Macbeth at a Glance


In Macbeth, William Shakespeare's tragedy about power, ambition, deceit, and murder, the Three Witches foretell Macbeth's rise to King of Scotland but also prophesy that future kings will descend from Banquo, a fellow army captain. Prodded by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, he murders King Duncan, becomes king, and sends mercenaries to kill Banquo and his sons. His attempts to defy the prophesy fail, however; Macduff kills Macbeth, and Duncan's son Malcolm becomes king.

Written by: William Shakespeare

Type of Work: play

Genres: drama; tragedy

First Published: probably around 1605-1606

Setting: Scotland

Main Characters: Macbeth; Lady Macbeth; Duncan; Macduff; Banquo; Malcolm

Major Thematic Topics : fall of man; gender roles ; fortune; fate; free will; kingship/natural order; ambition; love of self

Motifs: revenge; sanity; prophecy

Major Symbols: hands; the Three Witches; ghosts

Movie Versions: Macbeth (1948); A Performance of Macbeth (1979); Scotland,Pa. (2001)

The three most important aspects of Macbeth:

  • Lady Macbeth is one of the most famous female characters in all of literature. Macbeth's wife is smart, ambitious, and brave. She is undone, however, by her ambition, and by her utter ruthlessness.
  • The most famous speech in this play full of famous lines and speeches is Macbeth's soliloquy that begins "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time . . . ." These lines express Macbeth's utter hopelessness near the tragedy's end about not only his life, but life in general.
  • It is a widely held superstition in the world of theater that saying the play's name aloud brings bad luck. Instead, actors, directors, and other theater people refer to Macbeth as "the Scottish play."