At a Glance
- Macbeth, the ambitious Scottish general who kills King Duncan to take the throne. Macduff defeats him in the play's final act.
- Lady Macbeth, Macbeth's merciless wife, who urges him to kill King Duncan. She later commits suicide out of remorse.
- Banquo, Macbeth’s best friend, whom Macbeth has killed when Banquo becomes suspicious of the new king.
- Duncan, King of Scotland.
- Macduff, the nobleman who kills Macbeth at the end of the play.
- Malcolm, King Duncan's son and heir to the throne of Scotland.
- The Weird Sisters, a manipulative trio of witches who prophesy that Macbeth will become king.
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...
(The entire section is 937 words.)