Very detailed summaries of Shakepeare’s Macbeth can be found at the links below, but here is a brief overview of the plot of the play:
- As the play opens, fighting has been taking place between forces loyal to Duncan, the king of Scotland, and some Scottish rebels. Macbeth and Banquo, followers of Duncan, have been instrumental in defeating the rebels. Both men, however, are given attractive prophecies by three witches, who tell Macbeth that he will become king of Scotland, even as they tell Banquo that the latter’s sons will be kings.
- When Duncan visits Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s wife, urges her husband to kill Duncan and become king himself in order to make the prophecy come true. Macbeth hesitates at first but then does indeed kill the king while the latter is sleeping, making it seem as if the king’s servants have done the deed. The king’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, suspect foul play and flee the castle, leading them to become prime suspects in their father’s death. Macbeth thus becomes king.
- Although he is now king, Macbeth feels threatened by the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s sons will be kings. Macbeth thus orders the secret assassination of Banquo and Banquo’s son, Fleance. Banquo is indeed killed, but Fleance manages to escape. Shortly afterward, when Macbeth thinks he sees the ghost of Banquo at a banquet Macbeth is hosting, his mind begins to unravel. Seeking reassurance from the witches, Macbeth is told that he cannot be harmed by any man born of woman. They also tell him that his power is secure as long as Birnam forest does not come to the castle of Dunsinane. These words lead Macbeth to think that he is invincible.
- When Macbeth learns that an aristocrat named Macduff has become a follower of Malcolm (now in England, preparing to invade Scotland), Macbeth orders the brutal killing of Macduff’s family. As Malcolm and his army make their way toward Macbeth’s castle, Macbeth is an increasingly lonely and desperate figure. His wife has gone crazy, and he realizes that Malcolm’s army is approaching. He knows, however, that the witches have told him that his power is secure as long as Birnam forest does not come to the castle of Dunsinane. Thus, when he sees that Malcolm’s men have cut branches from the forest to hide themselves as they advance, Macbeth feels increasingly panicked. Ultimately, Macbeth is killed by Malcolm, whose birth was not a normal delivery.The play ends with Malcolm expressing gratitude to his followers and anticipating his own coronation as king:
So thanks to all at once and to each one,
Whom we invite to see us crowned at Scone.