Last minute Macbeth revision

November 21, 2018

Video summary:

Before reading the detailed breakdown of the play, the summary, themes and symbols - do check out a video I had recorded on the play here:

Key Characters: 

Macbeth - A Scottish nobleman and warrior who murders the King of Scotland in order to take his throne. He has a sense of right and wrong and is torn about his decisions, but is easily influenced. 

Lady Macbeth - Lady Macbeth is ambitious, clever and ruthless. She has great influence over Macbeth, and is behind much of the plot to kill King Duncan. Yet by the end, she goes mad with guilt. 

Duncan - Duncan is a kind and virtuous king. Under his reign, Scotland is at peace.

Malcolm - Malcolm, one of Duncan’s sons, is kind and honest like his father but less trusting. 

Macduff - Macduff is a nobleman who is very loyal to his country. 

Banquo - Banquo is a thane who like Macbeth is known for his prowess on the battlefield. He is also very trusting and is surprised when Macbeth betrays him. 

The Three Witches - The Three Witches have supernatural powers and their future predictions come true throughout the play. The speak mainly in short, rhyming lines and are usually accompanied by thunder and lightning. 


Play Summary:


Act One

The play opens with the Three Witches, who are planning on meeting Macbeth. They do not explain their intentions for doing so. 

Macbeth and Banquo are leading the Scottish army in battle against rebel armies from Norway and Ireland. Macbeth is heroic and loyal on the battlefield.

The Three Witches appear to Macbeth and Banquo, and make three prophecies: 

Macbeth will be named Thane of Cawdor and then King 

Banquo will be father to future generations of Kings

Upon returning home from battle, King Duncan names Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. 

Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth detailing the Witches’ prophecies. She decides that they must kill Duncan when he comes to Inverness for a royal visit, in order for Macbeth to be King, but worries her husband is too weak to do so. 

Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s castle, and Lady Macbeth acts as the perfect hostess. 

The next scene opens with Macbeth’s soliloquy, in which he debates murdering King Duncan. Lady Macbeth convinces him he must go through with it. 


Act Two

Macbeth is on his way to Duncan’s bedchamber to carry out the murder. Along the way, he encounters Banquo and his son, Fleance. Banquo discusses how he cannot sleep, as he keeps thinking about the Witches. He asserts his allegiance to Duncan as King. Macbeth carries on, and sees a ghostly dagger pointing towards Duncan’s bedchamber.  

Lady Macbeth waits for her husband to return from carrying out the murder. He returns, and seems conflicted by what he has done. Lady Macbeth takes the daggers that he has mistakenly carried back, returns to the bedchamber, and smears blood over the drugged, sleeping servants, leaving the daggers in the room. 

The porter goes to answer the door, while having a comical monologue in which he pretends he is the porter to the gates of hell. He opens the door to Lennox and Macduff, who have come to help the King depart. Macduff goes into Duncan’s bedchamber and discovers the murder. Macbeth confesses that he murdered Duncan’s servants in rage and Lady Macbeth faints. Duncan’s sons flee fearing for their lives, which makes them look guilty. 

Strange things begin happening in Scotland after Duncan’s death (e.g. horses eating one another). Macduff tells Rosse that Macbeth will be crowned King, but he will not go to the coronation. 


Act Three

This act opens with Banquo’s soliloquy. He is suspicious of Macbeth. He is invited for dinner with the Macbeth’s, after going riding with Fleance. Macbeth sees Banquo as a threat to his power, and plans to murder him.   

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth meet in secret, where she tries to sooth his (and her own) guilt. Macbeth tells her of his plan to murder Banquo. 

Two hired men murder Banquo but Fleance escapes. 

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth host a dinner for the Thanes of Scotland. The hired men return, and inform Macbeth that Fleance has escaped alive. The ghost of Banquo appears to Macbeth. Macbeth decides that he must kill Macduff next, as he is suspicious that Macduff is disloyal. He also plans to visit the Three Witches once more to ask them about his prophecies.  

The Three Witches meet with Hecate, who is angry the Witches have not involved her in Macbeth’s downfall. The Witches plan to further trick Macbeth. 

Macduff has joined with Malcolm in England to rise against Macbeth. Lennox is suspicious of Macbeth and his role in Duncan and Banquo’s murder. Lennox hopes that Macbeth will fall, and Scotland will be restored to peace. 


Act Four

Macbeth returns to the Three Witches and demands they show him more about his future. Their first apparition is a warrior’s head, who warns him that Macduff will get a bloody revenge. The second is a child covered in blood, who tells Macbeth that he cannot be killed by any man “born of woman.” The third is a child with a crown, who tells him he will not be beaten until “Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane Hill.” Macbeth is confident that his reign will not end given these prophecies. However, the Witches show him a procession of future Kings, led by Banquo, which enrages him.

The next scene goes to Lady Macduff, who is angry because Macduff has left her alone with their children in the castle. She has a dialogue with her son. Macbeth’s hired murderer enters and kills Lady Macduff’s son. 

Macduff is on his way to England, where he goes to convince Malcolm to rise against Macbeth, but Malcolm does not trust Macduff. Malcolm tests his loyalty, and is assured that Macduff is loyal to the rightful King. Rosse enters, bringing news that Lady Macduff and their son have been murdered. 


Act Five

Act Five opens with Lady Macbeth who has gone mad. She speaks differently now, carries a candle because she fears the dark, tries to wash imagined blood from her hands, speaks and walks in her sleep, reliving the events of the murders. She is overheard by a doctor and lady-in-waiting.  

Meanwhile, four Scottish Thanes plan to meet the English army near Birnam Wood in order to launch an attack on Macbeth. 

Servants tell Macbeth that a large army is approaching, and he orders them to bring his armor. The doctor enters and tells him that Lady Macbeth has gone mad. 

The English army meet the Scottish rebels at Birnam Wood, and Malcolm orders them to cut branches from the trees and hold them over themselves, to conceal the true size of the army. 

Macbeth is confident and fully armed now. He hears a shriek, and is told Lady Macbeth is dead (though we do not know how, exactly). This causes him to despair. He is told that it appears as if all of Birnam Wood has uprooted and is advancing toward the castle. 

Malcolm’s army reaches Dunsinane, fulfilling the Witches’ prophecy. 

Macbeth fights the son of Siward and kills him. 

Macbeth then encounters Macduff, but Macbeth, full of guilt, does not want to fight Macduff. He still thinks that he cannot be killed by a man “born of woman.” Macduff reveals that he was born via cesarean section. Macbeth refuses to retreat, challenges Macduff to fight him, and Macduff kills him. 

Macduff enters carrying Macbeth’s severed head, and Malcolm is crowned King. All continues in the castle as before. 




Ambition - Ambition is what motivates Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to carry out their terrible deeds. Though Macbeth starts as a hero, once his ambition is out of control, he becomes a villainous murderer. Both these characters are eventually killed because of their ambition, indicating that ambition can be a bad thing. However, other characters in the play are ambitious, but in a good way. Malcolm is ambitious in his desire to become King, but this is a good ambition. Banquo is also ambitious for this children to become Kings, but does not act harmfully to fulfill that ambition. 


Loyalty- Macbeth highlights that loyalty is shown through actions, not words. Though Macbeth tells Duncan he is loyal, his actions show otherwise. Loyalty is rewarded throughout the play, such as when Macbeth is made a Thane for his loyalty to Duncan. At the same time, Macbeth is punished for betraying Scotland and Duncan, by being killed at the end of the play. 


Fate and Free Will- Much of the events in Macbeth seems to be left up to fate. The Witches predict what will happen, and their prophecies all come true. However, their predictions are vague enough that characters still have free will in how they act. Though Macbeth is told he will become king, he is not told how, and it was his own choice to murder Duncan to achieve this. 


The Supernatural - There are a variety of supernatural forces in Macbeth. The Witches represent the main supernatural force, and they cause chaos and disorder with their influence. The supernatural is also used to show guilt. Macbeth sees images like the dagger and the ghost of Banquo when he feels guilty about the murders. Lady Macbeth also thinks she sees blood once she begins to feel guilt. 

Barbara Njau

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