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
Here is our list of favourite Macbeth monologues. These are ideal for auditions or for practising your Shakespeare chops. For more on understanding Shakespeare.
Captain (Act 1 Scene 2)
Here the character, sometimes listed as “Sergeant” is relaying the state of the war between the Scottish army and the allied forces of Ireland and Norway. He is talking to King Duncan.
Captain: Doubtful it stood;
As two spent swimmers, that do cling together
And choke their art. The merciless Macdonwald
(Worthy to be a rebel, for to that
The multiplying villainies of nature
Do swarm upon him) from the western isles
Of Kernes and Gallowglasses is supplied;
And Fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling,
Show’d like a rebel’s whore: but all’s too weak;
For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandish’d steel,
Which smok’d with bloody execution,
Like Valour’s minion, carv’d out his passage,
Till he fac’d the slave;
Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam’d him from the nave to th’chops ,
And fix’d his head upon our battlements.
Lady Macbeth Act 1 Scene 5
Lady Macbeth: The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry ‘Hold, hold!’
For more on Lady Macbeth Act 1 Scene 5
Macbeth (Act 1 Scene 7)
Macbeth: If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all – here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips. He’s here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongu’d, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s Cherubins, hors’d
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on the other.
For more on Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7
Lady Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7
This is Lady Macbeth’s rebuttal to Macbeth, who is being overwhelmed by fears. Lady Macbeth is encouraging her husband to step up and be brave, and not go back on his word. This monologue is cut together from two sections, but works well as a full monologue.
Lady Macbeth: Was the hope drunk,
Wherein you dress’d yourself? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour,
As thou art in desire? Would’st thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’
Like the poor cat i’th’adage ?
What beast was’t then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time, nor place,
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this.
Macbeth (Act 2 Scene 1)
Macbeth: Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest.
I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before.
There’s no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,
Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost.
Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
[a bell rings] I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.
For more on Macbeth (Act 2 Scene 1)
Macbeth (Act 3 Scene 1)
Macbeth: To be thus is nothing;
But to be safely thus.–Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be fear’d: ’tis much he dares;
And, to that dauntless temper of his mind,
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour
To act in safety. There is none but he
Whose being I do fear: and, under him,
My Genius is rebuked; as, it is said,
Mark Antony’s was by Caesar. He chid the sisters
When first they put the name of king upon me,
And bade them speak to him: then prophet-like
They hail’d him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench’d with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If ‘t be so,
For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind;
For them the gracious Duncan have I murder’d;
Put rancours in the vessel of my peace
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!
Rather than so, come fate into the list.
And champion me to the utterance!
For more on Macbeth Act 3 Scene 1
Macbeth (Act 5 Scene 5)
Macbeth: She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
For more on Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5
If none of these monologues excites you, check out our full list of Shakespeare monologues.