Macbeth Characters


Macbeth (1/4)

He's a brave hero... 

1.At the start of the play, Macbeth is described as a "valiant" warrior. Rosse compares him to "Bellona's bridegroom"- he's saying that Macbeth is like Mars, the god of war. 

2.Macbeth's brave actions impress the King, who names him Thane of Cawdor. This title shows that the King recognises Macbeth's "personal venture" (how bravely he fought) and loyalty.

3.Macbeth seems most comfortable on the battlefield, when he's fighting, he doesn't have to worry about his guilty conscience and the morality of his actions. 

4.Macbeth dies in battle too - he fights "bear-like" to the end, even though he knows he's doomed. He's determined to "try the last" and says that he "will not yield".

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Macbeth (2/4)

...and a brutal murderer 

1.Macbeth's brave but he's also a cold and calculating killer. He murders Duncan because he wants to be King. He also has Macduff's family and Banquo killed because he's worried about losing his position. 

2.Macbeth is influenced by the people around  him. He lets Lady Macbeth persuade him to kill Duncan because he wants to become King - his ambition is stronger than his morality. 

3.At the end of the play, Macduff calls Macbeth a hell-hound" and Young Siward calls him abhorred tyrant" - Macbeth's violent ambition has ruined all his noble characteristics.

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Macbeth (3/4)

He struggles with his conscience 

1.Macbeth has a strong sense of right and wrong. He worries about the consequences of his actions because there's "judgement" on earth and "deep damnation" after death. This makes his actions more shocking.  

2.He's reluctant to kill Duncan, who has "honoured" him, and says, "We will proceed no further in this business". He sounds confident, as if he's made up his mind - Macbeth recognises that Duncan trusts him as "his kinsman" and that as Duncan's "host" he has a duty to protect him.  

3.Once he's killed Duncan, Macbeth swings between killing anyone who threatens his position as King and moments of despair when he struggles with terrible guilt.

4.His guilty conscience makes him imagine things: Immediately after killing Duncan he hears a voice saying, "Macbeth does murder sleep". After arranging for Banquo to be murdered, he sees Banquo's ghost at the feast and almost gives himself away. 

5.By the end of the play, Macbeth seems world - weary and cynical - he no longer seems to feel.

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Macbeth (4/4)

He's easily influenced 

1.Lady Macbeth greatly influences Macbeth - he wouldn't kill Duncan if it wasn't for her. Macbeth acts because he doesn't want to be seen as unmanly or a "coward". 

2.Lady Macbeth's influence over Macbeth declines after Duncan's murder. Once he's murdered Duncan, the other murders seem to come more easily to Macbeth, so he acts alone.

3.He's also influenced by the supernatural: 

•The first time he meets the Witches, he trusts them straightaway, saying "Two truths are told". However, Banquo is suspicious of them and thinks they want to "win us to our harm". 

•He sees a dagger that leads him to Duncan's room.

•As the Witches' prophecies start to come true Macbeth's belief in them increases. He begins to rely more heavily on what they say, and panics when their prophecies are fulfilled unexpectedly.

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Lady Macbeth (1/6)

Lady Macbeth's cruel and ruthless 

1.Lady Macbeth is Macbeth's wife - she's an important character because she influences Macbeth, especially at the start of the play. She's ambitious and doesn't mind committing terrible crimes to get what she wants. 

2.Lady Macbeth changes over the course of the play. At the beginning, she's dominant and confident - she persuades Macbeth that killing Duncan is the best thing to do. 

3.Once Macbeth has committed murder Lady Macbeth is slowly driven mad by guilt. Macbeth distances himself from her and she kills herself because she can't live with what they've done.

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Lady Macbeth (2/6)

She is very ambitious 

1.Lady Macbeth is just as ambitious as Macbeth - when she gets his letter, she immediately assumes that they need that to kill Duncan. She's more ruthless than her husband. 

2.She thinks that no ordinary woman would plan this murder. That's why she appeals to the spirit world to "unsex" her and fill her with "direst cruelty." 

3.Lady Macbeth knows her husband's weak spots she uses his ambition and fear of being seen as a coward to manipulate him into killing Duncan.

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Lady Macbeth (3/6)

She's clever and quick-witted 

1.Lady Macbeth is the one who comes up with the cunning plot to drug Duncan's servants and frame them for the murder. This shows that she's clever as well as cruel and heartless.

2.When Duncan's murder is discovered, Lady Macbeth faints. This could be a pretence, which cleverly draws attention away from the unconvincing speech that Macbeth's making. Lady Macbeth also covers up Macbeth's strange behaviour when he thinks that he sees Banquo's ghost. She's the one in control of the situation.

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Lady Macbeth (4/6)

Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth to explore gender and power 

1.Women were traditionally seen as kinder and weaker than men, but Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth to show that this isn't always true. She says she would kill her own baby if she'd sworn to do it. Shakespeare contrasts her with Lady Macduff, who's a caring mother.

2.Lady Macbeth does have a softer side. She says that she couldn't kill Duncan herself because he reminded her of her father. This shows that she's not as cold-hearted as she appears.

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Lady Macbeth (5/6)

She goes mad with guilt and kills herself 

1.At first, it’s Macbeth who struggles with his guilty conscience. By the end of the play, Lady Macbeth is driven mad by guilt.

2.She starts sleepwalking. The doctor calls this a "great perturbation in nature" because her mind is so disturbed that it's affected her ability to sleep soundly. 

3.In her sleep, she keeps washing her hands in the hope that she can wash away her feelings of guilt just as easily as the blood after Duncan's murder: "Out, damned spot!" 

4.Guilt and isolation affect Lady Macbeth so much that she kills herself - she can't live with what she's done.

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Lady Macbeth (6/6)

The Macbeths' marriage is intense 

1.Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's relationship changes. At the beginning, their marriage seems loving and passionate Macbeth calls Lady Macbeth "my dearest partner of greatness" 

2.As the play develops, it becomes clear that Lady Macbeth dominates Macbeth - she manipulates him into killing Duncan and covers up his strange behaviour when he sees Banquo's ghost. 

3.As Macbeth reveals less about his plans to his wife, Lady Macbeth becomes increasingly anxious and alone. Even though she's domineering at the beginning, she can't cope without her husband.

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Duncan (1/3)

Duncan's kind, but too trusting 

1.Duncan's the King at the start of the play. He's a kind and generous man who rewards loyalty - he hands out honours to Macbeth and Malcolm.

2.Nobody has a bad word to say about Duncan - even Macbeth says that "his virtues / Will plead like angels". 

3.Duncan's flaw is that he's too trusting. He trusts Macbeth and doesn't suspect he's plotting to kill him, and he describes the treacherous Thane of Cawdor as "a gentleman on whom I built / An absolute trust. However, Duncan can be firm when needed - he executes the Thane of Cawdor when he betrays him.

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Duncan (2/3)

He's an example of a good king 

1.Shakespeare presents Duncan as a model king he's kind, honest and fair.

2.Macbeth says that one of the reasons that he shouldn't kill Duncan is because he’s a good leader with many "virtues". Macduff also calls him "a most sainted king", reminding the audience that kings were thought to be chosen by God.

3.Duncan is kind, generous and trusting, and puts Scotland's needs ahead of his own. This contrast with Macbeth, who is a bad king - he's a tyrant who's feared and hated. Macbeth puts his own selfish desires ahead of his country.

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Duncan (3/3)

Duncan isn’t like the other men 

1.Duncan isn't a soldier like Macbeth or Macduff gentle and less aggressive. He doesn't fight himself, but sensibly sends his best soldiers to fight for him.

2. He's not afraid to be emotional - he shows "drops of sorrow" because he's so happy and talks about his "gentle senses" this could be seen as unmanly.

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Malcolm and Donalbain (1/2)

Malcolm and Donalbain learn from their father's mistakes 

1.Malcolm is fair and honest, like his father. However, unlike Duncan, Malcolm and Donalbain are aware that they're in danger from those closest to them: "There's daggers in men's smiles, the near'r in blood, / The nearer bloody". They have the common sense to flee Scotland after Duncan is murdered. 

2.Malcolm learns that he should only trust people who have proved their loyalty - when Macduff visits him, Malcolm tests his loyalty by pretending to be a tyrant. He knows that even people who seem good can be evil "all things foul would wear the brows of grace". 

3.In the end, Malcolm and Macduff make a good partnership because Macduff's experience gives Malcolm the confidence to take action.

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Malcolm and Donalbain (2/2)

Malcolm and Donalbain aren't impulsive 

1.Malcolm and Donalbain don't react to their father's murder immediately. Malcolm says that their sorrow is too "strong" to act on it straight away. It shows that he's sensible and unwilling to act without waiting for the right time. 

2.They're annoyed that Macbeth is making grand speeches contrast which should be made by Duncan's sons. Malcolm asks Donalbain, "Why do we hold our tongues".

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Malcolm develops into a good leader 

1.Malcolm becomes a confident leader. He earns the trust of the Scottish thanes, who say they will "give obedience where 'tis truly owed". They will follow Malcolm because he's the rightful King. 

2.Malcolm eventually returns to Scotland with an army. He proves that he's clever by disguising the soldiers with branches, and leads his army to victory, which shows that he's a strong leader.

3.He rewards everyone who fought with him - like Duncan, he's generous to those who are loyal to him.

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Banquo (1/3)

Banquo is more honourable than Macbeth 

1.Banquo is a thane, like Macbeth. He's there when the Witches first make their prophecies.

2.Banquo is praised for his courage in battle - just like Macbeth. However, while Macbeth is guided by his own selfish desires, Banquo has "a wisdom that doth guide his valour". This suggests that Banquo thinks before he acts and does what is right. 

3.Like Macbeth, Banquo is ambitious and hopes the Witches’ prophecies come true. He doesn’t act on their predictions, so he represents the path Macbeth could have chosen. Banquo isn't corrupted by his ambition like Macbeth is, so he remains honourable.

4.Macbeth promises to "honour" Banquo for his loyalty, but Banquo chooses to keep his "allegiance clear prophecies come true". He doesn't act on their predictions, so he represents the path Macbeth his conscience is more important to him than power and glory.

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Banquo (2/3)

Banquo doesn't trust the Witches 

1.Banquo behaves rationally when he meets the Witches he questions whether they are real, and doesn't trust them. In contrast, Macbeth wants them to tell him more, and is "rapt withal".

2.Banquo tells the Witches that he "neither beg nor fear / Your favours", but he's still intrigued to hear what they have to say. He admits to having "dreamt last night of the three weïrd sisters", which suggests he's still thinking about the predictions.

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Banquo (3/3)

He doesn't act to protect himself 

1.Banquo suspects that Macbeth murdered Duncan - "I fear, / Thou play'dst most foully". However he doesn't act on his suspicions and instead reminds himself that he will be the "father / Of many kings" - this shows that ambitious thoughts can distract even the most honourable characters. 

2.Macbeth sees Banquo as a threat - he says that there's no one except Banquo "Whose being I do fear". When Macbeth's hired killers surround him, Banquo's exclamation of "O, treachery!" shows that he didn't suspect that Macbeth would betray him.

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MacDuff (1/2)

Macduff is honest and sincere... 

1.Macduff is a nobleman. He's honest and has integrity, so he acts as a contrast to Macbeth. He discovers Duncan's murder and is horrified by it. 

2.Macduff doesn't go to Macbeth's coronation. This suggests that he is suspicious of Macbeth.

3.Macduff has a strong sense of loyalty and love for his country. He doesn't like the way Macbeth rules, so he goes to England to persuade Malcolm to help he exclaims "O Scotland, Scotland!" which reflects his emotional turmoil about the state of his country. 

4.Macduff is brave - he fights and kills Macbeth, freeing Scotland from "the tyrant".

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Macduff (2/2)

...but he puts his country before his family 

1.Macduff makes a mistake by going to England, leaving his wife and children unprotected. His decision shows his strong sense of justice, but also his lack of "wisdom". 

2.When he finds out that Macbeth has had them murdered, he is overcome with grief. His reaction shows his disbelief: "All my pretty ones? / Did you say all?" 

3.Macduff kills Macbeth both to put the rightful heir on the throne and to avenge his family. He thinks that his wife and children will "haunt" him until he kills Macbeth.

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Lady Macduff

Lady Macduff can’t understand her husbands actions 

1.When Macduff goes to England, Lady Macduff says that he lacks "the natural touch“ - she thinks his behaviour shows a lack of fatherly love.

2.Lady Macduff shows courage as she comforts her son, calling him  "Poor bird". Her love and affection for him are clear. They speak in prose, which makes the scene feel natural and homely - this makes the murders even more shocking and horrible.

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The Witches (1/2)

The Witches have supernatural powers 

1.The Three Witches are also known as the Weird Sisters. They look like ugly women with beards, which suggests straight away that they're unnatural and evil. 

2.The Witches can see the future - all their predictions come true eventually. They seem to act out of malice they don't gain anything from their actions, they just like causing trouble.

3.They speak in short lines that rhyme. This sets them apart from the other characters. Lines like "Eye of newt, and toe of frog, / Wool of bat, and tongue of dog" make them sound gruesome and evil.

4.Banquo isn't sure whether the Witches are real or imaginary - "Are ye fantastical, or that indeed/ Which outwardly ye show?" He's suspicious that their appearance is misleading.

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The Witches (2/2)

They're evil, but they don’t tell Macbeth to murder Duncan 

1.The Witches are usually accompanied by "Thunder and lightning" This makes the atmosphere dark and frightening.

2.They make prophecies but they never explain how they'll happen. In this way, they take advantage of Macbeth's weakness (his "Vaulting ambition") and use it to control his actions. 

3.The Witches don't tell Macbeth to murder Duncan - but they do predict he'll be king, which pushes him to kill Duncan.

4.The Witches confuse Macbeth using paradoxes - for example, telling him that Banquo will be “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater". By not being clear about what the future holds, they keep control of Macbeth. 

5.Hecate is the goddess of witchcraft. She's angry at Macbeth's behaviour, so she uses the apparitions to punish him. They trick him by making predictions that give him a false sense of security, such as "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth". 

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The Thanes

There are some other noblemen... 

1.Lennox, Rosse, Menteith, Angus and Caithness are all thanes - Scottish noblemen. None of them are very significant characters. They're basically there to move the story along and show how power shifts during the play. 

2.They comment on the big events of the play - e.g. in Act 3, Scene 6, Lennox sarcastically says that Macbeth "nobly" and "wisely" killed Duncan's guards. This shows that the thanes suspect that Macbeth killed Duncan, and suggests that he's starting to lose power.

3.The thanes say that they will "give obedience where 'tis truly owed" - in other words, they'll be loyal to whoever deserves it. They gradually start to question whether Macbeth is the rightful King, and start to resent his tyranny. By the end of the play they side with Malcolm and help him defeat Macbeth.

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Other Minor Characters

..and a few other minor characters 

1.The Porter appears in Act 2. He's a comic character - he talks about his drunken behaviour the night before, saying that drinking makes three things happen, "nose-painting, sleep, and urine". He provides a bit of light relief in between the darker more tragic parts of the plot. 

2.Three Murderers appear in Act 3 - they're hired killers that Macbeth persuades to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. They kill Banquo but let Fleance escape. The Murderers show how ruthless Macbeth has become, and possibly that he's unwilling to commit more murders himself. They also kill Lady Macduff and her children on Macbeth's orders - this shows how desperate and cruel he is.

3.Siward is an English Lord. He's a great fighter and helps Malcolm defeat Macbeth in Act 5. He's got a son, Young Siward, who is killed in battle by Macbeth. 

4.There are a few other minor characters such as the Doctor and the Gentlewoman who are with Lady Macbeth when she goes mad. They only have small parts but they help to move the plot alorng and develop the themes of the play.

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