Macbeth Summary provides a quick overview of the plot describing every major event in this play
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Macbeth Summary

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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 text.

Act I.

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 play...

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 of Scotland.

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 kill...

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 present.

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.

Act II.

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 for Ireland.

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...

Act III.

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, fact.

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 lineage.

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 and survives.

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 kings).

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 stop killing...

Hecate, clearly in a position of command over the Three Witches, scolds her subordinates for helping an unappreciative Macbeth.

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.

Act IV.

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 family murdered...

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 defeat Macbeth.

Act V.

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 failed completely...

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 his destiny...

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 born.

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 of Scotland...

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