Shakespeare – Macbeth Summary
Act 1, Scene 1
In this scene, 3 witches meet up in a deserted area. They decide to meet again once the fighting is over, which they predict will be at sundown on the heath. They say they will meet with Macbeth about something but don’t say why. They hear thunder in the background & each one speaks to her familiar (magical pet) that they’ll be coming home soon. The theme is that they are determined to turn good into bad & bad into good.
Act 1, Scene 2
In this scene, there is a camp with loads of wounded soldiers from a battle that just occurred. Duncan, the King of Scotland, & his entourage survey the scene to determine the outcome of the battle.
Duncan & Malcolm speak to a wounded soldier who tells them what he’d seen. Macdonwald, the enemy, had shipped in mercenaries from the Hebrides (islands of the coast of Scotland). The sergeant tells them that the battle had been going back & forth until Macbeth’s back was up against it & stole the day. Macdonwald was teamed up with the king of Norway to defeat those loyal to Duncan. Macbeth & Banquo demonstrated not only their loyalty to Duncan & bravery, but also their competence on the battlefield.
Another of the King’s men, Ross comes in from Fife to confirm to Duncan of what happened on the battlefield. Duncan is really impressed with all this & tells Ross to give Macdonwald’s title of “Thane of Cawdor” to Macbeth since Macdonwald was a traitor.
Act 1, Scene 3
The scene starts out with the 3 witches meeting on the heath. Witch number 1 tells a story that shows her depravity & supernatural ability to us. She asked a woman who was eating chestnuts for some. The woman refused. The witch then cursed her husband who was a sailor. She would command the winds to throw her husband way off course to a place where he’ll never be heard from again. She shows her fellow witches a sailor’s thumb but is interrupted before she can explain how she got it or why she got it.
In come Macbeth & Banquo congratulating themselves on the victory. They see the witches & ask them to say something. The 3 witches hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor & future King of Scotland. Macbeth’s current title was limited to Thane of Glamis & he doesn’t know that as soon as he runs into Ross, he’ll be given the title of Thane of Cawdor. As far as “future King of Scotland”.
Banquo quizzes the witches. If they want to reveal the supposed future, why are they only doing it for Macbeth? He wants to know his future. They address him as lesser than Macbeth but greater, not as happy as Macbeth but happier. They also say he’ll never be king but his line will lead to a whole line of kings.
Macbeth does not believe them. The Thane of Cawdor is still alive & he knows he doesn’t have a chance to be King of Scotland. He asks them for more but they disappear before their eyes. Macbeth & Banquo joke about what the witches have told them until Ross & Angus approach them.
Ross congratulates the 2 & tells Macbeth that Duncan is giving him a new title, Thane of Cawdor. Banquo is struggling to make sense of this. Angus explains that Cawdor was a traitor & is being stripped of his title. & for his bravery & loyalty, Macbeth will be the new Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth starts to think about what the witches told him. They knew he was Thane of Cawdor before he’d been told. But they also addressed him as future King of Scotland…
Banquo & Macbeth have an aside & then speak of the promise of Macbeth on the throne. Macbeth then speaks to himself about the whole situation. At first he had dismissed the witches as crazy old fools. But they predicted the future twice. The first premonition came true & the second, & much bigger, one is still hanging in the air. He equivocates about it. If it’s good, why does it give him chills? If it’s bad, why is he being rewarded with a new title? If the next step is to come true, Duncan & his sons will have to die. He’s bothered by the idea but at the moment feels that whatever will happen will happen.
Macbeth is asked to join the others to go see the king to be congratulated in person.
Act 1, Scene 4
Duncan starts out in the scene asking if the traitor (Macdonwald) has been executed yet, presumably for treason. Malcolm assures him it will happen soon. He contrasts the treason with his cowardice in begging shamelessly for his life. Duncan responds that you can’t really tell who a person really is by what you see in his face. The proof of that was that he trusted Macdonwald & he ultimately betrayed him.
Then Macbeth enters & Duncan heaps praise on him to an almost embarrassing degree. Macbeth says that it was all in the duty he owes to the throne, the country, Duncan’s servants, his children & Duncan himself. Duncan also praises Banquo for his efforts.
Duncan then moves to to name his eldest son, Malcolm, as his heir & confers the title of Prince of Cumberland on him. He also announces he’ll give honors to those who fought for him against the traitor & his accomplice, the Norwegian.
Macbeth asks for permission to leave so he can see that his castle is fit for a post-battle victory banquet. Macbeth then confides to us that the new Prince of Cumberland will get in the way of his new plans. Even as Macbeth leaves, Duncan pours praise on Macbeth to the others.
Act 1, Scene 5
Lady Macbeth reads a letter sent to her by Macbeth describing the events of the day. We catch her in the middle of this telling her of the meeting with the witches. The idea of him getting the new title of Thane of Cawdor pleases her but not half as much as Future King of Scotland. But she knows that he does not really have the killer instinct to take what has been promised to him by the witches. He’s too gentle & kind. He would fear having to do what it would take to get the throne & keep it. She wishes him to come home so she can play upon his ego & make him into the thing that will take the throne of Scotland.
Lady Macbeth is informed by a messenger that Macbeth is on his way home & is being followed by Duncan & the other Scottish nobles. She knows that if this prophecy is to come true, tonight is the perfect night to do it. The king will be there in their home where they have absolute control over the environment. But she asks whoever it is who’s in charge of conjuring up murderous thoughts & drive out remorse & compassion to do his work. She wants to be rid of the sympathetic side of her that is so common in women & allow her to take part in the plot to murder Duncan without any hesitation.
Macbeth comes in & she greets him with his new title & tells him she’s ready to do what it takes for them to be King & Queen of Scotland. Macbeth tells her Duncan will be leaving in the morning & if it is going to happen, tonight has to be the night. Lady Macbeth lays on the charm & tells him he has to turn himself in to a killer but has to hide the fact to the King & company before he actually goes through with it. They leave it at that & go inside to prepare for the king.
Act 1, Scene 6
The next scene takes place in front of Macbeth’s castle in Inverness. Duncan & Banquo have a moment to observe it. It doesn’t seem like an obvious place to put a castle but even the birds nesting there agree that the air is pleasant. Once Lady Macbeth greets them at the gate, Duncan mentions to her that the attention he usually gets is over the top but still appreciated. He also mentions that he would’ve preferred to be met by Macbeth. Macbeth was too fast to keep up with on the way to the castle.
Act 1, Scene 7
This is scene starts off with Macbeth alone contemplating the murder. To his mind, if it was just one murder to be over & done with he could do it. But there are consequences to the assassination of the King. The death would not be the end of it & will almost certainly bring him more troubles & ultimately lead him to the same death as Duncan.
But he also realizes that Duncan is putting a lot of trust in him. The first form is that Macbeth owes his loyalty as his kinsman & his subject. This trust is in the form of that of family (or the clan, since it’s in Scotland) & to the country. The other form is that Duncan has shown Macbeth nothing but kindness & admiration. Even he agrees that Duncan as a king & as a person is practically flawless. His death would be a crime against all that is good & against the country he wishes to rule over. At this point, he’s not sure if he wants to do it or not.
Then Lady Macbeth comes in & asks him why he’s not at the banquet. Duncan has been asking to see him. Macbeth confesses that he can’t go through with it. Rather than pointing to the moral arguments for not killing Duncan, he points towards all the honors he’s been given & the praise that everyone’s given him. He doesn’t want to ruin the good life he has by trying to reach any higher than where he is now.
Lady Macbeth reminds him of what he had written in his letter to her. She lays into him, calling him too weak & too cowardly to take what the fates obviously have in store for him. At first, Macbeth resists her attempts to emasculate her by saying murder is not the act of a good man. But she reminds him that this idea was his & a real man would go out get what is his. In the letter, Macbeth explained how he would do anything to become king – no matter the time or the place. Again she scolds him for not maintaining his murderous thoughts.
Interestingly, she claims to have nursed babies & understands what the tender love of a child is. But later on in the place Macduff tells Malcolm that he couldn’t exact revenge on Macbeth because he has no children. Anyway, Lady Macbeth said she would have rather killed the child she was nursing if she knew that Macbeth was going to wimp out.
Macbeth yields the moral point to her & then thinks practically. What would happen if they failed in their attempt? She says then they would fail. But if they come up with the right plan & commit too it they will succeed. She already has a plan. She’ll get Duncan’s guards extremely drunk – enough to black out. Then Macbeth will sneak into Duncan’s room & kill him. They’ll pin the murder weapon on the guards & everyone will think it was them.Macbeth then comments that this murderous desire of hers is not very fitting for women. Again, Macbeth hesitates, wishing only to go through with it if she can guarantee him that they will get away with it. She tells him that as long as they play innocent, no one will suspect a thing. Macbeth agrees to it & they go into the next room for the banquet.
Macbeth shows signs of moral incontinence in this scene. He looks at Duncan as an innocent man who’s shown him & his family nothing but kindness. Before meeting the witches, he’d never dreamed of asking for more than his station in life. But they have planted a seed of undue ambition by credibly promising him more than what he had. When he was alone, he convinced himself that it was wrong to kill Duncan & that even if he did, he’d never get away with it. Then Lady Macbeth comes in, more power-thirsty than Macbeth. She bullies him into doing what she has planned. Interestingly, Macbeth is no coward & is not unloyal. He fought bravely against Macdonwald & the Norwegian king. But he is a coward when it comes to his wife. The seeds that the witches planted in his head were dying off but Lady Macbeth revived them & made them grow. Because he can’t stand up to his wife, he feels he has to go through with the murder just to appease her & stop the name-calling.
Act 2, Scene 1
Banquo & his son, Fleance, are up late in Macbeth’s castle. They discuss the time & they sense something strange in the air. Banquo won’t discuss the witches with his son. Then Macbeth & a servant of his come in to meet Banquo. Macbeth can’t sleep either. Banquo pays him a great compliment on Duncan’s behalf for putting on such a great feast at the last minute. Banquo presents him a diamond for Lady Macbeth from the King.
Banquo then confesses to Macbeth that he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about what the witches told him. Macbeth lies to him & tells him that he really hasn’t thought very much at all about it. But he tells them they should discuss it in detail at some later time. Banquo & Fleance go to bed.
Macbeth tells his servant to go see Lady Macbeth. When his “drink” is ready the servant is to ring the bell & then go to bed. Once the servant has left, Macbeth imagines himself talking to the dagger that he’s about to use to kill Duncan with. He speaks as if the dagger is the one calling him to murder Duncan rather than the other way around. He says to himself that he has been able to do nothing but think of this assassination. Then he asks that the sound of his footsteps do not betray him. Once he’s in the right state of mind, the bell rings & he obeys by going off to commit the murder.
In this scene, Banquo offers Macbeth an opportunity to discuss what the witches said & Macbeth turns him down by brushing off the whole encounter. It’s not clear what Banquo has in mind – perhaps an ally in the murder, perhaps he’d provide a voice of reason to convince him not to kill the king. Once Macbeth is alone, his senses tune out the rest of the world & he can envision the blade he will use to kill Duncan with already with blood & the murder of an innocent staining the dagger & his mind. He tries to talk himself into being cool so that he is calm enough to murder Duncan & not make any mistakes that might ruin the plan or give him away after the fact.
Act 2, Scene 2
Lady Macbeth comes into the scene spooked by the screeching owls possibly being a harbinger of bad things to come. She tells us that she got the guards so drunk that they could quite possibly die. She hears Macbeth speaking & then believes that the guards must be awake. She says she would have done the deed herself if Duncan hadn’t reminded her so much of her own father.
Then Macbeth comes into the scene holding one bloody dagger in each hand. There’s confusion as to what all the noise was & who is sleeping where in the castle. Macbeth looks at his hands covered in blood & begins to panic. He tells her that one of the guards was laughing in his sleep & the other was crying “Murder!” They woke each other up but said their prayers & went back to sleep. Macbeth felt like chiming in with an “Amen” of his own because he needed some blessing in light of what he was about to do. Lady Macbeth tells him to stop thinking about the murder because he’ll only work himself up more. But Macbeth begins to panic about having taken the life of an innocent & begins to talk utter nonsense. She sees that he needs calming down because he’s making mistakes. Macbeth still has daggers in his hand. They were supposed to be planted on the guards to implicate them in the murder. But Macbeth refuses to go back into Duncan’s room, so she grabs them to put the blame on the guards. She calls him a coward & says that he ought to be thinking of the murder as not real but just pictures of a murder.
While she is out of the room, Macbeth hears a knocking at the gate. As pointed out in an earlier blog post, the knock jolts Macbeth out of his daze of blood & murder & back into the real world. But his mind is starting to give in to the situation & he envisions his own hands plucking his eyes out. There’s not enough water in the world that will wash his hands clean from this act.
Lady Macbeth comes back in & tells him now her hands are bloody too but at least she didn’t act like a complete coward. Now she hears the knocking at the gate too. She tells him that they ought to go wash their hands, put on pyjamas & go to bed. That way when the murder is discovered, they’ll look like they’ve been sleeping innocently throughout the night. As she’s pushing Macbeth off to bed, it’s clear that this murder has got a hold on his mind.
In this scene, while he was able to demonstrate bravery on the battlefield, killing an innocent, sweet, old man is too much for his brain to handle. He had had an opportunity to walk away at the last minute by discussing things with his friend, Banquo – the only person who would understand his predicament. But he turned it down in order to placate his wife’s ambition, which was much, much stronger than his own. His mind then turns on him by making him imagine a floating dagger being the murder & him being the weapon. It also begins to see his hands plucking his eyes out before he’s jolted back into reality by his wife’s re-entrance.
See my blog post summary of Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth by Thomas de Quincey for more on this scene.
Act 2, Scene 3
The knocking at the gate continues. A porter drags himself out of bed to go answer the knock. He’s taking his time in answering it. He imagines himself as the porter at the gates of hell & who would possibly be knocking at those gates.
Once he arrives at the gate & opens it up, He sees that it’s Macduff & Lennox. Macduff asks him if he’d been out on the tiles last night. The porter makes jokes about what a long night of drinking does to you.
Macbeth stumbles in to greet Macduff & Lennox. It turns out that Macduff & Lennox are serving as Duncan’s early morning wake-up call. Macduff goes into Duncan’s room while Macbeth & Lennox talk awkwardly about what a strange night it has been, including possible supernatural occurrences.
Macduff rushes back into the room & has a hell of time trying to express the idea that Duncan has been murdered. He calls out to all the nobles & asks for the alarm bell to be rung. Lady Macbeth comes in but Macduff tries to shield her from the news but it’s obvious that he can’t. Banquo can hardly believe his ears. Macbeth puts on a good show by saying that life has no meaning anymore now that Duncan is dead.
At this point, Malcolm & Donalbain come in. Macduff tells them their father is dead & that it was most likely the guards who did it. Macbeth states that he himself killed them in anger because his love for Duncan turned into rage when he heard of the murder. During the panic of all the nobles, Malcolm & Donalbain have a quick word with each other. Donalbain suggests they leave as quickly & quietly as possible because whoever it was who murdered their father will probably want to attack them as well.
Lady Macbeth fake swoons & is carried out of the room. The nobles decide to get dressed & meet together to get to the bottom of the murder.
While Malcolm doesn’t want to do anything hasty, Donalbain convinces him that they need to leave immediately to save their own lives. Malcolm decides to go to England & Donalbain chooses to go to Ireland.
Just my opinion here… I see the part of this scene with the porter as a bit of comic relief. This is an incredibly heavy play & may break up the tension a little bit. On the other hand, the jokes may serve as a contrast between the dark murder in the previous scene & the absolute panic that will occur upon the discovery of the murder.
The rest of this scene is fairly straightforward. Malcolm & Donalbain leaving under the pretext of saving their own hides will come back to haunt them as they will be accused of murdering their father & running off once it was clear they would not be getting away with it.
Act 2, Scene 4
Outside the castle, Ross speaks with an old man about the strange events of the evening. The old man has never seen anything like it in his many years on earth. Ross claims it’s divine retribution for people’s sinful behavior & that the evil on earth is blotting out the sun. They are essentially winding each other up in their opinions on what’s really going on.
The old man claims to have seen unnatural things like a falcon being attacked by a mousing owl – they are not natural predator & prey. Ross says Duncan’s usually obedient horses became violent & broke out of their stalls. Not to be outdone, the old man says the horses began to eat each other.
Macduff comes in & the wild talk dies down for a bit. They discuss likely suspects of the murder. Macduff thinks it was the guards. But Ross doesn’t see why they would do such a thing. Macduff figures that Malcolm & Donalbain paid them off. But that plan didn’t work out since Macbeth is on his way to Scone, the traditional place of coronation of Scottish kings, to be crowned. Duncan’s body is on its way to Colmekill where Scottish kings are buried. Macduff is going to Fife, where his castle is. Ross is going to Scone.
Act 3, Scene 1
This scene is a flash forward to Forres, where Macbeth’s new residence is as King of Scotland. We see Macbeth & Lady Macbeth decked out in royal clothes & a court full of nobles & servants. Banquo says to himself that now that Macbeth is king, the prophecy has come true. But Macbeth must be forgetting what they said about Banquo. His heirs would be the future kings of Scotland, not Macbeth’s.
Macbeth sees Banquo & requests that he dine with him & the rest of the nobles at a banquet they’re holding that evening. Banquo says that he may be running late as he & his son Fleance are horseback riding that evening. Macbeth wants advice on how to approach the alleged murderers, Malcolm & Donalbain. Banquo leaves.
Macbeth asks for peace & quiet – all the lords & attendants leave except his servant. He asks for the servant to show the men waiting outside the way in. While the servant is out, Macbeth complains that all this royal pageantry is meaningless unless he is comfortable in being king. He’s afraid that Banquo is on to him. Banquo’s daring, wisdom & valor are dangerous to his reign. The witches had given him the throne but it will not be secure for his family line. He feels cheated by them because he did all that dirty work only to put Banquo’s progeny on the throne. He sold his soul for something that he can never fully appreciate.
The servant comes back into the room with 2 men, murderers. They are reluctant to speak with Macbeth. Macbeth had spoken to them the day before but it’s clear that they are not convinced into doing what Macbeth is about to ask them to do. He explains that Banquo is the reason why they have been deprived of any quality of life. He compares men & dogs, & the murderers are the lowest breed, not of their own doing but because Banquo has turned them into losers. He explains that both they & he can benefit from the death of Banquo. He can’t be seen to be involved in Banquo’s death because he has to appear innocent to the rest of the Scottish court. The murderers explain they have nothing in life & since they have nothing left to lose, they may as well try to improve their lot by killing Banquo & Fleance. Macbeth says that he’ll arrange things for them & they’ll meet up an hour from then.
At this point, Macbeth suspects Banquo knows he killed Duncan. As we see from the beginning of the scene, Banquo does indeed suspect Macbeth of foul play but is confident that things will work out for him due to what the witches predicted for him. Macbeth knows he has to do something about Banquo, especially since Banquo’s family has been promised the throne by the witches.
Act 3, Scene 2
Lady Macbeth asks her servant of Banquo’s whereabouts. She’s informed that he’s outside the castle for the day. Then she asks for Macbeth to speak with her. Once the servant leaves, Lady Macbeth has the same sentiment as Macbeth showed us in the last scene. She’s very uncomfortable in her position knowing that it may be taken from her at any time.
Once Macbeth enters the room, she quizzes him on why he’s been so reclusive, why he dwells on Duncan’s murder & why he’s reluctant to discuss it with her. She tells him what’s done is done & he should just move on. Macbeth tells her that Duncan’s murder was just the beginning. He has to look over his shoulder constantly & he can never get any rest. He even envies Duncan because while he was betrayed, he no longer has to deal with any trouble.
Lady Macbeth tries to get him to put on a brave face because they have guests for a banquet that evening. Macbeth asks her to make Banquo feel good tonight in order to hide their true intentions. Macbeth confesses while Banquo & Fleance are still alive, he’ll continue to be on edge. He alludes to the fact that something bad will happen that night but doesn’t want to burden her with any knowledge of his plans. He starts rambling in gloomy metaphors but catches himself & tells her that she’ll find out what he means in due course.
Act 3, Scene 3
In this scene, 3 murderers arrive outside the palace. The 1st murderer is confused as to why there is a 3rd murderer. The 3rd explains that he was sent by Macbeth to help out. They decide not to argue about the matter & get into place. The sun is beginning to set & travelers are trying to get to their destinations before the dark (presumably because there could be murderers out on the roads). They hear horses & Banquo’s voice in the distance. Most travelers dismount & walk their horses up to the palace at this point.
The murderers see Banquo & Fleance carrying a torch & assault them. In the struggle, the murderers kill Banquo but Fleance manages to run away. They bemoan the fact that they let one of their targets get away.
Act 3, Scene 4
In this scene, we see the banquet that Macbeth invited Banquo & the other lords all set up. Macbeth starts off looking fairly normal. He asks the guests to start off on their own & they will get to toasts & announcements in a little bit.
Then the 1st murderer shows up in the corner of the room. Macbeth excuses himself & goes to speak to the murderer in private. The murderer has blood on his face, which is a good sign to Macbeth. Macbeth looks relieved that Banquo is dead & even makes a silly joke about it. But the murderer confesses that they were unable to catch & kill Fleance. He’s now long gone. The murderer assures him that Banquo is well & truly dead. But Macbeth feels this sense of dread that had been hanging over him come back & it looks like it will never go away. He thanks the murderer (who leaves) & Lady Macbeth approaches him. She brings him into the banquet because he’s neglecting his guests.
Macbeth begins a speech, saying that if only Banquo was here, all the nobles of Scotland would be present. He hopes that nothing bad has happened to him & that he’s just being. Ross asks Macbeth to have a sit & Macbeth states that the table is full. Then he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting in his seat looking at him. This is enough to send Macbeth into a panic-induced rage, asking who did this & actually talking to the ghost.
Ross asks the others to stand & get ready to leave because it’s clear that the new king isn’t feeling very well. Lady Macbeth runs interference & says that it’s just a little fit he’s having & he’ll come back to his usual self in just a moment. She pulls Macbeth aside & asks him what the hell is going on. He needs to pull himself together. But Macbeth continues to ask the ghost what it wants until it disappears. He insists that it was there & that he is not losing his mind. Lady Macbeth brings him back to the table where he proposes a toast to Banquo who ought to be there.
But Banquo’s ghost returns & Macbeth loses his mind again, shouting & raving at it. Lady Macbeth tries to settle everything but Macbeth continues to shout at the ghost until it disappears again. He tries to continue the banquet but Lady Macbeth says that he’s pretty much ruined everything. Macbeth asks the others about the vision & they have no idea what he’s talking about. Lady Macbeth calls the evening to an end & the lords leave.
Macbeth says this is all part of the consequences of the murders & usurpation of the throne. Macbeth then changes the subject & states that he heard that Macduff is refusing to meet with him. He needs to go to the witches to learn more about what’s going on & what he needs to do. He also states that he will no longer delay in any plans so that he doesn’t lose control over the situation. They go to bed & Macbeth says that this is all coming about because they’re not used to being murderers.
In this scene we see Macbeth feeling quite comfortable while he’s under the belief that Banquo & his son are no longer a problem. But when the murderer informs him that they couldn’t kill Fleance, Macbeth’s panic returns. At the banquet, he alludes to the fact that Banquo isn’t there & suddenly Banquo is there, but in ghost form. This causes Macbeth to go into a panic. He is unable to control himself & goes into a fit in front of the entire noble class of Scotland. They aren’t sure what to make of what they’ve seen but it’s clear that king isn’t well. Lady Macbeth does her best to keep up appearances but the return of the ghost sends Macbeth into a tizzy again. Macbeth acknowledges that this is all a part of the murderers weighing on his mind & he’ll soon get used to it.
Act 3, Scene 5
This is a short scene with the 3 witches meeting with Hecate, a sort of patron goddess of witches. Hecate tells them that rather than taking over Macbeth’s soul for their evil purposes, Macbeth is merely using them for his own ends. She instructs them to bring all their witching equipment for a séance later on to bring him under their sway.
Act 3, Scene 6
At Forres, Lennox & another lord (unnamed) are discussing the affairs of the state. Lennox believes that Fleance killed Banquo & running away is the best sign of his guilt. He’s also fairly sure that Malcolm & Donalbain killed their father. But Macbeth benefited from it & seems to have been handling the changes well. But he states that he had Duncan’s sons under lock & key, he would punish them for patricide. Then he turns to the subject of Macduff not being at the feast.
The lord tells him that Malcolm’s son in England, being put up by King Edward. Macduff went down there to ask for military support. Macbeth was so angered by that fact, he is preparing for war. Macbeth had called back Macduff but Macduff refused. Lennox ends up saying that he wishes Macduff success in trying to scrounge up help to rid the country of its tyrant.
Act 4, Scene 1
The scene starts with the witches meeting up in a cavern, brewing up a potion in a cauldron. They throw in all kinds of strange ingredients – so disgusting that it becomes comical after a while. Hecate enters & seems pleased with their efforts. They dance around to make the potion come alive until Macbeth enters the cave.
Macbeth is a little weirded out by their activities but gets to the point of why he’s there. He wants to know more about their predictions. They continue to brew the potion & call the spirits to come forth.
First, comes an apparition that warns Macbeth about Macduff. The next apparition tells him to be murderous, bold & resolute. No man born to a woman will ever do any harm to him. Macbeth seems relieved since that pretty much includes every man, including Macduff. He feels relieved that he’ll be able to sleep now. Then the 3rd apparition shoes up as a child wearing a king’s crown. It tells him to be courageous & proud, & not to worry about plots or conspirators. He won’t suffer defeat until the Great Birnam Wood fights him at Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth laughs at the idea of a forest defeating him in battle.
Macbeth asks for one more answer. He wants to know if it’s true that Banquo’s family will rule Scotland. The witches warn him not to press the matter because he won’t like the answer. But he insists & the witches call up visions of a display of 8 kings, each one looking quite similar to the last one. Then a vision of Banquo covered in blood comes up pointing at the other kings & smiling at Macbeth.
This vision astonishes Macbeth & when it disappears, he asks the witches for confirmation of its truth. The witches ask him why he’s surprised. They dance & then disappear, leaving Macbeth all alone. Lennox hears his hollering & asks him if he needs help. Macbeth asks him if he’d seen any witches or heard anything. Lennox is really confused by the questions. He states he’d come to tell him that Macduff has run off to England.
To close out the scene, Macbeth has an aside committing himself to dealing with his problems before it’s too late. So, decides to take Macduff’s castle & kill his wife & children.
In this scene, we see the witches use the apparitions to envelope Macbeth in complete evil. Their magic turns an ambitious man into a murderous tyrant by encouraging him to be ruthless & bloody to all potential threats. It merely feeds into the sense of paranoia he’s been feeling since he started killing. Furthermore, Lennox almost certainly believes that Macbeth has completely lost his mind.
Act 4, Scene 2
This scene takes place in Macduff’s castle in Fife. Lady Macduff & Ross are discussing Macduff’s sudden departure for England. She believes that he is a traitor & a coward. Ross comes to his defense but refuses to say anymore than telling her that things will be better. Lady Macduff states that her son has a father yet is fatherless… Ross runs off before he gets too emotional about the situation.
Lady Macduff speaks to her son about his father. She says he’s dead & asks him what he’ll do for a father. The son says he’ll make do somehow. There’s no need to worry about anything because he’s small time & won’t be targeted by hunters. He then asks her what she’ll do for a husband. Says she can buy 20 of them at a market. Then they discuss the idea that Macduff is a traitor. The son is not sure what that means. She explains that it’s a person who makes an oath & breaks it, & must be hanged by honest men. The son retorts there aren’t too many honest men these days to do the work. The son then says that the father is not dead because otherwise she’d either be crying or finding a new husband.
A messenger interrupts them telling Lady Macduff that there’s imminent danger & advises them to get out of the castle with her children as quickly as possible. He leaves her. She gets incensed because she feels she shouldn’t have to run because she’s an innocent in all of this. But then she realizes that these days evil is praised & good is dangerously naive.
Then murderers come in asking for Macduff. She tells them nothing & they kill the son. They chase her out of the room trying to kill her.
Act 4, Scene 3
The scene takes place in King Edward’s palace in England. Macduff pushes Malcolm to call together forces so he can reclaim his throne & retake Scotland. Malcolm understands Macduff’s concern but reminds him that they all used to think that Macbeth was one of the finest men in the kingdom. He also states that he feels like he’s being used to get to Macbeth. Malcolm scolds Macduff for leaving his wife & children alone in Scotland while he’s in England. Macduff tells him that it is an emergency & he must take the risk to come & plead with Malcolm to take back the kingdom.
Malcolm agrees with Macduff that the country is suffering under Macbeth but feels that things will be even worse under him. He claims that his lust is uncontrollable & he will never get enough. Macduff says that intemperance is a form of tyranny within a man himself but as long as he only finds willing women, they’ll be able to keep the matter quiet. Then Malcolm states that he’s also pretty greedy. Once installed as king, he’ll take all the nobles’ land, wealth & titles. He’ll never stop squeezing them for power. Furthermore, he has none of the qualities required of a good king. At this point, Macduff is despondent. He realizes that Malcolm indeed is just as bad as Macbeth & Scotland will never be rid of tyranny. It doesn’t make sense to him since both Malcolm’s father & mother were saints.
Malcolm confesses that all the talk of lust & greed was just a test to see if Macduff was trustworthy or not. Given his responses, he feels he can trust Macduff by telling him that he’s asked King Edward for 10000 men to attack Macbeth very soon.
There’s an interruption by a doctor who tells that King Edward will speak with Malcolm in a moment. He’s delayed by a slew of sick people looking for him to cure them. Apparently, Edward has the power to heal people & no medicine can explain it. All signs point to Edward & his family being chosen by God to heal people.
Then Ross comes in to speak with Malcolm & Macduff. He informs them that the horrors are so common & numerous that it is difficult to keep up with all of them. Macduff asks Ross how his wife & kids are to which Ross answers very curtly – fine. He came down to bring other news but heard a rumor on the way down that the nobles left in Scotland are plotting against Macbeth. Malcolm adds his information that Edward’s promised 10000 troops under Siward to fight Macbeth.
Ross lays the news on Macduff that his wife, children & servants have all been murdered. Macduff is slow to respond but is coaxed by Malcolm to let it out. He barely believes it but eventually is talked into using this as motivation to get rid of Macbeth. They set off to see Edward & get the troops ready for the march northward.
Act 5, Scene 1
This scene takes place in Dunsinane Castle at night. A doctor & a lady-in-waiting are discussing Lady Macbeth. The doctor wants to see what the lady-in-waiting is talking about. She says that Lady Macbeth get up just about every night, walks out with her nightgown on, opens her closet, gets out a piece of paper, unfold it, read it, write on it & reseal it, & then go back to bed – however it’s plain that she’s sleepwalking. The doctor doesn’t really know too much about sleepwalking. He asks her if she actually says anything but the lady-in-waiting refuses to tell him what she says.
Lady Macbeth comes out with a candle in her hand & starts rubbing her hands as if she’s washing her hands. The lady-in-waiting says she does this up to 15 minutes. Then Lady Macbeth starts speaking about trying to wash out a pot. She calls someone a cowardly soldier, & says that no one would ever find out. She was annoyed than the old man had so much blood in him. She mentions Macduff’s wife & how her hands will never be clean. She then tells someone (presumably Macbeth) not to be so worried because Banquo’s dead & buried, & can’t leave her grave.
Once Lady Macbeth leaves the room, the doctor & lady-in-waiting discuss the fact that Lady Macbeth has a guilty conscience. The lady-in-waiting is ordered to keep Lady Macbeth away from anything she can hurt herself with.
In this scene we see Lady Macbeth sleepwalking & revealing the truth to the doctor & her lady-in-waiting. While she feels terribly guilty about the murders that have been going on, it’s clear that she still scolds Macbeth for being so nervous about it. It seems that she replaying all the things that have happened since Duncan’s murder in her mind. The fact that this is repeated many times, as is told by the lady-in-waiting, shows that this is pretty much all she’s been thinking about.
Act 5, Scene 2
In this scene we see Scottish nobles gathering waiting to meet up with Malcolm, Siward & the English army. They see no signs of Donalbain but many young men are willing to fight for Malcolm’s cause.They also inform us that Macbeth is holing himself up in the Castle of Great Dunsinane. There’s some question on whether or not he’s lost his mind but it’s clear anyone fighting on his side is only doing so out of fear of what he’ll do to them. They also speculate on the amount of guilt on his conscience & how it’s making him crazy. So wrap up the scene committing themselves to defeating him & putting Malcolm on the throne.
Act 5, Scene 3
This scene starts with Macbeth ignoring all reports being given to him. He’s holding on to the prophecy that only a man not born to a woman will be any danger to him. A fearful servant tries to update him but he’s too snippy to let him get it out. Eventually he is able to get out that the English army are on their way to the castle. He dismisses the servant.
Macbeth speaks to himself about how this is his hour of reckoning. Everything hangs on this battle that will happen shortly. He calls Seyton, his only loyal servant, in to tell him what updates there are. Seyton confirms all the news reported. Macbeth wants to put on his armor despite the fact that a battle will not be taking place until some time from then. He asks the doctor how “the patient” is doing (Lady Macbeth). The doctor reports that she can’t sleep due to the troubling thoughts she’s been having. Macbeth asks the doctor to do something about it. When the doctor tells him that there’s nothing he can do anything & that only she can do it for herself, Macbeth dismisses the doctor’s entire profession as quackery. He tries to give orders to Seyton while asking the doctor to use all the resources he has at his disposal to fix her, as well as cure him of the English army.
The doctor humors him & mutters under his breath that the trouble he’s getting is not worth the money Macbeth is paying him.
This scene serves as an update on Macbeth’s condition. We last saw him being enchanted by the witches who convinced him to become a murderous tyrant. In this scene, we see that he repeats the line that no man born of a woman will be any danger to him. He will repeat this many times as his last bit of security while the walls close in on him. He’s unreasonably angry with his servants who are only performing the tasks he’s been asking of them. He refers to his wife, Lady Macbeth, as “the patient” as if she’s just some problem to be sorted out by the doctor. The doctor doesn’t let on that he’s aware that both Macbeth & Lady Macbeth have murdered their way to the throne. It’s also clear that Macbeth can’t cope with the stress. He interrupts himself while speaking to the doctor & the servants. His mind is scattered & cannot hold a rational conversation with those around him.
Act 5, Scene 4
This is another short scene. Malcolm, Siward & the English army meet up with the uprising Scottish nobles in Birnam Wood. They update each other on the current situation & encourage each other than with one good victory that day will bring the end to Macbeth’s murderous reign over Scotland.
Malcolm tells the men to grab branches off the trees in the forest to disguise their numbers on the march to Macbeth’s castle. While they’re very optimistic about their chances in the battle, they prepare for a fierce battle.
This small scene is a way for the witches’ prophecy that Macbeth’s defeat will come when the Birnam Wood marches on his castle. This prophecy is reminiscent of the prophecies from the Oracle of Delphi, which sometimes seem silly but are cryptic enough that they could be interpreted to be true by using lateral thinking.
Act 5, Scene 5
Macbeth understands that the English army will be on its way to the castle & orders the banners be hung up on the castle walls in defiance. He even suggests that any siege they lay on his castle will fail.
Suddenly, there’s crying of women in another room in the castle, He sends Setyon to see what’s happened. Malcolm reflects on the time when such shrieks would send chills up his spine. But since they are so common, he barely even notices them anymore & is not bothered at all by them.
Seyton returns to tell Macbeth that Lady Macbeth is dead. Macbeth initially shrugs it off as nothing at all. But in the middle of this thought, Macbeth stares off into space. He speaks as though life has no meaning anymore. A messenger interrupts him to tell him the bizarre news of the Birnam Wood marching towards the castle. Macbeth flies into a rage, threatening to kill the man if he’s found to be lying. Macbeth sees that his hour has come & decides to fight his way out of life.
In one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies, Macbeth thinks very little of Lady Macbeth’s suicide. To him, it is just annoying because it was another to clutter his mind with & another thing to be guilty over. She should have died another time – tomorrow. He gazes into the abyss he’s plunged himself into – tomorrow, all the time to come is just moving people into their graves. He orders the candles of life to be blown out. To him, life is just a just a terrible actor fretted backstage about his small cameo on a stage which will end just as soon as it starts. Clearly, he has turned into an amoral, nihilistic villain without any remorse for what he’s done to others or even to himself.
Act 5, Scene 6
This is a very brief scene connecting the English army’s march from the wood to the castle. Malcolm orders the men to drop the branches & fight what’s left of Macbeth’s men. Malcolm & Macduff will be going after Macbeth himself.
Act 5, Scene 7
This final scene is quite a lot one with a lot of action. Macbeth repeats the line that no man born of a woman will harm him. Siward’s young son sees Macbeth & fights him. Macbeth defeats him & runs off. Alarms are sounding constantly throughout this scene.
Macduff enters the scene looking for Macbeth ordering him to show himself. He is not going to bother fighting any of Macbeth’s men, he wants to avenge himself on Macbeth for killing his family. He leaves, Malcolm & Siward come in. They state that the castle has been taken without much resistance. Many of Macbeth’s men have turned on him & joined Malcolm in mid-battle. They enter the castle.
Macbeth re-enters the scene. He refuses to stop fighting or run away. Macduff comes in shouting at him. They start fighting. Macbeth states to him that he’s only wasting his time because no man born of a woman will kill him. Macduff laughs & tells Macbeth that he was born premature & was removed from his mother’s womb early. This causes Macbeth to despair. He no longer has the will to fight because now all the prophecies he’d been told have come true. Macduff tells him to give himself up. Rather than being paraded around like a monkey & being forced to kiss the ground Malcolm walks on, Macbeth states that he will fight to the bitter end. They fight, leaving the scene.
Malcolm, Siward & the nobles enter. They speak of the dead. Siward is glad that very few men on their side actually died. Once again, Ross has to be the bearer of bad news, telling him that his son is dead. He died with wounds on his front side, demonstrating that he did not die running away from battle. He is glad that at least he died an honorable death, the only way he wanted him to go.
Macduff comes into the room with Macbeth’s head in his hand, crying out “Hail, King of Scotland!” He states that they are now free from Macbeth’s tyranny under the new reign of Malcolm. The rest of the nobles join in by hailing Malcolm as the new king.
Malcolm tells the men that he wants things to get back to normal as quickly as possible. He also declares that the title of “Thane” will be changed to “Earl”, He wants to call home all those who had to run away from Macbeth’s rule. He humbles himself by stating with the grace of God, things will be done correctly from now on. He invites them all to his coronation in Scone.
Most of this scene is straightforward. But we see that Macbeth had been clinging to the notion that no man born of a woman would be any threat. But once he tells Macduff that he’s not afraid of him because of that prophecy, he loses the last thing that keeps him going. But when faced with the idea of being treated as a prisoner & facing humiliation, he fights for his pride.
Also, Siward’s son dies in this scene trying to kill Macbeth. Siward is glad that his son died trying to kill his enemy. He did not run away from danger, which is shown by him querying where his wound was. He is proud of his boy for fighting nobly. This is quite a common theme in military literature, particularly in the Iliad. Your job as a soldier is to fight the enemy & let the gods decide the outcome. To do anything else is a disgrace to the soldier & his family. Furthermore, Siward’s son dying in this battle shows an investment of English blood in returning the throne to the rightful ruler. While it seems quite small, it shows that England played a part in ridding its neighbor of its tyrant. Perhaps it was a little flourish that Shakespeare added given that James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England just 3 years before.