Macbeth Summary


by William Shakespeare

Act 1

Act 1, scene 1

On a heath in Scotland , three witches, the Weird Sisters, wait to meet Macbeth amid thunder and lightning. Their conversation is filled with paradoxes; they say that they will meet Macbeth "when the battle's lost and won," when "fair is foul and foul is fair."

Act 1, scene 2

As the play opens, the Scottish army is at war with the Norwegian army. Duncan, king of Scotland , meets a soldier returning from battle. The soldier informs them of Macbeth and Banquo's bravery in battle, and describes Macbeth's attack on the castle of the traitorous Macdonwald, in which Macbeth triumphed and planted the severed head of Macdonwald on the battlements of the castle. The Thanes (lords) of Ross and Angus enter with the news that the Thane of Cawdor has sided with Norway . Duncan decides to strip the traitor Thane of his title and give the title of Thane of Cawdor to Macbeth.

Act 1, scene 3

The Weird Sisters meet on the heath and wait for Macbeth. He arrives with Banquo, confirming the witches' paradoxical prophecy by stating "So foul and fair a day I have not seen." The witches hail him as "Thane of Glamis" (his present title), "Thane of Cawdor" (which title Macbeth does not know he has been granted yet), and "king hereafter." Their greeting startles and seems to frighten Macbeth. Banquo questions the witches as to who they are, and they greet him as "lesser than Macbeth and greater," "not so happy, yet much happier," and a man who "shall get kings, though [he] be none." When Macbeth questions them further, the witches vanish like bubbles into the air. Almost as soon as they disappear, Ross and Angus appear, bearing the news that the king has granted Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth and Banquo step aside to discuss this news; Banquo is of the opinion that the title of Thane of Cawdor might "enkindle" Macbeth to seek the crown as well. Macbeth questions why good news like this causes his "seated heart [to] knock at [his] ribs / Against the use of nature," and his thoughts turn immediately and with terror to murdering the king in order to fulfill the witches' second prophesy. When Ross and Angus notice Macbeth's distraught state, Banquo dismisses it as Macbeth's unfamiliarity with his new title.

Act 1, scene 4

Duncan demands to know if the ex-Thane of Cawdor has been executed, and his son Malcolm assures him that he has. While Duncan muses about the fact that he mistakenly placed his "absolute trust" in the traitor Thane, Macbeth enters. Duncan thanks Macbeth and Banquo for their loyalty and bravery, and announces his decision to make his son Malcolm the heir to the throne of Scotland (something he should not have done, since his position was elected, not inherited). Duncan then states that he plans to visit Macbeth at his home in Inverness . Macbeth leaves to prepare his home for the royal visit, pondering the stumbling block that the king has just placed in front of his ambitions with the announcement of his heir. The king follows with Banquo.

Act 1, scene 5

At Inverness , Lady Macbeth reads a letter from Macbeth telling of his meeting with the witches. She fears that his nature is not ruthless enough, is "too full o' th' milk of human kindness," to murder Duncan and assure the completion of the witches' prophesy. He has ambition enough, she claims, but lacks the gumption to act on it. She then implores him to hurry home so that she can "pour [her] spirits in [his] ear," in other words, goad him on to the murder he must commit. When a messenger arrives with the news that Duncan is coming, Lady Macbeth calls on the heavenly powers to "unsex me here" and fill her with cruelty, taking from her all natural womanly compassion. When Macbeth arrives, she greets him as Glamis and Cawdor and urges him to "look like th'innocent flower, / but be the serpent under it," and states that she will make all the preparations for the king's visit and subsequent murder.

Act 1, scene 6

Duncan arrives at Inverness with Banquo and exchanges pleasantries with Lady Macbeth. He asks her where Macbeth is, and she offers to bring him to where Macbeth waits.

Act 1, scene 7

Alone, Macbeth agonizes over whether or not to kill Duncan , stating that he knows the king's murder is a terrible sin. He struggles not so much with the horrifying idea of regicide as with the actual fact and process of murdering a man - a relative, no less - who trusts and loves him. He would like the king's murder to be over and done with already. He hates the fact that he has "only / Vaulting ambition" without the motivation or ruthlessness to ensure the attainment of his ambitions. Lady Macbeth enters, and Macbeth tells her that he "will proceed no further in this business." Taunting him for his fears and ambivalence, she tells him he will only be a man when he commits this murder. She states that she herself would go so far as to take her own nursing baby and dash its brains out if she had to in order to attain her goals. She counsels him to "screw [his] courage to the sticking place" and details the way they will murder the king. They will wait until he is asleep, she says, then they will get his bodyguards drunk. Then they will murder Duncan and lay the blame on the two drunken bodyguards. Macbeth, astonished at her cruelty, warns her to "bring forth male children only," since she is too tough and bloodthirsty to bear girls. He resigns to follow through with her plans.

Act 2

Act 2, scene 1

Banquo, who has also come to Inverness with Duncan and Fleance, wrestles with the witches' prophesy; unlike Macbeth, he restrains the desire to act on it that tempts him in his dreams. Macbeth enters and, when Banquo questions him, pretends to have forgotten the witches' prophesy. When Banquo and Fleance leave Macbeth alone, Macbeth imagines that he sees a bloody dagger pointing toward Duncan 's chamber. Frightened by this "dagger of the mind," he prays that the earth will "hear not [his] steps" as he completes his bloody plan. The bell rings - a signal from Lady Macbeth - and he exits into Duncan 's room.

Act 2, scene 2

Lady Macbeth waits for Macbeth to return from killing Duncan . Hearing the hoot of an owl - an omen of death - she assumes that he has done it, and waits fitfully for him to appear. She hears a noise within and worries that the bodyguards have awakened before Macbeth had a chance to plant the evidence on them. Macbeth enters, still carrying the bloody daggers with which he killed Duncan . He is shaken because as he entered Duncan 's chamber he heard the bodyguards praying and could not say "Amen" when they finished their prayers. He takes this as a bad sign. Lady Macbeth counsels him not to think "after these ways; so, it will make us mad." Unheeding, Macbeth goes on to tell her that he also thought he heard a voice that said, "sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep . . . . Glamis [Macbeth] hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor [also Macbeth] / Shall sleep no more." Lady Macbeth warns him not to think of such "brainsickly things" but to wash the blood from his hand. Seeing the daggers he carries, she chastises him for bringing them in and tells him to plant them on the bodyguards according to the plan. When Macbeth, still horrified by the crime he has just committed, will not do it, Lady Macbeth herself takes the daggers and brings them into the guards' chamber.

While she is gone, Macbeth hears a knocking and imagines that he sees hands plucking at his eyes. He mourns the fact that not even an entire ocean could wash the blood from his hand. Lady Macbeth enters here and, hearing this, states that her hands are just as stained as his, but she is not a coward like him. She claims that "a little water clears us of this deed" - that washing the blood from their hands will wash the guilt from them as well. She, too, hears knocking, and tells Macbeth to retire with her to their chamber and put on their nightgowns; they cannot be out in the hall and in their clothes when the others enter.

Act 2, scene 3

In a "comic relief" scene, the Porter (doorman) hears knocking at the gate and imagines that he is the porter at the door to Hell. He imagines admitting a farmer who has committed suicide after a bad harvest, an "equivocator" who has committed a sin by swearing to half-truths, and an English tailor who stole cloth to make fashionable clothes and visited brothels. Since it is "too cold for hell" at the gate, he stops there instead of continuing with a longer catalogue of sinners and opens the door. Outside are Macduff and Lennox , who scold him for taking so long to answer the door. The Porter claims that he was tired after drinking until late, and delivers a small sermon on the ills of drink.

Macbeth enters, and Macduff asks him if the king is awake yet. On hearing that the king is still asleep, Macduff leaves to wake him. While he is gone, Lennox tells Macbeth that the night was full of strange events in the weather - chimneys were blown down, birds screeched all night, the earth shook, and ghostly voices were heard prophesying bad fortune. A stunned Macduff returns with the news that the king is dead. He tells them to go see for themselves and calls to the servants to ring the alarm bell and wake the other guests.

Lady Macbeth and Banquo enter and Macduff informs them of the king's death. Macbeth and Lennox return and Macbeth laments the king's death, claiming that he witches he was dead instead of the king. Malcolm and Donalbain appear and ask who murdered their father. Lennox tells them that the bodyguards must have done it because they still had the king's blood on their faces and hands and the daggers on their pillows. Macbeth tells them that he has already killed the bodyguards in a grief-stricken rage. When Malcolm and Donalbain question this act, Lady Macbeth pretends to faint in order to distract them. Aside, Malcolm and Donalbain confer and decide that their lives are threatened and they should flee. As Lady Macbeth is being helped to leave, Banquo counsels the others to get together to analyze what just happened and figure out what to do next. Leaving Malcolm and Donalbain alone, they leave to meet in the hall. Malcolm decides that he will flee to England , and Donalbain says that he will go to Ireland .

Act 2, scene 4

Ross and an old man discuss the unnatural events that have taken place recently: days are as dark as nights, owls hunt falcons, and Duncan 's horses have gone mad and eaten each other. Macduff enters, and Ross asks him who killed the king. Macduff tells him that the bodyguards did it, but that Malcolm and Donalbain's hasty flight from Inverness has cast suspicion on them as well. Ross comments that Macbeth will surely be named the next king, and Macduff says that he has already been named and has gone to Scone to be crowned. Ross leaves for Scone to see the coronation, and Macduff heads home to Fife .

Act 3

Act 3, scene 1

At Macbeth's court, Banquo voices his suspicions that Macbeth has killed Duncan in order to fulfill the witches' prophesies. He muses that perhaps this means that the witches' vision for his future will come true as well, then pushes this thought from his mind. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth enter to the sound trumpets, along with Lennox and Ross. Macbeth announces that he will hold a banquet that evening, and that Banquo will be the chief guest. Banquo states that he must ride this afternoon, but he will be back in time for supper. Macbeth tells him that Malcolm and Donalbain will not confess to killing their father, and asks if Fleance will accompany Banquo on his trip (he will), then wishes Banquo a safe ride.

Left alone, Macbeth summons the two murderers he has hired. While he waits for them, he gives voice to his greatest worry of the moment - that the witches' prophesy for Banquo will come true, and that Banquo's children will inherit the throne instead of his own. He will put an end to that thought by killing Banquo and Fleance. The murderers enter. These men are not "murderers" by trade but poor men who are willing to do anything to make some money. Macbeth has evidently sent them letters stating that although they think Macbeth is the cause of their present poverty, the real cause is Banquo, and that he will reward them richly if they would kill Banquo for him. The Murderers respond that they are so "weary with disasters [and] tugged with fortune" that they are "reckless what / [they] do to spite the world." Macbeth tells them that Banquo is his own enemy as well as theirs, but that loyal friends of Banquo's prevent him from killing him himself. Macbeth tells them the particulars of the murder: they must attack him as he is coming back from his ride, at a distance from the palace in order to avert suspicion. They must also kill Fleance, and perform these murders at exactly the right time.

Act 3, scene 2

Alone, Lady Macbeth expresses her unhappiness: there seems to be no end to her desire for power, and she feels unsafe and doubtful. Macbeth enters, looking upset, and she again counsels him not to spend his time alone worrying about what they have done. Macbeth states that their job is not done, and that he spends every waking moment in fear and each night embroiled in nightmares. He says that he envies Duncan, who sleeps peacefully in his grave. Lady Macbeth warns him to act cheerful in front of their dinner guests, and Macbeth says that he will, and asks her to pay special attention to Banquo tonight, both in speech and looks. Lady Macbeth tries to comfort him by reminding him that although Banquo and Fleance live, they are not immortal, and he should not fear them. Macbeth responds elusively, telling her that "a deed of dreadful note" will be done tonight; he will not tell her more.

Act 3, scene 3

The two murderers are joined by a third, who says that he has also been hired by Macbeth. Horses are heard approaching, and Banquo and Fleance enter. The murderers attack Banquo, but Fleance flees. The murderers leave to report back to Macbeth.

Act 3, scene 4

At the banquet, Macbeth is just welcoming his guests when one of the murderers comes to the door. He informs Macbeth that Banquo is dead but Fleance has escaped. Shaken, Macbeth thanks him for what he has done and arranges another meeting the next day. The murderer leaves and Macbeth returns to the feast. Standing next to the table, he announces that the banquet would be perfect if only Banquo were there. At this point, unseen by any, Banquo's ghost appears and sits in Macbeth's seat. The guests urge Macbeth to sit and eat with them, but Macbeth says that the table is full. When Lennox points to Macbeth's empty seat, Macbeth is shocked to see Banquo sitting there. He addresses the ghost, saying, "Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake / Thy gory locks at me." The guests, confused by his behavior, think that he is ill, but Lady Macbeth reassures them, saying that he has had "fits" like this since youth, and that he will soon be well. She draws Macbeth aside and tries to talk some sense into him, telling him that this is just a hallucination brought on by his guilt, like the dagger he saw before he killed Duncan . Ignoring her, Macbeth charges the ghost to speak, and it disappears. Disgusted, Lady Macbeth scolds him for being "unmanned in folly." Turning back to his guests, Macbeth tells them that he has "a strange infirmity" that they should ignore.

Just as the party begins again and Macbeth is offering a toast to Banquo, the ghost reappears, and Macbeth again yells at it. Lady Macbeth again tries to smooth things over with the guests. The ghost exits again and Lady Macbeth scolds Macbeth him. This time Macbeth responds in kind, telling her that he is shocked that she can look on sights such as this and not be afraid. Ross asks what sights Macbeth means, and Lady Macbeth tells the guests that they should leave, because Macbeth's "illness" is getting worse.

The guests leave, and Macbeth, frightened, says that he takes this appearance as an omen. He decides that he will go back to the Weird Sisters the next day and ask to hear more.

Act 3, scene 5

On the heath, the witches meet Hecate, queen of witches, who chastises them for meddling in Macbeth's affairs without involving her or showing him any fancy magic spectacles. She tells them that Macbeth will visit them tomorrow, and that they must put on a more dramatic show for him.

Act 3, scene 6

Lennox and another lord discuss politics. Lennox comments sarcastically on the recent deaths of Duncan and Banquo, saying that it seems almost impossible for Malcolm and Donalbain to be inhuman enough to kill their father, and that Macbeth's slaying of the bodyguards was pretty convenient, since they would probably have denied killing Duncan. Lennox proposes that if Malcolm, Donalbain, and Fleance were in Macbeth's prison, they would probably be dead now too. He also reveals that since Macduff did not attend Macbeth's feast, he has been denounced. The lord with whom Lennox speaks comments that Macduff has joined Malcolm at the English court, and that the two of them have asked Siward to lead an army against Macbeth. Lennox and the lord send their prayers to Macduff and Malcolm.

Macbeth Summary Act 4-5

Questions for Macbeth Summary

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Act 1 scene six- what traits does lady Macbeth exhibit that prove she has mastered hiding behind a mask?

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What are the two strange events in nature that Lennox says occured the night befor he and Duncan arrived in Inverness

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