Macbeth Key Plot Points
by William Shakespeare

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Key Plot Points

Act 1, Scene 3: Macbeth and Banquo meet with the three witches who prophesize that Macbeth will become king and that Banquo’s sons will be kings for a long time. In the preceding scene, Macbeth is described as a fearsome, honorable warrior, and yet his ambition is piqued with this prophecy. This is the moment in the play when reality is inverted: the noble warrior becomes power-hungry and honorless. 

Act 2, Scenes 1 & 2: Macbeth murders King Duncan and Lady Macbeth uses the bloody daggers to frame the two guards who are sleeping. The dynamic between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth is important to highlight: she commands his actions. Macbeth already demonstrates his guilt and regret when he says he has “murdered sleep.” Insomnia becomes a motif that represents a guilty conscience. 

Act 3, Scene 4: After ordering Banquo’s murder, Macbeth and his wife hold a banquet. Banquo’s ghost appears and Macbeth almost confesses to murdering Duncan. Lady Macbeth interferes and sends the guests away. This is a turning point in the play at which Macbeth’s inner turmoils manifest themselves as external entities—namely, a ghost only he can see. It also materializes Lady Macbeth’s sins. This is the last moment in which Lady Macbeth is in control of her husband and their situation. As soon as she loses this control, she slips into madness. 

Act 4, Scene 1: Perhaps the most famous scene from Macbeth, this act begins with the witches’ preparing a potion in the woods. After listing a number of horrifying ingredients, they say “something wicked this way comes,” in reference to Macbeth. After the turning point in which his guilt is externalized, Macbeth embodies wickedness. While the witches are thought of as threatening, evil creatures, they identify Macbeth as a “wicked” thing. 

Act 5, Scene 1: Lady Macbeth is now sleepwalking and wringing her hands to wash away blood that no one else can see. Lady Macbeth’s inability to sleep is a sign of her guilty conscious and madness. 

Act 5, Scene 5: In the most famous monologue from this play (“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow . . .”), Macbeth outlines one of the main themes of the play right before he is defeated by Macduff’s army. Using a metaphor that compares life to a performance on a stage, Macbeth claims that ambition, achievement, and fame are all illusions that dissolve in death and time. In other words, he has spilt blood for a meaningless cause.