Macbeth Study Guide


Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth is a Shakespearian tragedy about Macbeth, a nobleman and renowned warrior. After witches inform him that he will be king, he travels with his companion Banquo to King Duncan's castle. Macbeth's wife, Lady Macbeth, convinces him to kill Duncan and he obeys. After killing Banquo and others, Banquo's ghost returns to the castle, haunting Macbeth. Macbeth receives a tragic prophesy from the witches, Lady Macbeth kills herself out of guilt and King Duncan's son, Prince Malcom, invades the kingdom and kills Macbeth.


As one of King Duncan’s chief generals and closest military advisers, Macbeth is led to perform wicked deeds by the prophecies of three witches and the machinations of his wife. When he is pronounced Thane of Cawdor for his military victories – a prophecy come true before his ascension to the kingship – he is tempted into murder to fulfill the second prophecy. One he is crowned king, his brutal plans are made all the easier as he begins killing indiscriminately to ensure his throne. He is not subtle, nor effective as he riles the entire Scottish nobility against his tyrannous ways and ultimately falls beforethe might of his own psychological pressure and the might of his opposition.

Lady Macbeth

As Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth is the early instigator of the atrocious plans that lead to Macbeth’s Kingship. She is ambitious and power hungry and her machinations are as cold and vicious as her husband’s actions. However, after the bloodshed begins she is incapable of bearing the weight of what shehas done and soon falls victim to the weight of her guilt, eventually going mad and committing suicide. Despite the horrible nature of her and her husband’s crimes, the two are a very close couple very much so in love.

The Witches

There are three witches, plotting mischief against Macbeth through their prophecy and spells. Their predictions are responsible for prompting him to murder Duncan and Banquo, and give him cause to believe his is invincible later on. There are no details as to the origin or nature of the witches, other than that they serve Hecate. Numerous similarities between them and mythological beings have been drawn, but none are of clear relation.


A second of Duncan’s generals, he is with Macbeth when the witches tell their first prophecy, foretelling his children to inherit the throne. He is equally ambitious, but does not take the action that Macbeth does in securing his ambitions. Rather, he is the path not chosen, that of inaction and decency. His ghostlater haunts Macbeth accordingly for his murder, reminding Macbeth of the choices he made.


Duncan is presented as the antithesis to Macbeth in terms of rulers. He is kind, virtuous, and a brilliant leader. His death at Macbeth’s hands throws the nation into disarray until the throne can be rightfully returned to his family.


A nobleman who right away opposes Macbeth’s ascension to the throne. After fleeing Scotland to find Malcolm, Macbeth murders his wife and son, creating a personal reason for revenge. He is a principle figure in removing Macbeth from the throne and giving it back to Malcolm and is the only man who can kill Macbeth.


The eldest of Duncan’s two sons, Malcolm immediately flees Scotland after the murder of his father. With Macduff’s help however, he is able to muster the forces he needs to take on Macbeth and regain the throne, thus restoring the order to Scotland that was lost when Duncan was murdered.


Important because of his role in the prophecy of the three witches, Fleance survives the murder of his father and attempted murder of himself by Macbeth and goes on to disappear through the play’s ending.


A Scottish nobleman.


A Scottish nobleman.

The Murderers

The men hired by Macbeth to murder both Banquo and his son and Macduff’s family. They fail to kill Fleance.


The drunken doorman of Macbeth’s castle.

Lady Macduff

Macduff’s wife and victim of yet another of Macbeth’s atrocities. Her household is shown in sharp contrast to that of Lady Macbeth’s, much more tranquil and less violent.


Duncan’s son and Malcolm’s younger brother.

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