Macbeth is a tragedy written between 1603 and 1607 by William Shakespeare, drawing on the story of Mac Bethad mac Findláich (Maccus Macbeatha), King of Scots from 1040 to 1057. It was first published in the Folio of 1623. The play spans only about 24 hours, from Macbeth’s victory at the battle of Dunsinane to Macbeth’s defeat by Malcolm at the Battle of Lumphanan.
The play begins with Macbeth and Banquo, generals in King Duncan’s army, victorious at the Battle of Dunsinane against the army of Macdonald who put up a fierce resistance led by Macbeth himself. Macbeth hears a prophecy from a trio of witches that he will be king after Duncan leaves his throne which leads him to plan for it so when Duncan comes back to have a feast Macbeth murders him in his own house. Macduff finds out about this and is forced into exile where he goes off to England. Macbeth becomes king and marries Macduff’s wife and Macduff is infuriated.
Macbeth then becomes paranoid with Macduff becoming more dangerous Macbeth ends up killing Macduff’s family, Macduff swears revenge on Macbeth who tells him he should be afraid for his life but Macduff doesn’t care. Macbeth sends murderers to kill Macduff but they fail so he kills himself, the murderers go back to let Macbeth know that they failed to do their mission and when he finds out about this he also commits suicide letting Malcolm be the next king of Scotland after all the murdering was over.
Macbeth becomes so consumed with desire for the throne that he begins to kill anyone in his way. Macbeth often visits these three witches and talks to them about whether they think Macbeth should go through with killing Duncan, Macduff’s family, or Banquo. Macbeth has an overwhelming desire to be king due to the prophecies given by these women; however after Macduff and Lennox enter Macbeth realizes his mistake. Macbeth has committed many crimes that Macduff holds Macbeth accountable for. Macduff and Macbeth start fighting, with Macbeth gaining the upper hand with Macduff’s family’s death running through his mind.
This drives Macbeth to keep killing more people until he is killed by Macduff who finally avenged his family. King Duncan’s rule is restored, and an heir of Malcolm succeeds him as king. More than half of Shakespeare’s tragedies include a ghost character; this tradition continued with Macbeth. The three witches are considered ghosts because they appear after midnight, their prophecies affect Macbeth throughout the play, and they give Macbeth his orders. Many scholars think Macbeth and Banquo meet them on their way to Macbeth’s castle at Inverness.
Macbeth first sees the witches as horse riders, but they disappear and, as he tells Banquo, Macbeth cannot “shake” them off. At Macbeth’s second meeting with the witches, they more explicitly prophesy: Macbeth receives a third prophecy when he visits the witches in a cave and they show him three apparitions: Macduff’s severed head; a bloody child, representing Macduff’s son who will be killed; and Birnam Wood moving toward Dunsinane Hill (a symbolic prediction of Macbeth’s fall). Although Macduff seems an unlikely threat, Macbeth fears him after the witches’ prophecies.
Macbeth asks for more information about Macduff, and the witches tell Macbeth that Macduff is not born of a woman. Macbeth understands this to mean that Macduff was untamable even by female influence, so he decides to kill Macduff’s entire family in order to secure his own fate. Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth, also plays an important role in motivating her husband to commit murder. She is the first person outside the three witches to know what they have told Macbeth: “When you durst do it, then you were a man. Lady Macbeth tries to persuade her husband to kill Duncan, then supports his decision to carry out the murder instead of Macduff.
Macbeth decides to commit regicide by murdering King Duncan in his sleep. Macbeth invites Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain to spend the night at Macbeth’s castle, where they are supposed to be safe. Macbeth arranges for a group of drunken thanes (known as The Murder of Gonzago ) to commit a murder with him so that he can keep track of their appearances while Duncan is asleep. Macbeth stabs the sleeping king, but has second thoughts about killing him when he stirs.
Macbeth, a brave and victorious general is to become Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth does not seem particularly interested in the prophecy that he will eventually become King of Scotland as well. Macbeth would accept this honor only if it was given by the lawful king himself Macduff, however, Macduff has already been banished from Scotland by Macbeth’s tyranny. Macbeth’s rashness is already partially visible when he sentences a servant because a horse under his care had died.
Macbeth sees this event as an omen that makes him stronger against opponents since they might be plotting something against him already (I:2:3 – I:4:27). The appearance of the three witches will be Macbeth’s turning point. Macbeth will begin to define his path and actions around the prophecy that he has received from them (I:3:1 – I:5:17). Macbeth seems like a good man before meeting the witches. After meeting them, Macbeth becomes an ambitious tyrant who is determined to get what he wants by any means necessary.
This ambition for power and thirst for blood makes Macbeth devise a plan of eliminating Banquo and Fleance after the King was murdered. Macbeth did already become suspect in Duncan’s death because of his lack of expression during this event. People see him as evil due to him killing only one person while many others were present for this occasion (II:1:1 – II:2:4). Macbeth is not satisfied with what he has achieved and wants more and more power. Macbeth becomes an evil man who is trying to protect his position as a tyrant by any means possible.
Macduff decides to flee instead of fight against Macbeth’s forces which makes Macbeth believe that killing Macduff’s family was for the good of Scotland. This again proves how far Macbeth has gone from being a just and noble man into a murderous one (IV:3:17 – IV:4:21). There are various internal forces that lead Macbeth to his downfall, but first let us take a look at his relationship with Lady Macbeth. Macbeth and lady Macbeth both want power over their country, however, the difference is in the way they choose to achieve this goal.
Macbeth chose a bloody path which was far more evil than that of Lady Macbeth. It is interesting to note that when Macbeth begins feeling guilt for what has happened, he tells his wife about it (IV:3:10 – IV:4-21). At first glance it appears that this conversation between husband and wife is actually a dialogue between two perpetrators of one crime since Macduff mentions later on that Macbeth killed Duncan before Banquo had time to reach him (IV:3:39 – IV:5:29).
Macbeth is aware of the crimes he has committed and the fact that Macduff had no chance to reach Macbeth before Macbeth killed Duncan means nothing to Macbeth since Macbeth had already planned this murder. Macduff does not have any proof besides MacBeth’s conscience which brings him to Lady MacBeth. This shows how guilty Macbeth feels about what happened, however it also proves that he is ready to do anything in order to protect his position as a tyrant.