The main characters of Macbeth include Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Duncan, Macduff, and the Weird Sisters.
- Macbeth is a Scottish general who kills King Duncan to take the throne. Macduff defeats him in the play's final act.
- Lady Macbeth is Macbeth's wife, who urges him to kill King Duncan.
- Banquo is Macbeth’s friend, whom Macbeth has killed when Banquo becomes suspicious of him.
- Duncan is the King of Scotland.
- Macduff is the nobleman who kills Macbeth at the end of the play.
- The Weird Sisters are a trio of witches who prophesy that Macbeth will become king.
Last Updated on March 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 936
Macbeth begins the play as a heroic and triumphant figure, the noble Thane of Glamis, a general in the Scottish army who has just defeated the insurgent King of Norway. As a reward for his valor and loyalty, King Duncan transfers the title of Thane of Cawdor to Macbeth. However, prior to receiving this news, Macbeth encounters the Three Weird Sisters, who greet him as the Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and future King of Scotland. Macbeth is initially wary of the witches’ prophecy, but after he discovers that he has been named Thane of Cawdor, his belief in their prophecy is cemented and his thoughts turn to how he might become king. From that point on, Macbeth sinks deeper into murder and treachery as he becomes a regicidal tyrant in the eyes of the people of Scotland. (Read extended character analysis for Macbeth.)
Lady Macbeth is Macbeth’s wife and “dearest partner of greatness.” At the start of the play, she is the more dominant figure in the marriage, viewing her husband as weak and lacking the necessary willpower to achieve their mutual ambitions. Upon receiving Macbeth’s letter about the witches’ prophecies, Lady Macbeth is thrilled by the prospect of becoming queen. She calls out to the “spirits” to “unsex” her and turn her “womanly” attributes into more masculine ones so that she might become “cruel” enough to murder King Duncan herself. However, after Duncan’s death, both Lady Macbeth’s sanity and power in her marriage begin to decline. By the start of act V, she is sleepwalking and hallucinating about having blood on her hands, with the court doctor's proclaiming that she would be better off with a priest than a physician. She ultimately takes her own life, and Macbeth laments that she died at a time when he is unable to mourn her properly. (Read extended character analysis for Lady Macbeth.)
Banquo is a general in the Scottish army and Macbeth’s friend. He is with Macbeth when the witches deliver their prophecy. When he asks them to tell him about his own future, they inform him that though he will never be king, his children will be. Ever the loyal kinsman, Banquo refuses to assist Macbeth in his plot against the king and views the witches as evil beings. However, their prophecy with regards to Banquo’s children becoming kings is enough to pique Banquo’s curiosity, even as it puts him and his son, Fleance, within the dangerous territory of Macbeth’s ambition. Ultimately, Banquo dies in defense of his son, ensuring that his legacy continues at the cost of his own life. (Read extended character analysis for Banquo.)
Duncan is the King of Scotland. He is characterized as a fair and wise king who is generous with his kinsmen and just with his people. Duncan awards Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor as a reward for his bravery in the battle against the King of Norway. However, despite the king’s virtues, the Macbeths murder Duncan in his sleep, sending Scotland into a spiral of chaos and disorder. (Read extended character analysis for Duncan.)
Macduff is the Thane of Fife and the man who ultimately ends Macbeth’s reign of terror. Macduff is a loyal thane who lacks the ambition of both Banquo and Macbeth, instead working to support whomever he sees as the rightful king. He quickly grows suspicious of Macbeth after Duncan’s murder, refusing to attend Macbeth’s coronation. However, his own sense of honor blinds him to the danger in which he has left his family after his flight to England. After hearing that his family was massacred, Macduff vows revenge, going on to defeat Macbeth in combat and restore order to Scotland. (Read extended character analysis for Macduff.)
Malcolm is the eldest son of King Duncan and the rightful heir to the Scottish throne. Duncan officially names Malcolm as his heir in act I, scene IV, cutting off Macbeth’s prospects for ascending the throne. After discovering that their father has been murdered, Malcolm and his brother Donalbain decide to flee Scotland and take refuge in neighboring courts. Malcolm flees to England, where he forms an agreement with the King of England in order to retake the throne of Scotland from Macbeth. When Macduff arrives in England, Malcolm is initially mistrustful, but the two eventually become allies. At the end of the play, Malcolm and the English forces are victorious, and Malcolm prepares to set right the harms that Macbeth has inflicted on Scotland. (Read extended character analysis for Malcolm.)
The witches, often referred to as the three “weird sisters,” are Macbeth’s dark and mysterious guides on his descent into evil and tyranny. The play opens with their premonition that “fair is foul, and foul is fair,” establishing their moral ambiguity and suggesting that, in the world of the play, things aren't always as they seem. When the witches first meet Banquo and Macbeth in act I, scene III, they are described as androgynous and “not like the inhabitants o’ the earth.” However, their prophecies prove fairer than their foul appearances portended, and, after becoming king, Macbeth seeks them out a second time. The witches deliver three more prophecies, lulling Macbeth into a false sense of security that ultimately brings about his downfall. (Read extended character analysis for the Witches.)
In addition to the characters above, Shakespeare’s Macbeth includes a supporting cast of minor roles. For more information about these characters, read more about them on their own page.
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