Summary of the Play Macbeth

A short summary of the play, Macbeth, can be something like three witches appear to the Scottish general Macbeth. They prophesize that he will be the next King of Scotland. Macbeth and his wife have high ambitions and are willing to go to any extent to fulfill their wishes. Instigated by his wife, Macbeth kills the king. He then becomes the new king, and his paranoia leads him to kill more people. The tragedy unfolds when the man on reaching to the top falls down by his own doings. A civil war takes place to overthrow Macbeth. This results in more death.

Five Act Play

It has five acts with a total of 28 scenes. The 28 scenes are divided in the following manner:

  • The first Act has 7 scenes
  • In Act 2, there are 4 scenes
  • Act 3 has 6 scenes
  • The 4th has 3 scenes
  • Act 5 or the Final Act has 8 scenes

Character List of the Play

  • Macbeth 
  • Lady Macbeth
  • The Three Witches
  • Banquo
  • King Duncan
  • Macduff 
  • Malcolm 
  • Hecate 
  • Fleance 
  • Lennox 
  • Ross 
  • The Murderers
  • Porter 
  • Lady Macduff
  • Donalbain 

A Detailed Summary of Macbeth

Act 1

The play opens with the brief appearance of three witches. From there, it shifts to a military camp. The Scottish King Duncan in his camp gets the news that his generals, Macbeth and Banquo, have defeated two different armies that invaded them. One army was from Ireland, it was led by the rebel Macdonwald. The other army was from Norway.

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Macbeth and Banquo return home after quelling a rebellion. The two encounters three witches on a bleak Scottish moorland. The witches make a prophecy, Macbeth will become thane (Scottish nobility rank) of Cawdor and then ultimately be the King of Scotland. Banquo also received a prophecy, they said he will beget a line of Scottish kings. Although his heirs shall be kings but he will never be a king himself.

The two generals are eager to hear more but the strange women vanish. Macbeth and Banquo are slightly skeptical about these prophecies. On their way back to home, two noblemen Ross and Angus give them the news. King Duncan had made Macbeth thane of Cawdor as a way of thanks for his victories in battle. He also proposes to make a brief visit to the castle of Macbeth.

Macbeth saw the first prophecy has come true. He is intrigued by the possibility that he too might act like the previous thane who betrayed Scotland. He had fought for the Norwegians and furious Duncan condemned him to death. Macbeth contemplates the plan to murder Duncan in order to realize the second prophecy of the witches.

Unsure of the next step, he meets Duncan and plans to dine with him at Inverness, Macbeth’s castle. In the meantime, he writes to his wife, Lady Macbeth and tells her about everything.

A servant arrives to give her news of Duncan’s forthcoming arrival. The news fills her with daunting energy. Lady Macbeth summons supernatural powers and pleads to rip her off of all feminine softness. She invokes the spirits to prepare her for the murder of King Duncan. On the arrival of Macbeth at Inverness, Lady Macbeth informs him of Duncan’s murder plot. Overriding all of his objections she persuades him to kill the king the very same night.

Unlike Macbeth, Lady Macbeth did not have any qualms. She wanted the kingship for him and could go to any extent to obtain it.

The two planned to get Duncan’s two chamberlains drunk. As they will pass out, it will be easy to put the blame on them. The two chamberlains stripped off of all memories of the previous night will be left defenseless.

Act 2

The play gets gripping now. Macbeth has a vision of a blood-smeared dagger levitating in front of him, guiding him to the King’s chamber. He hears Lady Macbeth ring the bell signaling it was time for him to execute the plans. He sets out to murder Duncan.

Lady Macbeth waits for Macbeth to kill the King. Macbeth enters carrying the bloody daggers. Lady Macbeth once again rebuked him for his frailty. She then stabs the bodyguards herself. While she killed the bodyguards, Macbeth hears a haunting voice proclaiming that he shall sleep no more. Lady Macbeth reassures him by saying “a little water clears us of this deed.” 

On the discovery of Duncan’s death the next morning, Macbeth executes the chamberlains. He pretended to have killed them out of rage for their crime. Macbeth is now the new King of Scotland. Malcolm and Donalbain, the two sons of Duncan, run away to England and Ireland respectively. They feared that whoever killed Duncan would definitely want to kill them as well.

Act 3

Macbeth is always feeling guilty and insecure. He fears that just like his, Banquo’s prophecy will also come true, meaning his heirs will seize the throne. He arranges to get Banquo and his son Fleance killed. The murderer group ambushes Banquo while he was going to a royal feast. Fleance flees the scene and escapes into the night. This infuriates Macbeth, he dreads his downfall thinking as long as Fleance lives, his kingship is insecure. At the feast that night, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo. On seeing the ghost, Macbeth goes berserk, this raises an alarm among his guests. The majority of them were the great Scottish nobility.

Futilely, Lady Macbeth tries to pacify him. His kingship falls prey to an ever-increasing resistance from his nobles and subjects.

Uncontrollable Macbeth in his fit of panic attack decides to meet the witches one more time.

His thanes have already gone against him. Macduff meets up with Malcolm in England. They prepare an army to attack Scotland.

Act 4

The suspense and intensity of the play elevate. Macbeth goes to visit the witches in their cavern. There, he is being shown a sequence of demons and spirits, he receives further prophecies. The first one warns him he must beware of Macduff. He was a Scottish nobleman who opposed his accession to the throne.

The second witch made the prophecy that he is incapable of being harmed by any man born of woman.

The third witch prophesizes that he will only fall when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Castle.

He also asked the witches if their prophecy regarding Banquo will come true, they show him a procession of eight kings. All of them looked like Banquo.

Macbeth returns happily. The prophecies fill him with great relief, and he feels secure, because he knew that all men are born of women and that forests are not able to move. When he gets the information that Macduff has fled to England to join Malcolm, he orders that his castle be seized. Macbeth also orders to kill Lady Macduff and her children.

Macduff is enraged by the news of his family’s death. Grief-stricken he vows to avenge his family. Duncan’s son, Prince Malcolm, finally succeeds in raising an army in England. Macduff joins his army as he marches toward Scotland to challenge Macbeth’s forces.

The invasion has the full support of the Scottish nobles, who are appalled and frightened by Macbeth’s tyrannical and murderous behavior.

Act 5

Here is the final act of the play.

Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth is plagued by fits of sleepwalking. She confesses to a doctor bemoaning she is not able to wash the bloodstains off her hands. Too preoccupied with the disturbing situation, Macbeth is not able to attend his ailing wife. Before the arrival of Macbeth’s opponents, he receives news that Lady Macbeth has killed herself. This sinks him into a deep and pessimistic despair. He comments that she should have died in a future date and talks about his meaningless life.

Nevertheless, he awaits the approaching English army, and fortifies Dunsinane. He seems to have withdrawn there so that he could defend himself. Taking the second prophecy in good faith, he assumed that nobody could harm him. But Malcolm gave orders to each man in his army to cut a branch from Birnam Wood and hold it up. This way they will be able to disguise the exact number of their army.

Macbeth freezes with fear on learning that the English army is advancing on Dunsinane camouflaged with boughs cut from Birnam Wood.

This fulfills the second prophecy, Birnam Wood is indeed coming to Dunsinane.

In the battle, Macbeth fights violently and kills Young Siward, the brave son of the English general. The English forces finally overpower his army and castle. On the battlefield, Macbeth comes face to face with the vengeful Macduff. He reveals to him that he was not “of woman born” but was instead “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb. Though he is stunned and realizes that he is doomed, but Macbeth refuses to give up and continues to fight. Macduff finally kills him and beheads him.

At the end of the play, Malcolm becomes the King of Scotland. He declares his kind intentions for the country and invites everyone to be there when he is crowned at Scone.

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