Macbeth - A summarised version - from the play.
In the beginning of the play, three witches give Macbeth an irresistible prophecy: He will be king in Scotland. There’s only one problem: his cousin Duncan is already king. Macbeth starts to plot Duncan’s death—but the man is his cousin and Duncan is a decent enough king, so his motivation starts to flag.
However, his wife, Lady Macbeth, uses all of her wiles to push him toward murder. She urges him to “screw your courage" to the sticking place” and do the deed. She even tells him she’ll drug the king’s guards to make the job easier. Eventually, Macbeth stabs Duncan in the back as he sleeps—and kills the guards too, which was not part of the plan. Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, flee to England.
Paranoia sets in (because you can’t be king if you’re imprisoned for murdering the previous one, you know?) as Macbeth’s growing feelings of guilt start to poison his mind as he descends towards madness. It’s no fun for him and his wife, but at least it results in one of the greatest lines Shakespeare’s ever written. As Macbeth muses in Act 5, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Is Macbeth based on a true story?
Yes! Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth has roots in real history. In the 11th century, King Duncan ruled Scotland until he was murdered by the Thane Macbeth in battle; Macbeth seized the throne, but was killed years later, in a battle with Duncan’s son, Malcolm.
For his play, Shakespeare is thought to have been heavily influenced by Raphael Holinshed‘s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, a history of the real events that happened, as well as the ascension of James I, who took the British throne after the natural death of Queen Elizabeth I. King James (yes, as in the King James Bible) was Scottish–and the sponsor of Shakespeare’s theater company–so the playwright naturally explored Scottish stories and histories as possible inspiration.
And just months before the play was written, there was a plot to kill James: Remember, remember the 5th of November? The Gunpowder Plot that inspired Guy Fawkes Day (and the movie V for Vendetta!) had just taken place on November 5, 1605; it seems rediscovering the old story of Macbeth, a man who kills a Scottish king, could have sparked Shakespeare’s imagination.
What are the main themes in Macbeth?
While there are several literary themes running throughout the play, there are some who think that the major theme of Macbeth is simply: Bad things happen when you try to kill the king. After all, the play was written just months after The Gunpowder Plot was revealed. Shakespeare was surely aware of that event and may have been influenced by his sponsor (the king) to write a play that emphasized that plots against the king turn out very, very poorly for plotters.
Another major overarching theme of Macbeth is that bad things happen when one’s ambition to succeed is allowed to run rampant, as Macbeth’s hunger for power corrupts him. There’s also the idea of the constant battle between fate and free will; would Macbeth have been fine if he hadn’t met the three witches? Or would he have found another way to ruin his life?
Loyalty is another theme; while Macbeth’s loyalty earns him a promotion in the beginning of the play, he ultimately turns out to be the play’s most disloyal character! However, Macduff, a foil for Macbeth, remains loyal to Malcolm until the end; he doesn’t want to be king.
There are also minor themes in Macbeth related to witches, hallucinations and ghosts, which would have thrilled Shakespeare’s audience. Even King James was interested in the supernatural; in addition to authorizing a new Bible translation, he also wrote a book called Demonology in 1597.
In addition to the themes in Macbeth, there is also a great deal of symbolism; for example, King Duncan talks about “signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine on all deservers” Director Coen is likely to use lights and darks to express a lot in the film, which he’s chosen to film in black and white.
What did Macbeth do to become king?
Macbeth, in the beginning of the play, is a brave soldier. The witches and his wife convince Macbeth that he could be king, and the easiest way is for him to kill Duncan. By stabbing the sleeping king in the back, he does so in the most cowardly way.
How Does Lady Macbeth manipulate Macbeth?
As soon as Lady Macbeth hears that a prophecy’s been made that will make her queen, that’s what she wants to accomplish. In Act I, she even begs the spirits to “unsex” her so that she doesn’t sleep with her husband until he is king. She also thinks her husband doesn’t have the guts to kill–but she knows how to press his buttons to make him do it.
She attacks his manliness and strength, saying she knows what it’s like to breastfeed her own baby (Shakespeare never explains how this is possible; the baby may have died young) but that she’d rather “dash the [baby’s] brains out” than stop their plan to rule.
However, after the initial murder of Duncan, even Lady Macbeth is surprised at the lengths her husband goes to in order to retain power. She sees how terribly he’s handling things–she has to distract the court when he becomes agitated because he sees his best friend Banquo’s ghost, for instance–but soon slips into madness along with him. One of the most famous scenes in the play is when Lady Macbeth attempts to clean her hands of blood that isn’t there–yet doesn’t ever seem to come off. “Out, d**mned spot!” she says.
Why did Macbeth kill everyone?
Macbeth racks up quite a body count; in fact, the title character is responsible for the deaths of 10 people in addition to those he kills in battle. Perhaps the most upsetting death is that of his best friend, Banquo. The man tries to warn Macbeth that the witches may not be telling them the truth about Macbeth’s becoming king. After Macbeth has killed Duncan, he suspects Banquo will rat him out. He even believes that Banquo’s children are a threat to him, and so he sends assassins to kill him.
What was Macbeth’s tragic flaw?
Ambition, By all accounts, Macbeth was a good man before he started overreaching. Without his ambition, he may have been able to ignore the strange witches’ prophecy and his wife’s urgings. Because he wanted to be king and wanted everything that came with it, he ultimately caused his own death along with many others.
Why was Macbeth killed?
The simplest answer is that Macbeth was killed because of all his crimes. Macduff kills him because of what he has done to his own family, what’s he’s done to the good king Duncan and his family and what he’s done to Scotland.
Is it bad luck to say “Macbeth?”
Today, among actors, there’s a persistent feeling that you just don’t say the word “Macbeth” inside a theater. Out of superstition, it is instead referred to as “The Scottish Play”—if mentioned at all. There is supposedly a “curse of the Scottish play” that’s said to stretch all the way back to the first performance. According to some, there are several instances of mishaps when they play has been performed–including accidents and deaths.
However, none of that seemed to bother Washington when he took on the title role for the 2021 film. “I’m a God-fearing man, I don’t play that,” he told Stephen Colbert. “I don’t believe in ghosts.”