Macbeth at a Glance In Macbeth, William Shakespeare's tragedy about power, ambition, deceit, and murder, the Three Witches foretell Macbeth's rise to King of Scotland but also prophesy that future kings will descend from Banquo, a fellow army captain. Prodded by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, he murders King Duncan, becomes king, and sends mercenaries to kill Banquo and his sons. His attempts to defy the prophesy fail, however; Macduff kills Macbeth, and Duncan's son Malcolm becomes king.
Written by: William Shakespeare Type of Work: play Genres: drama; tragedy First Published: probably around 1605-1606 Setting: Scotland Main Characters: Macbeth; Lady Macbeth; Duncan; Macduff; Banquo; Malcolm Major Thematic Topics: fall of man; gender roles; fortune; fate; free will; kingship/natural order; ambition; love of self Motifs: revenge; sanity; prophecy Major Symbols: hands; the Three Witches; ghosts
The three most important aspects of Macbeth:
Lady Macbeth is one of the most famous female characters in all of literature. Macbeth's wife is smart, ambitious, and brave. She is undone, however, by her ambition, and by her utter ruthlessness.
The most famous speech in this play full of famous lines and speeches is Macbeth's soliloquy that begins "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time . . . ." These lines express Macbeth's utter hopelessness near the tragedy's end about not only his life, but life in general. It is a widely held superstition in the world of theater that saying the play's name aloud brings bad luck. Instead, actors, directors, and other theater people refer to Macbeth as "the Scottish play."
Set in medieval Scotland and partly based on a true historical account, Macbeth charts the bloody rise to power and tragic downfall of the warrior Macbeth. Already a successful soldier in the army of King Duncan, Macbeth is informed by Three Witches that he is to become king. As part of the same prophecy, the Witches predict that future Scottish kings will be descended not from Macbeth but from his fellow army captain, Banquo. Although initially prepared to wait for Fate to take its course, Macbeth is stung by ambition and confusion when King Duncan nominates his son Malcolm as his heir.
Returning to his castle, Macbeth allows himself to be persuaded and directed by his ambitious wife, who realizes that regicide — the murder of the king — is the quickest way to achieve the destiny that her husband has been promised. A perfect opportunity presents itself when King Duncan pays a royal visit to Macbeth's castle. At first Macbeth is loth to commit a crime that he knows will invite judgment, if not on earth then in heaven. Once more, however, his wife prevails upon him. Following an evening of revelry, Lady Macbeth drugs the guards of the king's bedchamber; then, at a given signal, Macbeth, although filled with misgivings, ascends to the king's room and murders him while he sleeps. Haunted by what he has done, Macbeth is once more reprimanded by his wife, whose inner strength seems only to have been increased by the treacherous killing. Suddenly, both are alarmed by a loud knocking at the castle door. When the drunken porter of Macbeth's castle finally responds to the noise, he opens the door to Macduff, a loyal follower of the king, who has been asked to awake Duncan in preparation for the return journey. Macbeth indicates the location of the king's room, and Macduff discovers the body. When the murder is revealed, Macbeth swiftly kills the prime witnesses, the sleepy guards of the king's bedchamber, and Lady Macbeth faints. The assembled lords of Scotland, including Macbeth, swear to avenge the murder. With suspicion heavy in the air, the king's two sons flee the country: Donalbain to Ireland and Malcolm to raise an army in...