Macbeth Summary and Analysis: William Shakespeare

Read below our complete notes on “Macbeth”, a famous play by William Shakespeare. Our notes cover Macbeth summary, themes, characters, and analysis.

Macbeth Introduction:

Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare in either 1605 or 1606. Its full name is “The Tragedy of Macbeth”. It was first performed in around 1606.

The drama revolves around a Villain named Macbeth who is ambitious and brave but because of his thirst for power, he begins to do evil.  He receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become the king of Scotland. To make this prophecy true, he kills the king of Scotland and many other people who become a threat to his throne.  At the end he faces a downfall.

The play has many elements i.e. temptation, conspiracy, madness, pathos and destruction.

Macbeth Summary:

This play portrays a tragic downfall of a brave warrior, Macbeth. After defeating the forces of Norway and Ireland, he receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that he will become the king of Scotland. The other part of the prophecy is that the children of Banquo, another Scottish general, will become the future kings. Macbeth is already made the Thane of Cowder. He is happy and ambitious after receiving the prophecy.

Afterwards, King Duncan declares that he will spend a night at Macbeth’s castle as a celebration of their victory. Macbeth informs Lady Macbeth about the King’s arrival and prophecies of witches. Lady Macbeth appears to be very evil. She makes the plan to kill the king and convinces Macbeth to act accordingly by challenging his manhood.

Lady Macbeth plans to get the chamberlains drunk to show them as culprits after murder. When everyone sleeps, they start acting upon their plan and Macbeth stabs Duncan with a knife and kills him. After that, Lady Macbeth stains the clothes and faces of chamberlains sitting outside the king’s chamber and puts the knives near them to show that they are the culprits.

The next morning, Macduff comes to Macbeth’s castle to receive the king but finds him dead. Subsequently, Macbeth kills the chamberlains to show anger towards king’s death and to show that he is innocent. Banquo discusses the certain issue with Macbeth and departs.

Later, Macbeth proclaims himself the king in front of everyone. He fears his friend Banquo because of the second part of the prophecy, so he arranges two murders to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. Murderers kill Banquo but his son manages to escape outside the castle in the dark woods.

Although, he successfully executes his plans but he starts behaving abnormally during dinner. He starts witnessing Banquo’s ghost and Lady Macbeth gives excuses for his unusual behavior.

Afterwards, Macbeth again meets the witches and receives three prophecies; Beware of Macduff, none of woman born shall harm him and that he is safe until Burnam’s wood moves to Dunsinane hills. Macduff goes to England to meet Malcolm and plan revenge against Macbeth. They decide to take help from King Edward of England and plan to attack Scotland with 10,000 soldiers. Meanwhile, Ross comes and tells Macduff that his family has been killed by Macbeth.

Moreover, Lady Macbeth starts behaving abnormally because of the guilt of her crimes.  Death of Macduff’s family increases her madness and she becomes ill. English army attacks and reaches towards Burnam’s wood and they plan that each soldier will carry a bush in front of him. It seems like the forest is moving towards Dunsinane and the Prophecy of witches becomes true.

Lady Macbeth dies and the war begins. Macbeth fights keeping in mind that no-one can kill him as everyone is born out of mother. He kills Seward’s son and disappears. Macduff finds him, tells him that he was born by cesarean-section and beheads him.

Afterwards, he declares Malcolm the king of Scotland and everyone curses Macbeth and Lady Macbeth for their cruelty.

Macbeth Themes:

Kingship vs. Tyranny:

In the play Duncan is always referred to as a “king” while Macbeth becomes known as “tyrant” when he comes to the throne. This is because of the qualities present in a good king and a tyrant.

Macbeth starts doing evil for the thirst of power and throne which shows his violent temperament and disloyalty towards the country.  He kills the king and other people who are a threat to his kingship.

On the other hand, Duncan is kind-hearted and loyal towards his country. At the end, Macbeth faces downfall because of his cruel and immoral nature.

Relationship between Cruelty and Masculinity:

This theme shows that violence is not just a male’s attribute, females can also show violence. It is explored by the character of Lady Macbeth and the three witches in this play.

As we can clearly see, how Lady Macbeth shows aggression, cruelty and violence. She plans to kill the king and forces Macbeth to follow her evil plan and to kill every person who she sees as a threat.

On the other hand, we can see three witches who seem cruel and evil from their conversations throughout the play.

Fate vs. Freewill:

Another major theme of this play is fate vs. freewill. The character of Macbeth and three witches represent this theme.

Although, Macbeth is told by the witches about his future that he will become the king but he is not told how to take the position of king. Prophecy of witches is fate but how to make it reality depends upon Macbeth’s freewill. Instead of waiting for the right time, he chooses a wrong path that leads him towards downfall.

Reason vs. Passion:

This theme is represented by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Throughout the play we can see the difference between their persuasive strategies.

Macbeth is very logical and clear-sighted. He knows that he is doing evil and the consequences of it. He feels guilty for breaking King Duncan’s trust but he is persuaded by his wife to do evil.

On the other hand, Lady Macbeth passionately examines the pros and cones of her plan of killing the king. She is an emotional and evil person who uses emotional arguments to convince her husband to do the crime.

Macbeth Characters:

Macbeth:

Macbeth is the villain of the play. His initial impression is of a brave and courageous warrior who has won the battle through his bravery and dedication. However, when he meets the three witches, his lack of strength of character and overly ambitious nature is revealed. Shakespeare tries to convey the effects of ambitious nature and self-doubt in a person with weak character.

When Macbeth receives the prophecy from witches he becomes happy but later he is persuaded by his wife’s emotional argument to kill the king. He is a rational person who knows the consequences of doing evil but he is also occupied by evil forces.

Moreover, he also starts behaving abnormally because of the guilt of the sins committed by him but again the thirst for power makes him strong and he begins to act according to his evil plans.

In the end of the play, Macduff beheads him and he faces a downfall.

Lady Macbeth:

Lady Macbeth is one of the Shakespeare’s most evil female characters. She is Macbeth’s wife and a deeply ambitious and cruel woman who lusts for power and position. Her first appearance in the play is when she is plotting Duncan’s murder. She is a cruel and ruthless woman who convinces her husband to commit a sin by challenging his manhood.

She represents the relationship between femininity and violence in the play. Macbeth says that Lady Macbeth is a masculine soul residing in a female body which shows that females can also be cruel and ruthless.

Moreover, she remains firm to her decision of murdering the king and persuades Macbeth but later on the guilt of sins makes her mad. She tries to wash away the invisible blood stains from her hands. Her strength becomes her weakness and she commits suicide by the close of the play.

The Three Witches:

The three witches are referred to as “weird sisters” in the play. They are the ones who give prophecy about Macbeth’s future and play upon him like puppeteers.

Macbeth believes in their prophecies which lead him towards darkness and downfall.  However, their true identity is unclear. Although, they are servants of Hecate but the play does not tell us whether they are independent agents playing with human lives or the agents of fate.

Furthermore, some of their prophecies seem fulfilling and some are acted upon by Macbeth.

Banquo:

Banquo is another Scottish General and Macbeth’s friend. He is a brave, ambitious and virtuous person unlike Macbeth.  He also receives a prophecy from witches that his children will come to the throne in future.  This prophecy becomes a threat to Macbeth’s kingship and he orders to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. However, his son escapes but he is murdered.

Later, his ghost haunts Macbeth and he starts acting abnormally.

King Duncan:

He is the king of Scotland who is murdered by Macbeth for the lust of power and throne. He is a virtuous man and a good king who is faithful towards his country. His decision to pass the kingdom to his son, Malcolm, becomes the reason of his death.

Macduff:

Macduff is the thane of Scotland. He is loyal towards king and turns against Macbeth after discovering king’s death.  He flees to England to meet Malcolm where he comes to know about his family’s murder so he plans to take revenge from Macbeth. He also wants to unseat Macbeth from the throne.

Malcolm:

Malcolm is the son of Duncan.  He flees to England fearfully after his father’s death. He raises an army there to take back his throne from Macbeth. In the end of the play, Malcolm becomes the king with the support of Macduff and England army.

Donalbain:

He is Duncan’s son and Malcolm’s younger brother who flees to Ireland after his father’s death.

Fleance:

He is Banquo’s son who escapes the castle when murderers attempt to kill him. After that he does not appear in the play.

Hecate:

She is the goddess of three witches who guides them to plot mischief against Macbeth.  She is evil and weird.

Macbeth Analysis:

The play “Macbeth” portrays a tragic downfall of a brave warrior, Macbeth. At first he appears as a brave and courageous Army General who has won the battle through his bravery but later we come to know about his real self when he receives the prophecies from the three witches.  The prophecies are that Macbeth will become the king of Scotland soon and children of Banquo, another army general, will inherit the throne in future.

After these prophecies, Macbeth appears to be an evil, ruthless and overly ambitious person. He lacks the strength of character and starts doing evil to become the king. The thirst for power and position leads him towards a great downfall.

On the other hand, Lady Macbeth, a violent and ruthless woman, persuades him to murder the king because of the lust of throne and power. He is a masculine soul in a female body that is strong and overly ambitious about her plans. In the beginning she strongly acts upon her evil plans but later she cannot carry the burden of her sins that leads her towards madness. This shows that no matter how strongly one commits sins, at some point in life those sins overly burden him/her and haunt him/her.

Moreover, Banquo, who is faithful towards Duncan and does not plot evil to make the prophecy come true, is killed by Macbeth. But later on we discover that his ghost starts haunting Macbeth and he starts acting abnormally. It shows the contrast between personalities of the two, Macbeth and Banquo. Both are ambitious and brave but Macbeth is evil and Banquo is virtuous because he does not choose a wrong path to become more powerful.

Additionally, the king of Scotland named Duncan is also a virtuous and honored king who is killed by Macbeth because of his lust for throne. Duncan is referred to as ‘King’ throughout the play whereas Macbeth is referred to as a ‘Tyrant’ when he declares himself as a king. It shows the contrast between a good king and a tyrant. Macbeth murders every person who comes on his way of becoming the king. He is a wicked and immoral person who commits sins whereas Duncan is a moral person who rules the Scotland justly and peacefully.

The play also portrays the consequences and effects of thirst for power of a person who is morally weak and lacks the decisive power. Macbeth knows the consequences of his evil deeds but keeps on committing sins because he lacks the decisive power, he is constantly persuaded by his wife to murder those who are a threat to his kingship. It leads him to a tragic downfall.