Macbeth Summary

Shakespeare’s Macbeth tells the story of Macbeth, a Scottish lord who receives a prophecy saying that he will become King of Scotland.

  • At his wife’s urging, Macbeth murders the current king to seize the crown and fulfill a prophecy told to him by three witches.
  • Malcolm, the son of the murdered king, and Macduff, a nobleman, plot to overthrow Macbeth, who has become a bloodthirsty tyrant. Lady Macbeth is driven to madness by her guilt.
  • Macbeth faces Macduff in battle, convinced by the witches' prophecies that he is invincible; however, Macbeth soon realizes that he has fatally misinterpreted the witches' words.

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Summary

At the beginning of the play, three sinister witches appear on a heath and speak about meeting Macbeth. The scene shifts to a military camp, where Duncan, the king of Scotland, and his son Malcolm hear about Macbeth and Banquo's bravery and mettle in defending Scotland against two invading forces: the Irish, led by the traitor Macdonwald, and the Norwegians, assisted by the treasonous thane of Cawdor.

The scene shifts back to the witches, who now appear before Macbeth and Banquo as they return from battle. The witches deliver a prophecy: Macbeth will be made thane of Cawdor and will ultimately become king, while Banquo will be the ancestor of future kings. The witches disappear, leaving the two men to think about what they have heard. Macbeth, who is already thane of Glamis, wonders how he could become thane of Cawdor, a title that is currently held by another man. However, the first part of the prophecy comes true almost immediately when two of Duncan's men, Ross and Angus, appear and announce that the previous thane of Cawdor has lost his position for his treacherous assistance to Norway; in recognition of Macbeth’s bravery in battle, the king has named Macbeth the new thane of Cawdor.

Now that the first part of the prophecy has proven true, Macbeth wonders whether it’s also true that he may someday become king. Macbeth writes to his wife, Lady Macbeth, and tells her what has happened. Lady Macbeth, an ambitious and cunning woman, believes that her husband must do what it takes to fulfill his destiny and seize the crown. To accomplish this, she suggests that they murder King Duncan, who will conveniently be staying at their castle that night. Macbeth is initially hesitant, but his wife eventually convinces him to commit the murder. She devises a devious plan to make Duncan’s servants so drunk that they pass out and remember nothing; Macbeth will enter Duncan’s room while they sleep and make it look like the servants killed him.

That night, Macbeth follows through with their plan, but even after the deed is done, he is filled with anxiety and plagued by strange visions and sounds. In the morning, the king's body is discovered, and Macbeth immediately kills Duncan’s two servants, claiming that he couldn’t control his rage when he realized they must have killed the king. Macbeth's performance doesn't seem to convince everyone, but no one challenges his version of events. Certain that their father’s true killer is still free and that their lives are in grave danger, Malcolm and Donalbain, the king's sons, flee Scotland.

With the king's sons gone, Macbeth is made king. Paranoid and eager to keep his crown, Macbeth angrily recalls the witches’ prophecy that Banquo's descendants—not Macbeth’s—will be king. Interpreting this as a threat to his rule, Macbeth hires assassins to murder Banquo and his son, Fleance. The murderers manage to kill Banquo, but Fleance escapes in the chaos. Later that night, Macbeth hosts a grand feast for his thanes, but Banquo's ghost appears in the middle of the festivities. Visible only to Macbeth, this apparition terrifies him, and Macbeth’s erratic behavior at dinner forces Lady Macbeth to send their guests home. Macbeth’s apparent madness only serves to further the thanes’ skepticism about his rule. 

Desperately seeking reassurance, Macbeth visits the witches in hopes that...

(The entire section is 1,052 words.)