Poem of Quotes - Poetry, Quotations, and Relationships
Home > Poets > Classical > William Shakespeare > Summary of Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth Summary

The play, Macbeth, opens with three witches meeting after a nearby battle is fought. At this time, Macbeth is introduced as a brave man who led King Duncan to a victory against the traitorous Thane of Cawdor, Macdonwald and the King of Norway in a battle that King Duncan would have lost if it not for him. King Duncan rewards Macbeth for his efforts by making him the new Thane of Cawdor while the previous will be executed. Macbeth and his friend Banquo meet with the three witches, which tell him that he will be "Thane of Glamis!", "Thane of Cawdor!" and "king hereafter" or become King of Scotland. Banquo learns that his descendants will be kings, making him fear the witches. Macbeth's monologue reveals his belief in the witches, questioning Banquo's feelings about his descendants future and starting to think of killing King Duncan.

King Duncan announces his son Malcolm as the new Prince of Cumberland, causing Macbeth see Malcolm as a threat. Lady Macbeth embraces the prophecies, fearing her husband is too weak-willed, she asks the gods to remove all signs of compassion and replace them with ruthlessness. After her learning of King Duncan staying at their castle, she plans to kill him, but not until Macbeth awakens and decides against murder. His wife wins him over, and plans for the two to murder him. Macbeth kills the King while his wife tells him that water will wash away their guilt.

After the news of Duncan's death reaches everyone at the castle, Lady Macbeth faints and Macbeth kills Duncan's two guards for the murder, freeing him from suspicion. Duncon's two sons flee, leaving Macbeth to be King of Scotland causing Banquo to ponder whether Macbeth killed the King. Fearful Macbeth arranges for the death of Banquo and Fleance, but only Macbeth is killed. The King later sees the ghost of Banquo at his party, causing the party to end early due to Macbeth's strange behavior. Hecate scolds the witches, telling them to use illusion and prophecy against Macbeth.

Macbeth meets the witches, learning that he should fear Macduff and that no naturally born can harm him and he has nothing to fear until "Great Birnam Wood" moves to "high Dunsinane hill". After, he decides to have him killed, he decides he is safe from everything except the impossible moving of a nearby forest to his castle.

Macbeth's attempt to kill Macduff fails, and kills his family instead. The audience learns that Scotland is under a tyrant's rule and a large army has gathered against him. The Queen goes insane, making a monologue on how she cannot wipe away the blood from her hands. The army, led by Malcolm, gathers near Dunsinane. He orders each man to cut down a branch from the nearby forest, Birnam Wood, to use as camouflage, and heads towards Macbeth's castle. Macbeth sets off to meet his destiny, confronting Macduff, and learns of his being born by Caesarian section. Macbeth is slain as order is restored and Malcolm is hailed as the King of Scotland.

Return to William Shakespeare biography
Next: Midsummer Night's Dream