Macbeth : Theme, Character description, Summary

Published on 13-Sep-2022


Macbeth is a tragedy play written by the world-famous playwright and English writer named William Shakespeare. The first theatre performance premiered in the year 1616 in London. Macbeth gained much popularity for being a fantasy story associated with Scottish history. It is also one of the original plays Shakespeare took part in with his theatre group, The King's Men.  

Macbeth Theme

Macbeth is a tragic tale with greed, love, and power themes. The play shows a moral lesson on how desire and ambition can bring destruction to people's lives; if not, there is no presence of conscience. The play's main characters are Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, and the three witches, Macduff, Lady Macduff, and King Duncan. 

Character description: 

  • Macbeth: Macbeth is the King of a country called Glamis. After encountering the three witches, he admired the throne of Scotland and made a prophecy of his future. 
  • Lady Macbeth: Lady Macbeth is the wife of Macbeth and the Queen of Glamis. She is the one who convinced Macbeth to kill the King of Scotland so that Macbeth could become the King. Later in the story, she commits suicide out of guilt and fear. 
  • Banquo: Banquo is the best friend of Macbeth and the captain of the Glamis army. Macbeth kills his friend for fear that his son might inherit the throne. 
  • The three witches: The three weird sisters meet Macbeth and Banquo in a dark forest of marshes and make the prophecy for both. Although the friends take the witches' statements as a joke, Macbeth soon starts believing them as his greed increases.  
  • Macduff: Macduff was a Scottish nobleman who could not accept Macbeth as his King. Macduff vows revenge when Macbeth kills Lady Macduff and their children. He kills Macbeth in the end, fulfilling the witches' last prophecy.  
  • Lady Macduff: The wife of Macduff and a noble lady. 
  • King Duncan: The King of Scotland. Macbeth kills King Duncan after planning it with Lady Macbeth. The two sons of King Duncan, Malcolm, and Donalbain, escape the country to save their lives. Malcolm returns to Scotland with Macduff and becomes Scotland's Heir of the Throne. 

Macbeth Complete Summary

The play begins by introducing the three odd witch sisters in the forest. King Duncan gets the message in his palace about how his two generals, Macbeth and Banquo, defeated two invading armies from Ireland and Norway. On their way back from the heated battle, Macbeth and Banquo come in contact with the three witches after crossing a moor. The three witches cast a spell in the forest when Macbeth and Banquo arrived.

Upon seeing them, the witches look at Macbeth and call him Thane of Cawdor and then call him Thane of Scotland. Another witch looks at Banquo and calls him the father of the Thane of Scotland. The witches break down the prophecy of how Macbeth will become the Governor of Cawdor and soon become the King of Scotland. Whereas Banquo cannot be the King, his son will become the future King of Scotland. The witches disappear after the future is depicted. 

Macbeth and Banquo take the witches' prophecy skeptically and travel to Scotland. King Duncans's men in Scotland approach Macbeth and Banquo to congratulate them on their victory. Macbeth soon learns that he has been given the title of Thane of Cawdor as the last governor was executed for treason. Macbeth starts believing the witches as half the prophecy came true. Although Macbeth is uncertain and anxious about the later prophecy, he writes a letter to his wife before meeting King Duncan for dinner. Lady Macbeth plays a significant part in Macbeth's greed as she convinces him to kill King Duncan despite Macbeth's objections.

Lady Macbeth's desire for kingship might have been larger than Macbeth's. That night they both plan to kill King Duncan in his sleep after getting the two chamber guards drunk. Macbeth stabs King Duncan with a dagger from one of the chamberlains while he is asleep. Soon after killing him, Macbeth sees a vision of a bloody flying dagger and flees with fear. Lady Macbeth insists he return the dagger to reduce suspicion, but Macbeth could not do with his guilt and fear. Thus Lady Macbeth holds the dagger and takes it back to the drunken passed-out guards.  

The following day Macbeth orders to execute the two guards who could not remember anything. His position soon moved up to the throne as King Duncan Malcolm and Donalbain's two sons fled the country and moved to England and Ireland separately. After becoming the King of Scotland, Macbeth's greed increased. The fear of losing the throne to his best friend's son made him anxious and fearful. Macbeth secretly hired a group of private murderers and ordered them to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance.

The killers managed to murder Banquo on his way to the Royal Feast, but Fleance somehow fled the scene into the night. The news made Macbeth lose his mind. He felt threatened and insecure about his power as long as Fleance was alive. During the Royal Feast, Macbeth imagines Banquo's ghost approaching him. He starts screaming and raving in front of all the noble people and governors. Lady Macbeth tries to calm him down and neutralize the situation. Although all the Scottish nobles and subjects secretly agree that Macbeth should not be the King. 

Frightened, Macbeth goes to search for the three witches in their cavern. He asks for another prophecy in fear of losing his kingship. The witches then show him the presence of demons and spirits around him and state another future. This time the witches give him three prophecies. One that his throne is in danger opposed a Scottish Nobleman named Macduff. The second is that Macbeth cannot be killed by anybody born out of a woman. And lastly, he will be safe in his position until Birnam Wood enters the Dunsinane Royal Castle. 

After returning to the palace, Macbeth was relieved. He was assured nobody could hurt him as every person is born out of a woman, and Wood cannot move by itself. He felt invincible and confident as a King now. One of his royal messengers let him know how Macduff fled from Scotland and joined with previous King Duncan's son Malcolm to invade Scotland. After learning the news, he orders guards to seize Macduff's castle and kill his whole family. 

In England, Macduff is broken by the news of the death of his wife and children. Filled with grief and rage, Macduff vows revenge against Macbeth and swears to kill him. Prince Malcolm succeeds in raising an army of his own and joins Macduff on his way to Scotland to challenge Macbeth and invade the palace. Even the Scottish nobles supported the invasion against Macbeth because of his cruel and tyrant reign. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth starts suffering from sleepwalking and nightmares due to guilt and fear. Before the invasion, she kills herself out of grief and pain of guilt. Macbeth receives the news of his wife's death and sinks into depression.

He waits patiently for Prince Malcolm and Macduff with no fear, as the witches have ensured his invincibility. However, when he finds out the invading soldiers are shielding themselves using boughs from Birnam Wood trees, his fear starts returning as one of the prophecies comes true. 

 In the battle, Macbeth fights cruelly and slashes his opponents violently. His army failed to protect him and the palace and was soon invaded. Macduff violently charges at Macbeth to fulfill his revenge. When Macbeth confidently states he cannot be harmed by any man born out of a woman, Macduff mocks him and says he was not born out of his mother but ripped from the womb (present-day C-section). Macbeth realizes his doom as all three prophecies come true. Macduff fights him and beheads Macbeth, thus winning the battle. 

After the bloody war, Prince Malcolm declares himself the new King of Scotland. He recites his good intentions for his people as a kind King and invites everyone to witness his crowning ceremony at the Scone Palace. 

The Play's Moral

The play ends with the demise of Macbeth and his legacy, much like the end of evil. Macbeth's greed and out-of-control ambition destroy him and the people around him. Even though he did have a conscience left at the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth challenged it and persuaded her husband to do the unthinkable crime. The three witches did not lie or trick Macbeth in any way. Even after that, Macbeth failed to see the truth of his demise as greed and power made him blind to reality. Shakespeare puts importance on guilt and grief guilt multiple times in the play. Lady Macbeth commits suicide because of constant guilt, whereas Macbeth loses his mental composure due to guilt. 

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