A tragedy in five acts, first performed at the
Globe Theatre, London, in 1605-06 and published in the First Folio of
1623, from a promptbook of a version prepared for court performance. Some
portions of the original text are corrupted or missing from the published
edition. The play is the shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies, without
diversions or subplots. It chronicles Macbeth's seizing of power and subsequent
destruction, both his rise and his fall the result of blind ambition.
Macbeth is the last of Shakespeare's four
great tragedies, the others being Hamlet, King Lear and Othello. It is
a relatively short play without a major sub-plot, and it is considered
by many scholars to be Shakespeare's darkest work. Lear is an utter tragedy
in which the natural world is amorally indifferent toward mankind, but
in Macbeth, Shakespeare adds a supernatural dimension that purposively
conspires against Macbeth and his kingdom. In the tragedy of Lear, the
distraught king summons the goddess of Chaos, Hecht; in Macbeth, Hecate
appears as an actual character.
Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, is one of King
Duncan's greatest war captains. Upon returning from a battle with the
rebellious Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth and Banquo encounter three witches.
A prophecy is given to them: Macbeth is hailed as Thane of Glamis, Thane
of Cawdor, and King; Banquo is hailed as the father of kings to come.
With that, the witches evaporate into the mists. Both men nervously laugh
off the prophecies until Duncan informs Macbeth that he is to assume Cawdor's
title as a reward for his service to the king. Intrigued by the possibility
of becoming king, but uncertain of what to expect, Macbeth invites Duncan
to dine with him that night and writes ahead to his wife, telling her
all that has happened.
Lady Macbeth desperately wishes the kingship
for her husband, and wanting him to murder Duncan in order to obtain it.
Macbeth, is, at first is reluctant to do harm to Duncan. However, when
Duncan arranges to visit the castle, Macbeth feels it is an opportunity
not to miss. Further pressed on by his wife, they plot Duncan's death.
Lady Macbeth will get Duncan's attendants drunk; Macbeth will slip in
with his dagger, kill the king, and then plant the dagger on the drunken
guards. Macbeth, in a quiet moment alone, imagines he sees a bloody dagger
appear in the air; upon hearing the tolling bells, he sets to work.
Immediately Macbeth feels the guilt and shame
of his act, as does Lady Macbeth - who nonetheless finds the inner strength
to return to Duncan's chamber to plant the dagger on the attendants when
Macbeth refuses to go back in there. When the body is discovered, Macbeth
immediately slays the attendants-he says out of rage and grief-in order
to silence them. Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan's sons, both flee Scotland
(fearful for their own lives). To everyone else, it appears that the sons
have been the chief conspirators, Macbeth is crowned King of Scotland,
thus fulfilling the witches' prophecy. Banquo, however, has suspicions
of his own based on their encounter with the witches.
Macbeth knows of Banquo's suspicions, and
the reasons for them; he is also wary of the second prophecy, concerning
Banquo's offspring. As he prepares for the celebratory banquet of his
coronation, Macbeth hires assassins to remove Banquo and Fleance, his
son. Banquo is murdered that night, but Fleance escapes into the darkness.
As Macbeth sits down to the feast, the bloody ghost of Banquo silently
torments him, which causes him great despair. Meanwhile, Macduff has fled
to England because he too suspects Macbeth of foul play. Macbeth, once
a man of greatness, transforms into a man whose conscience has fled him.
Upon learning of Macduff's flight, Macbeth exacts revenge by having Macduff's
entire household butchered. Macduff grieves, but joins up with Malcolm
in England to raise an army against Macbeth
The witches give Macbeth another prophecy
as he prepares for Malcolm's assault. His throne is safe until Birnam
Wood comes to Dunsinane, and that he will not die by the hand of any man
born of a woman. Macbeth feels confident in his chances for victory at
this pronouncement. Lady Macbeth, however, has slowly become insane by
her dreams in the wake of killing Duncan. She sleepwalks, wringing her
hands together, and inadvertently reveals her part in the murder. As the
English armies approach, Macbeth learns that many of his lords are deserting
him, and that Lady Macbeth has died. On top of this, a messenger brings
news that Malcolm's army is approaching under the cover of boughs, which
they have cut from the trees of Birnam Wood. Resigned now to his fate,
Macbeth grimly sets to battle.
Malcolm has succeeded in raising an army
in England, and he rides to Scotland to challenge Macbeth's forces, secretly
supported by the Scottish people and most of the nobles, who are appalled
and frightened by Macbeth's tyrannical and murderous behaviour. Macbeth
fortifies Dunsinane and confidently awaits the English. Certain he is
invincible, but he is struck numb with fear when he learns that the English
army is advancing on Castle Dunsinane shielded with boughs cut from Birnam
Wood; Birnam Wood is coming to Dunsinane, fulfilling half of the witches'
In the battle, Macbeth hews violently around
him, but the English forces gradually overwhelm the Scottish. None, however,
can bring Macbeth down. Finally, Macduff meets him on the field of battle.
Macbeth laughs hollowly, telling him of the witches' prophecy: no man
born of a woman may slay him. As Macduff retorts, he was "from my
mother's womb untimely ripp'd," meaning he was delivered by a Caesarean
section (and hence, not technically born of a woman). Grimly, Macbeth
presses on. The play ends with the death of Macbeth; Macduff greets the
others bearing Macbeth's head. Malcolm is crowned King of Scotland, restoring
his father's bloodline to the throne.
Macbeth intended to stir the interest of the new king, James I. The play's
focus on regicide, a supreme crime in Shakespeare's day, addressed the
feelings, stirred by the Gunpowder Plot (November 1605). The play was
thus a great success in its day and remains one of the most frequently
performed plays by Shakespeare.
the level of human evil, Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy is about Macbeth's
bloody rise to power, including the murder of the Scottish king, Duncan,
and the guilt-ridden pathology of evil deeds generating still more evil
deeds. As an integral part of this thematic web is the play's most memorable
character, Lady Macbeth. Like her husband, Lady Macbeth's ambition for
power leads her into the realm of witchcraft, insomnia, and madness. But
while Macbeth responds to the prophecies of the play's famous trio of
witches, Lady Macbeth goes even further by figuratively transforming herself
into an unnatural, desexualized evil spirit. The current trend of critical
opinion is toward an upward revaluation of Lady Macbeth who is rehumanized
by her insanity and her suicide. Much of this reappraisal of Lady Macbeth
has taken place in discussions of her ironically strong marriage to Macbeth,
a union that rests on loving bonds but undergoes disintegration as the