Mainly set in Scotland in the 11th century, mostly in Macbeth's castle and the king's palace at Forres.


Also in military camps and open fields near the battleground, and at King Edward's palace in England. Table of Contents




Major Characters


Macbeth - the evil King of Scotland who stole the throne from

Duncan by murdering him and who sinks into a state of chaos

because of his greed and guilt; his evil acts lead to his ruin, and

rebel forces lead an attack against him, and Macduff, in a personal

battle, beheads him.


Lady Macbeth - the wife of Macbeth, who is even more driven by

greed and power than her husband and who is the manipulative

force behind the murder Duncan. Like her husband, fear and

remorse cause her ruin; she goes mad and kills herself.


Malcolm - King Duncan's oldest son, rightful heir to the throne of

Scotland, who flees to England after his father's murder and later

returns to lead a successful attack against Macbeth.


Banquo - a general in Duncan's army and a close friend of

Macbeth prior to Macbeth's seizing the throne. Macbeth begins to

fear the good Banquo and has him murdered.


Macduff - a general in Duncan's army who becomes suspicious of

Macbeth's part in the king's murder. Macduff flees to England to

encourage Malcolm to fight against Macbeth and seize his rightful

crown. When Macbeth murders Macduff's entire family, Macduff

swears personal revenge against the tyrant and succeeds in

beheading him during battle.


The Three Witches - the personification of evil who prophesy that

Macbeth will become the King of Scotland, planting the seed of

greed in his mind. They later predict his downfall.


Minor Characters


Donaldbain - Duncan's youngest son who flees to Ireland after his

father's murder and does not return.


Lennox - one of Duncan's nobles who accompanies Macbeth to

Duncan's chambers after his murder. Lennox is suspicious of

Macbeth and fearful for Scotland.


Ross - a Scottish noble and cousin to Macduff. He brings the good

news of Macbeth's military victory and the bad news about

Macduff's murdered family.


Siward - Earl of Northumberland and veteran military officer; he

becomes an ally of Malcolm and Macduff and leads the first attack

against Macbeth's forces.


Young Siward - the son of Siward who follows his father to fight

against Macbeth in Scotland; he is killed in battle.


Seton - the only remaining officer in Macbeth's army that remains

loyal to him.


Hecate - the queen of the witches.




The Protagonist, Macbeth


Macbeth is a classic tragic figure brought to ruin by his own greed,

guilt, and fear. Shakespeare intensifies Macbeth's tragic nature by

showing him to be a valiant hero in the beginning of the play. He is

a courageous warrior and one of King Duncan's best generals. In

the second scene of the play, Macbeth has just won his most

important battle and saved Scotland from the Norwegian King. To

honor his bravery, King Duncan gives Macbeth the title of Thane

of Cawdor. This is one of the first steps to Macbeth's undoing, for

he longs to be more than just a thane. His innate greed is first

inflamed by three wicked witches who prophesy to Macbeth that

he will become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland. When

the first prophecy comes to pass, Macbeth immediately begins to

long for greater power. He realizes that in order to seize the throne

from the king, he will have to murder him. Being a basically kind

man, he is horrified at his own thoughts and decides murder is

beyond his capability. He decides to let fate take its course, and if

he is meant to be king, it will happen. But the seed of greed has

been planted, and Macbeth is a rash man.


In the fifth scene of the play, another side of the early Macbeth is

developed. He is shown to be a loving husband who values his

wife and calls her " his dearest partner in greatness," sharing what

he is with her. They are obviously close, for he immediately writes

a letter to Lady Macbeth and tells her about the prophecies of the

three witches, for he wants to please her and give information

about "what greatness is promised thee." It is Lady Macbeth who

further inflames Macbeth's greed that was planted by the three evil

witches. As soon as she reads Macbeth's letter, she decides King

Duncan must be killed so her husband can become king and she

can become queen. There is no hesitation or indecision about her

lust for power. Her only fear is that Macbeth is "too full of the milk

of human kindness" to plan a murder. Therefore, she will take

matters into her own hands and manipulate her husband into

acquiescence. She tells Macbeth that immediate action should be

taken, for "the future is in the instant." She carefully lays the plans

for her husband to murder Duncan on the very same night, as the

king sleeps in their castle. Trusting the ability and judgment of his

wife, Macbeth consents with some reluctance.


Macbeth struggles with his agreement to murder Duncan, for

Macbeth sees the good in people, and Duncan is a worthy and

humble king; Duncan is also a kinsman and a guest in his castle.

Macbeth, who can be truthful with himself early in the play,

acknowledges that it is only "vaulting ambition" that makes him

consider the vile deed. As his wife suspected, he is really too kind

by nature to carry through with murderous plans. He tells Lady

Macbeth, "We will proceed no further in this business." She will

not listen to her husband, but strikes out at his strong sense of

vanity and pride in his manliness and calls him a fearful coward, in

sharp contrast to the brave warrior he believes himself to be. Then

a new trait of Macbeth, that haunts him through the rest of the

play, is depicted. He is truly a fearful man: not afraid of murdering

(he has murdered many on the battlefield), but afraid of being

caught. The manipulative Lady Macbeth, who is more self-

confident than her husband, believes they will not fail and

convinces Macbeth that the plan must be completed. Macbeth is

obviously not as strong-willed as his wife.


Before the murder ever takes place, Shakespeare further develops

the depth of Macbeth's fear, which is the man trait that leads to his

self-inflicted downfall. As the time of the execution draws near,

Macbeth's fears give way to imaginative hallucination. He believes

he sees a dagger hanging in front of his face; but when he reaches

for it, he cannot grab it, and it taunts him further by dripping blood.

It is the first of many incidents when Macbeth's fears fan the

flames of his imagination. It will happen again when he hears

voices calling to him to "Sleep no more" and when he sees

Banquo's ghost sitting in his chair at the royal banquet.


After the murder is committed, Macbeth's fear grows greatly and is

compounded by deep feelings of guilt. When Lady Macbeth tells

him to return the bloody daggers to the king's chambers, the

troubled Macbeth says, "I am afraid to think what I have done;

Look on it again, I dare not." The irony is that Macbeth's

conscience will make him look at the murder over and over again

with no escape. Macbeth senses the depth of guilt immediately.

When he looks at his bloody hands, he realizes that all of the water

in the ocean will not be able to cleanse the blood from them or

from his heart. His wife, who believes that "A little water clears us

of the deed," mocks his fear and tells him she would be ashamed to

have a heart as white as his. Lady Macbeth, who knows her

husband better than anyone else in the play does, realizes that her

husband, basically kind in heart, will struggle with his conscience

to the point of his undoing. She warns him not to be "lost so poorly

in your thoughts." Macbeth can only reply, "Twere best to not

know myself." His self-hatred has begun. Lady Macbeth also

reveals another of Macbeth's traits; he is often not good at

appearances or putting on a "false face." She warns him, as they

make their plans to murder Duncan, that he must "look like the

innocent flower," She also warns him to appear bright and jovial to

the guests at the royal banquet. She is fearful that his face cannot

lie. And her fears are well founded, for at the banquet, Macbeth's

true soul cries out and incriminates him clearly.


Ironically, Macbeth cannot enjoy wearing the crown that he has

stolen because of mounting fear of discovery, and he fears his

friend Banquo the most. Because Banquo is a good, honorable

person who has vowed to "fight treasonous malice" and because he

knows Macbeth so well, the king is certain that Banquo suspects

the truth about him and will seek to right the wrong. Macbeth is

also jealous of his friend because the witches have prophesied that

Banquo's heirs will become kings of Scotland. Macbeth, therefore,

feels he has no choice but to murder Banquo and his son Fleance in

order to protect himself and his stolen crown. He alone plans the

second murder without consulting or telling his wife, and he has no

indecision about this murder, as he did with the first. Macbeth only

knows he must act quickly in order to control his power, his future,

and his posterity. His has become a true tyrant!


By the time of the royal banquet scene, found at mid-point in the

play, Macbeth's fear and guilt have driven him to irrationality,

chaos, and loss of self-control. During the meal, he sees the ghost

of Banquo sitting in his chair and openly incriminates himself to

all his guests by denying his guilt and saying, "Thou canst say I did

it." His wife, who was always fearful about his being able to wear

the false face, calls the ghost a "painting of you fear" and accuses

her husband of being "quite unmanned in folly." This time the

attacks against his manhood do nothing to calm him down or

change his mind. Instead, he challenges the ghost to battle, as if he

were still a noble warrior. But there is none of the old Macbeth in

him. He is now so bathed in blood that he fears everyone around

him and places paid spies in the houses of all his nobles. True

paranoia has set in. He also transfers his old fear of Banquo to

Macduff and acknowledges he must spill more blood to wash away

his fright. In rashness and without thought of consequence, he has

the family of Macduff murdered in revenge for the husband's flight

fled to England and refusal to return at the king's summons. It is

also rashness that leads him again to the three witches in order

know his future, no matter what it holds.


Macbeth pathetically holds on to the false hope offered in the

witches' prophecies until the very end. Since these is nothing left

inside to encourage him, he seeks false encouragement and tries to

believe he will not be murdered by a man or vanquished by an

army. With false bravado, he dons his armor, prepared for battle

and certain that his castle will hold until victory is won. But the

armor does not seem to fit him correctly anymore; he appears to be

a dwarf in giant's clothing and only a "dark shadow" of the brave

general once honored by the king. He realizes that his chaotic

existence has brought about his undoing and that his life has no

meaning, "a tale told by an idiot, fully of sound and fury,

signifying nothing." Still attempting to appear manly, he goes out

to meet his end, brought on by the vengeful Macduff, who carries

the tyrant's head on a pole for all to see.


Macbeth was truly a tragic character. He had much to look forward

to as Thane of Cawdor, but he wanted more. His greed led him to

murder and theft, which causes guilt and fear. The fear leads to

chaos, which causes his downfall.




In writing Macbeth, Shakespeare created an almost perfect plot

line with a short introduction, rapid rising action, a climax that

occurs half way through the play, followed by rapid and intense

falling action and a brief conclusion. The first two scenes of the

play serve as an introduction. The opening witch scene sets the

dark, somber mood of the entire play and foreshadows the

"foulness" that is to come. The second scene introduces the

character of Macbeth through conversation. He is depicted as a

brave, intelligent, and noble warrior, who has just been honored by

good King Duncan with a new title. In scene 3, the action of the

play actually begins and moves forward at breath-taking speed

throughout the balance of the play


Macbeth comes into Scene 3 and meets with the evil witches, who

plant the seed of greed in his not so noble mind. When they

prophesy that Macbeth will become the King of Scotland, he

immediately thinks of murdering the king. The audience is then

kept on edge during the next few scenes and wonder if Macbeth is

evil enough to carry through with seizing the crown through

murder. By the opening of Act II, Macbeth is already wrestling

with his conscience even though the evil deed is not done. He sees

bloody daggers in front of this face and has to steel himself to

commit the murder. The second scene in Act II reveals the a

aftermath of the execution and Macbeth bemoaning the blood on

his hands which can never be cleansed. The rest of Act II show the

effects of Duncan's murder on his kin and nobles and, more

importantly, on Macbeth.


Act II opens with a scene of comic relief, the only one in the play.

Its purpose is to slow the frantic, chaotic pace of the play for a

brief interlude, to relax the audience after the tension of the murder

and its aftermath, and to allow the audience to catch its breath

before the next rush of action. Early in the act, Macbeth's

deteriorating mind is clearly developed. He plans the murder of

Banquo in Scene 2 and has it accomplished in Scene 3. By Scene

4, Macbeth has become irrational in response to his fear of

discovery and guilt. At the royal banquet, he sees the ghost of

Banquo sitting in his chair, and it is his undoing. He clearly

incriminates himself by saying, "Thou canst say I did it." These

words mare the moment of climax or turning point in the play.

Macbeth has offered his guilt for all the lords and ladies to see.

Now it is simply a question of when and how he will meet his

tragic end.


Macbeth spends the rest of the play pathetically fighting his fear

and guilt and trying to protect his stolen crown. The falling action

that follows the banquet scene continues at the same breath-taking

speed of the rising action. Macbeth consults the evil witches again

to learn his future and is warned against Macduff. Macduff,

however, flees to England in Act IV and joins Malcolm in

preparing an attack on the "mad tyrant." In retaliation for this light

and refusal to return, Macbeth murders the family of Macduff.

Macduff also loses his only family when Lady Macbeth kills

herself in Act V.


In response to his wife's death, Macbeth cries out about the

emptiness of life, but promises to fight until the end, which is near

at hand. Malcolm and Macduff attack and easily overtake the

king's castle. Then in the final scene of the play, Macduff fights

Macbeth. The short conclusion of the play occurs when Macduff

carries Macbeth's head in on a pole and hails Malcolm as the new

King of Scotland. The well constructed play ends with the promise

that order will return to Scotland under the rule of the new king.