A photo of the first page of Macbeth from Shakespeare's First Folio.
The first page of Macbeth from the First Folio. ({{PD-US}})

Macbeth, also known as ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ or ‘The Scottish Play,’ is William Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy. It is also one of his most famous works, examining various themes relating to power and ambition that remain relevant to date. The play’s plot also features witchcraft, supernatural elements, and a great deal of violence. Macbeth, the titular character, is a general in the Scottish army who receives prophecies from three witches claiming that he shall ascend to the position of king. This sets him and his wife, Lady Macbeth, off on a path of conspiracy, murder, and more violence.

Macbeth was the first of Shakespeare’s plays to be written and performed under King James I of England. He succeeded Queen Elizabeth I and was himself Scottish. Soon after his coronation, he had been the subject of an unsuccessful assassination attempt; Macbeth is based on the chronicle of an 11th century Scottish ruler of the same name and features an assassinated monarch.

Macbeth Essay Examples

Importance of Morality in Macbeth

Morality is a particular system of values concerning the distribution between right and wrong or good or bad behavior. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the moral of a play is identified through personal ambition and its disastrous results. Macbeth ends up killing his loyal King believing the witches prophecy.

Similarities and Differences Between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth

The Shakespearean plays Macbeth and Hamlet are both very well-known tragedies. They have many things in common but are different in some ways. Both plays involve greed but the characters are different. There are some characters that have the same qualities such as Hamlet and Malcolm who both killed for revenge.

Deceptive Appearances in Macbeth

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a selfish Scottish thane becomes over-ambitious and commits several murders in order to gain and stay in power. After the murders, Macbeth evades suspicion by hiding his guilt and intentions, therefore deceiving others into thinking that he is innocent. 

Juxtaposition in Macbeth

In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth he portrays Lady Macbeth as a demented power–hungry unorthodox Elizabethan woman that takes the degrading tradition of Elizabethan women and completely neglects that belief but throughout this masterpiece that façade proves to be feeble and her true colors are revealed.

Role of Visions and Hallucinations in Macbeth

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth’s visions and hallucinations play a significant role and contribute to the development of his character. In the play Macbeth, a man is driven to murder his king and his companions after receiving a fairly ambiguous prophecy told by three witches.

Macbeth: Summary

The three witches in Macbeth
The three witches are provocateurs, and their prophecies that are half-truth and half-lies drive the plot of the play forward.

Macbeth and Banquo are generals in King Duncan’s army, on their way back from a victory on the battlefield. They encounter three witches who prophecy that Macbeth will soon be given the title of Thane of Cawdor and, thereafter, be crowned king. They also claim that while Banquo himself will never be king, his children will be. Almost immediately after they vanish, a messenger arrives with the news that Macbeth has indeed been promoted to Thane of Cawdor, realizing the first of the witches’ prophecies.

Upon meeting Macbeth, King Duncan and his entourage inform him of their intention to visit his castle in Inverness. Once there, Lady Macbeth, having been informed of the prophecies and their aftermath, urges Macbeth to kill Duncan and to assume the throne. They hatch a plot to lay the blame on King Duncan’s chamberlains, and Macbeth stabs Duncan to death in spite of seeing visions of a dagger dripping blood just before. 

When the murder is discovered the next morning, Macbeth publicly kills Duncan’s two chamberlains, alleging them to be responsible, and declares himself King of Scotland. Learning of this turn of events, Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalblain flee to England, not believing Macbeth’s version of events and fearing that Duncan’s murderer is still at large and may set his targets on them next. 

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, are fearful of the weird sisters’ third prophecy coming true—that rather than their heirs ascending after them, the throne will go to Banquo’s son Fleance. They hire assassins to kill the father and son, but Fleance escapes. After learning of Banquo’s death, Macbeth hallucinates that his ghost is present at a banquet. In spite of Lady Macbeth’s attempts to assure the guests, his odd behavior (speaking to the ghost) causes further doubt and worry among the nobles, who are already disturbed by the suddenness of Duncan’s death and Macbeth’s rise to the throne.

Painting of Banquo's ghost at the feast.
“Macbeth” is rife with supernatural elements – witches, ghosts, hallucinations.

Following the incident with the ghost, Macbeth visits the three weird sisters. Once again, he receives three prophecies—a warning against the noble Macduff, an assurance that he shall be safe until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Castle, and that he will not be harmed by a ‘man born of woman.’ The last two, in particular, calm Macbeth, as forests cannot move and all men are given birth to by women. Believing himself to be safe, Macbeth embarks on a harsh and tyrannical reign, ordering the death of not only those he believes will pose a threat to him, but also their families. In an especially brutal move, he kills Lady Macduff and her children. This angers and grieves Macduff, who had fled Scotland to join Malcolm, and he vows revenge against Macbeth. 

As Macbeth gets consumed by his power and paranoia, Lady Macbeth begins to feel intense guilt about her role in Duncan’s death. It disturbs her to the extent that she begins sleepwalking and sleeptalking, as witnessed by her maid and doctor.

The tide turns against Macbeth as discontent with his rule spreads. Malcolm sets out on his return to Scotland with the army he raised in England and Macduff. Macbeth barricades himself in Dunsinane Castle awaiting the rebel army even as he sinks into a moroseness made worse by the arrival of the news that Lady Macbeth, unable to deal with her growing guilt, has committed suicide.

However, Macbeth is still convinced of his victory on the basis of the witches’ prophecies. But as the rebel army approaches, shielded by boughs of trees, it appears as if Birnam Wood is approaching, corroding Macbeth’s hope. As the battle begins, he finds himself fighting with Macduff who reveals that, rather than having been born naturally, he had been surgically removed from his mother’s womb. Macduff  beheads Macbeth, bringing the battle to an end. Malcolm takes over the throne and establishes his reign. 

The Two Faces of Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth says that “God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.” God has made Macbeth one way, and he turns into a completely different man due to the thirst for the crown.

Dramatic Tension in Macbeth

Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’ is set in Scotland during the rule of king Duncan. Macbeth has fought his way up the ranks of the army to become one of Duncan’s most trusted Lords. An encounter with three witches puts wickedness into the heart of an otherwise noble and loyal Macbeth. 

Characters in Macbeth

  •  Macbeth – He is the titular character and the tragic hero. At the beginning of the play, he is a general in the army of the Scottish King Duncan. When he hears the prophecy of three witches that he will himself become the king, he plots to make it come true.
Painting depicting the arrival of Birnam Wood at Dunsinane.
One after the other, events that Macbeth had thought impossible, such as the “movement” of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane Castle, come true.
  • Lady Macbeth – She is the wife of Macbeth as well as a key player in fanning the flames of his ambition and goading him on to kill Duncan and claim the throne. Later, however, she becomes consumed by guilt and eventually commits suicide.
  • The Weird Sisters – They are the three witches who spark mischief and mayhem with their prophecies to Macbeth. Their later prophecies are also clearly half-truths lulling Macbeth into a false sense of security.
  • Banquo – He is Macbeth’s friend and fellow general. As Macbeth’s reign of terror begins to grip Scotland, he orders the death of Banquo and his son to prevent the last of the witches’ initial prophecies coming true.
  • Fleance – He is Banquo’s son. He survives the assassination ordered by Macbeth.
  • Macduff – He is a noble who, immediately after the discovery of Duncan’s murder, is suspicious of Macbeth. He poses a significant threat to Macbeth and joins Malcolm in overthrowing the former. When Macbeth kills Macduff’s innocent wife and children, it becomes another powerful motivation for the latter to seek vengeance against him.
  • Malcolm – He is Duncan’s eldest son and the rightful heir to the throne. Fleeing to England after his father’s death, he is eventually able to claim his right with Macbeth’s death.

Macbeth – A Good Guy

In the beginning of the play Macbeth was portrayed as a “good being” he fought for his country and for his king. Shakespeare describes Macbeth in such quotes as “for brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name” (pg. 38, line 16), and “What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.”(pg. 40 line 67).

The Relationship Between Macbeth and the Other Characters

Duncan is the most unlikely character to be killed because of his personality, but his title as King of Scotland, causes Macbeth to loathe Duncan. In the play there is very little interaction between Macbeth and Duncan, showing the little time in which Macbeth gets more power. 

Themes in Macbeth

1. Ambition: Ambition is Macbeth’s hamartia (the fatal flaw in an otherwise perfect tragic hero) and is the play’s major motivator. Receiving the witches’ prophecies and then seeing one almost immediately fulfilled ignites the ambitions of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, corrupting them to the point of committing murder. 

Painting depicting a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene is one of the most poignant depictions of guilt in English literature.

In general, ambition is a positive driver. However, if unchecked, it corrupts and turns into insatiable greed. Even though they succeeded in their goal of grabbing the throne, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth paid for their ambition with their deaths by the end of the play.

2. Power and Tyranny: Macbeth’s ascendancy to the throne gave him more power than ever before. Given the way in which he achieved this—by murdering Duncan—he wielded this power in a tyrannical manner. He began the play as a decent and widely admired man; however, by the end of it, he had become a murderer and tyrant who crushed any perceived rebellion harshly, not hesitant to spill innocent blood along the way. 

3. Guilt: Ambitious as they are, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are unable to escape the grip of guilt. Macbeth’s guilt over killing Duncan propels him into killing more and more people to cover his crime. Further, his guilt over Banquo’s death causes him to hallucinate and babble in public at a banquet in one of the play’s key moments.

On the other hand, her guilty conscience leads Lady Macbeth to death by her own hands. She roams the halls of the castle at night, trying to wash the (metaphorical) blood off her hands and talking in her sleep in some of the most poignant expressions of guilt in English literature. Unable to take it, she eventually commits suicide. 

The Emotions of Ambition, Remorse and Fear in Macbeth by William Shakespeare

The most important emotions that we see in Macbeth are ambition, remorse, and fear. They are significant because they provoke Macbeth to do evil and cruel things. Ambition takes control of him earlier in the play when the witches tell him he is going to be king.

The Reality Behind Lady Macbeth

In the play, “Macbeth”, the character that stands out the most is Lady Macbeth. Her role in this story is significant; Lady Macbeth is an immoral, ruthless and ambitious person who will do whatever it takes for power. She is responsible for the murders that her husband commits due to her own greed and desire for power.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is "Macbeth" a tragedy?

    Yes, "Macbeth" is a Shakespearean tragedy. It ends with the death of Macbeth, the play’s hero. The play is Shakespeare’s shortest and most violent tragedy.

  • Who kills Macbeth?

    Macduff, a powerful noble, kills Macbeth. He had been present at Macbeth’s castle in Inverness when news of Duncan’s death broke and was instantly mistrustful of Macbeth and the way he handled the situation. After Macbeth receives a warning from the three witches to beware of Macduff, the latter flees to England to join Malcolm. In his absence, the now paranoid and tyrannical Macbeth orders the death of Macduff’s wife and children. This causes Macduff to vow revenge upon Macbeth.

  • Did Macbeth kill Banquo?

    Yes, Macbeth killed Banquo by hiring assassins to do the job. After becoming king as prophesied by the witches, he worries that their third prediction will also come true—that it will be Banquo’s children who will take over the throne. He decides to have Banquo and his son Fleance killed, but the latter manages to escape.

  • How does Lady Macbeth die?

    Lady Macbeth commits suicide. Towards the end of the play, she is overwhelmed by guilt for her involvement in Duncan’s murder as well as in the subsequent deaths ordered by her and her husband. Unable to deal with it, she begins walking and talking in her sleep and, eventually, kills herself shortly before the fight between the armies headed by Macbeth and Malcolm.

  • Who is Macduff in "Macbeth"?

    Macduff is a powerful noble in the Scottish court. He is suspicious of Macbeth after Duncan’s death and supports Malcolm’s claim to the throne. He was born via surgery (a C-section), not naturally, and is thus an exception to the prophecy that no man ‘born of woman’ can harm Macbeth. It is him who kills Macbeth during the final battle, beheading him.