Macbeth by Shakespeare Notes BA English BBMKU University

Macbeth is a tragedy play written by William Shakespeare, believed to have been first performed in 1606. The play revolves around the character Macbeth, a Scottish general, who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will one day become the King of Scotland. Encouraged by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth decides to hasten the prophecy by murdering King Duncan and seizing the throne for himself.


  1. Macbeth: The protagonist of the play, Macbeth is a Scottish general whose ambitious nature leads him to commit murder and treachery in his quest for power and the throne of Scotland.
  2. Lady Macbeth: Macbeth’s wife and a driving force behind her husband’s actions. She is ambitious and manipulative, urging Macbeth to fulfill the witches’ prophecy by any means necessary.
  3. Duncan: The King of Scotland at the beginning of the play, he is a virtuous and benevolent ruler who is tragically murdered by Macbeth.
  4. Banquo: A fellow general and friend of Macbeth. Banquo is also visited by the witches and is told that his descendants will inherit the throne, a prophecy that ultimately leads to his death at the hands of hired murderers.
  5. Macduff: Another Scottish nobleman who becomes a key figure in the play. He is suspicious of Macbeth and ultimately plays a crucial role in overthrowing him.
  6. Lady Macduff: The wife of Macduff. She and her children are brutally murdered by Macbeth’s henchmen on Macbeth’s orders.
  7. The Three Witches: Mysterious and supernatural figures who appear throughout the play, delivering prophecies to Macbeth and influencing the course of events.
  8. Hecate: The queen of the witches, she appears in Act 3 and plays a role in manipulating Macbeth.


Macbeth is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, first published in 1623. It tells the story of a Scottish general who is manipulated by his wife and three witches into killing King Duncan and seizing the throne for himself. However, Macbeth’s reign is short-lived and tyrannical, and he is eventually overthrown and killed by Macduff, a Scottish nobleman whose family Macbeth has murdered.

The play is a cautionary tale about the dangers of ambition and the corrupting influence of power. It also explores themes of guilt, remorse, and the supernatural.

Act I

The play opens with a scene of three witches brewing a potion and chanting a prophecy. The witches predict that Macbeth, a Scottish general, will one day become king.

Macbeth and his friend Banquo encounter the witches on their way back from a victorious battle. The witches tell Macbeth that he will be Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and King of Scotland. Banquo is told that his sons will be kings, but not himself.

Macbeth is shaken by the witches’ prophecy and begins to entertain the idea of becoming king. He writes to his wife, Lady Macbeth, telling her of the prophecy and his ambition.

Act II

King Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s castle, Inverness, to stay for the night. Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to murder Duncan so that he can become king. Macbeth is initially hesitant, but he is eventually persuaded by his wife’s ambition and his own desire for power.

That night, Macbeth kills Duncan in his sleep. He then frames Duncan’s servants for the murder.


Macbeth is crowned king, but he is plagued by guilt and paranoia. He fears that Banquo’s sons will one day inherit the throne, so he arranges for Banquo and his son Fleance to be killed. Banquo is murdered, but Fleance escapes.

At a state banquet that night, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo. Macbeth’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and violent, and his subjects begin to turn against him.

Act IV

Macbeth visits the witches again, seeking reassurance about his future. The witches give him three prophecies: that he will not be defeated until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane Hill, that no man born of woman can harm him, and that he will be safe until he meets a man who is not born of woman.

Macbeth is reassured by the prophecies, but he is still haunted by guilt and paranoia. He orders the murder of Macduff’s wife and children. Macduff flees to England to join forces with Malcolm, Duncan’s son, who is planning to overthrow Macbeth.

Act V

Lady Macbeth has become increasingly unhinged by her guilt and remorse. She begins to sleepwalk and wash her hands obsessively, as if trying to cleanse herself of Duncan’s blood.

Macduff and Malcolm’s army invades Scotland. Macbeth is defeated in battle and killed by Macduff. Malcolm is crowned the new king of Scotland.

Macbeth is a powerful and tragic figure. He is a brave and skilled general, but he is also ambitious and easily manipulated. His downfall is a result of his own ambition and his wife’s influence. The play is a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked ambition and the corrupting influence of power.

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Critically Analyze

1. Ambition and Its Consequences: One of the central themes in “Macbeth” is the destructive nature of unchecked ambition. Macbeth’s intense desire for power and his willingness to commit murder to achieve it lead to his downfall. The play serves as a cautionary tale about the corrupting influence of ambition, showing how it can drive individuals to commit heinous acts and ultimately destroy themselves.

2. The Supernatural: The presence of the witches and their prophecies introduces a supernatural element to the play. The witches represent a world beyond the natural, and their predictions set the course of the narrative. This supernatural element adds an eerie and mysterious atmosphere to the story and raises questions about fate and free will.

3. Guilt and Conscience: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both struggle with overwhelming guilt and a troubled conscience after the murder of King Duncan. Their mental and emotional deterioration is a significant aspect of the play. The famous line “Out, damned spot!” from Lady Macbeth underscores the theme of guilt and the inability to wash away one’s sins.

4. Gender Roles: “Macbeth” challenges traditional gender roles of the time, particularly through the character of Lady Macbeth. She defies the expectations of her gender by being ruthless, ambitious, and manipulative. Her character explores the idea that power and ambition are not solely the domain of men.

5. Political Ambition and Power: The play also explores political themes, as Macbeth’s actions have a profound impact on the stability of Scotland. His tyrannical rule and the chaos that ensues highlight the consequences of political instability and the importance of strong leadership.

6. Imagery and Language: Shakespeare’s use of vivid and evocative language, including metaphors and symbolism, enhances the play’s impact. The imagery of darkness, blood, and the supernatural contributes to the overall atmosphere of foreboding and dread.

7. Tragic Hero: Macbeth is often considered a tragic hero, a character with noble qualities who experiences a downfall due to a tragic flaw. In Macbeth’s case, his ambition and unchecked thirst for power are his tragic flaws, leading to his ultimate demise.

8. Moral Ambiguity: “Macbeth” raises questions about morality and the ambiguity of right and wrong. While the characters commit heinous acts, the play also explores the circumstances and motivations behind their actions, inviting the audience to consider the complexities of human behavior and morality.


1. What is the main theme of “Macbeth”? The main themes of “Macbeth” include ambition, guilt, the corrupting influence of power, and the consequences of unchecked ambition.

2. Who are the three witches in “Macbeth,” and what is their significance? The three witches are supernatural characters who appear at the beginning of the play and deliver prophecies to Macbeth. They play a significant role in shaping the events of the play and represent fate and the supernatural.

3. What is the significance of the dagger hallucination in Act 2, Scene 1? The dagger hallucination is a manifestation of Macbeth’s inner turmoil and guilt. It symbolizes his inner conflict and foreshadows the murder he is about to commit.

4. What is Lady Macbeth’s role in the play? Lady Macbeth is Macbeth’s wife and a key instigator in his quest for power. She is ambitious and manipulative, encouraging Macbeth to commit murder to fulfill the witches’ prophecy. Her character explores themes of gender roles and ambition.

5. How does Macbeth’s character change throughout the play? At the beginning, Macbeth is a noble and honorable general. However, his ambition leads him to commit murder and descend into tyranny. He becomes increasingly paranoid and ruthless, showing a drastic transformation in his character.

6. What is the significance of the line “Out, out, brief candle!” in Act 5, Scene 5? This line, spoken by Macbeth, reflects his realization of the futility and brevity of life. It highlights the theme of mortality and the meaninglessness of his actions in the grand scheme of things.

7. How does “Macbeth” explore the concept of fate vs. free will? The play raises questions about whether the characters’ actions are predetermined by fate or if they have the free will to make their own choices. The witches’ prophecies suggest fate, but the characters’ decisions and actions also play a significant role.

8. What is the ultimate fate of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? Macbeth is killed in a duel with Macduff, and Lady Macbeth dies offstage, presumably by suicide. Their deaths signify the restoration of order in Scotland after Macbeth’s tyrannical rule.

9. What are some famous quotes from “Macbeth”? There are several famous quotes from the play, including “Out, out, brief candle!”, “Is this a dagger which I see before me?”, and “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

10. How has “Macbeth” influenced literature and popular culture? “Macbeth” has inspired countless adaptations, including movies, books, and plays. Its themes and characters continue to be referenced and explored in various forms of media, making it a lasting and influential work in literature.

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