English literature

LIT4: Macbeth

The Shakespearean Tragedy Macbeth

Historical context:

When Mary Tudor died in 1558, her sister Elizabeth became the Queen of England. During her reign Mary sought to make a primarily Catholic England, persecuting and executing Protestants. Elizabeth made it her goal to reverse this National transformation. During this time England was under constant threat of invasion by France or Spain who both aimed to restore Bloody Mary’s vision of England. There was also much friction between England, Scotland and Ireland. Elizabeth never even married creating a risk of a civil war as there was no bloodline heir to the throne. 

Despite all of this England thrived, changing from a medieval society to a modern one. Discoveries in both science and exploration made it an exciting time when England was beginning to flourish. 

By the 16th Century there were very few large towns outside of London which itself was characterised by narrow streets and abysmal sanitation habits. The River Thames was practically an open sewer resulting in frequent serious outbreaks throughout Britain.

The Elizabethan Theatre:

 In spite of the grim conditions of the Capital, culture thrived in England as the popularity of plays led to the construction of theatres around the nation. The original of these was constructed near Bishopgate, deconstructed, and rebuilt next to the Thames being renamed as ‘The Globe’. These theatres, although split into sections for the different classes, were open to all. They were especially popular amongst the lower classes. Queen Elizabeth saw plays as a perfect means of propaganda as they connected to and were enjoyed by most of the English public. King James of Scotland carried on this support for the theatre. 

Mary Queen of Scots:

While Elizabeth was still the Queen of England, Mary the Queen of Scots claimed her right to the English throne because her Grandmother was the sister of Henry VIII. Returning from France to Scotland it came as a surprise to her that she wasn’t more welcomed by the noblemen of Scotland, although this probably had something to do with her Catholic beliefs. After a confrontation with the Protestant leaders in Scotland she was imprisoned in her own country. 

When she fled to England she was imprisoned and soon caught sending letters involving her plot to overtake the English throne. Queen Elizabeth was left with no choice but to sign her death warrant. 

James I:

Mary’s own son who became King James VI of Scotland in her absence was invited to become the King of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth. He was very keen on the development of the arts in England. He adopted Shakespeare’s theatre group, which was at the time known as The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and renamed them as The King’s Men. Previously The Lord Chamberlain’s men performed for Queen Elizabeth around three times per year, The King’s men performed for King James about twenty times per year. This shows the explosion in popularity of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare wisely chose to avoid the topic of Religion, explicitly at least. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth Shakespeare’s plays were mostly comedies or historical stories, but when King James came to rule, as society was becoming somewhat more introspective, the plays in turn became deeper.

Superstition and Witchcraft:

King James was strangely afraid of Witches and never took a bath, he was even said to have preferred the company of young men to women. Obviously the Gunpowder plot of 1605 did nothing but encourage his paranoia. Although well educated and incredibly intelligent, King James was constantly in fear of his life. He oversawWitch trials such as those in North Berwick were innocent women were rounded up and executed because of suspicion, King James even went as far as to write a book titled Daemonologie. Shakespeare followed suit in his plays in the way in which they began to include alot more of the dark and mysterious, the weird sisters of Macbeth being a prime example. 

With King James’ support of the theatre special effects began to be produced and used for shows in the evening, adding to the supernatural atmosphere. 

Historical background of Macbeth: 

Macbeth, perhaps Shakespeare’s most gruesome play, was first performed in front of King James himself, it was a perfect example of the change in time and attitude. 

According to historical records not only did Macbeth face King Duncan on the battlefield and win the crown of Scotland from him fair and square. But apparently Banquo, Macbeth’s friend fought alongside him. There is still much discussion as to whether Banquo ever truly existed or whether he was simply created in historical records to please King James. This is because many claimed and suggested that Banquo was King James’ ancestor, putting Shakespeare in a difficult situation. He did not want to risk upsetting King James and place Banquo as a co-conspirator, so he changed ‘history’. 

Shakespeare even wrote in the joining of the English and Scottish forces, echoing the joining of the two nations under the reign of King James himself. Shakespeare’s source for the historical events mentioned ‘three women in strange and wild apparel’ predicting Macbeth’s kingship, this gave Shakespeare a perfect opportunity to include witches. The reality is that Shakespeare’s source Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles were mere storytelling and that Macbeth was a good king. Macbeth not only ruled for seventeen years, but was also buried on the Holy Island of Iona alongside other Scottish Kings. It’s important to remember that the real Macbeth did not murder Duncan in cold blood, it was on the battlefield and historically this was quite normal. 

Brief Plot summary:

In the beginning of the play we are introduced to three witches known as the Weird Sisters who intend to meet Macbeth. We then soon learn of Macbeth’s bravery on the battlefield and his role in defeating he enemies of Scotland. We are also told of two traitors to King Duncan of Scotland, Macdonwald and the Thane of Cawdor. Duncan sends Ross to inform Macbeth that has has been awarded the Thane of Cawdor’s title. Moments before he is able to do so the Weird Sisters confront Macbeth and Banquo, predicting their futures as a king and a father of kings. Macbeth comes to realise that the only way this would be possible is if he were to murder his King.

Although full of doubt Macbeth is finally persuaded to commit the deed by his wife. She gets him to murder Duncan and place the blame on the grooms. Now with a grip on the throne, Macbeth wants to make sure he is secure on the throne. Knowing that Banquo was predicted to be the father of kings he hires thugs to kill Banquo and his son Fleance, Banquo is run down but Fleance escapes.

Macbeth begins to see anyone who doesn’t fully support him as an enemy and has them killed. Being suspicious of Macduff who refused to attend his coronation, he has his family murdered. Meanwhile Lady Macbeth who was the stronger character in the start has become haunted in her role of Duncan’s murder. Macbeth turns to the advice as he no longer has anyone close to turn to. Their predictions are incredibly misleading and seemingly unrealistic fooling Macbeth into thinking himself safe. Lady Macbeth commits suicide soon afterwards.

Meanwhile in England plans are being made to restore Duncan’s son Malcolm to the throne. The English and Scottish forces join together to defeat Macbeth’s force. Macduff kills Macbeth and order is restored to Scotland.

Detailed Plot Summary:

Act 1:

As a storm occurs three witches named the Weird Sisters plan on meeting with Macbeth. Meanwhile at Macbeth’s camp King Duncan of Scotland hears of his bravery and skill on the battlefield. He is also informed of the treachery of on of his Thanes, to reward Macbeth, this title is bestowed upon him. Returning from the battlefield Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches. ‘wither’d and so wild in their attire’. The witches foretell that Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor and ‘King hereafter’, Banquo on the other hand they foretell will be the father of Kings. The witches vanish and Ross arrives that very moment to inform Macbeth of his good news. Macbeth, seeing part of the witches prediction come true begins to wonder if there is a chance that he ever really may get a grip on the Scottish Throne, soon however he hears that Duncan has announced his son Malcolm will take the throne.

Macbeth begins to think about murder but the concept repels him (despite his experience on the battlefield) it ‘Shakes…(his)…single state of man.’ Lady Macbeth, who learns of the prophecies sees Macbeth as ‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness’ to commit the act. She then strives to persuade him to do so.

After Duncan and his group arrive at Macbeth’s grounds, Macbeth makes his thoughts and doubts clear on the matter of the murder, it is only by ridiculing Macbeth’s masculinity that Lady Macbeth finally manages to persuade him to kill Duncan.

Section notes:

  • Witches hold a strong link to the supernatural, an incredibly prominent Gothic theme present in Macbeth.
  • The very idea of Macbeth murdering his king, particularly after receiving such kindness from the man seems preposterous for so many reasons. If not for the persuasion of Lady Macbeth the event would never have taken place.
  • In Act 1 Macbeth is not yet evil, quite the opposite. He is not simply a callous warrior who thrives in violence either, Lady Macbeth even says in her soliloquy how nice he is:‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness’
  • There’s reference to a raven in the beginning of the soliloquy is one of ill omen in Celtic Mythology. The Vikings took ravens along on raiding parties when they would rape and pillage.
  • Lady Macbeth doesn’t necessarily follow the Gothic conventions of female characters, although like Catherine, she is very manipulative in her ways much like a femme-fatale.
  • As we are introduced to the play by the witches they basically inform the audience that nothing is really what it seems:

Fair is foul and foul Is fair– This theme of deception is onlyreinforced by the treachery suffered by King Duncan at the beginning of the play.

Act 2:

While preparing himself to murder Duncan Macbeth has further doubts and is hit by hallucinations. The midnight bell wakes him and drives him to action.

As Lady Macbeth informs the audience that she has drugged the grooms to make it easier for Macbeth, he returns stating that he has ‘done the deed’. Lady Macbeth sees that he has brought the murder weapon back with him and so urges him to return, Macbeth, already filled with regret and horror at his own actions refuses. She leaves to go do it herself, accusing him of cowardice. (‘My hands are of your colour but I shame to wear a heart so white’) She places the dagger in Duncan’s room and smears blood on the faces of the grooms.

There is a sudden knocking downstairs which begins to drive Macbeth insane, he becomes appalled with the blood covering his hands. Lady Macbeth dismisses his fears, reminding him how easily water will wash away the blood (‘a little water clears us of this deed’). A drunken porter admits Macduff into the castle. Macduff is in charge of King Duncan’s safety finds his body and declares ‘murder and treason’. Lady Macbeth pretends to be surprised while Macbeth informs the group how he killed the grooms in fit of rage.

Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain who fear for their lives flee to England and Ireland. They not only fear for their own lives, but also getting the blame placed upon them for the murder of Duncan, Macduff however, is already suspicious of Macbeth and states his refusal to attend his coronation.

Sections notes:

  • Macbeth’s actions finally put into motion by the midnight bell, reminiscent of a werewolf at full moon. – supernatural theme.
  • Lady Macbeth shows her evil side this early into the play as she’s incredibly harsh on Macbeth. Accusing him of cowardice she goes ahead and places the dagger and smears blood on the faces of the grooms herself, showing her dominance.
  • Lady Macbeth is the most practical party in the murder of Duncan, and (REMEMBER THIS FOR LATER) dismissive of how her hands are covered in blood:

‘A little water will clear us of this deed’

  • Shakespeare focusses on the off stage murder of Duncan. Firstly because we can imagine it would be difficult to effectively stage such a scene and secondly it builds the tension, there is nothing more frightening to a human being than the fears our own imaginations is able to conjure up.
  • The Drunken porter describes himself as the ‘porter of hell gate
  • It’s worth noting that Macduff’s knocking is what causes perhaps the most distress to Macbeth, Macduff is the very man who finally defeats Macbeth in the conclusion of the play.
  • The supernatural is strongly linked to the actions of Macbeth and his wife, their actions have turned the world to chaos, day is night, (by the clock, ’tis day,
    And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp) horses ‘made war with mankind’ – similar to how Frankenstein’s acts turned his whole world to chaos and unease.
  • Macbeth’s actions even seem to have distorted what seems right and just as a noble and rewarding king has been replaced by a cruel dictator.
  • The first indication of Macbeth’s guilt use the elements to show an extreme amount of remorse:

‘The multitudinous sees incarnadine making the green one red.’

  • gashed stabs look’d like a breach in nature – emphasis on how unnatural and extreme these events are.

Act 3:

Banquo reveals his doubts about Macbeth’s part in the murder through a soliloquy, Macbeth reminds him ‘fail not our feast’. The reality is that Macbeth intends for Banquo to be absent anyway as he plans to have both Banquo and his son Fleance killed. This is because of the witches prophecy and so Macbeth sees Banquo and his son as a threat to his grip on the throne. As long as they live Macbeth believes that Duncan’s murder has merely ‘plac’d a fruitless crown’ upon his head.

Macbeth instructs the murderers on their task and sends them to get the job done. He then goes to meet Lady Macbeth who is quite concerned about his actions and how troubled he seems. She reminds him that ‘what’s done is done’. He on the other hand feels that they have scorch’d the snake, not killed it.’ He reveals to Lady Macbeth that he has a plan but will not reveal it until it has been completed:

‘Be innocent of the knowledge dearest Chuck

Banquo is assassinated but Fleance escapes into the darkness of the night, Macbeth becomes unhinged at the sound of the news and sees Banquo’s ghost at the dinner table that night, his obscene behaviour disturbs all the guests and ruins the night. He informs Lady Macbeth of his suspicion of Macduff and states his intention to see the witches once again.

Hecate, leader of the witches chastises the sisters for not including her in the decision to reveal Macbeth’s future to him. She commands them to prepare for his upcoming visit where they they will ‘draw him on to his confusion. The Act ends with Lennox and a Lord discussing the recent events, they reveal that Macduff has not only displeased Macbeth by missing his Coronation celebration but has also gone to plead support from the King of England to restore stability to Scotland.

Section Notes:

  • Macbeth wishes to have Banquo and Fleance killed otherwise he may have fil’d…(his)… eternal jewel for nothing.
  • ‘Let every man be the master of his time til seven at night’ – The celebration of Macbeth’s Coronation seems to mark the true beginning to his dictatorship.
  • There appears to be a change of dynamic when Macbeth refuses to tell Lady Macbeth about his plans for Banquo, she is slowly becoming more timid and fearful while he is the one taking action. Macbeth has become accustomed to murder.
  • We cannot tell whether Macbeth’s vision of Banquo’s ghost is supernatural or psychological. This kind of confusion of the mind is typical of the Gothic School of Terror.
  • The fact that Macbeth saw Banquo’s ghost and not Duncan’s (who he also murdered) is a sign that he is still haunted by Banquo in the sense that his son still lives, his prophecy may still come true.
  • Macbeth almost appears angry and jealous at Duncan as he is dead and can suffer no more. This shows a very warped way of thinking:

‘Nothing can touch him further.’

  • ‘But now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d’ Macbeth feels claustraphobic in his guilt.
  • Banquo is compared to a snake (again a warped frame of mind as Macbeth is the one who has acted ‘the serpent under’) and Fleance to a worm, one to be crushed.
  • There is a strong sense of paranoia in Macbeth, a sense that heightens the theme of the supernatural:

‘When the brains were out the man would die. And there an end but now they rise again.’

  • ‘Blood will have blood’ foreshadowing.

Act 4:

The witches gather around the cauldron and and perform an incantation. As Macbeth arrives they summon three apparitions, three separate predictions for Macbeth’s future. He is first warned to ‘beware Macduff’ but this is followed by the second, reassuring news that ‘noneof woman born/Shall harm Macbeth.’ Finally the third tells him that he will not be conquered until Birnam Wood comes to his castle at Dunsinane. This calms Macbeth down, now he is only worried about Macduff. He still insists to know whether ‘Banquo’s issue’ will rule Scotland, but he is horrified when he sees a final apparition of eight kings, all looking remarkably similar to Banquo.

Lennox announces that Macduff has left for England and Macbeth curses himself for not dealing with him sooner, so he has Macduff’s family killed. This happens instantaneously in the next scene where Macduff’s wife and children are slaughtered.

In England Macduff is speaking with Malcolm, testing his loyalty to Scotland. Unsure whether Macduff believes him the killer or not Malcolm pretends that he would make a worse king than Macbeth. When Macduff then speaks so passionately about the grim future of Scotland Malcolm realises that Macduff only came seeking him for Scotland’s sake and so explains the truth to Macduff. Ross arrives moments later with the horrific news about Macduff’s family, Macduff swears revenge on ‘the fiend of Scotland‘.

Section notes:

  • Like how his wife did earlier in the play, the witches hold great power and influence over Macbeth. He has gone from listening to one extreme of evil to the next.
  • The name of the weird sisters comes from the Anglo-saxon word ‘Wyrd’ meaning doom.
  • Macbeth develops from peacefully and rather passively listening to the witches to seeking and demanding knowledge from them, thereby emphasising his over-reliance on them.
  • Macbeth does not heed Banquo’s warning to disregard their ‘supernatural soliciting’ and so they deceive him through their predictions. Macbeth is not only unaware that Macduff was ‘not of woman born’ (caesarian) but also that his grounds will be invaded by the English carrying the wood of Birnam.
  • Hearing the prediction of Macduff, Macbeth decides to be more proactive and has Macduff’s family killed even though it will be of absolutely no benefit to him. It just shows that Macbeth has become accustomed to the role of a bloodthirsty tyrant.
  • Macduff and Malcolm contrast to the evil Macbeth in the fact that their quest for the throne is justified, they strive to restore Scotland to its previous glory.
  • As Macduff is told of his family’s deaths he asks for time to ‘feel it as a man’, he’s practically saying it is not feminine to embrace your emotions. (Theme of Romanticism)
  • Note the discussion on the qualities required in a king, and how Macbeth does not fit under any of them:

‘Like a giant’s clothes upon a thieving dwarf.’

  • ‘I will fight her young ones in the nest against the owl – Macbeth is killing Macduff’s family for no reason other than to hurt him. Macbeth has become extremely sadistic.

Act 5:

Lady Macbeth has been seen sleepwalking whilst desperately trying to wash imaginary blood off her hands. She’s been heard speaking of how much blood ‘the old man’ had. More dramatically she speaks of a ‘damn’d spot’ which she is unable to remove.

Meanwhile the plot to overthrow the ‘tyrant’ Macbeth proceeds as the Scottish and English armies join near Birnam. As Macbeth hears of this, thinking of the witches predictions he remains defiant and states he would fight until ‘from bones, (his) flesh be hack’d.’ not fearing death ‘Till Birnam Forest come to Dunsinane.’ He then receives bad news as the Doctor comes along and informs him that he cannot cure his wife’s ailment brought on by her insanity.

Despite all of the above, Macbeth remains headstrong and defiant because of the misleading predictions. Unfortunately for him the enemy soldiers have been cutting Birnam wood for use as camouflage. As well as this many of Macbeth’s own men (for reasons we can only guess at) betray him and decide to fight for his enemies.

At the same time that Macbeth hears about the moving wood, he also hears about his wife’s suicide, he begins to ponder how futile his life is. (‘life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’) Ultimately he remembers that only one of those predictions has come true and still thinks himself invincible.

When Macbeth meets Young Siward on the battlefield he initially refuses to fight him explaining that there’s already too much Macduff blood on his hand as well as describing his ‘charmed life’. Young Siward insists on fighting him and dies by Macbeth’s hand. Macduff soon confronts him on the battlefield and reveals that he was born ‘from his mother’s womb/Untimely ripp’d Macbeth although fearful, taunts him ‘Lay on Macduff.’

Scotland is free from its ‘butcher and his fiend-like Queen’.

Section notes:

  • The scenes in Act 5 are short and speed up the action, especially on the battlefield near the end.
  • At the start of the scene Macbeth only appears slightly affected by the reports he receives concerning the approaching enemy forces. He certainly doesn’t receive them as good news but they are received as an irritation more than anything else, with an inflated ego after hearing the predictions, he remains defiant.
  • It still seems odd that during the fulfilment of one of the predictions he is not fearful and demands his suit of armour for him to fight. Either it’s from his life as a soldier, or maybe he’s truly lost a purpose to live.

Themes in Macbeth:


The urge for power is simply too strong for Macbeth, initially he appears to refrain but when his wife encourages him by simply mocking his manliness, he embraces the dark thoughts and temptations placed in his head by the witches, ignoring all common sense.

Initially he shows regret and remorse at his deed against Duncan, but soon as he loses common sense and falls to madness. He not only takes the word of the witches but actively seeks it.

On the other hand Lady Macbeth appears to undergo the opposite transformation. She turns from a steely, power hungry and determined individual who is encouraging the murder of King Duncan (and even goes as far as to plant the knife and frame the grooms herself) to a sleepwalking wreck who cannot be without a light out of fear of the darkness. This leads to her eventual suicide.

Ultimatelyambition is the ‘tragic flaw’ of Macbeth in the play, the very moment he is coerced into chasing it his life shoots downhill and he is overcome by his newfound obsession with his title as the king. Once he started on his violent self-righteous path, it was impossible for him to leave it.


Macbeth was set and written during a time when people believed God himself had hand-picked the royals and so the pyramidal structure of the hierarchy of society was somewhat sacred.

As every member of society was expected to show respect to the King, it was a common belief that as such, he would need to respond in kind, he would need to act ‘kingly’. Kindness and empaty being examples of this. Many believed that there was a direct link between theharmony of the world and the hierarchy of society, a disruption in one would cause havoc for both, any one who caused such a thing would have suffered dire consequences.

-When Macbeth kills King Duncan the night turns to chaos (similar to the harsh weather of the moors representing Wuthering Heights in comparison to Thrushcross Grange) and due to the violent way in which Macbeth claimed the throne (and held it) he becomes known as a ‘tyrant’ and ‘fiend’.

Macbeth is not seen as a man who holds ‘king-becoming graces’ and would never be able to hold the world in balance. It is as though Scotland needs a king as its healer it is waiting for one who…:

‘At his touch/Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand/They presently amend’

Appearance and reality:

The witches establish the theme of deception in their opening to the play:

Fair is foul and foul is fair nothing is truly what it seems in the play.

-Macbeth repeats this line after his role in the opening (off-stage) battle ‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen.’

To emphasize this theme Duncan later states that ‘there’s not art/ To find the mind’s construction in the face’ (do not judge a book by its cover) when speaking on the traitorous Thane of Cawdor. It’s profound how Macbeth is given that very title and acts in the same manner as its previous holder.

Lady Macbeth who is supposed to be the ‘honour’d hostess’ urges Macbeth to ‘look like the innocent flower/ But be the serpent under’t’.

Deception is even present when Malcolm the son of Duncan deceives Macduff into thinking

he would be a horrific king.

Of course one of the most significant examples of this theme is the moment the witches present their predictions to Macbeth, the predictions that are to ‘draw him on to his confusion’, the very predictions that put him into a false feeling of safety.

The supernatural:

People were far more superstitious back then than they are now on the matter of ghosts, the undead and demons. Again, people were also far more religious and ‘god-fearing’ in a sense, for example, many believed that the black death was simply a punishment from the hand of God.

King James himself had a strong belief in the supernatural and more specifically, a fear of witches. He ensured the North Berwick and Lancashire witch trials took place, out of respect and pre existing superstition the public followed suit in these beliefs.

Shakespeare took advantage of this and so wrote Macbeth so that it is the witches who awaken his desires by sinfully tempting him like the serpent itself, one could say that the moment he actually becomes ‘the serpent under’t’ he becomes a slave to their predictions. When they actually make their predictions they conjure up haunting and horrifyingly graphic apparitions while seeing the future (which would also have been rather disturbing to the 18th Century audience).

Also worth noting is how the weather turns dreadful every time the witches are present.

On the topic of the witches, they contrast greatly to the other characters in a manner more subtle than their powers. While every other character in Macbeth tends to speak in blank verse, they will speak in rhyming couplets and trochaic metre, these features make even their language stand out. It makes the disturbing nature of their words more memorable.

Also rather significant to the theme are Macbeth’s visions of ghosts and daggers:

‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’

Macbeth is unable to say amen, by killing the killing and going against God in a sense, he has cut himself off from God himself.

Lady Macbeth as though cursed for her earlier words, sleepwalks during her nightmares in which she seemingly repeats the moment of the murder over and over and is unable to clean the ‘damn’d spot’.

The manner in which the prediction about Birnam Wood comes true does not seem supernatural to the audience but it is important to remember to a character like Macbeth, it is in no way underwhelming, a terrifying prophecy has just come true in his eyes.

Finally worth mentioning is the night of the murder, the somewhat supernatural chaos that the world is thrown into seems incredibly Gothic. The food chain being disturbed and a falcon, towering in her pride of place, Was by a mousing owl hawk‘d at and kill’d , horses act as though they were to ‘make war with mankind’ and the area undergoes a storm. Daylight is even turned to night (by the clock, ’tis day,And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp‘). Macbeth has literally plunged Scotland into darkness.

Motifs in Macbeth:


Macbeth announces that ‘blood will have blood’, from the very beginning, blood is mentioned, the Captain is covered in it after the battle. Macbeth sees an ‘air drawn (mental) dagger’ in his hand, however fatal the real dagger was for Duncan, this ‘air drawn’ one will be no less so for Macbeth.

Duncan’s blood covers Macbeth that he believes ‘great Neptune’s oceans’ will not be enough to wash it off later Lady Macbeth states that ‘all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.’ when she has gone insane from the guilt which appears to be represented by the blood. She cannot remove the ‘damn’d spot’.

Macbeth, undergoing the opposite transformation states that he is ‘in blood/Stepp’d in so far that…returning were as tedious as to go o’er’


The Darkness of the play is associated with fear, it is when much of the world is hidden from view. For instance most of the murders occur at night, when there are no witnesses around. Also both times that Macbeth meets the witches are shrouded in darkness.

Macbeth was unable to accept Banquo’s judgement of the witches as ‘instruments of darkness’ and so is succumbed by it.

Don’t forget how the world remains dark at noon the day after Duncan’s murder symbolising in a rather explicit manner how the world has fallen to darkness with Macbeth’s actions:

by the clock, ’tis day, And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp

Lady Macbeth becomes terrified of the dark, she carries a light with her wherever she goes at night. It could represent the hell which she knows she is going to and how it is like the darkness swarming around her mind and tormenting her. It could also represent her own dark deeds that she is trying to forget. This eventually drives her to suicide.


  • There is a sense of pathetic fallacy when the witches enter as the thunder and lightning reflect their evil intentions and the chaos they are to bring about.
  • The mist of the play conceals many things, it makes things more vague and harder to see through much like Macbeth and how his downfall is echoed by fog thunder and lightning storms.-The weather represents the breakdown of the natural order much like the sight of horses eating each other or owls killing falcons.

Major characters:


Macbeth admits his ‘vaulting ambition’ gets the better of him, and Lady Macbeth believes that his nature is ‘too full o’th’ milk of human kindness’. This belief in his goodness is supported by his fear at killing his kinsmen, he believes it a ‘horrid image’, finding the advice given to be a ‘poison’d chalice.’

Macbeth is a soldier primarily, not a king, so just as the audience expects unlike the born king, he is simply unable to lead in a kingly manner and so is punished (alongside Scotland) for reaching above his given level.

He greatly contrasts to Malcolm who not only enlists help to take the throne (rather than striving for it himself), but also takes a strongly diplomatic stance on the situation.

Analyse, Macbeth’s behaviour upon seeing Banquo’s ghost at his banquet, some if not most of the Scottish Lords are extremely disturbed and lack faith in him as a leader the longer his reign endures the more people turn against him. By this stage Macduff has already shown his rejection and those of any sense will do so soon, any that don’t only live by Macbeth’s rule out of fear. Any who even show signs of opposing him will perish, for he has placed spies in every castle, emphasising his paranoia.

Macbeth becomes a nervous wreck after murdering Duncan, the urgent knocking at the gates appals him, makes him wish that they could ‘wake Duncan with knocking’ (or bring him back to life. When Duncan’s body is discovered he states that if he had ‘died an hour before this chance’ he would have lived ‘a blessed time’, however as he is putting an act on for the others, we cannot be sure whether he’s already accommodated to the situation, or whether he truly regrets his actions.

As he reflects on the witches predictions for himself and Banquo he states that the witches have placed a ‘fruitless crown’ upon his head while he has given his ‘eternal jewel’ to the ‘common enemy of man’ to get it. Macbeth is certain that he is going to hell and so takes the violence of his actions in his stride, he becomes ‘the common enemy of man.’ Macbeth does not even discuss his plan for another murder with his wife, telling he to ‘be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck’.

On the thought of Banquo and the security of his own reign he tells Lady Macbeth that they have scorch’d the snake not killed it’ and so decides to have Banquo and his son Fleance murdered. What’s quite significant to the play is how as Macbeth becomes more and more obsessed with keeping a secure grip on his throne his killings appear to have less and less justification to the point where just to hurt Macduff, he has Macduff’s family killed. This causes the Scottish Lords to throw thehir lot in with the English who come to oppose Macbeth.

It is said that ‘his title hangs lose about him like a giant’s robe upon a dwarvish thief’ suggesting that Macbeth is no ‘giant’, he lacks the ability to be king. He does not have the qualities present in Duncan and Malcolm such as ‘honour, love, obedience, troops of friends’ all he has are ‘deep…curses’.

As the English and Scottish armies approach Macbeth’s castle he becomes more defiant of his oncoming fate. It is said at this stage how Macbeth ‘cannot buckle his distemper’d cause’ and how he acts with a ‘valiant fury’, even in the face of the overwhelming forces about to attack.

We briefly see a human side to him again the moment he hears of his wife’s death. He reflects on the futility of existence, he seems to have lost any reason to live:

‘life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’

For the work of a writer who often tried to avoid the topic of religion this seems awfully like a commentary on God.

His death by the hands of Macduff is inevitable as told by the witches and so the plot is cyclical, it ends and begins with Macduff/Macbeth killing a traitor.

Lady Macbeth:

Lady Macbeth is one of the most interesting and powerful characters in the play. She is referred to as the ‘fiend-like queen’ she is linked with evil., and at the very beginning of the play this is established in how she is already thinking of ways to have Duncan killed.

When Macbeth hesitates on the matter she insults him for being‘too full o’th milk of human kindness’ and as he refuses to go back to the room of the murder she abuses him for being ‘infirm of purpose’.

‘My hands of your colour but I shame to wear a heart so white.’

At this stage she not only returns the dagger herself, but also goes as far as to smear blood onto the grooms faces. As Macbeth stresses about not being able to get the blood out she is the one to say ‘ a little water clears us of this deed’, she is rather ignorant in how lightly she takes their actions.

This statement comes back to haunt her as she sleepwalks and has nightmares concerning the murder and a ‘damn’d spot’ which she cannot remove. At this time she is unable to be in the darkness without a lamp and falls into madness. This leads to her eventual suicide.

She initially takes advantage of Macbeth and uses him to gain power but as she weakens and withers he leaves her behind to keep pushing for power.

Despite this we still see signs that he cares for her like when he wishes her to be innocent of the knowledge of Banquo’s death. Perhaps it is her isolation that causes her to go insane. Her death is yet another punishment for Macbeth and his actions.

The witches:

If the Weird sisters had not met and made their predictions, he would never have murdered the king. They possess mystical powers that give them not only the ability to appear and disappear at will but also to see into the future.

It’s important to note how even they see Macbeth as evil, ‘something wicked this way comes,’ and even appear afraid of him as he threatens them and demands another prediction. The reality is that they are luring him into a false sense of security.

Because they speak in rhyming couplets and trochaic rhythm, their speech stands out from the usual blank verse of the play. They would have been somewhat mesmerising to an audience of the 18th Century.

There is always a sense of pathetic fallacy in the presence of the witches as it is always dark and misty when they enter the stage. On each occasion their entry is also announced by thunder and lightning, the power of the elements surrounding them reflects their own powers.


At the start of the play (being Macbeth’s dearest friend, Banquo, like Macbeth, is a courageous fighter and a loyal soldier.

The tempting predictions of the witches have far less of an effect on Banquo than Macbeth, he is not tempted. Sensing their malevolent nature, he is in fact the one who warns Macbeth to take no notice of the witches:

‘to win us to our arm

the instruments of darkness tell us truths

betray us in deepest consequence

He remains observant and wise in how he is suspicious of Macbeth the moment he is promoted to Thane of Cawdor:

New honors come upon him,

Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould

But with the aid of use

The moment Duncan has been murdered Banquo has suspicions concerning Macbeth ‘play’d most foully’, despite this, being the loyal soldier that he is Banquo still shows undying loyalty to his new king and does not share his suspicions. This is perhaps his tragic flaw, his own naivety.


Duncan is a good king who shows and receives respect, rewards loyalty, his only clear concern is for his country.

As believed in Shakespearean times Duncan, a good King, was able to bring order and peace to Scotland. He certainly appears to hold many of the characteristics listed by Malcolm and Macduff. On the other hand if you are to analyse the story closely, if he’s so great a king why do traitors seemingly surround him?

He clearly holds a soft spot for Macbeth and his wife, with that knowledge and the fact that he’s had previous traitors, perhaps he is either too trusting or simply naïve.

Duncan also contrasts greatly with Macbeth in how he shows humility to him and his wife, confessing that he has not shown enough gratitude towards them.


Macduff displays extreme horror at the murder of Duncan displaying not only his love and respect for his leader, but also shows his commitment to his given job. At this same moment he shows a caring side as he shows care for the ‘gentle lady’ fearing what he may say just might upset her.

Despite everyone else being suspicious of Malcolm and Donalbain for fleeing the scene, Macduff appears to be a wise judge of character as he remains suspicious of Macbeth and refuses to attend his Coronation banquet.

This has already angered Macbeth so all it takes is word from the witches to watch out for Macduff for Macbeth to have Macduff’s family killed as he cannot reach Macduff himself. You could criticise Macduff for leaving his family in his country which he so passionately speaks of in chaos.

He finally gets his revenge upon Macbeth and thrives in it. He shows pure and grim delight, not only as he hoists the ‘hell hound’s’ ‘cursed head’ but also as he eliminates Macbeth’s illusion of invincibility the moment he states that he was ‘from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d.’

English literature

LIT3: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

The Author:

Emily Bronte, born in 1818, was the daughter of a clergyman. Alongside her sisters Charlotte and Anne she would grow to be a key part of one of the most famous families in literature.

At the young age of three Emily lost her mother to cancer. Later in their lives at school the Bronte sisters suffered to the cold and lack of food, and eventually a typhoid epidemic swept through their school leaving them recovering from the death of two of their siblings.

Their father was incredibly strict and made the girls sit in a room together in silence. Emily and Charlotte would escape into their writing, together they created a fictional world called Gondal.

Links have been made between the harsh and isolated Yorkshire landscape (perhaps similar to her upbringing?) and the raw elemental writing of Emily Bronte. Many also stress the importance of the time in which Wuthering Heights was written, a time when women were still being held back by sexist societal views. All of the Bronte sister’s novels were published under male pseudonyms. Some even go as far as to theorise that Cathy was created to represent all the pent-up desires and characteristics of Emily Bronte.

A Balanced Approach:

It’s important not to read Wuthering Heights with a one sided view. You’ll miss so much substance from the book if you just see Heathcliff as a dark romantic man, or Cathy as solely a selfish heartless being. There is so much depth to almost every aspect of the novel. For instance, Heathcliff is ‘mass of contradictions’, he’s an utter brute, he beats animals and humans alike, he holds an obsession for Cathy that will keep him going on his course of destruction no matter who he hurts along the way. On the other hand you’ll find like Frankenstein’s monster, he is a noble savage, a victim of circumstance and still clearly displays genuine care and tenderness towards Catherine.

Catherine on the other hand is incredibly mischievous at a younger age and never really sees the torment she inflicts upon others, and she inflicts such pain upon almost every other character in the novel. However she also has a deeper side, she holds a burning passion for Heathcliff and despite her circumstances doesn’t show signs of snobbishness like her brother.

Chapters 1-3:

Mr Lockwood (The narrator) rents Thrushcross Grange from Heathcliff. Lockwood goes to Wuthering Heights to visit Heathcliff but gets snowed in for the night. He finds both the building and its inhabitants forbidding and unnerving.

Lockwood finds a bible in his bedroom that used to belong to Catherine. During the night he has a nightmare about Catherine trying to make her way into the window.

  • ‘An almost melancholy voice sobbed… ‘Let me in! Let me in!’ – This is a common theme of the Gothic genre, escaping the melancholy.
  • Through description alone the reader is instantly made to feel unwelcome:

Black eyes

  • ‘Wuthering’ is used to describe the grim atmosphere of the stormy moors.
  • Even the description of the environment is used to emphasize the darkness of the moors:

    ‘thorns all stretching their limbs one way as if craving alms of the sun.’ – even something stereotypically dark/evil is seemingly seeking light from the evil of the moors.

  • On first impression Heathcliff fits the characteristics of a Gothic protagonist. He is an attractive and an emotionally reserved mysterious male.
  • Heathcliff shows no affection towards the dogs.
  • Chapter 2 again, shows signs of a very unwelcoming host and atmosphere:

‘The tone in which the words were said revealed a genuine bad nature.’

‘A sorrowful sight I saw: dark night coming down prematurely.’

-Similar to Macbeth.

  • Heathcliff’s paranoia about Catherine’s old room heightens the sense of mystery and fear of this dark man:

‘A stranger is a stranger… permit anyone the range of the place while I am off guard.’


  • Wuthering Heights is described to be a ‘perfect Misanthrop’s heaven‘. There are multiple references to how isolated it is. One may say that it is removed from normal society, surrounded in fog it is its own little world. A world not governed by our own laws or social constraints.
  • Lockwood has a desire to be alone has led him to this isolated place. Yet he is drawn to Heathcliff, for a ‘misanthrop’ it’s odd that he wishes to see someone so unwelcoming (let alone anyone) two days in a row.
  • Dreams are used as portents (giving a sense of foreboding) or symbols.
  • There is an abundance of the supernatural in these early chapters, Lockwood calls Wuthering Heights ‘Haunted’ and ‘swarming with ghosts and goblins‘. These words are used quite lightly by Lockwod and ‘goblins’ shows this, he doesn’t get how seriously dark and twisted Wuthering Heights and its history actually is. Heathcliff believes in Catherine’s ghost.
  • The brutal tone of the novel is set when everything become grotesque during Lockwood’s nightmare:

BLOOD ran down and soaked the bedclothes’

Chapters 4-7:

(I’ve lost my notes for the next few sections so most of the following is done in a rush or taken straight from my revision material)

Mrs Dean begins to tell Lockwood the tale of Heathcliff and Catherine’s upbringing. The owner of Wuthering heights, Mr Earnshaw, brings Heathcliff home with him after a trip to Liverpool. Earnshaw wants the orphan to be brought up alongside his own children. Earnshaw and Catherine welcome him into the family but Hindley acts incredibly cruel towards him.

Hindley is sent away to college but when his father dies he returns to Wuthering Heights with a wife in order to take over the estate and so drives Heathcliff out. Heathcliff continues to run wild on the moors with Catherine.

They wander onto the property of Thrushcross Grange after planning to run away together. Catherine is attacked by the guard dog and remains at the Grange with the Linton family who nurse her back to health. When she finally returns to Wuthering Heights she has changed, she has become more refined. Heathcliff cannot stand this change in her.

When the Lintons visit Wuthering Heights at Christmas, Edgar clashes with Heathcliff resulting in Hindley punishing Heathcliff by harshly beating him, this is the moment when it becomes apparent that Heathcliff intends to get his revenge on Hindley.


  • There’s a change in narrator much like Frankenstein, there is a story within a story.
  • Like the other noble savage Frankenstein’s creature, there’s no real background to Heathcliff. We aren’t made aware of his parents or where he’s from.
  • There’s a lot of casual violence in Wuthering Heights:

‘Hindley’s blows,’ ‘my pitches‘ ‘thrashings

  • Catherine is not a damsel, nor is she a femme-fatale, she’s her own character. She’s lively and complex.
  • At their happiest Heathcliff and Catherine were ‘as rude as savages‘, they lived their own lives and ignored the rules of society. It’s when they each give up to those rules that things go downhill.
  • Heathcliff is capable of and makes it clear that he’s willing to commit extreme violence:

‘I’d not exchange for a thousand lives… Hindley’s blood

  • There is a huge contrast between Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering heights, both in atmosphere and in their names. The Grange gives a sense of culture and peace in comparison to Wuthering Heights’ chaos and isolation.
  • Heathcliff begs Nelly to ‘make me decent‘ he bows to the laws of society because of his love for Catherine. (rather a redeeming moment)
  • Words such as ‘fiends,‘ and ‘devil’s spies‘ are used around description of Heathcliff, like Frankenstein’s creature, it seems that he is touched by evil.
  • Also like in Frankenstein, Heathcliff’s life and misfortune is all seemingly pre-determined by his birth and heritage. Like the creature he is judged by his appearance.

Chapters 8-9:

Frances (Hindley’s wife) gives birth to Hareton and dies shortly afterwards. As Hindley reels from the loss of his wife, Hareton is left to the care of Nelly. The whole family structure is collapsing.

Catherine’s interest in Linton becomes serious as she begins to see him as a potential husband. Catherine speaks to Nelly about how her real love is for Heathcliff but she refuses to marry him given his social status:

‘If that wicked man had not brought Heathcliff so low’ – She almost despises Edgar for that.

Linton has the ability to give her security and comfort. Heathcliff overhears this conversation and leaves before hearing her final words in which she says that if she marries Linton she may be able to help Heathcliff.

Heathcliff disappears and Catherine moves to Thrushcross Grange with Edgar where three years later they marry.


  • Hindley’s rejection of God, something that in the 19th Century would imply a great degree of moral degeneration.
  • Heathcliff becomes more rough and brutal. Nelly says that he appears to be ‘possessed by something diabolical‘ – another Satan reference.
  • Catherine shows violence against Nelly, Edgar and baby Hareton, displaying her own degeneration.
  • There is a moment of such dark tone in the novel when Heathcliff catches Hareton after he fell from the stairs, and instantly regretted doing so. He has such a powerful obsession of revenge on Hindley that he would have ‘smashed Hareton’s skull on the steps‘ right there and then if he could have gotten away with it. His passion for revenge is so great that he would kill an innocent child so gruesomely for the chance of hurting the one he hates… when it is clear that Hindley does not even care much for the child.
  • Catherine claims that Heathcliff is more herself than she is, that they are soul-mates.
  • It will naturally seem unfair to the reader that Catherine refuses to be with Heathcliff because of his circumstances, but this leads back to balance. We may empathise with him now but his actions throughout the novel are often unforgivable, no matter the motivation.

Chapters 10-14:

Lockwood is ill for four weeks and very quickly begins to hate the isolation and bleak atmosphere of the countryside. As Nelly resumes her story he is told of how Edgar and Cathy lived a happy life at Thrushcross Grange until Heathcliff returns to the Moors and asks to see Catherine. Catherine is clearly ecstatic to see him again and soon begins to compare Edgar unfavourably next to him, friction soon develops between himself and Heathcliff. Heathcliff stays nearby at Wuthering Heights with Hindley where he exploits his greed and gambling habits.

As contact between Catherine and Heathcliff continues, Isabella falls for him. While he does not care for her at all, he sees the family fortune she has access to and an opportunity to get revenge on the Linton family.

Nelly visits Wuthering Heights and is appalled at the goings on there. Hareton is practically being raised by Heathcliff now, badly (obviously). Meanwhile, Heathcliff is spending his time pursuing Isabella, Nelly wastes no time in informing Edgar of this. The two have a showdown in which Catherine doesn’t act as one would expect a wife at the time to, she forces her husband to fight like a man or apologise. Son after she has a fit and falls ill. While delirious she rambles about her love of Heathcliff and Wuthering heights. Elsewhere Heathcliff has eloped with Isabella who Edgar has disowned.

As Catherine slowly recovers she remains fragile and depressed, she also finds out that she is pregnant. Two months pass and Heathcliff and Isabella return to Wuthering Heights followed by Nelly receiving a letter from Isabella telling of the terrible conditions she is living under (Note the abundance of violence). When Nelly visits Wuthering Heights she soon discovers that Isabella has been reduced to a ‘slattern‘, strangely Heathcliff is appearing to be even more of a gentleman in Nelly’s presence.

He then goes on to ask Nelly to arrange a meeting between himself and Catherine, when she refuses, his true nature reveals itself. He harshly abuses Isabella forcing Nelly to arrange it.


  • When Heathcliff returns he has undergone a clear transformation. Although in appearance he has become a gentleman, there is something incredibly threatening and brooding about him. His obsession with revenge has clearly driven him and kept him going (like Frankenstein AND his monster). All he wishes is to get his revenge on Hindley and kill himself. (bare in mind how sacrilegious suicide was and is seen):

‘No God shall not have the satisfaction that I shall … while I’m thinking of that I don’t feel pain‘ – (Prometheus link?)

  • In Catherine’s speech about how Heathcliff’s return has ‘reconciled me to God and humanity’ we see that although she is incredibly self-centred, she is also capable of great love, a somewhat redeeming characteristic in her. She is perhaps the only character who shows true hope in Heathcliff, with that hope taken away he experiences a self-fulfilling prophecy that others have put on him.
  • Isabella becomes a victim to both Heathcliff and Catherine who both despise her. She even becomes rejected by her own brother. If any character in Wuthering Heights is a damsel, it is Isabella.
  • Heathcliff is naturally incredibly persuasive and influential, he uses this to his advantage and acts incredibly manipulative towards all he can exploit.
  • Catherine’s increasing hysteria and violent words in Chapter 12. She believes the room is haunted and yearns for Heathcliff. Nelly in the meantime is being criticised by both Edgar and Catherine for how the situation is panning out.
  • Heathcliff hangs Isabella’s pet dog. His cruelty is appalling.
  • As Isabella describes life at Wuthering Heights we find that Hareton has been given so little attention that he is more of an animal than a child and Hindley is a drunkard who’s determined to kill Heathcliff.
  • Heathcliff points out that Isabella pictured him as some kind of romantic hero, just like many of the female readers of Wuthering Heights have done (or tried to do so). He personally describes how he hung her dog, he is open about his own cruelty and criticises such an ignorant trail of thought. (Breaking the fourth wall, perhaps a critique on society and how women are content to be dominated by such men.)
  • Heathcliff’s language matches Catherine’s at some stages in its intense and disturbing nature:

‘I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails! It is a moral teething; and I grind with greater energy in proportion to the increase in pain.’

– This also contrasts greatly with the more civil and higher class dialect of Edgar . A sign that Heathcliff and Catherine are made for each other.

Chapters 15-17:

Heathcliff finally manages to see Catherine at the Grange when Edgar is away. As passionate as their reunion is, Heathcliff realises that she will soon die. Unable to see the weight behind her words she states that Heathcliff and Linton are the reasons for her death. She taunts him by speaking of how is life will be like without her. On the other hand she’s happy to die knowing that they are as close as they could ever get:

‘he’s in my soul‘.

‘Nelly, I am Heathcliff

Catherine eventually gives birth to a baby girl and dies two months later. Heathcliff’s grief turns to rage:

‘Catherine Earnshaw you may not rest as long as I am living.

Heathcliff even torments her on her deathbed:

‘You have killed yourself. Yes you may kiss me… they’ll blight you, they’ll damn you

‘Be with me always take on any form drive me mad‘ – we as the readers get the feeling she does, and she has… This relates back to Lockwood’s nightmare

-‘I’ll never let you in, not if you beg for twenty years’…

‘It is twenty years… I’ve been a waif for twenty years’- Perhaps Heathcliff truly got what he desired.

The day before the funeral Heathcliff takes the locket in Catherine’s casket and replaces Edgar’s hair inside with his own. Nelly is aware of this and ensures both locks of hair are inside but twisted around one another, symbolising Catherine’s mess of a love affair for the two.

As we would expect from Catherine she is not buried in the Linton family grave, she is instead buried on the edge between the moorlands and the churchyard. (In love with Edgar but always on the edge of escaping their relationship)

Isabella escapes Wuthering Heights to London where she gives birth to Heathcliff’s son, Linton. Hindley dies soon afterwards and the estate is left to Heathcliff. Edgar Linton shuts himself off from the world although he does not exactly live in complete misery as we would expect, he still gets much joy from his daughter Cathy. When he tries to get custody of Hareton but Heathcliff says that if he does so he will bring Linton back to the heights.


  • Nelly describes Catherine as one ‘doomed to decayand how she possesses ‘unearthly beauty’.
  • There’s a strong presence of violence and passion between Catherine and Heathcliff. Even in their relationship they do not follow societal norms.
  • Catherine continuously refers to her own death as if she knows it’s going to happen or that she’s given up. ‘ You have killed me.’ Heathcliff becomes angry at her and accuses her of being possessed with a devil (much like himself). Their relationship is so destructive that the only way that either of them can escape it is through death.
  • ‘Your pride cannot blind God‘ Nelly’s assessment of how Heathcliff refuses to act like a normal upstanding decent human being. She speaks of how the extent of his anger will never allow him any form of peace.

-It’s worth noting here how Heathcliff lets his anger control him, even in his older age he despises Hareton because he is the son of one of Hindley. Edgar on the other hand welcomes Linton lovingly like his own son even though he is the son of Heathcliff. You could argue that Linton’s ability to let go of his hatred gives him a better, more peaceful life.

  • ‘May she wake in torment‘ – Heathcliff actually wishes for Catherine to suffer in hell, seemingly she does as he says because of Lockwood’s nightmare

Chapters 18-24:

Life becomes somewhat peaceful in the next twelve years that pass on the moors. Isabella leaves Linton to Edgar and while he goes away Cathy wanders the moors and comes across Wuthering Heights. She is first under the impression that Hareton is in fact the servant. She is shocked to find out that he is in fact her cousin, referring to Linton as her ‘real cousin’. When Edgar returns with Linton Heathcliff demands his son is returned to him. Although incredibly unpleasant to him, he does not physically harm him. Heathcliff is aware that when Edgar passes Linton will inherit Thrushcross Grange.

Cathy, being incredibly upset at her ‘real cousin’ being sent away actually soon forgets him. At the age of sixteen she meets Heathcliff and Hareton on the moors and accompanies them back to Wuthering Heights to see Linton.

When Edgar demands that Cathy doesn’t return to Wuthering Heights she becomes upset and insists on writing to Linton without her father’s approval. Heathcliff stops their correspondence and later informs Cathy that Linton is pining for her, guilting her into visiting him. A relationship between the two develops secretly until Nelly finds out about it. As Linton becomes more and more ill it becomes clear that although their meetings often end in arguments, there is a genuine sense of attraction and fondness between the two.


  • Cathy has grown into a beautiful and much more obedient (like her father) child than Catherine although she still holds some of the wilful and complex characteristics of her mother. When she meets Hareton there is even somewhat of a sense of deja vu. Due to the class differences their meeting is reminiscent of Heathcliff’s arrival to the Earnshaw family.
  • Linton shows only characteristics of Edgar, he is polite and timid, there are absolutely no signs of his biological inheritance from Heathcliff. (NATURE VS NURTURE!). Due to his delicate nature there is a sense of dramatic irony that Linton will not last long at Wuthering Heights.
  • Hareton’s attempts to improve himself are mocked by Cathy (the girl he has feelings for) and he is clearly jealous of her feelings for Linton. Again there is a sense of deja vu.
  • There is such a vast contrast between Cathy and Linton.

Chapters 25-34:

Nelly has almost finished her narration. At this point Edgar is dying and so is Linton. Heathcliff in the meantime has been scheming for Linton to marry Cathy before her death. Edgar finally agrees that the cousins should meet. It’s clear that Linton is only going through with the meet because of his fear of his father. Their second meet turns out to be a trap and Heathcliff holds Cathy (and Nelly) in the household so that he can make the two marry in order to ensure he will control the entire Linton estate.

The wedding finally occurs and Catherine runs away just in time to see her father before he passes away. (Note how peaceful Edgar’s passing is in comparison to Catherine and Heathcliff’s). After Edgar’s funeral Heathcliff goes to Thrushcross Grange to see Cathy and forcefully take her back to Wuthering Heights.

Although she has lost contact with Cathy, Nelly still hears of the goings on at Wuthering Heights via Zillah, a servant at Wuthering Heights. Cathy cares for Linton until his passing. She remains distant from the others living at the Heights and rejects Hareton and his approaches.

When Lockwood returns to Wuthering Heights to inform Heathcliff that he will be leaving for London he notices Cathy’s cruelty towards Hareton and That Heathcliff’s appearance has changed.

One year passes and Lockwood returns to the Heights, he finds that Cathy has changed her attitude towards Hareton and is teaching him to read. Nelly informs Lockwood that Heathcliff died three months earlier and is hopeful that Cathy and Hareton will marry.

Nelly also speaks of Heathcliff’s ‘queer end‘. He is constantly haunted by Catherine and sees her everywhere. He is driven to madness. He no longer wishes for revenge, only Catherine, he even experiences a ‘strange happiness‘ and welcomes death.

When they plan to marry it is said about Hareton and Cathy that ‘they are afraid of nothing… Together they would brave Satan and all his legions‘ – one could argue that by surviving the evil of Heathcliff they already have.

In typical Gothic fashion Wuthering Heights ends with a somewhat lighter tone, showing a glimmer of hope for the future generations (change- romanticism) Because of their union, the hatred between the two families in the past will fade with time. Their wedding day will be on New Years day – symbolising a new beginning.


  • It is vital to take notice of how far Heathcliff will go to achieve his aims. He is like Frankenstein in his obsessions and how he acts upon them so casually when they are horrifying to any outside pair of eyes.
  • There are constant references to the grim weather patterns on the moors, they are dark, brooding and stormy. – Much like the darkness and violence of the events at the heights.
  • Heathcliff is constantly violent towards Linton and Cathy, he is clearly still head over heels in love with Catherine. Closely examine how he snatches the locket from Cathy’s neck and grinds the picture of Edgar beneath his foot. Perhaps he despises her not just because she is the daughter of Edgar, but because she’s the daughter that should have been his.
  • Although Linton has perhaps inherited some viciousness from his father, he cannot and would not follow it through as he shows such horror at the atrocities of his father:

‘I wink to see my father stroke a dog or horse, he does it so hard‘ – There’s such innocence in this extract.

  • During Edgar’s funeral Heathcliff opens Catherine’s coffin again just to be close to her, but of course even by committing such a vile act like digging up a corpse, Heathcliff can never be close to her again in the living world. It’s killing him:

‘It was a strange way of killing… through eighteen years!’

  • Heathcliff is said to have been seen wandering the moors, perhaps he never actually got the peace he sought.
  • Lockwood’s final description of the three graves is in itself incredibly disturbing.

Narrative Structure:

In the 19th Century both first person and omniscient narrators were very popular in writing. Bronte managed to make her writing unique in the way in which she used multiple narrators.

Lockwood does not understand the situation on the moors and so he is treated like the reader, everything is explained to him. More than just that though, Lockwood represents an average human mind, an outside perspective who is just as shocked and foreign as we are to the events and emotions at Wuthering Heights.

Nelly’s roles as a narrators is also vital. She is another ‘normal’ person who acts as a counterweight of control and stability to the madness. As a housekeeper at both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange at different stages she is both informed and able to give a reliable insight. She is able to see both the good and bad in Heathcliff and Catherine.

-At the same time it’s difficult to see how reliable she is, she deceives Edgar about Heathcliff and Catherine, as we are hearing so much about the events from her, how can we not be sure that she is hiding truths.

The story is also told through flashbacks, not necessarily one long chronological order of how it happened. This only emphasises the sense of instability in Wuthering Heights, much like the emotions and the relationships of the main characters.

The story is split into clear sections:

  • Introduction: Heathcliff is brought into the Earnshaw family
  • Development: Relationships become more complex (Heathcliff with Catherine and Hindley)
  • Climax: Catherine’s death
  • Denouement: Heathcliff’s revenge on the Linton family
  • Conclusion: Heathcliff has passed away and peace is finally being restored to the moors.

The structure of Wuthering Heights is much like a tragedy (Macbeth for instance).

The Setting:

The moorlands of Yorkshire are vital to the premise of the story. The elements are presented so powerfully (representing the extreme emotion) that they surround the two estates giving a feeling of imprisonment and claustrophobia. This sense of such a small community trapped with each other reminds us that these characters have no one else to socialise with.

Lord David Cecil claims that Wuthering Heights is a war between calm and storm. This is exemplified by two properties of the novel. Wuthering Heights represents the storm, it’s remote, exposed to the powerful elements and there is a sense of the primitive among the people living there.

The clear damage to the house is from how the powerful weather has battered it, yet it still stands as the trees surround are stunted in their growth, so are the people who are raised there.

Juxtaposing this we have Thrushcross Grange, a pleasant cottage in a pleasant valley, shielded from the elements.

Wuthering Heights appears to be Heathcliff’s natural environment, he has an admirable connection with nature that fits him to the Heights. When he leaves he comes back a destructive and revenge obsessed individual. The same connection between Wuthering Heights and Catherine can be made, Thrushcross Grange calms her and settles her, but when her true self is revealed in her delirium she is like a wild animal, she needs that harsh dose of nature from the Heights:

‘That heaven did not seem to be my home’ – Her heaven is the ‘Misanthrop‘s heaven’ or perhaps there is no heaven for her reinforced by ‘I’ve been a waif for twenty years.’

Again, the two are clearly at the happiest point in their lives when they are children, running free across the moors, uncultured and free, free from the rules and expectations of society. (This is applicable to both the themes of Nature vs. Nurture and a noble savage.) As there are rumours of ghosts on the moors and Wuthering Heights is finally closed at the end of the novel, we get the feeling that somewhere beyond the two are finally living like they should have.

The Characters:

Towards the end of the novel there is a sense that Catherine has killed herself, not explicitly but because she has given up on life. Bare in mind how sinful suicide is to the church which was widely accepted and respected in the 19th Century.

Catherine doesn’t exactly conform to Gothic stereotypes in that she is in no way a damsel, nor is she exactly femme-fatale. Although, she is incredibly wild and manipulative like one would expect a femme-fatale to be. At the same time she is not exactly the personification of evil like Lady Macbeth, she is more complex and human than most Gothic female characters.

Heathcliff is powerful, passionate and highly influential, he’s also incredibly cruel and unempathic. There are many descriptions of him connecting him with great evil and Satan himself. Again though, the issues is how much of this evil inside him has been brought about by his circumstances. Like Frankenstein’s creature he started out innocent and free, but bit by bit the evils of the world pick away at him moulding him into a dark and vengeful individual. HE even tries to change himself as a child:

Nelly, make me decent, I’m going to be good.’- There’s a sense of desperation in his tone, to escape from who he is.

Some critics suggest that Heathcliff is a ‘Byronic hero‘, like Byron he causes ‘scandal and thrill in equal measures’. He is ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know‘. Stereotypically, a Byronic hero is dark mysterious and brooding, haunted over a previous trauma.

-This trauma defines Heathcliff, it is what drives him on. His sole purpose in life has become revenge. Again, he is disregarding social expectations in order to fulfil his own personal desires. Acting in a cruel and calculating manner in which he works over a long period of time in order to destroy Hindley and the Lintons, even going as far as to manipulate and use Isabella for that very same purpose, exiling her from her own family in the process.

This lust for revenge in Heathcliff is his ‘tragic flaw‘ like Frankenstein’s passion for science. Under further analysis though, they are very very different characters. Heathcliff never stops to feel sorry for himself and certainly doesn’t act the victim, neither does he worry or care about who he’s hurting. He never loses focus on his desire. You could say that Heathcliff upholds his dignity which Frankenstein does not.

Edgar and Isabella represent society, and it’s structure contrasting them greatly with the primitivism of Heathcliff and Catherine. Edgar is very likeable, although first seemingly weak and fragile, he shows a certain moral and mental strength in how he never stops caring for his wife no matter how unfair or difficult she acts.

Isabella on the other hand is somewhat of an ignorant little girl. She is drawn to Heathcliff’s dark and mysterious nature despite warnings from both Catherine and her brother. She finally displays strength and maturity towards the end as she manages to run away with her son. (contextually at the time this would’ve been nigh on impossible for a woman to do).

Years later Hareton and Cathy are repeating history as a relationship develops between them, many of their parents qualities can be seen in them. Hareton’s love for Cathy is like an evolution of the previous generation. It is controlled and devoting like Edgar’s yet fiery and passionate like Heathcliff’s. 


I Seriously get the feeling this Gothic stuff is too emotional for me -.-




English literature, Updates

LIT2. Frankenstein


The Author:

Mary Shelley was the daughter of a philosopher and a radical feminist. Being an atheist with a Catholic background she was also an anarchist who who believed we could live peacefully without laws. It seems Shelley’s life was engulfed in and surrounded by misery. Shelley’s mother died shortly after her birth in she was an illegitimate child. Her husband’s ex wife drowned herself and he died later during his marriage with Shelley by drowning. Unfortunately she also lost her daughter before she even had the chance to name her, she had dreams of bringing the child back to life.

As for the creation of Frankenstein, Lord Byron challenged Shelley to write a ghost story in the wet summer of 1876. After being inspired by a discussion from her husband and Byron about the nature of horror, life and galvanism (alongside a dream she had resembling the awakening of the creature) Frankenstein was born.

‘Supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the creator of the world.’ Shelley was also inspired by the recent scientific discoveries of the time such as the galvanisation process.

Historical Context:

Female writers were given little respect so Mary Shelley did not put her name to Frankenstein for 13 years. In the 18th and 19th centuries some writers were lingering on the topic of bringing the dead back to life. Scientific discoveries were being made such as that of how the circulation of blood flows and the nervous system.

Frankenstein was also written during a period when Christianity was widely believed and accepted before Darwinian theories had been established. This made it all the more shocking that even in literary fiction someone was trying to take on the role of God.

In the midst of the industrial revolution the development of new technology threatened the livelihoods of many labourers. This was a period of change and uncertainty.

Literary Context:

There were many shared characteristics of the ‘Romantic movement’ such as:

  • Value placed on feelings and emotion
  • Value placed on the individual
  • Connecting nature to the individual and the use of pathetic fallacy
  • The rebellion against traditional literary and political institutions.
  • A plot involving a quest for transcendence or escape from the melancholy through greater knowledge or another spectacular means
  • A sense of innovation and spontaneity
  • Fresh possibilities and new beginnings.

The Novel’s title:

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is also known as The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus is a mythic titan who stole the power of fire from Zeus and gave it to the humans, leaving him to be punished eternally by Zeus. Much like one could argue that Frankenstein has stolen the power of life from God for man and is being punished in kind.

Letters 1-4:

The English explorer Walton is writing letters to his sister making Frankenstein an epistolary novel as it is told through a series of letters. He talks at length about his current environment and how it has the potential to offer ‘wonder.’ But there is a clear juxtaposition in some of his phrases like ‘frost and desolation’ and ‘beauty and delight’. He is aware that he is in a frozen wasteland but he finds it ‘surpassing in wonders and in beauty.’ Much like Frankenstein who later goes to the frozen Alps to soothe his mind using their isolation. RECURRING THEME OF ISOLATION.

  • There is an emphasis on bleakness and danger in the environment
  • Walton relishes the challenge, anticipating glory and terror
  • Walton seeks glory, a trait that not only shows vanity, but is also clearly seen in Frankenstein
  • Walton is lonely and desires the ‘company of a man who could sympathise with me’ further emphasising the similarity between himself and Frankenstein.
  • Frankenstein is also a loner, there is a motif of isolation throughout the novel

My notes:

  • ‘Such evil foreboding’, there was already suspicion that it would all go wrong.
  • The chance to explore and break new ground draws a parallel to romanticism
  • Walton is ignoring warnings that ‘the pole is the seat of frost and desolation’, this shows a Gothic convention of how he is being drawn into this dark fate.
  • More Gothic conventions in Walton are how he is both passionate and arrogant at the same time; ‘you cannot contest the inestimable benefit I shall confer.’
  • Walton also wishes to accomplish ‘some great purpose’ fitting well into the theme of romanticism and reaching transcendence.
  • ‘There is something supernatural in my soul which I do not understand,’ there is something supernatural inside him spurring him on.
  • ‘Serpent to sting you…’ This supernatural force drawing Walton towards the dangers of the North pole is like the devil tempting Adam and Eve into eating the apple of Eden.

Chapters 1-3:

Chapter 1:

  • Beufort going into poverty and his eventual death.
  • Caroline being ‘saved’ (what would a feminist say about this?) by Victor’s father
  • Caroline showed empathy and would visit and help out at the poor cottages
  • They arrive at a cottage and see baby Elizabeth, they return years later to adopt her. (Worth noting that she is the daughter of a nobleman)
  • ‘Victor I have a surprise for you’… After this quote it is established that Victor sees Elizabeth as his possession.

Chapter 2:

  • The first paragraph of Chapter 2 outlines and emphasizes the differences between Elizabeth and Victor:

‘While my companion contemplated with a serious and satisfied spirit the magnificent appearances of things, I delighted in investigating their causes’

  • The Frankenstein family have placed themselves in seclusion, living far away from civilisation
  • Descriptive language on Elizabeth suggests Romanticism:

‘She busied herself with following the aerial creations of the poets.’

  • There is also a sense of spirituality and fate in this Chapter:

    ‘It is even possible that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin’

‘By such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin.’

Destiny was too potent’

Chapter 3:

  • The death of Victor’s mother occurs
  • It becomes clear that Victor is shallow, he judges and treats his lecturers based on their physical appearance


  • Elizabeth is described as a ‘pretty present’ implying that she is nought but a plaything or a toy.
  • There is ambiguity in the way other people in Victor’s life came about, emphasising his sense of self.
  • Victor displays a (Gothic convention) passion in his thirst for knowledge and speaks of how he wants to learn the ‘secrets of heaven and earth’.

    To a 19th Century audience it would appear as though he is attempting to put himself on a par with God himself much like Prometheus

  • Even in the recollections of his childhood Frankenstein presents a sense of foreboding:

    ‘Before misfortune had tainted my mind…’

  • The chapter keeps referring to his future ‘misfortune’
  • There is an abundance of words that play on one’s fear for instance; ‘evil’, ‘deformed’ and ‘omen’
  • Frankenstein holds the characteristics of a tragic hero, he is from a good family and is incredibly intelligent and passionate about his work.
  • According to Gothic conventions Elizabeth is likely to become a damsel but she never quite fits into that role, although she does mostly fit in with Gothic conventions of females.

Chapters 4-6:

Chapter 4:

  • Frankenstein is becoming completely engrossed in his studies at university to the point where two years pass and he hasn’t returned to Geneva (emphasis on his passion)
  • Victor decides to study physiology and the question of how life comes to be.
  • He seemingly again blames fate:

‘I had been animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm’

  • Victor shows no fear of the supernatural as he experiments with body parts, in the historical context of the novel this shows ignorance which he will suffer greatly for. This could also be an instrument to invoke fear in the readers.
  • There is another Prometheus link:

‘I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter’

‘How much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow’ (Marxist reference)

  • And another link to the supernatural:

‘like a hurricane’

  • There is also once again a sign of Frankenstein attempting to take on the role of God:

A new species would bless me as its creator… many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me

  • The presence of Gothic settings:

dissecting room and the slaughter house

  • The end of Chapter 4 reflects anxiety, common in the ‘school of TERROR’ side of Gothicism

FrankensteinChapter 5:

  • There is the presence of the Gothic convention of a nightmare, a nightmare of darkness corrupting the light. (Elizabeth dying – Premonition)
  • Reference to Dante’s inferno:

    ‘Even Dante could not have conceived’

  • Frankenstein’s body is beginning to take a toll due to his mental state:

    ‘I did not remark how very ill you appear’

  • Frankenstein shirks responsibility on two separate occasions:

Hideous guest’

‘How could you suppose that my first thought would not fly towards those dear dear friends whom I love?’

  • Justine vastly contrasts with the creature, but it is as though through their relationships with Victor, she and the creature are long lost siblings. But she suffers by the hands of the creature, as though by a jealous sibling.


  • There are many references to misfortune making the reader very much aware of how this will end – dramatic irony
  • Victor discovers the cause of ‘generation and life.’ He is both frightened and thrilled by this. Vanity kicks in as he wishes to;

    ‘pour a torrent of light into a dark world’

  • Victor collects body parts and isolates himself in his ‘workshop of filthy creation,’ despite knowing that what he is doing is wrong, he cannot stop
  • Frankenstein rapidly changes from seeing himself as a God-like figure to a timid, fearful man who curses himself for the abomination he created
  • When his mother dies, Justine falls ill with grief and all of her siblings die. She begins to wonder if God is punishing her for being happy, perhaps there is a contextual link here
  • Victor cannot stand the thought of his philosophical or scientific studies any more, showing how much the event has haunted his psyche
  • He stresses that he has not gone insane even though his claims of the rising dead sound it. This is a Gothic motif, the supernatural happens to the INDIVIDUAL, isolating them in their fear
  • To Shelley’s audience not influenced by modern cinema or media, the description of the creature would have been truly revolting
  • Archetypal Gothic hero trait, isolating himself from his family and friends.
  • Take notice of the candle being blown out moments before the creature awakens. Symbolism of the light in the world fading

Chapters 7-10:

Chapter 7:

  • Victor receives a letter from his father telling of the death of William
  • Elizabeth believes she is to blame for William’s death, for letting him hold a ‘miniature’ of Victor’s mother, a valuable object
  • Victor observes a storm:

‘It advanced, the heavens were clouded, and I son felt the rain coming, slowly in large drops, but its VIOLENCE quickly increased.’ – pathetic fallacy and foreboding.

  • Victor sees the creature stalking him and becomes convinced that ‘he’ killed William
  • Believing everyone will think him insane, Victor decides to remain silent about the creature
  • Justine is wrongfully accused
  • ‘Every human being is guiltless of this murder.’ – a sense of INJUSTICE

Chapter 8:

  • ‘I suffered living torture’ -incredibly self-involved
  • As the trial goes on and evidence is presented against her, Justine starts to panic and becomes unusually anxious
  • Having presented her defence she calls for others to make testaments of her character. While most are too afraid or angry to do so, Elizabeth stands. She speaks in favour of Justine but the court is not convinced.
  • ‘The tortures of the accused did not equal mine’
  • Justine is condemned by confessing. ‘I almost became the monster he said I was,’- self fulfilling prophecy. Links to the creature
  • ‘How sweet is the affection of others to such a wretch as I am.’ juxtaposing Victor, the true wretch.
  • The last paragraph is Victor seemingly taking the blame;

‘William and Justine, the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts.’

Chapter 9:

  • Victor reflects on how Justine was executed and yet he lives. He is convinced more is to come;

‘much much more was yet behind’

  • ‘Solitude was my only consolation – deep, dark, deathlike solitude’ – Use of alliteration emphasises the depth of his loneliness and depression
  • He spends hours on the lake in isolation considering suicide
  • He fantasises about revenge and his hatred for the creature
  • men appear to me as monsters
  • ‘Dear Victor, banish these dark passions.’
  • Frankenstein goes travelling alone in the snowy mountains reminiscent of Walton’s isolation at sea in the Arctic conditions.

Chapter 10:

  • There is a lot of presence of pathetic fallacy in the Gothic setting
  • ‘Wandering spirits…’
  • ‘Victor sees the monster speeding towards him and prepares to engage ‘in mortal combat’
  • ‘How dare you sport thus with life’ – Link contextually to Shelley’s Atheist beliefs and her hard life
  • ‘I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thee drivest from joy for no misdeed’


  • Victor is engulfed in guilt;

I wandered like an evil spirit, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible’

  • He feels haunted by the creature;

‘There is always scope for fear as long as anything I loved remained behind. No one, not even Elizabeth can alleviate this depression, I was encompassed by a cloud which no beneficial influence could penetrate’

  • The creature knows that he is universally hated and feared and even Frankenstein, his creator, wishes for his death. Yet he didn’t ask for his life in the first place
  • An association has been established between love and pain, Frankenstein now fears to lose those he loves. Love is not good or redeeming, it has become a weakness and threat
  • Note the heavy use of pathetic fallacy
  • The reader is made sympathetic to the creature. He is that way because of his circumstances and because of his creator. ‘Misery made me a fiend.’ If his own creator cannot accept him then who will? Although in a very different way from them, like Justine and William, he is a victim.

Chapters 11-16:

  • ‘The light became more and more oppressive’ – The creature thrives in the dark
  • There is an emphasis on the moon, like a different take on the stories of werewolves.
  • It’s worth noting that the creature is an incredibly fast learner.
  • ‘Pandemonium appeared to..’ – reference to hell and the supernatural.
  • The creature reminds us of a child in the way that he hates the taste of wine, it humanises him and makes it easier for the reader to empathise with him.
  • Reinforcing the themes of injustice and oppression, the creature is driven out of a town and into a little dirt hovel.

‘Happy to have found a shelter’remains somewhat complacent.

  • ‘I remembered too well my treatment the night before, to trust myself in his power.’
  • Watching the cottage, the monster sees beauty, hears music, and witnesses kindness, but it’s all cut off from him.
  • ‘POVERTY, and they suffered that EVIL in a very distressing degree’

    -The monster seems selfless, describing their situation as ‘poverty’ although he is the one who is literally in a hole in the dirt. He is the opposite of Frankenstein.

  • Watching the cottage dwellers talking, the creature labels it a ‘godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it.‘ – Similar to the Prometheus aspect in Frankenstein, the creature cannot even talk like a human being (arguably socially above him) without suffering the consequences. (INJUSTICE)
  • ‘I looked upon them as superior beings, who would be the arbiters of my future’
  • ‘I thought him as beautiful as the stranger.’ Unlike Victor, the creature judges based on someone’s inside rather than their outside.
  • As he learns of human history, he finds himself in wonder and disgusted. Shelley making a social commentary, these few chapters are a view on humanity from the outside.
  • AS YET, I looked upon crime as a distant evil.’ – foreboding.
  • ‘Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition’
  • Reading the notes Frankenstein made during the creature’s creation..

‘I am solitary and abhorred’

  • ‘I remembered Adam’s supplication to his creator but where was mine?’
  • The creature refers to the inhabitants of the cottage as his ‘protectors’ when the reality is he’s helping and partially protecting them.’
  • The rejection he suffers at the hands of the dwellers becomes the last straw leading to:

‘I, like the archfiend, bore a hell within me.’ – Again compares himself to Satan

  • The creature becomes the monster as he burns down the cottage:

‘Enveloped by the flames which clung to it and licked it with their forked and destroying tongues’ – You could argue that the cottage represents the childlike spirit and innocence of the creature getting corrupted and tainted by the supernatural (‘forked tongue,’ ‘serpent’)

  • ‘I too can create desolation,’ the creature has learned his violent tendencies from mankind itself


  • Like Safie who arrives at the cottage, the creature is being taught French by the cottage dwellers.
  • ‘No Eve soothed my sorrows,’ and jealousy of Safie’s relationship only made the torment harder to bare.
  • The sight of yet another child that rejected him;

    ‘Stirred the fiend within me’ – another supernatural/Satan reference

  • The creature goes on to demand a female from Frankenstein, like an otherworldly Adam.
  • Note the creature’s humility in comparison to Victor’s vanity.
  • The creature displays simple desires to be loved and accepted, things Victor turns away from FOR MORE;

    ‘Godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it.’

  • The creature reflects on how man is so;

    ‘Virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base’ – At this stage the creature is an emblem of innocence, before it’s corruption by society

  • He slowly becomes conscious of his own loneliness – and his innocence gradually erodes as he learns from man the importance of being accepted.
  • The monster’s language turns incredibly dark, violent and visual as he slowly becomes corrupt.
  • The violence of the monster’s rage is paralleled by the elements, yet another case of pathetic fallacy.

Chapters 17- 22:

  • When the monster has finished relaying his tale Frankenstein downright refuses to create a mate for the monster
  • The monster speaks of how he could never have a relationship with man:

‘The human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union.’

  • ‘If any being felt emotions of benevolence towards me… for that one creatures sake I would make peace with the whole kind’ – There is an emphasis on just how bad the monster’s circumstances are. The reader is practically asked if he’s really being unreasonable.
  • As soon as Frankenstein begins to see the monster’s reason he uses appearance as a reason to force himself away from such reason:

‘but when I looked upon him… my heart sickened and my feelings were altered to those of horror and hatred.’ – Victor’s real flaw is how shallow he is

  • Frankenstein eventually agrees to create a female for the monster, that is if he would agree to quit the world forever
  • As the thought of the work is to daunting for Victor he spends his time sitting between an increasing joy and the deepest of depression
  • The unfulfilled promise holds Frankenstein in a mental state that leaves him unable to experience any joy in life. Upon being asked if he would like to marry Elizabeth right away he says:

‘The idea was that of horror and dismay’ – Claustrophobic in his misery

  • Frankenstein is being mentally tortured;

‘My eyes were fixed and unobserving’

  • There is a distinct contrast between Frankenstein and Clerval during their journey to England. Clerval’s enthusiasm for all that he sees juxtaposes Victor’s constant gloom and despair.
  • As Frankenstein reads Clerval’s poetry his words seem to apply to the innocence of the creature as well as Henry:

‘Where does he now exist? Is this gentle and lovely being lost forever?’

  • ‘Busy uninteresting joyous faces’

‘Company was irksome to me’ – further evidence of Victor’s mind stuck in the melancholy (Gothic motif)

  • His claustrophobia of misery becomes symbolised by iron chains in his mind:

    ‘For an instant I dared to shake off my chains … but the iron had eaten into my flesh’ – signifying the extent of his suffering.

  • Findsacquaintancesthat almost manage to ‘cheat me into happiness’
  • ‘I was guiltless’ – One of the most deranged statements by Frankenstein
  • Speaking of the Orkneys in which he plans to finish his work Frankenstein calls them;

‘hardly more than a rock, whose sides were continually beaten upon by the waves. The soil was barren, scarcely affording pasture for a few miserable cows.’ – This is a reflection of Victor’s mental state, he is undergoing a barrage of torment and is only just getting by.

  • Despite his agreement with the monster, he fears what may become the intentions of his new project, what if she rejects the monster?
  • When the monster comes into view Frankenstein makes his decision and tears up all of his work causing the monster to howl in rage and disappear into the night.
  • ‘I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you.’ – foreboding sense that the one person who brings Victor peace may be taken away.
  • This sense of fear and foreboding is heightened soon after.

‘I shall be with you on your wedding night.’

  • ‘You are my creator but I am your master; obey!’
  • Frankenstein clears out the remains of his work and goes out to sea to bury it but ends up drifting to Ireland. Where he washes up on shore he is instantly taken as a suspect of a recent murder which he soon discovers was the murder of Clerval.


  • The importance of the nature vs. nurture debate in Frankenstein. It is presented by and reflected in the character of the creature. He begins life as an innocent curious childlike being, but his circumstances twist and corrupt him.
  • There are constant references to the vast sky and the raw power of the elements, Frankenstein is dwarfed by these- his actions have put him in competition with ‘the heavens’
  • There is a constant sense of impending doom as Frankenstein prepares to venture to England.

Chapters 23-24:

  • I had unchained an enemy whose joy it was to shed their blood and revel in their groans.’ – finally taking some blame.
  • Victor is aware that marrying Elizabeth will lure the monster to him and bring about a quickened death for himself, saving his loved ones.
  • He soon finds that he made a huge mistake in doing so;

‘I hastened that of a far dearer victim’

  • As the wedding takes place Frankenstein experiences;

‘the last moments of my life during which I enjoyed the feeling of happiness’

  • The monster murders Elizabeth when he’s out of the room, Frankenstein sees the monster, shoots at him and misses. From that moment on he decides he cannot rest until the monster is dead.
  • However, the destruction does not end there. Victor’s father has ‘sunk under the tidings that I bore’ and dies shortly afterwards.
  • Frankenstein is possessed ‘by a maddening rage when I thought of him, and desired and ardently prayed that I might have him within my grasp to wreak a great and signal revenge on his cursed head.’ – It is clear that there is a presence of passion and obsession back in Victor’s soul
  • Frankenstein almost becomes the monster in the sense that;

revenge kept me alive; I dared not die and leave my adversary in being’

  • The pursuit has led to Walton’s vessel.
  • Walton hears a noise in Victor’s room after his death and finds the monster standing over his body, showing regret for his actions.


  • Continuing sense of doom, even Elizabeth has a ‘presentiment of evil’ the night before the wedding
  • Note the change in weather after the wedding
  • Extremely visual and disturbing description of Elizabeth’s body, creating fear.
  • Frankenstein has now become the victim of the monster, this is shown as the monster torments him:

‘My reign is not over yet’

  • The harsh landscape in which the story’s conclusion takes place.
  • Walton calls Frankenstein ‘noble and godlike in ruin,’ this may be an attempt to balance out the negative view we may have made in our minds of Frankenstein throughout the novel
  • In his final reflection Frankenstein claims that his duty to his fellow man was far more important, ‘because they included a greater proportion of happiness or misery’, this shows that he may still believe his creation is incapable of emotions
  • There is an important parallel between Frankenstein and Walton, Walton is also drawing others into danger because of his own obsession
  • It’s worth looking at the irony of how Victor has words with the sailors about not going through with a mutiny because of their master’s obsession, when it was the fact that he refused to stop that made him suffer so.

The Narrative structure:

This has been compared to a Russian, because it is fundamentally a story being told inside a story being told inside a story.

The Setting:

There are many different settings such as:

  • The wastes of the Arctic
  • Switzerland
  • London
  • The Orkneys

The audience would have been mostly unfamiliar with these locations giving Shelley free reign to write them how she wished. This gave her the opportunity to use the elements to make them particularly frightening. Also unfamiliarity can be quite frightening to many because it’s hard to navigate through the unknown.

The Supernatural:

The central premise of the plot of Frankenstein is bringing the dead back to life. This would have been particularly terrifying to Shelley’s 19th Century audience, especially with the large presence of Christianity still among the public. The 19th Century was a time of progress in science and knowledge although the majority of the public still held on to traditional beliefs. Using a combination of the myth of Prometheus and the concept of Galvanisation Shelley was able to create an overwhelming presence of the supernatural.

The Characters:

Victor Frankenstein:

On many occasions Frankenstein heavily conforms to Gothic protagonist conventions:

  • He is talented in science and blindly passionate about it
  • We can assume that he is attractive as he gets the girl of his dreams with ease and tends to solely judge most based on their appearance
  • Victor also happens to be incredibly egocentric and solitary, he will only tend to focus on his own pain
  • He cannot escape his past events

As a modern reader it is sometimes incredibly hard to see him as the victim as this is something that he had brought upon himself, but 19th Century audiences tended to enjoy the extreme emotional levels which would have probably heightened their sense of entertainment.

Elizabeth and Justine:

Both of these characters of victims of the monster (and Frankenstein), each so incredibly caring and compassionate, yet they were the ones to die. They are not necessarily stereotypical damsels in distress but they most certainly hold Gothic characteristics.

However, a key difference between them is how Justine accepts and faces her death bravely and somehow still tries to comfort those around her. Elizabeth never get such a chance. On the other hand she is a woman who speaks her mind, she confronts Victor offering to relieve him from any obligation of marrying her because she believes it’s causing him distress. This just reflects how selfless each of these women are.

They are each idealised images of women; beautiful, sensitive and working only for the good of others.

The Monster:

He did not ask to be created and yet he suffers hatred constantly, there is absolutely no possible escape from his isolation. Yet you may argue how could we possibly feel sympathy for something that’s artificial, that’s made of a collection of dead body parts and goes against all laws of creation.

After his ‘birth’ he is innocent and child-like in nature. All he wishes for are friends, from what we gather he only becomes evil due to the way he is treated by others. Mankind attacks him, if he is not man then why should he not fight back?

You may say that he is a ‘noble savage’. He has been corrupted by the influence of society.

English literature

LIT1: Frankenstein

Gothic Literature

‘The desire to be terrified is as much a part of the human nature as the need to laugh’

The Gothic Mind (1978)

Brendan Hennessey

Schools of Gothic Literature:

  • There is the School of TERROR, typified by Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. The terror in this school of Gothicism is mostly internal. It is psychological.
  • Then there is the ‘German school of HORROR.‘ Where agents of horror are external, they are physical. This could include gore, violence and grotesque creatures or villains.

Both schools feature the horror of the mind including but not limited to : Nightmares, sexuality, and madness. Both schools also tend to feature the theme of social injustice and an abundance ofpoverty.


The first known Gothic novel was Horace Walpole’sThe Castle of Otranto. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein being an early Gothic novel is in fact seen as the first piece of science fiction.

Passion for the Gothic genre declined in the 19th Century, but during its abundance there were many female Gothic writers. Given the oppression of women’s rights in the 18th and 19th centuries and their standing in the social hierarchy perhaps this was because the Gothic genre acted as a release. The genre was everything women could not be in society at the time, grotesque and sexual.

Gothic literary motifs are echoed in modern works such as William Faulkner’s and Truman Capote’s writing, themes such as the darkness of the human mind hidden underneath the exterior that is socially acceptable to society.

Gothic elements:


The primary function of the setting in Gothic literature is to reflect the feelings and emotions of a character and give the audience a sense of pathetic fallacy. Gothic fiction inspires fear and a tumult of other highly unpleasant feelings so it is only natural that the setting does the same. Therefore there is an emphasis on intimidating environments that will cause tension and unease. Places that the characters will normally want to escape, much like a psychological state they could be trying to be free of.

Outside locations will often be similar in how will use harsh weather conditions or dark personification of the environment that will cause a sense of foreboding. Otherwise the outdoors may be written in a sense that the characters will still feel trapped (the moors in Wuthering heights) The fact that they cannot even escape to the outdoors for comfort emphasises a sense of claustrophobia, there is no escape.

Such settings are are also normally engulfed in darkness which can be interpreted as a simple metaphor for how the characters are struggling to find any light. (e.g. In Macbeth the day after Duncan’s murder the world is plunged into darkness even though it is midday


Gothic fiction is scary. It aims to create tension and terror, specialising in high emotion, passion, desperation and the ‘melodramatic’. This can sometimes be caused through a CHASE. There is often an element of pursuit in Gothic fiction with Frankenstein being a prime example. This can quite easily cause a relentless sense of apprehension.

The Supernatural:

The macabre is often heavily features in Gothic fiction, increasing terror as well as being used as a plot device. The supernatural gives the opportunity for dramatic imagery.

Conventions of Gothic Characters:


  • Intelligent or gifted in some sense.
  • Strong and/or attractive
  • Passionate or driven
  • Egocentric and/or isolated
  • Cannot escape their past or their genetic history
  • Trapped in melancholyWomen:
  • Fragile victims (damsels in distress)
  • Predatory vixens who tend to be very sexual and are a threat to men and their purity.

Critic comments on women in Gothic fiction:

  • They illustrate the relationship between love and pain. (As a damsel is hurt or lost, one’s feelings on love respond in kind)
  • They are an author’s way of exploring tensions, conflicts and relationships between the genders.
  • They hold emotional views and thoughts that typical male characters would not display.
  • Women act as catalysts for the resolutions and conflicts in this fiction, their helplessness is bestowed upon the reader.

Feminist comments on women in Gothic fiction:

  • Tend to see damsels as symbols for the plight of women everywhere in a male dominated world.
  • Femme-fatales represent the few emancipated women who have found freedom to choose their own fate.

Marxist approach to Gothicism:

Marxists argue that our actions are determined by our social circumstances and our position in society’s hierarchy just as much as our innate characteristics. Many would argue that such a theme was clear in Gothic literature, it reflected the tensions between social groups, and this scared the public who soon began to realise that it was time to change society.

Think about…

  • The financial dependence of women on men, making women socially and economically helpless. Thereby making them vulnerable to the men they relied on.
  • Poverty and the contrasting effects it can have on an individual such as Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights or the De Lacey family in Frankenstein.
  • Inequality in society which causes unrest. A heavy theme in Gothic literature which reflects the historical context from the 19th Century.
  • Injustice of the class system that dictates how people live.

Psychological/Psychoanalytical approach to Gothicism:

Critics argue that the Gothic genre highlights the emergence of female sexuality often in the context of women in Gothic fiction having complex relationships with both their parents and the villain, who are both attempting to dominate them.

Although Norton agues that we should not get carried away with such connections between fiction and reality. After all Gothic fiction is exactly that; fiction.

‘Sometimes the Gothic is seen as a kind of cover for subversive or illicit sexuality. An interest in ‘unspeakable and ‘unnatural’ desires is often seen in Gothic fiction, which some would ague is a representation of the author’s own inclinations.

‘Undoubtably there are sexally subversive themes in much Gothic literature, but we must guard against identifying the entire genre with these themes.