The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of the most popular plays in all of English literature. It was written by William Shakespeare and is believed to have been performed around 1606. The play deals with the destructive physical and psychological effects that power has on all those who seek it just for the sake of it. The play was first published in the Folio of the year 1623 and is the shortest tragedy among the ones written by Shakespeare.
It is believed that the source for the story is the account of Macbeth, King of Scotland; Macduff; and Duncan in Holinshed’s Chronicles. One interesting fact about this play is that in the backstage world of drama and theatre, the play is widely believed to be cursed. People do not even mention the title of the play aloud, and refer to it as “The Scottish Play”. The play has been a lot of times over the years. Although in Holinshed’s Chronicles, the play has a historical source, it is still considered a tragedy and not a piece of history. The story contains many historical fabrications. This includes the complete character of Banquo. He was invented by a 16th-century Scottish historian in order to validate the Stuart family line. Also, Shakespeare had taken way too many liberties with the original story. He had manipulated the characters of Macbeth and Duncan to suit his purposes. In the historical piece, Macbeth is a ruthless and valiant leader. He is a competent leader in history after the death of Duncan and Duncan is portrayed as a soft-hearted man. But Shakespeare changes a lot of aspects of these two characters in order to draw out a sense of polarity between these two characters. Duncan is turned into a venerable King and Macbeth is shown as an indecisive and troubled young man who is not a competent ruler at all.
Summary Essay on Macbeth
The play begins with a brief introduction of three witches amid thunder and lightning. The Three Witches decide that their next meeting is going to be with Macbeth. The readers learn that Duncan, the king of Scotland is at war with the king of Norway. Next, a wounded sergeant comes and tells Duncan of the bravery that his generals Macbeth and Banquo have demonstrated in the battle against the allied forces of Norway and Ireland and defeated them. These allied forces were led by Macdonwald, who had betrayed the king. Macbeth, who is also the Thane of Glamis and all the other kinsmen of King are praised for their bravery on the battlefield.
While discussing their victory, Macbeth and Banquo wander onto a heath. The Three witches show up and greet them. Banquo challenges them but they address Macbeth and hail him as “Thane of Glamis” and “Thane of Cawdor”. They come to them with prophecies. Macbeth is told that he is going to be the next king. Hearing this, he gets stunned to silence. Banquo enquires about his future. The three witches give him a confusing and a really paradoxical answer. They tell him that he will be less than Macbeth but happier, he will be less successful than him and more at the same time. He is going to father a line of kings and yet he will not be one. The witches disappear and leave Macbeth and Banquo wondering at these prophecies. While they are still recovering from this shock that they had received, Ross, who is another Thane, arrives at the scene and tells Macbeth about the new title that he has acquired: Thane of Cawdor. This is how the first prophecy is fulfilled and because of this, Macbeth, who was initially very sceptical of the validity of these prophecies, now becomes ambitious and begins to see himself asking. He begins to contemplate the murder of Duncan in order to realize the second prophecy of the witches.
Macbeth and Banquo are praised by Duncan. He declares that he is going to spend the night at Macbeth’s castle called Inverness. He even names his son Malcolm his heir. Macbeth rides home to prepare the household for the king’s stay. He sends a message ahead to his wife to inform her about the prophecies of the witches. When Lady Macbeth hears about this prophecy, she is not uncertain at all. She tells Macbeth that he should murder Duncan in order to become the King. Macbeth arrives at Inverness and expresses his objections to her plan of killing Duncan. Lady Macbeth dismisses all these objections, questions his manhood and eventually persuades him to kill the king that very night. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plan to get the two chamberlains of Duncan so drunk that they black out. They plan on blaming the two chamberlains for the murder the next morning. They think that the two chamberlains will have no defense as they will not remember anything.
Before executing this plan, Macbeth sees a vision of a bloody dagger floating in the air and leading him to Duncan’s room. Lady Macbeth rings a bell to signal that she has completed her preparations and he sets out to execute the plan. Lady Macbeth waits for her husband to murder Duncan. Macbeth enters with the bloody daggers. He is again chastised for his weakness by Lady Macbeth. She takes charge and plants the daggers on the two chamberlains herself. While she plants these daggers, Macbeth hears a voice that tells him that he shall sleep no more. The next morning, a Scottish nobleman named Lennox and Macduff and the Thane of Fife arrive at the castle. Macbeth leads them to the chamber of the king. Macduff discovers the dead body of the King. Macbeth kills the two guards in order to kill any chances of them proving their innocence and claims that he does so because of his anger over the murder of the king. Malcolm and Donalbain, the two sons of Duncan, flee to England and Ireland respectively as they think that whoever killed their father might kill them too. Because of their flight, the people begin to think of them as suspects. Macbeth, as a kinsman of the dead king, assumes the throne and becomes the new King of Scotland. Although Banquo reveals all this to the audience, he remembers the witches’ prophecy about how his own descendants would be the ones to inherit the throne and thus, he becomes suspicious of Macbeth.
Despite becoming the king, Macbeth remembers the part of the prophecy in which the witches had said that Banquo would father a line of kings. He remains uneasy because of this. He invites Banquo to a royal banquet. In this banquet, he discovers that Banquo and his son Fleance will be riding out that night itself. He fears the suspicions that Banquo has of him and arranges to have him murdered. He hires two killers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. Lady Macbeth is not informed of these plans. Macbeth also sends a third murderer to join the other two. The three men succeed in killing Banquo but Fleance escapes. Macbeth is furious because of this. He feels that as long as any of the heirs of Banquo is alive, his throne is in danger.
Macbeth arranges for a banquet as a celebration and invites his lords and Lady Macbeth. Banquo’s ghost appears in front of Macbeth and sits in his place. Macbeth is terrified to see this. The ghost is invisible to all the guests. Macbeth rages at the chair that seems to be empty to all the guests. They panic at this strange sight. Lady Macbeth tells the guests that her husband is afflicted with a harmless malady. Banquo’s ghost disappears but returns once more and inflicts the same fear and anger in Macbeth. But when the ghost returns this time, Macbeth asks the Lords to leave and they do so.
Macbeth becomes very disturbed because of all these incidents. He visits the three witches and asks them to reveal the absolute truth of their prophecies to him. In response, the witches summon three apparitions. The three apparitions offer further prophecies to help Macbeth get rid of his fears. First of all, they show him an armored head which tells him to beware of Macduff. Second, he sees a bloody child who tells him that no one born of a woman will be able to harm him. Then he sees a crowned child who tells him that he will remain safe until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth is quite relieved to hear all this as he knows that all men are born or women and forests cannot move. Macbeth also asks the witches if their prophecy about Banquo will also come true. The witches show him a procession of eight kings. All of these kings look like Banquo. The witches leave after performing a mad dance. Lennox enters at the scene and tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth orders the castle of Macduff be seized and also sends murderers to kill Macduff and his wife and children. The killers do not find Macduff in the castle but kill everyone else including Lady Macduff and their young son.
Because of all the crimes that Lady Macbeth has committed with her husband, she becomes filled with guilt. A doctor and a gentlewoman discuss Lady Macbeth’s habit of sleepwalking in the palace at night. As these two are discussing this strange habit, Lady Macbeth enters with a candle in her hand. She is moaning over the murders of Banquo, Lady Macduff and Duncan and tries to wash off the imaginary bloodstains from her hands. As she tries to do so, she keeps speaking of the terrible things that she forced her husband to do. She leaves, leaving the gentlewoman and the doctor wondering at her madness. It is to be noted that the belief that Lady Macbeth holds now that nothing can wash away the blood stains on their hands is an irony over her earlier claim to Macbeth that “a little water clears us of this deed”.
Meanwhile, Ross informs Macduff in England that his castle was attacked by killers and his wife and son were killed. Upon hearing this, Macduff is struck with grief and he pledges to take revenge. On the other hand, Duncan’s son, Malcolm has also succeeded in raising an army in England. Macduff also joins him as he rides to Scotland to challenge the reign of Macbeth. They are also supported by the Scottish nobles in this invasion. However, these nobles are frightened by the murderous and tyrannical behavior of Macbeth. Prince Malcolm leads an army along with Macduff and the nobles against the Dunsinane Castle. The army is encamped in Birnam Wood and they are ordered to cut down the trees and carry tree limbs to disguise the total numbers of the army.
Before these opponents can arrive at Macbeth’s doors, he receives the news that Lady Macbeth has committed suicide. This news makes him drown into deep despair and sadness. He reflects on how meaningless and brief this life is. He reflects on the futility of human life. However, he awaits the English army and fortifies his castle. He is certain that he cannot be harmed because of the prophecies of the witches. But fear strikes his heart and mind when he learns that the army is advancing shielded with boughs cut from Great Birnam Wood. He realizes that by moving with the limbs of woods, the army has fulfilled one prophecy of the witches.
The English army defeats Macbeth’s army and his castle. He proudly boasts that he has no reason at all to fear the army or Macduff as he cannot be killed by anyone born of a woman. Macduff declares that he was untimely ripped off his mother’s womb and therefore, he is not born of a woman. Macbeth realizes that the second prophecy is also fulfilled. He realizes that he is wrongly interpreted the words of the witches. He comes to realize that he is doomed but continues to fight. He is killed by Macduff and thus, the remaining prophecy is fulfilled. Macduff is proclaimed the new king of Scotland.
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