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Macbeth is one of the most famous plays by one of the world’s most legendary authors, William Shakespeare.  William Shakespeare, who wrote in the late 16th century and early 17th century, revolutionized the theater by writing linguistically intricate plays that dealt seriously with human emotion across a wide range of characters. Macbeth is no exception!  

Macbeth is a Shakespearean tragedy. The strict definition of a tragedy is a serious literary work that portrays the downfall of a heroic, albeit flawed, individual. Tragedies often end in the death of their protagonists; in this case, Macbeth’s attempts are foiled by MacDuff. Though Shakespeare fans quibble about  his best works, Macbeth is widely seen as an exemplar of the tragic form, alongside Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet.

In a nutshell, Macbeth portrays a man whose desperate ambition leads him to his downfall. After three witches prophesy that Macbeth will rise in power until he becomes king, Macbeth, goaded by his cruel and avaricious wife, first murders King Duncan. His guilt and paranoia cause him leave a bloody legacy during his short kingship,  including his former ally and friend, Banquo, as well as the innocent wife and children of MacDuff, another Scottish thane. Ultimately, Macbeth is foiled by his misreading of the witches’ further prophecies. He believes himself to be invincible but dies at the hands of MacDuff. Through Macbeth's death, law and order are restored to Scotland.

Though I’ve given you a synopsis, the question “What is Macbeth?” can definitely lead you into deeper analysis. I’ve given you a link to the Folger Shakespeare library’s commentary on Macbeth, which will give you many more details about this fascinating literary masterpiece.

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What is Macbeth about?

Macbeth is a Shakespearian tragedy set in ancient Scotland. It centres around a Scottish nobleman, Macbeth, who falls prey to the desires of unchecked ambition. With his wife urging him on Macbeth embarks on a murderous rampage which sees him successfully take absolute power, but at the cost of both he and his wife's sanity and eventually their lives. Macbeth brings forth such themes as the dangers of unchecked ambition and disloyalty, the emptiness of exercising power without scruples and the consequences of succumbing to temptation.

"We still have judgment here, that we but teach Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague th' inventor: this even-handed justice commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice to our own lips" (Act 1 Scene 7 v. 9-12).

Shakespeare wrote the play at a time when people were deeply superstitious. They widely believed that bad events in the natural world (eg. storms) were tied to bad behaviour disturbing the spiritual world. In this respect three witches play a prominent part in the play as they tempt Macbeth into realising his ambition with mysterious prophecies and apparitions.

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Who is Macbeth?

In Shakespeare's play Macbeth, the title character begins as Thane of Glamis and Scottish King Duncan's right-hand man. Macbeth is a successful warrior and an efficient leader of Duncan's army, which he has just led to victory as the play opens.

Macbeth is also the recipient of a prophecy. When he meets the three witches, they tell him that he will become Thane of Cawdor and then king. The first part of the prophecy comes true almost at once, and this gives Macbeth lots of ideas about what it would be like to be the king. His ambitious side kicks in with the nudging of his wife, and the two decide that they will help the prophecy along a bit by getting rid of Duncan.

At this point, Macbeth becomes a murderer when he kills Duncan and then hires men to kill Banquo. His ambition and pride have won, and he will do anything to become king, even treachery and betrayal. Macbeth does indeed become king at this point, for he manages to hide his involvement in Duncan's death. Yet the road does not go smoothly for Macbeth. He ends up dead at the end of the play. Still, Macbeth goes down fighting, killed by Macduff, who fulfills a prophecy in his own right and conquers Macbeth.

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What is Macbeth?

Macbeth is a tragic play by William Shakespeare. In it, the title character, Macbeth, hears a prophecy from three witches that he will become King of Scotland. This is his secret and most fervent desire, and also the secret desire of his wife, so Macbeth, encouraged by Lady Macbeth, acts on his ambition and kills the current king, Duncan.

Becoming the rulers of Scotland is not the source of happiness that the Macbeths had imagined. Macbeth is plagued by the constant fear that someone is going to accuse him of murdering Duncan and turns on those closest to him. He becomes a hardened, bitter man who trusts nobody and acts as a tyrant. Lady Macbeth, despite much brave talk at the beginning, is consumed by guilt that causes her to sleepwalk and try obsessively to wash imagined blood off her hands. She ends up committing suicide. Macbeth's last hopes go bad as the witches' prophecies prove deceptive after Malcolm, the rightful heir, marches into Scotland with an army to claim the throne. Macbeth is killed at the play's end.

The play is a cautionary tale about the risks of being tempted into unethical behavior, such as murder, to achieve one's ambitions.

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