Macbeth introduction

Macbeth is about the corrupting power of ambition

Macbeth is about an ambitious nobleman who murders the Scottish King after some Witches make a prediction that he will rule scotland.

Macbeth becomes a cruel king who commits many crimes, before he is eventually killed.

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's most performed plays. Its themes of ambition and betrayal are still relevent today, and the basic plot has inspired many adaptions.

Shakespeare shows that even honourable men can be corrupted by ambition - Macbeth betrays his king, his country and his own conscience to satisfy his lust for power.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth show that power that's taken unfairly doesn't bring happiness, but leads to guild, madness and death.

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Theatre was an important form of entertainment

There was no TV, radio or internt in Shakespeare's time, so going to the theatre was really popular.

The theatre wasn't just for the rich people - Shakespeare's audiences included servants and labourers.

Audiences could get quite rowdy during performances.

The poorer people in the audience stood in front of the stage - if it rained, they got wet. The richer people sat in the covered galleries above.

Shakespeare's theatre company, the King's Men performed in the Globe Theatre in London. This was rebuilt in 1997.

It was illegal for women to act, so the women's parts were played by young boys.

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Characters

Macbeth - An ambitious, Scottish nobleman. He murders the King of Scotland and takes his place.

Lady Macbeth - Macbeth's wife. She persuades Macbeth to kill the King. She eventually goes mad and kills herself.

Duncan - King of Scotland at the start of the play. Macbeth murders him.

Malcolm - Duncan's son. He flees after Duncan's murder, and becomes King at the end of the play.

Macduff - Noble soldier. He doesn't trust Macbeth and eventually kills him.

Lady Macduff - Macduff's wife. Macbeth has her children murdered.

Banquo - Brave soldier and nobleman. He's friends with Macbeth but Macbeth has him killed.

Three Witches - Evil supernatural beings who can predict the future. Their leader is called Hecate.

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Act 1 Summary

The three Witches plan to meet Macbeth. Macbeth and Banquo meet the Witches, who tell Macbeth that he'll be Thane of Cawdor, then King. They tell Banquo his descendants will be Kings.

Duncan makes Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth starts to wonder if the Witches' prophecy about him being King will come true too.

Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth about the prophecy. She plans to persuade him to murder Duncan.

Duncan comes to stay with the Macbeths. Macbeth is reluctant to kill him, but Lady Macbeth convinces him that they can frame Duncan's servants for the murder. Macbeth agrees to the plan.

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Act 2 Summary

Macbeth murders Duncan and Lady Macbeth plants blood-stained daggers on Duncan's servants.

Macduff arrives and discovers the King's body. The King's songs, Malcolm and Donalbain, leave Scotland because they fear for their lives - this makes them look guilty for Duncan's murder.

Rosse and an old man discuss the strange and unnatural things that have been happening since Duncan's murder.

Macbeth is about to be crowned, but not all the other noblemen support him.

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Act 3 Summary

Macbeth is now King, but he's worried by the Witches' prophecy about Banquo's descendants being Kings. He orders some murderers to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance.

The murderers kill Banquo, but Fleance escapes.

Macbeth hosts a feast and sees Banquo's ghost. He decides to visit the Witches again.

Lennox and a lord suspect Macbeth of murdering Duncan and Banquo. They say that Macduff is getting an army together to attack Macbeth and put Malcolm on the throne.

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Act 4 Summary

Macbeth visits the Witches again and they summon three appartitions.

Each apparition makes a prophecy. The first warns Macbeth about Macduff, the second tells him that no one born from a woman can harm him and the third tells him that he can't be beaten until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane Hill.

When Macbeth demands to know if Banquo's children will ever rule Scotland the Witches show him Banquo's ghost and a line of kings who seem to be Banquo's descendants.

Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth sends his murderers to kill Macduff's wife and children.

In England, Macduff proves his loyalty to Malcolm, and Malcolm reveals that the English King has given him ten thousand soldiers to fight Macbeth.

Macduff learns that Macbeth has killed his family, and vows to avenge their deaths.

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Act 5 Summary

Lady Macbeth has gone mad. She sleepwalks and keeps washing invisible blood from her hands.

The Scottish lords plan to meet the English army at Birnam Wood and attack Macbeth.

Macbeth hears about the approaching English army. He isn't scared because of the Witches' predictions.

Malcolm tells the soldiers to cut down branches from Birnam Wood and hide behind them as they march towards Macbeth's castle.

Macbeth prepares for battle and finds out that Lady Macbeth has killed herself.

Macbeth and Macduff meet on the battlefield. Macbeth is sure that he'll win, until he finds out that Macduff was born by Caesarean, so he isn't born from a woman.

They fight and Macbeth is killed.

Malcolm is made King of Scotland.

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Macbeth is a tragedy

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies.

Mostly, it's a typical tragedy...

  • It's about serious topics like war and death.
  • It's sad - lots of the characters die.
  • The play's main character (Macbeth) dies as a result of his flaws.

But there are also a few more unusual things...

  • There are supernatural elements - the three Witches and their prophecies.
  • Lady Macbeth isn't typical of Shakespeare's female characters - she's evil and strong-willed.
  • There are a few comic moments - the Porter is a comic character.
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