Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s best known plays. It’s often studied at high school as it’s short, entertaining and thematically rich. For actors it is also an absolute gift. The eponymous Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, full of ambition and inner turmoil. And let’s not forget Lady Macbeth, who is one of Shakespeare’s best female characters. It also offers countless great monologues and scenes to explore. There is so much to love about this play and I hope this page will be helpful in furthering your understanding.
The triumphant Macbeth and fellow-general Banquo are returning from battle against the Norwegian rebellion. On their return to Scotland three witches appear before them and predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and eventually the King of Scotland. Banquo, eager to know his own fate, is told that he will be a father to Kings. Before they have a chance to take in this strange encounter, Ross arrives with news. King Duncan, elated by the two general’s victory, wishes to make Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Duncan announces that he will celebrate with Macbeth that evening. With one prophesy already fulfilled: Macbeth’s ambition is lit.
Macbeth writes to his wife informing her of the witches’ prediction. Lady Macbeth begins plotting the murder of King Duncan. As the evening’s celebrations commence, Macbeth, seeing how generous Duncan has been, decides he cannot go through the murder. However, Lady Macbeth vehemently convinces him to pursue his original ambition. Macbeth, one over by his wife, then kills King Duncan: setting up the servants to look as if they were the murderers. Macduff, the Thane of Fife, arrives and finds the King dead. The King’s two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, aware of the danger flee to England and Ireland respectively. Macbeth fulfils the witches final prediction and is crowned King of Scotland.
Now King, Macbeth grows increasing aware of the witches’ prediction that Banquo’s children and will be Kings. He decides to have Banquo and his son assassinated. Banquo is killed; however, his son Fleance manages to escape. At dinner Macbeth sees the ghost of his friend Banquo. Disturbed and unsure of what action to take, he goes to the witches to seek guidance. They tell him ‘no man born of woman’ will ever kill him and that he won’t be dethroned until ‘Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane’. Macbeth’s mind is somewhat subdued.
Macduff flees to England in defiance of Macbeth’s rule. Macduff’s entire family is then executed for this betrayal. Macduff meets with Malcolm, the rightful heir, and with England’s support they head for Scotland to take back crown. Lady Macbeth has by this time tipped into insanity: cursed by the murder.
The approaching army camouflages themselves with tree branches as they attack—fulfilling the witch’s prophecy—appearing as if Birnam Wood itself were approaching. Macbeth is informed his wife has died. With his world falling apart he ardently fights on: fearing no man born of woman. He fights with Macduff, whom we discover is a caesarean child, and is killed. Malcolm is rightfully made King.
Macbeth Characters List
Macbeth: General in the Scottish army of King Duncan
Lady Macbeth: Macbeth’s wife
Duncan: King of Scotland
Malcolm: Eldest son of Duncan’s
Donalbain: Youngest son of Duncan’s
Banquo: Macbeth’s friend and a fellow-general.
Fleance: Banquo’s son
Macduff: Thane of Fife
Lady Macduff: Macduff’s wife
Seyton: Macbeth’s servant
Porter: gatekeeper at Macbeth’s home
Angus, Caithness, Ross, Lennox, Menteith: Scottish Thanes/Nobles
Siward: General of the English Army
Young Siward: Siward’s son
Hecate: Queen of Witches
Doctor: Lady M’s doctor
Gentlewoman: Lady M’s caretaker