Macbeth

Type: 
Tragedy
First Performed: 
1605-06
First Printed: 
1623
"

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.

"

As they return to serve Duncan, King of Scotland, generals Macbeth and Banquo are visited by three witches. The witches prophesy that Macbeth will first become Thane of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland. Banquo is told he will be the father of kings to come. The prophesy seems true when Macbeth is rewarded for his service in war by King Duncan and named Thane of Cawdor. Greedy Lady Macbeth is thrilled with this development and persuades her ambitious husband to accelerate the prophesy by killing Duncan and assuming the throne of Scotland. Lady Macbeth choreographs an evening that will see Duncan die and his servants blamed for the King's death, and despite Macbeth's misgivings he follows through with the plan. Duncan's sons, the true heirs to Scotland's throne, must flee for their own safety. But their flight arouses suspicions of their own guilt.

To ensure that Banquo's portion of the prophesy does not come to pass, Macbeth also murders his friend. Banquo's ghost later visits Macbeth at a feast and torments the miserable King.

A distraught Macbeth again sees the witches. This prophesy warns Macbeth to watch out for Macduff, another Scottish noble who has fled to England. The witches also inform Macbeth that he will not be harmed by any man born of a woman.

In England, Macduff and Duncan's sons—Malcolm and Donalbain—raise an army against Macbeth. With confidence based on the witch's prophesy that he cannot die at the hand of a man born of a woman, Macbeth believes he is invincible. Despite many of his lords abandoning him and receiving news of his wife's death, Macbeth proceeds in battle. No one is able to kill him, until he and Macduff at last face each other in battle. Macduff's dramatic birth clarifies the witch's prophesy; he kills Macbeth, and Malcolm assumes the throne of Scotland.