Macbeth Summary provides a quick review of the play's
plot including every important action in the play. Macbeth
Summary is divided by the five acts of the play and
is an ideal introduction before reading the original
Also known as "The Scottish play", Shakespeare's dark,
grim tragedy begins with Three Witches in Scotland deciding
to meet again after a battle being fought nearby. Thunder,
storms and the desolate heath paint a gloomy picture,
setting the tone of this play and defining an imagery
of nature at war with itself, a recurring theme in this
Macbeth is introduced as the brave man who led King
Duncan's forces to victory against the traitorous
Thane of Cawdor, Macdonwald and The King of Norway,
in a battle that could have gone either way were it
not for Macbeth's leadership. We learn that Macbeth
killed Macdonwald himself in battle. King Duncan, overjoyed,
decides to make Macbeth his new Thane of Cawdor. The
previous Thane of Cawdor will be executed.
The Three Witches establish their malicious nature
before meeting Macbeth and Banquo. The Three Witches
tell Macbeth that he will be "Thane of Glamis!", "Thane
of Cawdor!" and "king hereafter" or become the King
Banquo learns that his descendants shall be kings.
Banquo is suspicious of the Three Witches, remembering
that they often trick men. Macbeth initially agrees
but when Ross and Angus tell him he has been made the
new Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth in a very important aside
(soliloquy), remarks, "Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor:
/ The greatest is behind."
Macbeth now first questions Banquo's on his feelings
about his descendants becoming kings and then starts
thinking of killing King Duncan to make prophecy fact
but later hopes fate alone will spare him the need to
Macbeth meets King Duncan, thanking him for his new
title. The also loyal Banquo receives nothing. King
Duncan remarks how he completely trusted the previous
Thane of Cawdor.
King Duncan announces that his son, Malcolm will be
the new Prince of Cumberland. Macbeth sees Malcolm as
a threat to what he now takes seriously as his destiny
to be king, a major turning point in Macbeth's
changing morality. Macbeth makes this clear by famously
asking in an aside (private speech) for the stars to
hide their fires least they reveal his dark and deadly
purpose or intention to kill King Duncan.
Lady Macbeth learns by letter from Macbeth of the Three
Witches' prophecies for her husband, eagerly embracing
them as fact. Fearing Macbeth is too compassionate and
weak-willed to do what needs to be done (killing King
Duncan), she famously asks the gods to remove from her
all signs of compassion and femininity, replacing these
with cold remorseless ruthlessness.
Learning from a messenger that King Duncan will stay
at their castle, Lady Macbeth enthusiastically greets
this news, suggesting that she already has plans to
kill King Duncan. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth decide to
speak again on the issue of the prophecies, Macbeth
still uncertain of the need to kill King Duncan.
At Macbeth's castle King Duncan arrives whilst Lady
Macbeth plays the most perfect of hostesses. King Duncan
asks for the Thane of Cawdor (Macbeth) who is not yet
A guilt-ridden Macbeth wrestles with his conscience,
certain that he should not kill King Duncan yet guiltily
having to remind himself of all the reasons why it would
be wrong. Macbeth decides against murdering his King
but Lady Macbeth belittles him for not being able to
murder, threatening to take away her love for him if
he does not. This threat wins Macbeth over and Lady
Macbeth outlines her plan to kill King Duncan in his
sleep while he is a guest at their castle.
Banquo and son Fleance arrive at Macbeth's castle.
Banquo is troubled by the Three Witches' prophecy
and tells Macbeth this. Macbeth pretends not to take
the Three Witches seriously.
Learning from Banquo that King Duncan is asleep, Macbeth,
alone, follows an imaginary dagger to King Duncan's
bedchamber where he will kill him in his sleep... Lady
Macbeth has drugged King Duncan's guards, allowing
Macbeth to kill King Duncan unchallenged.
Lady Macbeth was to have killed the King but his resemblance
to her late father means Macbeth does the deed instead.
A bell frightens Lady Macbeth and Macbeth too is nervous,
but he announces that he did indeed kill King Duncan.
Macbeth recounts that the two guards cried out "'Murder!'"
and later "'God bless us!'", Lady Macbeth
telling her husband not to fret over such things and
the fact that is conscience prevented him from saying
"'Amen,'" as one of the guards had done...
Lady Macbeth tells her husband a little water will
wash away their guilt and the two retire to their bedroom
when knocking is later heard...
Macduff, Lennox, the source of the knocking in the
last scene, arrive at Macbeth's castle. News of
King Duncan's death reaches all at Macbeth's
castle. Lady Macbeth faints and Macbeth in rage kills
the two drunken guards after claiming that they obviously
killed their King.
These actions largely free Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
from suspicion. King Duncan's sons, Malcolm and
Donalbain are introduced, both men wisely deciding to
flee Macbeth's castle as a precaution against their
own murder. Malcolm will head for England, Donalbain
Ross speaks with an Old Man who describes various unnatural
acts happening in Scotland, perhaps the single most
significant scene for the theme of nature at war with
itself, which relates to the idea of a natural order
being disturbed by the death of a king, a prevalent
theme throughout this play.
We learn that King Duncan's two sons have fled,
leaving Macbeth to be crowned the new King of Scotland.
Macduff, who later becomes instrumental in Macbeth's
downfall, has significantly snubbed Macbeth's coronation
at Scone to go to Fife instead. A tone of increasing
despair for Scotland begins in this scene...
Banquo is fearful that the Three Witches' prophecies
are becoming true, questioning whether Macbeth played
most foully for it, or killed King Duncan to make prophecy,
Meeting with Macbeth, Macbeth continuously asks Banquo
of his travel plans and those of his son. Alone, Macbeth
fears that Banquo's sons will mean his dynasty
will be short-lived; only he will become King of Scotland
and not his sons who will be replaced by those of Banquo's
Macbeth arranges for several Murderers to discreetly
kill Banquo and Fleance to ensure his sons and not Banquo's
become future kings...
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth speak in private. Macbeth
is again plagued by a guilt we thought may have vanished.
Lady Macbeth attempts to strengthen Macbeth's resolve.
The Murderers kill Banquo but his son Fleance escapes
The Three Witches' prophecy of Banquo's sons
becoming kings has not been thwarted by Macbeth...
Macbeth and a lady are entertaining at their castle.
The First Murderer arrives, announcing that Banquo is
dead but Fleance has lived. Macbeth immediately realizes
the consequences of this (his descendants may not become
Macbeth famously sees Banquo's Ghost at his party,
causing Lady Macbeth to finish their party early to
prevent further suspicions about Macbeth's sanity
and about their role in recent events (King Duncan's
death whilst a guest at their castle). Macbeth makes
his famous speech about being too covered in blood to
Hecate, clearly in a position of command over the Three
Witches, scolds her subordinates for helping an unappreciative
Hecate instructs the Three Witches to make preparations
for her plan to use illusion and the Three Witches'
prophecies against Macbeth. The Three Witches, eager
to placate (please) their master, eagerly make preparations,
doing as they are told...
We see Lennox and a Lord discuss affairs in their kingdom.
We learn from their conversation that an army is being
formed in England to fight Macbeth.
A major turning point in the play. Just as the Three
Witches prophesied Macbeth's ascendancy to become
King in Act I, Scene III, here they prophesies his downfall
with the Three Apparitions (visions / ghosts). The first
Apparition tells an eager Macbeth that he should fear
Macduff, saying "beware Macduff; / Beware the Thane
of Fife." The Second Apparition reassures Macbeth
that "none of women born / Shall harm Macbeth"
and the Third Apparition tells Macbeth he has nothing
to fear until "Great Birnam wood" moves to
"high Dunsinane hill" near his castle.
Macbeth decides to kill Macduff to protect himself
from him and takes the Apparition's words to mean he
is safe from all men since they are all born naturally
and that only the moving of a nearby forest to his castle,
an unlikely event will spell his doom.
Next Macbeth demands to know about Banquo's descendants
, learning to his anger that they will still rule Scotland
rather than Macbeth's descendants. Macbeth learns
that he cannot kill Macduff so instead has his entire
Lady Macduff is greeted by Ross, Lady Macduff expressing
her anger at being abandoned by Macduff for little reason
when in her eyes, Macduff has done nothing requiring
him to flee.
Ross leaves and after Lady Macduff tells her son that
his father is dead and was a traitor, a Messenger warns
Lady Macduff to flee but Macbeth's Murderers succeed
in killing Lady Macduff's son. The scene ends with Lady
Macduff fleeing for her life...
Malcolm and Macduff discuss how Scotland under Macbeth's
rule has been plunged into despair. Malcolm tests Macduff's
integrity by describing himself as unfit to rule.
After Malcolm disgusts Macduff with increasingly sordid
descriptions of his lust and greed, Macduff tells Malcolm
that like Macbeth, he too is not fit to rule Scotland.
This delights Malcolm who explains that he was lying;
he described himself so negatively to test Macduff's
integrity. We learn that a large army is gathering to
Lady Macbeth's insanity becomes clear... First
her Doctor and a Gentlewoman discuss Lady Macbeth's
sleepwalking and talking to herself and then we, the
audience see this for ourselves.
Lady Macbeth makes her famous speech that she cannot
wipe away the blood on her hands (or her guilt), indicating
that her battle to suppress her guilty conscience has
Macbeth's enemies gather near his castle at Dunsinane
as Macbeth strongly fortifies his castle. We learn that
Macbeth's hold on Scotland is less than absolute...
Macbeth prepares to defiantly fight his enemies armed
with the prophecy that he will only be defeated when
the nearby Birnam Wood moves on his castle. Macbeth
now learns of the ten thousand strong army against him.
Seyton confirms this bad news and Macbeth donning his
armor, prepares to fight his enemies recalling the Birnam
Wood prophecy once more as a source of comfort...
With his troops loyally around him, Malcolm orders
each man to cut down a branch from the nearby Birnam
Wood as his army now camouflaged under an umbrella of
Birnam Wood, head towards Macbeth's castle at Dunsinane.
Macbeth laughs off his enemies' numbers, certain
of the Birnam Wood prophecy and equally certain that
his fortifications should laugh off any attack.
We hear a women's cry later learning that Lady
Macbeth is dead. Macbeth coldly shrugs the news that
his once "dearest chuck," is dead with complete
apathy. Macbeth learns that Birnam Wood or rather Malcolm's
forces are moving on his castle. Realizing what this
means, Macbeth nonetheless defiantly sets off to meet
Malcolm's men drop their leafy camouflage and
the battle begins...
Macbeth fights, Siward killing him. Macbeth is now
confronted by Macduff, a man he has consciously avoided
and one, he refuses to fight.
Macbeth famously exclaims that he has lived a charmed
life and is unable to be killed by a man, naturally
Macduff now explains that he has born by Caesarian
section and the two men fight, Macbeth dying and order
being restored when Malcolm is hailed as the new King