Macbeth by William Shakespeare – Summary and Analysis

In Short

  • Macbeth” is a widely celebrated tragic play written by William Shakespeare.
  • While returning from a war victory, Macbeth, a Scottish Army general is met by three witches. They predict Macbeth to be the Thane of Cawdor and “King hereafter”. They also foretell that the successors of Banquo (another general) would be kings.
  • Excited by the witches’ prophecies and encouraged by his wife, Macbeth kills Duncan (the King) to become the King himself.
  • Now to hide his guilt and to protect his Kingship, Macbeth goes on to kill the King’s guards, Banquo and even Macduff’s (a nobleman) family members in a series of events.
  • But finally, Macbeth is defeated by the English Army supporting Malcolm (Duncan’s elder son) and Macduff kills Macbeth in that war to take revenge. Malcolm becomes the new king.

Macbeth – Plot Summary

Act I

The play opens in a foul atmosphere upon a desolate place where three witches plan to meet two Scottish Army generals, Macbeth and Banquo who are returning from a battle field after winning a war.

Duncan, the Scottish King, hears the news of his two generals’ heroics. On learning that the “Thane of Cawdor” has betrayed Scotland and fought in favour of the Norwegian army, Duncan orders to kill him. He honours Macbeth with the title the “Thane of Cawdor” for his bravery.

Meanwhile, the three witches greet Macbeth as the “Thane of Glamis” (his present title), “Thane of Cawdor” and “King hereafter”. The news of his new title is still unknown to Macbeth though. The witches also tell Banquo that he will never be the king but his heirs will be kings. Then the witches disappear.

Ross and Angus (two Scottish noblemen) meet Macbeth and Banquo on the way to thank them and inform them the King’s decision to honour Macbeth with the title of “Thane of Cawdor”. Macbeth becomes excited on finding the prophecy of the witches coming true so soon. So, he now wishes kingship. But he is uncertain because the King is still alive.

When Macbeth and Banquo arrive at the royal palace, Duncan declares that he will spend the night at Macbeth’s castle at Inverness and dine with him. Macbeth informs all these incidents to his wife, Lady Macbeth, by a letter in advance. Lady Macbeth also wishes the kingship for her husband. So, she advises Macbeth to murder Duncan on that very night. They plan to make the two guards of the King drunk so that they can be accused of the murder.

Act II

In his nervousness, Macbeth gets a hallucination of a bloody dagger and hesitates to kill Duncan, but Lady Macbeth encourages him to proceed with the murder. While Duncan is asleep, Macbeth kills him with a dagger and returns to his wife to give her the news. He is now overwhelmed with a sense of guilt and nervousness. Lady Macbeth rebukes him for this and she herself goes to the crime scene to put the dagger back there.

The next morning, when Macduff and Lenox (two noblemen or lords) come, Macbeth has a conversation with Lenox while Macduff goes to awaken the King, and the murder is discovered. Macbeth kills the King’s guards out of anger and protects himself from suspicion.

Malcom and Donalbain (Duncan’s two sons) escape to England and Ireland out of fear that they may get killed too. Meanwhile, everyone believes that the two guards killed the King on orders of Malcolm and Donalbain who have now run away. Macbeth now becomes the King of Scotland as a kinsman of the dead king.


Macbeth arranges a banquet party at the royal palace at Forres. He invites Banquo to this royal party as he was growing suspicious of his movements. As Banquo leaves for a ride in the middle, Macbeth sends murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance on their way. Banquo is murdered but Fleance escapes from there.

During the party, a murderer brings Macbeth the news of Banquo’s death and Fleance’s escape. Macbeth becomes worried. He thinks that his kingship remains uncertain as Banquo’s successor is still alive.

As Macbeth returns to the feast, he sees Banquo’s ghost sitting on his seat. The ghost is visible only to Macbeth, so he gets terrified and behaves unnaturally. Lady Macbeth tries to pacify him and dismisses the guests quickly to handle the situation. Macbeth now grows suspicious of Macduff as he remained absent from the party.

Act IV

As Macbeth grows anxious, he goes to meet the witches again to know his future. They produce three apparitions (ghosts) who can answer his queries. The first apparition, an armed head, instructs Macbeth to be careful of Macduff. Secondly, a bloody child, tells him that only a man who is not born of woman can be able to harm Macbeth. The third apparition, a crowned child holding a tree, tells Macbeth that he will be safe until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill.

Macbeth feels secure because he knows that there is no man who is not born in a woman’s womb and the wood can not move. When Macbeth wants to know of Banquo’s descendants becoming Kings, the witches present a procession of eight kings. In appearance, all those kings are similar to Banquo. Then Macbeth realizes that Banquo’s successors will be harmful for him.

Lenox (a Scottish noble) informs Macbeth that Macduff has gone to England to get the English King’s support for Malcolm against Macbeth. Macbeth orders to capture Macduff’s castle and to kill Lady Macduff and her children. Lady Macduff and her children are killed cruelly.

In England, Macduff is informed that his family members are killed. He is overwhelmed with grief and oaths that he must take revenge. There he joins Prince Malcom’s army and prepares for an attack on Macbeth.

Act V

Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth mourns their crime and unconsciously confesses the crimes committed by them. She is seen walking in her sleep. She behaves madly and washes imaginary blood from her hands. Her doctor fails to give a remedy.

The Scottish nobles who are horrified by Macbeth’s cruel and murderous behavior plan to support the attack of the English army.

The English army encamps in the Birnam wood. The soldiers are instructed to cut the branches of the trees of the Birnam wood and to carry them towards the Dunsinane castle. Macbeth is informed that Lady Macbeth kills herself because of her pessimistic despair.

Macbeth finally feels afraid because he learns that the English army is coming to capture Dunsinane castle with the branches of the trees of the Birnam wood. Macbeth thinks that half of the witches’ prophecy is going to fulfill.

The English army captures Dunsinane castle and overwhelms Macbeth’s army. Besides that, Macduff announces that he is not “born” but “from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d”. Macbeth realizes that he has been deceived. But he still decides to fight. Finally, Macduff kills Macbeth and beheads him.

Prince Malcom becomes the king of Scotland and he announces his generous thoughts for the welfare of his country. He also invites all to see him crowned at Scone.

Macbeth – Into Details


Though precise dates cannot be ascertained, Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” is thought to be written sometime in 1606 -1607 and to be first staged in 1606. However, analyzing available evidences, Shakespearean scholars have agreed that it was composed sometime between 1603 and 1610.

The play was first published in 1623 in the “First Folio” (originally known as “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies”).


Shakespeare largely borrowed the story for Macbeth from “Holinshed’s Chronicles”. For supernatural aspects he is believed to have consulted texts like King James I’s “Daemonologie” (1597) and Reginald Scot’s “Discoverie of Witchcrafts” (1548). Moreover, for chronological facts he may have consulted George Buchanan’s “History of Scotland”, Andro’s “Original Chronicle” and William Stewart’s “Book of the Chronicles of Scotland”.

Macbeth – Characters

Duncan – king of Scotland
Malcolm – Duncan’s elder son
Donalbain – Duncan’s younger son
Macbeth – King Duncan’s army general; originally Thane of Glamis, then Thane of Cawdor, and later king of Scotland
Lady Macbeth – Macbeth’s wife, and later queen of Scotland
Banquo – Macbeth’s friend and another general in Duncan’s army
Fleance – Banquo’s son
Macduff – A Scottish nobleman, Thane of Fife
Lady Macduff – Macduff’s wife
Macduff’s son
Ross, Lennox, Angus, Menteith, Caithness – Scottish Thanes
Siward – English Army general
Young Siward – Siward’s son
Seyton – Macbeth’s armourer
Captain – in the Scottish army
Murderers – employed by Macbeth
Porter – gatekeeper at Macbeth’s castle
A Scottish Doctor – attending on Lady Macbeth
An English Doctor – at the English court
Gentlewoman – attending on Lady Macbeth
Three Witches
Hecate – queen of the witches
First Apparition – armed head
Second Apparition – bloody child
Third Apparition – crowned child
Lords, Attendants, Messengers, Servants, Soldiers,

Macbeth – A Brief Commentary

Macbeth” (Full title: “The Tragedie of Macbeth”) is a tragedy of Shakespeare in five acts. The play develops the character of Macbeth as a tragic hero. Through Macbeth Shakespeare depicts how high ambition can bring about the downfall of a hero from grace. The main theme can be identified here as ambition versus conscience. Moreover, various other emotional aspects like fear, greed, suspicion etc. worked together to transform Macbeth from an esteemed hero to a cold-blooded murderer.

Another theme in the play “Macbeth” is appearance versus reality. We see Macbeth and his wife behaving so hospitably when King Duncan visited their castle. None could guess the heinous crime they were going to commit that night. Even after that, Macbeth went on with a number of murders to make himself look clean and out of any suspicion.

Moreover, the three apparitions’ prophecies were sheer deception to Macbeth when they told him that no man “born of woman” can harm him and he would remain undefeated until the Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth misjudged the forecasts which he came to realise later.

The foul and horrific atmosphere created from the very beginning of the play set the right tone for the gruesome actions. The use of supernatural elements like witches and ghosts make the play more intriguing and adds to its dramatic effects.

And finally, the play presents a moral tone where we see the eternal struggle between the evil and the good. While the witches, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth represent the evil, most other characters are good. The author shows the ultimate defeat of evil when finally Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are destroyed.

Written by , Last updated on February 24, 2023