up against the rest of the world as beingoutside the natural order, and Macbeth’s rule of Scotland is in conflictbetween Malcolm and the King of England, who is said to have powers of healing.While England is seen to thrive under the rule of its King, Ross says ofScotland “Alas, poor country, almost afraid to know itself; it cannot be called our mother, but ourgrave, where nothing but who knows nothing, is once seen to smile; where sighs and groans, and shrieks that rendthe ain are made, not marked; whereviolent sorrow seems a modern ecstasy”. Shakespeare shows, by the conflicting images of these two separatereigns, the inferiority of chaos, and the natural to the natural order. Shows that men such as Macbeth – unnatural men – are inferior to such individuals as Malcolm and Macduff.

By using so many conflicts, bothinternal and external, Shakespeare drives the play along. Each individual conflict is exceedinglyimportant to the text as a whole, because they are what pull it down the pathto its conclusion, and each forms a separate link in the chain. Shakespeare weaves them together effortlessly,but the fact remains – conflict is the true heart and soul of the play.

Here is an example of a Merit essay that was actually written in the exam.
Analyse how surprise and/or humour helped the writer communicate an important message. (2008)

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’sgreatest tragedy. It is a drama about“Brave Macbeth” a courageous soldier in King Duncan’s army whose ambition growsexcessively after having a strange encounter with three evils witches whopredict that he will be King of Scotland one day. In this play the audience are surprised andfearful of unnatural deeds that take place, showing us how appearances can bedeceptive, humored in a particular scene to release tension and fear, andlastly we are shown how consorting to evil magnifies the good versus evil fight.

Unnatural events are prevalentthroughout Macbeth. This drama waswritten for an Elizabethan audience, who believed that unnatural events onlyhappen when the Chain of Being was broken. So straight away Macbeth has a strange encounter with three despisedhags who predict he will become King over Scotland even though he is not inline for the throne. This is surprisingfor the audience because witches are not to be trusted, but it also addsexcitement because they are curious of what is going to happen. It is tragic that Macbeth knows they “cannotbe ills, cannot be trusted” but still returns to the witches a second time, hisambition and pride rising. These meetingforetell the tragic regicide of King Duncan that Macbeth will commit.

Viewing these scenes, it is inevitableto the audience what is going to happen as they know appearances cannot betrusted. The witches themselves saidthey would be turning “foul to fair and fair to foul” and in the end we seeMacbeth’s reliance on the witches is hisdownfall “darned that we trust them”. Sofar as Elizabethan audiences having witches open the drama is very surprising. The fearful audience is tingled withcuriosity about where this is going to lead and it becomes obvious that thewitches equivications will lead to nothing but destruction.

The porter scene is a very humorous andcomical scene, used effectively to lower tension considerably. The drunken and vulgar porter is on nightduty at Macbeth’s castle and is pretending to be the porter of hell, welcomingsinners through the door “Who’s there, ‘I’th name Beelzebub?” Knocking is heard at the gates and the porterlets inside Macduff and Lennox. Theporter describes to them the bawdy affects drink can have on someone which isoutrageous and comical for the audience. They are able to laugh and relax some, as in the previous scene, KingDuncan had just been murdered, an act not seen by the audience so it was even morehorrifying due to the power of suggestion. In this scene the encounter of good versus evil is enhanced because asLennox and Macduff tell the porter, unnatural events have happened. They witnessed an owl attacking a falcon andhorses devouring each other. Theaudience associated these unnatural events to the regicide and can see that theChain of Being just be cruelly dismantled, which is causing nature to bedisrupted and turn topsy turvey.

This scene communicates to the audiencethat the battle of good versus evil affects many things and people. Humour is used to lighten the scene andrelieve tension so the audience can ponder what has just happened. It is needed to captivate the audience andkeep their interest up by using beliefs they had to highlight the good versusevil fight.

Again good versus evil is portrayedthrough the surprising twist in Lady Macbeth’s character. From a pleasant confident woman she changesover time to a strong decisive headstrong woman who is willing to “unsex” herselfin able to partake in King Duncan’s death for her husband. Her character parallels that of Eve in theFall of Man, as she consorts the devil, asking him to make the night darker inorder to hide their deeds of regicide. Then she lures Macbeth into her plan taunting him “and to be more than whatyou were you would be so much more than man”. Macbeth being too full of the “milk of human kindness” finally folds andthe harrowing plot is conducted. To seea lady as the chief planner and the backbone in this duo is surprising and itadds more interest as the external conflict is entertaining. Duncan, who was invited to the Macbeth’scastle for that night, failing to perceive what is real and what is not, ismurdered. The murder was inevitable fromMacbeth’s encounter with the witches but having a woman back this evil schemetakes the suspense to a new level. It iscaptivating. She conforms to evil,murdering a man who is a worthy good King, and it seems evil has won. But the audience, believing in the Wheel ofFortune, know there is still hope. LadyMacbeth’s punishment and continued alliance with the devil leads her to herinsanity while Macbeth’s unquenchable excessive ambition turns him into atragic hero who must die. Knowing goodmust win the audience are held capture to the very end of the novel to when“Yet I will try my last”, Macbeth fights like a hero to his death and rightfulorder is restored to the throne. Goodversus evil wages, and surprisingly for the audience, a woman leads the way until inevitably goodness triumphs.

In conclusion, humour and surprisesreveal the theme appearances can be deceptive in the battle of good andevil. A present day audience may not nowbe so pragmatic and influenced by the unnatural deeds as an Elizabethan audience,but we can still be entertained through its surprising and captivating plotsand the humour Shakespeare incorporates.