Though Macbeth by William Shakespeare is set in Scotland, a place few of us have ever seen, and at a time in which none of us probably would have wanted to live (because of its rather wild, violent, and tumultuous nature), the protagonist of the story still has something valuable to offer readers and watchers of the play.
Macbeth is a character who falls from a very high place in this tragedy, and the reasons he falls reflect the same kinds of stumbling blocks we all experience even today. His journey, then, becomes a cautionary tale for all those who watch, read, and listen.
We first hear of Macbeth as a brave soldier, a man who fights loyally and fiercely on behalf of his king and country. He is outraged by traitors, and we even hear that he dealt directly with one traitor this way:
he unseamed him from the nave to th' chops,
And fixed his head upon our battlements.
He is rewarded generously by his king, and his actions even prompt a royal visit to the Macbeths' home. Despite all of these outwardly praiseworthy qualities, however, Macbeth has something simmering in his soul which eventually kills him.
Though he is a loyal soldier, willing to risk his life for king and country, Macbeth wants more. This is something we all understand, of course, and to that extent we feel a connection to Macbeth. Who wouldn't like to have a greater position in life, or more money, or the ability to control one's own fate? We may want these things, but we rarely do anything substantive to make them happen outside of the natural course of events in our lives (i.e., we work harder to make more money and to advance in our careers). Unfortunately, Macbeth is so desirous of these things that he allows himself to be manipulated into taking them by force.
He listens to the witches' predictions and hears what he wants to hear; he is goaded into irrevocable actions by his equally ambitious wife; and he has to cover his detestable actions by murdering his friend. These are not praiseworthy acts, and seeing the fatal effects of Macbeth's ambition and arrogance should help keep our own ambitions in check.
On a less personal level, Macbeth's story reminds us of some basic laws of nature which played a prominent part in his demise.
First, every action has a consequence. The entire play is a series of events which are triggered by other events, much like our own lives; and the beginning event is small. Macbeth believes the predictions because he wants to believe them, and that is the beginning of everything else. That one act, assuming the witches were speaking the truth to him, begins his fall. We understand that little things often have big consequences.
Second, we are all susceptible to temptation. We know that Macbeth liked Duncan and thought he was a good king, but the temptation to take his place as king was too strong for Macbeth. We understand strong temptations.
Third, Macbeth displayed an astounding lack of patience. Within a very short time, Macbeth moves from saying
If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me
Without my stir
to saying that he will have to "o'erstep" Duncan's heir to become king. We understand impatience.
Many more lessons can be learned by observing Macbeth's tragic fall, but in the end we are reminded of the truth that justice prevails. Though many people died because of Macbeth's overreaching ambition and the resultant paranoia he exhibits, he does get what he deserves in the end. We want to believe that is true for our lives, as well.