Our Macbeth study guide has four parts that answer all the questions you have about the Shakespear's play. The guide includes a detailed summary of the storyline with the list of acts and scenes. It introduces the significant play characters and provides the analysis of their tempers and motifs. You’ll also find scrutiny of the thematic and symbolic range of the tragedy. Finally, we’ve gathered up the key quotes from Macbeth with the comments on their significance for the narrative.
Macbeth by Shakespeare: Study Guide
Macbeth is the shortest play among all the tragedies William Shakespeare has written, and one of the most famous ones, too. The play dramatizes the destructive consequences of political desires on people who seek power for the sake of it. The play is said to have been written in 1606, a period when King James I had just taken over power. King James also happened to be the patron of the acting company that belonged to Shakespeare. Macbeth is said to be reflective of the close relationship that Shakespeare enjoyed with King James I, even though he had written many other plays during that time. Since Macbeth was a figure from Scottish history, the play is thought to be a means of Shakespeare honoring the Scottish lineage that his king originated from.
We’ve prepared for you a four-part study guide the play. The first part is an extensive summary of the storyline reflecting all the events of the play and presented act-by-act. The second part is the list of main and supporting characters with their description and profound analysis. In the third part, you will find a review of the main themes and symbols of the play. And the fourth part presents the key quotes from the original text with the comprehensive comments.
Before you get down to business, read a short summary of Macbeth that will allow you to get familiar with the main events through quick and clear description.
Complete Macbeth Plot Summary: an act-by-act Guide
For your convenience, we have prepared an act-by-act guide with a detailed description of the storyline. Of course, such a story summary can serve only as an additional tool and shouldn’t be the only source for you to get familiar with Shakespeare’s tragedy.
The approximate reading time is 30 mins.
Time needed to read the original tragedy - 4 hours.
Act I Summary
Characters: Three Witches
The play opens in Scotland, on the desolate piece of the land. The setting and the weather set a tone of tension and ominousness for all the further narrative. Three witches discuss where and when they will see Macbeth. They agree to meet him on the deserted battlefield after the battle he is fighting, which is about to finish, right before the sunset.
Characters: Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, Sergeant, Ross, Lennox
In the camp near Forres, King Duncan with his sons and retinue awaits the news from the battlefield. His troops fight with the rebels under the leadership of Thane of Cawdor. Wounded Sergeant brings the good news: King’s cousin Macbeth defeated the Irish army and personally killed Macdonald. Ross tells the King that right after the victory, the Scots were attacked by the Sweno (the king of Norway). However, captains Macbeth and Banquo managed to repel the attack and defeat the Norwegians as well.
In gratitude for good service, Macbeth gains the Thane title and all the Cawdor lands.
Characters: Three Witches, Macbeth, Banquo, Ross, Angus
The scene opens with the appearance of the three witches. On the heath near Forres, they brag about the evil deeds they’ve done. They wait for Macbeth and when he and Banquo come across them, Macbeth strangely feels a sort of connection to the Sisters. The three foretell Macbeth to be a king, addressing him as Glamis (his current Thane), Cawdor and the King of Scotland. While Macbeth is stupefied by the prophecy, Banquo asks the witches about his future. They respond that he will never be the king, but his descendants will rule the country. Talking in riddles, they say that compare to Macbeth he will be ‘Not so happy, yet much happier’.
Banquo says that the witches are just the ‘earth bubbles’ and there is no need to take them seriously. Yet, Macbeth is excited thinking about the chances to become the king. Meanwhile, they meet Ross and Angus, who inform Macbeth that he gains the Thane of Cawdor. Both Macbeth and Banquo are amazed since at least one part of the Witches prophecy is true. Macbeth cannot help thinking about the prospects of being the king.
Characters: Macbeth, Banquo, Duncan
The captains arrive at Duncan’s castle. The king praises them both, especially Macbeth, for their courage and loyalty. As a special honor, he promises to visit Macbeth’s castle at Iverness. He also announces that he chooses his son Malcolm as the Prince of Cumberland, what means that he will replace Duncan on the throne. With the excuse of preparation for the king’s arrival, Macbeth leaves the king’s castle earlier. However, all he can think about the king’s decision about the heir. He is disappointed and cannot refrain his craving for the throne. With the heavy thoughts and feelings, he is headed to his home.
Characters: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
In Macbeth’s castle, his wife Lady Macbeth is reading her husband’s letter. In this letter, he describes all the odd things he has lately been through, including the witches prophecies. As she learns that one part of the prophecies has come true, she becomes extremely excited. She feels delirious about the idea of being the king’s wife and decides to bring her husband to the throne at any costs. Lady Macbeth understands that Duncan’s visit is a perfect chance to kill the king. However, she knows that even though her husband is an ambitious man, he would hardly take a courage to kill his king. Macbeth feels loathing and fear about the necessity of killing Duncan. Despite his willingness to be the king, he doesn’t feel the resoluteness for committing the murder. So after the chat with her husband, Lady Macbeth decides to push the matter through by herself.
Characters: Macbeth, Duncan, Banquo, Lennox, Macduff and the king's retinue
Duncan with his retinue arrives at the Macbeth’s castle. Staying before the walls, Duncan and Banquo discuss how beautiful the castle is. Their impressions ironically contrast with the truly baleful atmosphere of the place. Lady Macbeth welcomes the guests and according to the usual practice, tells the king that she has prepared the report about all of her possessions. Yet, the king showing his respect and benevolence, refuse of discussing such things. He willingly expresses his impatience to meet with the beloved friend, Macbeth. They all head to the castle.
Characters: Macbeth and his wife
In his castle, Macbeth is tormented by doubts. He fears the possible punishment for Duncan’s murder both in this and in the afterlife. He thinks highly of the king, admitting that he is a decent man and a fair ruler. Finally, he seems to convince himself not to kill Duncan. However, when his wife arrives and sees her husband’s hesitancy, she starts pressuring him morally and disparaging him for his vacillation. She convinces the husband that they will not fail and he has nothing to worry about. The king will be sleeping tightly after the journey and she will narcotize his chamberlains. As a weapon, they will use the servants' daggers, so they will divert suspicion from themselves. Wife’s words make Macbeth change his mind and in the closing scene of the first act, he expresses his readiness to finish what is intended.
Act II Summary
Characters: Banquo, Fleance, Macbeth
The scene opens with Banquo and Fleance talking about the night. Banquo can not fall asleep, tormented by the heavy thoughts about the Witches prophecy. He prays for these thoughts to fade away. While going outside, he meets Macbeth in the courtyard and compliments his hospitality. He informs him that the king has already fallen asleep, besides Banquo has the intention to share his feeling about the Witches with the friend. Yet, Macbeth responds coldly and suggests to postpone this conversation.
After they bid each other goodnight, Macbeth heads to the empty room to wait for his wife’s signal. She will ring the bell the moment when she manages to put to sleep the king’s guards. Macbeth is still in doubts and tumult about the planned murder. All these feeling make him hallucinate and he sees a bloody dagger floating in the air. Finally, he concludes that talking and thinking about the murder won’t change its consequences and only make it harder. When he hears the bell, he is full of readiness to implement his horrible plan.
Characters: Macbeth and his wife
Lady Macbeth is in agog and excited by her deeds. She waits for her husband and thinks that she has arranged everything right for the perfect murder: she has drugged the servants and laid their daggers ready. She says that she would have even killed the king by herself if he hadn’t been so alike her father. Yet, she nervously listens to the castle noises and impatiently waits for her husband to return.
Macbeth enters the room. His hands are in the blood, he still holds the daggers and seems raving. He looks shocked by what he has done and cannot think rationally. His wife has to be sober and to finish the matter properly. She returns to the king’s chamber, put the daggers in the hands of his servants and smear them with his blood.
She returns with the blood on her hands, too. Suddenly they hear knocking at the castle doors. The wife tells Macbeth to go to wash, put a robe on and go to bed. The scene ends with the Macbeth’s words of regret.
Characters: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Macduff, Lennox, Banquo, Malcolm, Donalbain, a porter
The unexpected visitors are Macduff and Lennox who have arrived to visit the king. The master of the house respectfully greets the guests. Macbeth seems to suddenly regain the control over his emotions. Sober and confident he acts naturally and looks like just woken up. While Lennox and Macbeth are chatting, Macduff heads to the king’s chamber. Lennox tells the host that their journey was unpleasant - they encountered a severe storm. And the wind howling resembled the screams and moans. Macbeth with the deadly cynical irony agrees that it was a rough night.
Everybody is shuddered by the Macduff's appearance. Nearly speechless, he reports the king’s death. As Lennox and Macbeth run to see the king, Macduff screams and rings the alarm bells. Everybody gathers to hear the terrifying news.
Meanwhile, Macbeth heads to Duncan’s rooms. He faces the king’s chambers and before they speak a word, he kills them, reporting Macduff that he, being livid with wrath, has killed the king’s murderers.
Everybody looks stunned. Lady Macbeth collapses in her shock and the men rushed to help her. Everybody leaves the court, except the king’s sons. In all this hustle, Duncan’s sons seem not to lose their minds. Malcolm and Donalbain feel the grave danger they are in and decide to flee separately. Malcolm to England and his younger brother to Ireland.
Characters: Ross, Macduff, the Old Man
Outside the castle, Ross discusses with the old man the dreadful event that shocked the place. The old man tells Ross that the king’s death is accompanied by the sinister omens. As Macduff enters, he expresses his doubts about the assumptions that the chambers have killed the king. Since right after the murder Duncan’s sons have fled, they now are considered as the guilty of the king’s death and treason. As the traitors, they cannot claim the throne. So the nobles agree that Macbeth will be the new king of Scotland.
Act III Summary
Characters: Macbeth, Banquo, the two murderers, an attendant
The scene opens in the Forres palace, where Macbeth is preparing for the coronation. The first person entering the dining hall is Banquo. Walking through the hall he is thinking about the prophecy. The forecast for Macbeth has obviously come true - he is about to become a king. That means Banquo has also his reasons to cherish the hope of being the ancestor of the royal figures. The King and his Queen, accompanied by Ross, Lennox, and servants, solemnly enter the hall.
Macbeth also remembers the Witches’ words for Banquo. He doesn’t want to accept the fact that he has committed a murder for someone other to take a throne. So he decides to kill Banquo and his son Fleance, so they couldn’t shake his absolute power.
To prepare the murder, Macbeth asks about the Banquo's plans for the day. The friend guilelessly answers him that together with his son he is going to ride around the castle grounds. Macbeth lets everyone go until the evening dinner. And when everybody leaves, he asks the servant to bring the two men who are waiting at the gates. Talking with these two men, Macbeth convinces them that Banquo was the source of their misery and that he is their real enemy. Finally, the two agree with Macbeth and get ready to fulfill the planned.
This episode shows us that Macbeth has changed. He doesn’t suffer anymore from the pangs of conscience when it gets to killing. He finally has the throne and he won’t let anyone hinder him to rule, whatever it can mean.
Characters: Macbeth and his wife, a servant
Lady Macbeth sends a servant to find her husband. Now when she is the Queen of the Scots, she doesn’t feel the fulfillment she has expected she would. The thoughts about Duncan’s murder keep tormenting her. There is nothing left for her to desire, but she still doesn’t find a peace of mind. When Macbeth joins his wife, he also admits that the feeling of guilt is still torturing him. He cannot find a peace at nights and fear is his everlasting companion now. Lady Macbeth suggests him to forget the painful thoughts and enjoy the durbar. Then Macbeth tells her about his horrible plan to kill Banquo. But when she asks to tell her more, he refuses, saying that she’d better remain in the dark for her sake.
The assassins hired by Macbeth wait in ambush for Banquo and his son to attack them. The third assassin sent by Macbeth for insurance joins the other two. They hear horses and see Banquo and his son walking with the torches in their hands discussing the weather. The first men attack Banquo but he manages to warn his son and let him run away. Banquo has no chance to survive but Fleance escapes death. The assassins understand that killing of the boy was the primary part of the task. Yet, being unable to find him in the dark, they return to the castle to report the death of Banquo.
Characters: Macbeth and his wife, Ross, Lennox, lords, attendants, the first murderer
The dinner party is in its full swing. The dining hall is full of people, who are enjoying the evening. Macbeth sees one of the murderers among the guests and unnoticeably absent himself to talk to the man. The murderer informs him that they have managed to kill Banquo but they have lost the boy. Macbeth is vexed by the news that Fleance remains alive. However, he decides to focus on the good part of the affair - Banquo is dead. Macbeth wants to take his place at the dinner table but sees bleeding Banquo's ghost, what terrifies Macbeth. He starts yelling at the ghost but since only he can see him, others are confused by the king’s behavior. Then his wife quickly saves the situation telling that the king has a momentary fit of debility. Nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, she tries to bring the king to senses. Finally, he puts himself together and calls everybody to continue the partying.
However, the ghost returns and Macbeth decisively loses control over himself. His lady interrupts the banquet and asks everybody to leave.
All leave and the Macbeths remaining alone discuss Macduff, who has not shown up at the dinner. Macbeth reveals that he has bribed Thane’s servant and will find out how loyal Macduff is to the king. Macbeth also wants to visit the Witches to learn more about his future. He states that from now nothing can stand in his way and the desired end justifies any of the means.
Characters: the Witches, Hecate
On the deserted heath, the three Witches meet their patron Hecate, who is furious about what the three have done by telling Macbeth the prophecy. Now she orders them to meet him again and lull his vigilance with the baffling prophecy. They must give him the false sense of security.
Characters: Lennox, another lord
In one of the palace rooms, Lennox and one lord have a delicate conversation, concerning Duncan and Banquo’s deaths. At first by hints and then straightly, they share the suspicion that Macbeth stays behind these deaths. The lord tells that Duncan’s elder son Malcolm with the support of English king Edward is gathering the army to make
Act IV Summary
Characters: The Witches, Macbeth, the apparitions, Lennox
The scene opens in the cave, in the middle of which we see a boiling cauldron. The Witches gather around and wait for Macbeth. When he arrives, he asks them to foretell his future. Ready to answer all his questions, the hugs evoke the apparitions to tell Macbeth what waits for him ahead. The first spirit appears in the form of an armed head and warns Macbeth about Macduff’s plans to overthrow the king. The second one appears as the child in blood. It tells Macbeth that no man born of a woman can hurt him gravely. These words make Macbeth believe that he is invincible. Still, he keeps asking about what he should watch out. The third phantom - a crowned child with a tree - tells that Macbeth will not be harmed until Great Birnam Wool fight in battle with Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth’s confidence is growing. Yet, he remembers the prophecy for Banquo telling that he will father the kings. He asks the Witches about it and they evoke the apparitions of eight kings. Macbeth sees the Banquo’s ghost behind them and gets infuriates. With laugh and dances, the witches vanish. Right after that Lennox joins Macbeth in the cave but the witches disappear before he enters. The Lord informs Macbeth that Macduff has taken Malcolm's side, and together they prepare the army to fight against king Macbeth. The king promises that he will kill Macduff and slaughter his whole family for his treachery.
Characters: Lady Macduff, her son, Ross, a messenger, murderers
In the Macduff’s castle, Ross talks to Lady Macduff, who is disgruntled by the leave of lord Macduff. She wonders what makes him escape and whether he is a coward or a wise man. Ross insists in the latter. Yet, none of his words can appease her anger and he leaves. In a fit of disappointment, she tells her son that his father is dead. But the boy doesn’t believe her and turn the conversation into the witty joke. Until he asks her what does it mean to be a traitor. The mother answers him that the traitor is the one who swears and then breaks the oath. A messenger interrupts their conversation and tells the Lady that she is in danger and must flee as soon as possible. However, she refuses to do so, assuming that she has not done any harm to anyone to hurt her. This delay leads to the death of both of them: the son is killed by the murderers first. The mother tries to escape but it is already too late.
Characters: Malcolm, Macduff, Ross
The last scene of the act set in the palace of the Edward, the King of England. Macduff tries to assure Malcolm in his, Macduff's loyalty. Malcolm, however, cannot easily believe him since he knows the Lord who, being a friend, has already betrayed them all. He means Macbeth, of course. To examine Macduff’s true intentions Malcolm tells him that he is deeply vicious and cannot really be a decent king. In despair, Macduff starts mourning the country’s future. After that Malcolm understands that the lord sincerely cares about the country, thus, he can fully trust him. Suddenly, Ross joins them and brings the horrible news to Macduff that all his family and even servants have been killed. At first, the lord hardly believes it and keep asking the same questions about his family. When he understands that there are no mistakes in Ross’s words, he breaks down in regrets. To bring his friend to life, Malcolm asks Macduff to turn his grief into the thirst for revenge. Now it is the time to punish Macbeth for all the horror he has caused to them and the country. The scene ends with the men head to the king. The all are ready to throw away the scabbard to vengeance the dead and to protect the living.
Act V Summary
Characters: Lady Macbeth, doctor, a gentlewoman
The scene takes place in the Dunsinane palace. Macbeth has left his wife alone in the place and without his support, she seems to not get along with her conscience. The Queen’s gentlewoman talks to a doctor about the Lady’s condition. Together they see the Queen walking down the corridors with the lantern in her hands. Indistinctly speaking she acts like she wants to wash something out of her hands. Later it becomes clear that she sees her hands in blood and talks about the victims of her crimes. Both the gentlewoman and the doctor understand that they hear more than they should. The doctor concludes that the Queen needs a priest rather than a physician and leaves the palace in rush.
Characters: Lennox, Angus, Menteith, Caithness, Soldiers
Meanwhile, in the countryside around Dunsinane, the rebels gather together and wait for Macduff and Malcolm supported by his uncle Siward and the English army. Lennox, Angus and other lords discuss their strategy. They decide to set a meeting place at Birnam Wood and camouflage the soldiers with the boughs so they could hardly be seen in the wood. Caithness reports them that Macbeth is preparing his forces for the attack.
Characters: Macbeth, Seyton, the doctor, the servant
Macbeth in his castle is waiting for the start of the battle. On the one hand, he feels very confident due to the prophesies the apparitions have made. On the other, he is not cold or calm. He acts fussy and unreasonably, refusing to hear the news from the field. When his servant reports him about ten thousand soldiers waiting for the battle with him, he angrily sends the attendant away. The doctor tells Macbeth that his wife is suffering the mental illness. Yet, Macbeth doesn’t pay much attention to it and orders the doctor to cure her. When the physician replies that he cannot help her, Macbeth nervously refuses to listen to him and request to bring his armour.
Characters: Malcolm, Siward and his Son, Macduff, Menteith, Caithness, Angus, Lennox, Ross, and Soldiers
The rebels, including Lennox, Ross, Angus and the soldiers meet Malcolm and with his allies near the Birnam wood. Malcolm orders every soldier to cut the bough from the forest’s tree and carry them along the way to the battle. This way he wants to cover his army with camouflage. Yet, Malcolm is unaware that actualizes the words from the prophecy: the Birnam forest now is moving on Dunsinane. He sends, thus, Macbeth a sign that symbolizes the end of his days.
Characters: Macbeth, Seyton, the soldiers, the servant
In the castle, Macbeth encourages his army to the fight. He now is full of determination and fearlessness. He hears a woman’s cry behind the scene but doesn’t feel scared. He asks about the nature of the noise and learns that his wife is dead. He seems to not feel any grief and notice only that she died not in time. Suddenly, one of the servants reports him that he has witnessed some amazing view - the forest is moving toward the castle. At first, Macbeth doesn’t believe him but then see it personally and concludes that there is no way out. He is going to fight to the death.
Characters: Malcolm, Siward, Macduff, the soldiers
This brief scene draws Malcolm’s army near the king’s castle. Malcolm inspires his allies to the battle. Siward and his son will lead the first regiment and Malcolm with Macduff will forward the rest of the army. He asks the trumpets to signal that they are approaching.
Characters: Macbeth, Young Siward, Old Siward, Malcolm, Macduff
On the battlefield, Macbeth feels confident since the only one he should fear is the one who wasn’t born by a woman. When he encounters fearless but green Young Siward he easily defeats him in the direct confrontation. The sound of the fight attracts Macduff who is ready to attack Macbeth. The fight is running on.
Meanwhile, old Siward informs Malcolm that their army fight bravely and they are close to the smashing of the enemy forces. He asks Malcolm to enter the castle.
Characters: Macbeth and Macduff
On the other part of the field, Macduff confronts Macbeth. The Lord yearns for revenge but Macbeth doesn’t intend to kill him since he already has enough of the Macduffs blood on his hands. Macduff is not going to retreat and they start fighting. Being assured that nobody can hurt him, Macbeth tells his enemy that since he is born by a woman, he cannot harm the king. However, Macduff notices that he wasn’t born by his mother but was cut out of her womb (by Cesarian operation). This moment becomes determinative - Macbeth understands that he was fooled by the Witches. That he was deliberately misled about his invincibility. Yet, he refuses to give up and they continue fighting.
Characters: Malcolm, Siward, Ross, Macduff. All other Thanes and soldiers
The fight is over and Malcolm’s army solemnly enters the castle. Ross regretfully informs Siward that his son has fallen in the battle. The father regains his spirit when learns that his son has died fighting, and has taken the fatal hit from the front, He admits that for the soldier it is the noblest way to die.
Macduff returns holding Macbeth’s head in the hands and cheers the new king Malcolm. In the closing speech, Malcolm declares that from now on all the thanes become the earls. He promises to bring home all the exiled by the tyrant and punish all the Macbeth’s stooges.
From his speech, we learn that Lady Macbeth has committed a suicide.
Malcolm ends his speech on the joyful and promising note. All exit to head to the Scone for a coronation.
Themes and symbols
Themes and symbols in Macbeth and their analysis
Themes and symbols in Macbeth are the basic and repeatedly common thoughts looked at in a literary work. Symbols refer to the forms, characters, and items used to stand for theoretical thoughts, concepts or ideas. There are a number of themes, motifs, and symbols that have been used in Macbeth as discussed and analyzed below:
Major themes in Macbeth
One of the major themes in Macbeth by Shakespeare is the devastating effects that can occur if ambition is allowed to overstep the boundaries of morality. When ambition goes without being checked by moral controls, it can cause more harm than good. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth best bring out the destructive effects of unchecked ambitions. Even though it is not in Macbeth’s nature to commit evil deeds, the prospect of being in power, coupled with the pressure from his wife leads him to become overambitious and plot to do whatever it takes to get into power, including murder. The ambition of Macbeth and his wife to get into the power lead them to plot the murder of King Duncan and they eventually kill him. Ambition is seen to be the driving force in the play. Macbeth and his wife kill King Duncan because of their ambition to get into power. The ambition that Lady Macbeth has for her husband further inspires ambition within Macbeth to do whatever it takes to get into power. Uncontrolled ambition in the play has been seen to have a corrupting influence on the morals of people. They would go to the extent of killing others just to fulfill their desires and ambitions. Unchecked ambition turned Macbeth into a tyrant, dictator, and murderer because he resorted to killing people who dared oppose him. The effects of uncontrolled ambitions become too much to bear for both Macbeth and his wife. Macbeth ends up feeling guilty for every single evil act he commits. Lady Macbeth also becomes more affected by her evil deeds and those of her husband to the extent that she even commits suicide. At first, ambition appears to be driving them to do great things and advance in life but when their ambition gets to unchecked levels outside the confines of morality, they are consumed by guilt.
Power has manifested itself in different ways in the play. There are major differences between how King Duncan used his position in power and how Macbeth abused power. King Duncan is used to represent good, visionary and forward-thinking leadership. He does not use his power as king to oppress and violate the rights of others. He does not let power get into his head and lead him to commit evil acts. He uses his power well to lead his people to prosperity. Macbeth, on the other hand, is a great example of how a king can misuse power bestowed upon him for his own selfish gains. His greed for power, sparked by false prophesies from the three witches lead him to kill King Duncan and take over power. This does not stop there as his ambition for power makes him commit numerous more murders of people who oppose him. He does this so that he can retain power. Lady Macbeth also proves to be power hungry and would do anything to ensure his husband gets a taste of being in power. She manipulates her husband to do evil acts and kill people so that he can get into power and retain it. She feels that she will enjoy the privileges of being in power if her husband is the king. Malcolm is also used by the playwright to show that power does not have to corrupt the mind of a leader. Malcolm clearly spells out that to be in power, a king has to be gracious, ensure justice, lowliness, mercy, perseverance, bounty, temperance, and verity. The same qualities were exemplified by King Duncan when he was in power. This is quite opposite of how Macbeth uses power. He only brings death and destruction while he is king. The relationship between tyranny and good kingship is a major theme in the play as summarized and analyzed above. Macbeth has been used as an embodiment of destruction and tyranny while in power, whereas King Duncan, as well as Malcolm, have been used to represent justice and order.
Macbeth Themes and Symbols: Link between Masculinity and Cruelty
Gender issues present themselves numerous times in the play. The male gender is considered to be stronger than the female gender. As is evident, only men serve in the army because they are thought to be the only ones with the ability to fight. The army is not considered a place for women because they are thought to be weak and frail. When Macbeth’s manhood is questioned by Lady Macbeth, he is forced to commit murder and other atrocities just to look man enough. This shows that men are expected to be courageous enough to carry out anything that needs to be done. Macbeth feels less of a man when his wife manipulates him by questions his manhood. He goes ahead to commit atrocities just to prove that he is a man because he does not want to be seen as being weak. This shows that even women themselves believe that they are weaker than men. Men, just by virtue of being men, are expected to have the ability to be cruel without feeling guilty. Macbeth also questions the manhood of the killers hired to kill Banquo. This is intended for manipulating them to do the job well because it is believed that men are aggressive and cruel. Macbeth and his wife seem to think that being a man gives one the power to be cruel and ruthless. The political wars, chaos, and assassinations also take place because Macbeth feels emasculated when people oppose him. He murders his opponents just to prove that he is a brave man. Women in the play are also used to perpetuate violence and evil. Lady Macbeth manipulates his husband to committing murder by questioning his manhood. The three witches manipulate Macbeth into thinking that he will become the king, forcing him to also commit murder in order to fulfill his manly ambitions.
Appearance and Reality Themes Analysis
Throughout the play, there are people and occurrences that are not what they seem or portray themselves to be. The three witches appeared to have good intentions for Macbeth through prophecies they made. However, it later becomes apparent that they are working for Hecate. They deceive Macbeth using false prophesies to get him to fulfill their own personal agendas. Macbeth and his wife also appear to be devoted and loyal to King Duncan to such an extent that Macbeth is made the thane of Cawdor but they have secret and evil motives that seek to get King Duncan out of power in order to fulfill their selfish ambitions. Lady Macbeth appears to be a good and loving wife but she is the force and mastermind behind her husband’s atrocities. Although Macbeth and his wife appear to be having a loving and fulfilling relationship, the reality is that Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband into doing evil and they end up feeling guilty about it. Generally, violence and evil are expected to be perpetuated by men, especially during that time. However, women seem to be just as good in plotting evil and perpetuating violence as seen through the actions of Lady Macbeth, Hecate, and the three witches. They even seem to be better at it than men.
Symbols in Macbeth
Blood as one of the symbols in Macbeth manifests itself everywhere in the play. It is used to symbolize evil, wars, atrocities, murders, and wickedness. Blood also symbolizes the guilt of some characters such as Macbeth and his wife when they imagine how much blood is in their hands because of the murders they commit. In a way, blood is used to stain the conscience of people who do evil. It is also used to show the consequences of evil acts by some characters.
Weather and nature
Nature is seen to play an important role by controlling the weather in the play. Wind and lightning have been depicted to have a rebellious and distractive nature. This symbolizes the disorder that exists in the society when people put their ambitions above morality. The weather appears to be reacting to Macbeth’s atrocities. The rebellious nature of the weather is intended to symbolize that society is going against morality.
Darkness and light
Light symbolizes the presence of life, goodness, peace, and God whereas darkness symbolizes death, evil, destruction, and the indication that things are about to go wrong. This explains why Lady Macbeth always wants to have a lit candle by her side when things go wrong. Lady Macbeth also beckons for a thick night with smoke from hell so that the bad thing she is about to do, which is murder King Duncan, goes unnoticed.
Clothing has been used in the play to symbolize who people truly are or what they aspire to be. For instance, Macbeth does not want to be dressed in borrowed clothes when he is being appointed thane of Cawdor because he believes new robes would adequately represent the new title he has been given. Clothes here have been used as a symbol of status or title.
Themes and symbols that represent Lady Macbeth
There are a number of symbols that represent Lady Macbeth. First, she is like a green snake in the grass. This implies that it is difficult for people to see her for who she really is or to see her true colors. She is a manipulative and conniving woman. Her cunning, crafty, manipulative and sly nature likens her to a snake. Her hunger for power leads her to manipulate her husband into killing King Duncan and committing many other murders. She appears to be a nice lady but uses tricks and manipulation to have her way with almost everything. She also appears to love her husband but always gets him to do evil. Lady Macbeth is also a symbol of masculinity hidden in a female body. She symbolizes the power that women have that usually goes unnoticed. It is generally expected that men should be the ones to commit atrocities and perpetuate cruelty, war, and death. However, Macbeth is uncomfortable with doing all these evil deeds until he is pushed into them by his wife. He still feels guilty even after doing them. Macbeth shows that what men can do, women can do even better. She appears stronger than her husband when she is the driving force behind his evil deeds. Her husband even feels that she is more of a man trapped in a woman’s body.
Misogyny is also another symbol carried by Lady Macbeth. She invokes hate for women when she proves that they cannot be trusted to do anything good. By manipulating her husband into doing evil, she shows that women are eviler than men. She makes people have mistrust towards women because of her evil character. She makes people fear women because they can do anything to make men do bad things. Macbeth appears to loathe evil but is driven into it with a lot of ease by Lady Macbeth. Her character symbolizes the fact that women cannot be trusted and advances the notion that they are eviler than men.
Lady Macbeth also symbolizes the power of the sexuality of women. She uses her charm as a woman to get her husband to do whatever she wants. She even questions her husband’s masculinity when he is afraid of killing King Duncan. She manipulates her husband into thinking that he will be seen more of a man if he kills Duncan and takes over power. Even though Macbeth is reluctant to do it at first, he ends up giving in to the power of a woman’s sexuality. She also symbolizes weakness and lack of having one stand among women when the guilt from her evil deeds gets the best of her. She cannot handle all the blood in her hands and decides to commit suicide. If she were strong-willed as she portrayed herself to be, she would easily live with the consequences of her actions. Lastly, through her evil deeds, Lady Macbeth is a symbol of death, destruction, disorder, manipulation, unchecked ambition and cruelty.
Characters List & Analysis
Here you’ll find the list of the characters in Macbeth, including the main and supporting personages. Besides, we have provided a comprehensive description and analysis of the characters and indicated the context of their appearance in the play.
The following are the characters in the play: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, the three witches, Banquo, King Duncan, Macduff, Malcolm, Hecate, Fleance, Lennox, Ross, Porter, Lady Macduff, Donalbain, Angus, Menteith, Caithness, Siward, Young Siward, Seyton, the three murderers working for Macbeth, the two murderers who attach Lady Macduff, Lady Macbeth’s doctor, the gentlewoman who was lady Macbeth’s caretaker, and the doctor at the English court. The play also has many attendants, soldiers, servants, and messengers.
Characters' description &summary
Macbeth is a Scottish general in King Duncan’s army. He was also the thane of Glamis and later the thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is depicted as a courageous soldier and dominant man of questionable morals. Three witches approach him and prophesy that he will become the thane of Cawdor. The three witches’ prophecy comes true and Macbeth is indeed appointed the thane of Cawdor. Later on, the same witches approach Macbeth and prophesy that he will become the King of Scotland. This leads him to have wicked thoughts of taking over the kingship of Scotland from King Duncan, especially after the first prophecy made by the three witches came true. The wicked thoughts tempt him to murder King Duncan so that he can become king as prophesied by the witches. His wife, Lady Macbeth, is also deeply ambitious and lustful of the power and position that his husband would have if he became king. In fact, she is the one who strongly pushes Macbeth to kill King Duncan and take over power. He finally kills King Duncan and seizes power. After he wears the crown as the king of Scotland, it becomes apparent that he was better off as a soldier because he is used to being a tyrant and dictator through the army. He continues committing more crimes and murders with ease as realizes he does not have what it takes to be a good political leader. When the kingdom is faced with problems, the only way he knows how to solve them is by fighting and killing people, especially those he feels are a threat to him. Surprisingly, Macbeth is not at ease with the atrocities he is committing. The crimes he has been committing begin to haunt him psychologically and physically. Even though he is ruthless and oppressive, he feels guilty about it.
Initially, Macbeth comes out as a strong and courageous soldier. This is seen in a number of instances such as when the wounded captain is narrating how Macbeth was a tough soldier on the battlefield. However, it later becomes apparent that Macbeth is only physically courageous but emotionally and psychologically weak. This is because he has a habit of doubting himself whenever he embarks on something. It seems that Macbeth’s self-doubt tendencies give him challenges with being brave and ambitious. He is torn between being a good soldier, taking over power as a king, and doubting whether he should proceed with his plans to take over power or not. His character comes off as weak because he has the mixed feeling of guilt and ambition. For instance, he is not sure whether to kill King Duncan or not. Before he does it, he is so worried that he almost fails to accomplish his mission. He has to be convinced by his wife with her strong character to commit the murder. Things take an unexpected turn after the murder when Lady Macbeth’s strong character begins to fade, leaving Macbeth with a lot of worry about his deeds. Macbeth finds himself battling between his atrocities and the guilt of his actions. What is seen is a person torn between his ambitions to kill people to secure his way to the top and the guilt that haunts him when he thinks of himself as a murderer. When he can no longer continue holding power, he appears to be somewhat relieved when he knows that he is going back to doing what he is most comfortable with; being a soldier on the battlefield. He, unfortunately, dies on the battlefield.
Characters' Analysis: Lady Macbeth
She is Macbeth’s wife. The play depicts their love as being very strong. Lady Macbeth seems to have power over her husband by bribing him with sexual favors. She comes off as an intensely ambitious and strong-willed woman. She seems to be deeply interested in having power and high positions. That is why she pushes her husband beyond his limits to the extent of suggesting the murder of King Duncan just to get the power she lusts for. Her strong will and ruthlessness only appear in the initial parts of the play but seem to fade away once her husband murders the king and takes over power. Even though it initially appeared as though Macbeth had a weaker character compared to his wife, guilt and regret begin to haunt Lady Macbeth to a greater extent than her husband. All the madness and deaths going around begin to take a toll on Lady Macbeth until she can no longer handle it and decides to commit suicide. Lady Macbeth and her husband seem to be separated from the rest of the world mostly because they have been supporting each other in the crimes they have been committing. Despite this, the bond that they share seems to get stronger even as people hate them. Their relationship is quite a mystery.
Lady Macbeth can be considered a fierce character because of her evil actions. She convinces her husband to kill King Duncan and appears to be more courageous than her husband who feels guilty about plotting the murder. Lady Macbeth knows that her husband has a weak character and is always on the frontline in pushing him to do as she pleases. She even feels that she is more of a man than her husband and regrets why she is a woman because she would commit those atrocities with a lot of ease if she was a man. Lady Macbeth also comes off as crafty and manipulative. She seems to always have her way by manipulating her husband, especially using her sexuality. Macbeth even feels that his wife is more masculine than him but is just trapped in a female body. For a moment, being a man is associated with the power to perpetuate violence and have ambition. Lady Macbeth shows that women have the capacity to do what men can do, or even better, but are only inhibited by the virtue of being female. Lady Macbeth proves to have the power to manipulate her husband in everything. She makes him feel less of a man whenever he refuses to do what she wants. For example, when Macbeth is hesitant to murder King Duncan, Lady Macbeth is quick to question his manhood, a trick that works quite well because Macbeth kills King Duncan just to prove that he is man enough. Her character can be termed as inconsistent because she initially has the courage and will to do all sorts of evil but later feels guilty about all the atrocities she commits to such an extent that she kills herself.
The Three Witches
The role of the three witches in the play is centered on leading Macbeth astray. The three witches effectively use false prophesies to lead Macbeth into waywardness. The three witches manage to convince Macbeth that he is immortal and can achieve anything he wants. They seem to be pushing for their own agenda by deceiving Macbeth. Duncan murders King Duncan, Banquo, and Banquo’s son because of ill advice he receives from the three witches. The exact identity of the three witches is not very apparent in the play but they still manage to play a major role in the plot. It is apparent that the three witches work for Hecate. They have a lot of influence on the fate and actions of other characters yet they remain somewhat invisible. The three witches seem to be enjoying the fact that they can use their schemes to manipulate and destroy the lives of other characters.
The fact that the three witches remain invisible in the play leads them to be called the weird sisters. They seem to have the power to lead people into temptation and to commit evil against their will. They know the weaknesses of specific characters in the play and seem to use their supernatural powers to manipulate them. Their character is mischievous since they use strange potions, charms, prophecies, and spells to get people to do evil. They have the comical ability to play with people like dolls and get them to do whatever they want. Despite the fact that their way of doing things seems comical, they manage to pass off as the most controlling and wicked characters in the play based on the fact that they manipulate others to do evil. It is, however, confusing if the witches are genuine or not because some prophecies they make seem to be fulfilled such as when Macbeth was appointed the thane of Cawdor.
Macduff: The character's traits
He was a nobleman of Scottish origin. He has been opposed to Macbeth being king. He has a strong character because he does not hide the fact that he is opposed to Macbeth’s kingship no matter the consequences. This leads him to form a team that seeks to get Macbeth out of power, despite knowing how dangerous this task is. He initially appears to be supporting this cause because he believes that Malcolm should be the right king but it later emerges that his desire to get Macbeth out of the thrown is largely motivated by the need to avenge the death of his wife and son.
He was the rightful king of Scotland all along but fell victim of Macbeth’s evil ambitions. He gets murdered by Macbeth and the throne is taken away from him. Unlike Macbeth, his style of leadership was diplomatic and visionary. He cared about the affairs of his people and was quite compassionate. With his death, the good governance and leadership suddenly come to an end and the kingdom is taken over by a bad leader who contributes to the deaths of many people. Malcolm appears to be the only person who can restore sanity back to the kingship because he was from King Duncan’s lineage.
He is seen in the play to be a noble and courageous general. The three witches prophesied that his children would one day inherit the Kingship of Scotland. He is also very ambitious but the only difference between him and Macbeth is that he does not do evil things with the aim of fulfilling prophecies of the witches. His character seems to irk Macbeth because it represents what Macbeth wants to be but has not managed to be. When he is murdered by Macbeth, his ghost haunts Macbeth and he feels guilty for what he did.
He was King Duncan’s son. The people saw him a symbol of restoring the good leadership of his father. He was Scotland’s only hope of getting Macbeth out of power and bringing the kingdom back to its previous glory. Macduff helps him to fight Macbeth to the end because he strongly believes that Malcolm will restore sanity to the kingship. However, his character initially came off as weak because he was unsure of whether to pursue the kingship or not.
Analysis of the Most Essential Quotes From Macbeth, Shakespeare
Shakespeare was not only a perfect word-crafter but a sensible psychologist. The most captivating feature of his works is the way he managed to deconstruct the light and dark sides of human nature and unfold its controversy. Talking about Macbeth, not the event of the play but the characters’ transformations build up the tragedy of the piece. A reader can indicate such metamorphosis in the way characters express themselves in the most intimate reflections.
To complete the guide on the Macbeth we’ve selected for you the most important quotations from the play and provide their analysis to make a comprehension easier. We've outlined the weightiest words outspoken by Macbeth and his Lady, and the party makers of the play - the Witches. We've singled out the quotes emphasizing the inner changes the key characters undergo, including ambition, guilt, greed, and power quotes.
The most important Macbeth’s quotes
Come what come may,
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.
Act I, Scene 3
This is a moment when we see that the Witches’ words had an influence on Macbeth. The vague prospects of becoming the king touch him deeply. However, understanding that his comrade Banquo doesn’t share his feelings, he hides his confusing enthusiasm, saying that time will put everything in its place.
Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
Act I, Scene 3
This is one of the most famous Macbeth quotes. His hidden excitement becomes more and more apparent. He takes the prophecy of becoming the king seriously and starts elaborating plans on how to speed up the fate. He still feels scared of what he dares to think and try to resist his maleficent ideas but cannot help it.
If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly; if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'd jump the life to come.
Act I, Scene 7
Macbeth doesn’t afraid of his thoughts anymore. He clearly outlines what refrain him from killing the king. And this quotes indicates that it’s not the moral laws, but the fear of consequences that keep Macbeth from doing what cannot be undone. He gets befuddled by the perspective of starting a whole new life being crowned. He is eager to ‘jump the life’ predicted by the Witches.
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none.
Act I, Scene 7
These words Macbeth says during the argument with his wife. Being blinded by the promised future, Lady Macbeth tries to convince her husband to get courage and kill the king. Both through the flattery and humiliation she keeps pushing on him. She tells him that now when the king is staying in their house, it is a perfect night a perfect murder. Macbeth, in his turn, is torn between the feelings of fear and lust for power. At the moment when Macbeth is saying these words, he is still resisting his wife.
I heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murther sleep" -the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravel'd sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast-
Act II, Scene 3
This is one of the famous sleep quotes of the play. Sleep is an important symbol of the plot and some of the key events take place while the characters are sleeping, or walking in the sleep, or hallucinating. These are the words Macbeth says to his wife after murdering the king. After he stabbed Duncan and his servants, he feels shocked and stupefied by what he did. He tells these words staying in blood with the daggers in his hands. He is semi-conscious and unable to think logically and сover up traces. After his wife tells him to go back and leave out the murder weapon on the murder scene, he continues to explain himself, saying, I am afraid to think what I have done, Look on't again I dare not. This is one of the guilt quotes showing Macbeth’s moral sensibility at the beginning of his fight for a crown.
I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.
Act III, Scene 4
These words make a great contrast to what Macbeth felt after murdering the king. By this moment, he has killed his friend Banquo and attempted to kill his Banquo's son Fleance (through the assassins). Macbeth now is full of determination and certainty. By these words, he indicates that now he is ready to defend himself by all means, and from now on there are no limits for meanness and cruelty. He has so much blood on his hands that there is no more point of return, no more way to step back.
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Act V, Scene 5
This is one of the most famous and important quotes of the play. Seyton reports Macbeth about the death of his wife, Lady Macbeth. And all he is responding is that it’s not the right time for her to die. Here we see that his transformation has completed, he is no longer able to show any compassion or pity, at least. The death of his closest person is rather an unlucky twist of the plot for him, he is now so detached that basically, is ready to accept his own fate. Tale, told by an idiot is life and there is no way really to change anything in the script of this tale. Macbeth is torn by the controversial feelings. On the one hand, he is scared, on the other he is ready to fight against everybody stood on his way. And finally, he believes in his invincibility (foretold by the apparitions) but at the same time, he is feels doomed. This is an ongoing fear agony.
The Key Lady Macbeth's quotes
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty!
Act I, Scene 5
This quote shows how greed and ambitions can impact on people’s will and spoil their desires. This is how Lady Macbeth react on the new that King Duncan is coming to visit them. In opposite to Macbeth, she doesn’t resist her greed and lust for power. From the very beginning, she is dead sure about what they should do to get to the throne. It’s obvious that if not Lady Macbeth had pushed on her husband, he hardly would have killed the king. This particular quote indicates that Lady Macbeth is ready to do the worst at the very moment when she sees the possibility.
Look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under it.
Act I, Scene 5
She convinces her husband not to be a coward and do what is needed to become a king. As they are waiting for King Duncan to arrive, she is elaborating the strategy of how to kill him and not to be revealed. She tells her husband to act naturally, to show his love and loyalty to Duncan, so nobody would suspect what he is truly feeling. She tells him to act like a serpent, without showing his true intentions.
I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this.
Act I, Scene 7
This is one of the strongest manipulative quotes from Lady Macbeth. By the means of a flattery, humiliation, and threats she is trying to set up Macbeth's mind to kill the king. Macbeth resists her at first. But the longer she provides her arguments, the weaker is Macbeth’s stand. These words his wife says to underline that yes, she understands the Macbeth has feelings for the king but it cannot be the reason to have mercy on him. She emphasizes that if it was her who needed to kill the dearest human being - a child to become a queen, she would do it without hesitation. So Macbeth must leave his hard feelings behind and do what he is needed.
Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures; 'tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal,
For it must seem their guilt.
Act II, Scene 2
This is when Lady Macbeth becomes not the inspirer of the murder but Macbeth’s true partner in crime. She sees that her husband was not able to finish the killing the way they’ve planned. So she decides to finish it on her own. After saying these words she returns to the room where the king lies dead, puts the daggers in the hands of his servant and leaves.
Things without all remedy
Should be without regard. What's done is done.
Act III, Scene 2
When Macbeth becomes a king, he understands that his struggle for power is not over. There are people who don't believe in his innocence and there is no time to enjoy his status to its fullest. He regrets that they have started all this in the first place and shares his disappointment with the wife. Lady Macbeth then says these words, meaning that there is no point to regret now, they need to move on.
Out, damned spot! Out, I say!
One- two -why then 'tis time to do't.
Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier,
and afeard? What need we fear who knows it,
when none can call our power to account?
Yet who would have thought
the old man to have had so much blood in him?
Act V, Scene 1
By the last act of the play, Lady Macbeth loses all her confidence and determination. These words she is saying while walking sleep. She is hallucinating, seeing the blood spots on her hands. She tries to wipe them away but she can’t. The woman is tormented by the feeling of guilt and fear. Ultimately, she appears to lose her sanity.
Apparitions' and Witches' Quotes
Supernatural characters play the story driving role in the play. The Weird Sisters of the Witches play with Macbeth’s mind giving him vague and incomplete forecasts about his future and make him believe in his invincibility.
Fair is foul, and foul is fair;
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
The Witches, Act I, Scene 1
This phrase sets a tone of the atmosphere for the all further narrative. By saying this, the Witches tell the reader that in this story everything will be messed up and confused, so there will be nothing to rely on or trust. Mysteries and omens will be determinative elements of the play.
First Witch: All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!
Second Witch: All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!
Third Witch: All hail, Macbeth! That shalt be king hereafter.
Act I, Scene III
This is a prophecy that the Witches foretell to Macbeth. This is the beginning of the story, and without these words, nothing of the play’s event would be possible. The Witches greet Macbeth in three different way. The first one names him by his current name that indicates his status. He is now a Thane of Glamis. The second sister greets him as a Thane of Cawdor. This thane is higher than Glamis, and the very fact that the witch calls him that name means that she predicts him to become the Thane of Cawdor. The third witch calls him the king thereby making him believe that he will become a king.
Other important supernatural characters are apparitions called up by the Witches after Macbeth’s raving plead.
Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.
Second Apparition, Act IV, Scene 1
Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be, until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.
Third Apparition, Act IV, Scene 1
These two quotes are very important to the plot because these predictions from apparitions made Macbeth believe that nobody could ever hurt him. First of all, he understands the words ‘none of woman born’ as the words saying nobody at all can do any harm to him. Second, he takes the words ‘Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him’ literally, responding that it’s simply not possible - the wood cannot move from the place. Such confidence turns out to be fatal for him. Only in the very end, he understands that all the prophecies were made not to warn him but to confuse. However, when he gets it, it’s too late to change anything.