'Macbeth' Summary

Discover 'Macbeth' with our 'Macbeth' Summary

'Macbeth' Performed At The Globe Theatre
Ray Fearon as Macbeth and Tara Fitzgerald as Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare's Macbeth directed by Iqban Khan at The Globe Theatre on June 22, 2016 in London, England. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

What happens in Macbeth? The story of Shakespeare’s most intense tragedy is condensed into this Macbeth summary, capturing the essence of the Bard’s shortest play.

Macbeth Summary

King Duncan hears of Macbeth’s heroics at war and bestows the title Thane of Cawdor on him. The current Thane of Cawdor has been deemed a traitor and the king orders that he be killed.

The Three Witches

Unaware of this, Macbeth and Banquo meet three witches on a heath who predict that Macbeth will inherit the title and eventually become king.

They tell Banquo that he will be happy and that his sons will inherit the throne.

Macbeth is then informed that he has been named Thane of Cawdor and his belief in the witches’ prophecy is confirmed.

King Duncan’s Murder

Macbeth contemplates his fate and Lady Macbeth encourages him to act to ensure the prophecy is realized.

A feast is organized to which King Duncan and his sons are invited. Lady Macbeth hatches a plot to kill King Duncan while he sleeps and encourages Macbeth to carry out the plan.

After the murder, Macbeth is full of regret. Lady Macbeth scorns him for his cowardly behavior. When Macbeth realizes that he has forgotten to leave the knife at the scene of the crime, Lady Macbeth takes over and completes the deed.

Macduff finds the dead King and Macbeth accuses the Chamberlains of murder. King Duncan’s sons flee in fear of their lives.

Banquo’s Murder

Banquo questions the witches’ predictions and wants to discuss them with Macbeth.

Macbeth sees Banquo as a threat and employs murderers to kill him and his son, Fleance. The murderers botch the job and only manage to kill Banquo. Fleance flees the scene and is blamed for his father’s death.

Banquo’s Ghost

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth host a feast to lament the death of the King. Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost sitting in his chair and his concerned guests soon disperse.

Lady Macbeth urges her husband to rest and forget his wrongdoings, but he decides to meet with the witches again to discover his future.

Prophesies

When Macbeth meets the three witches, they concoct a spell and conjure apparitions to answer his questions and predict his fate. A bodiless head appears and warns Macbeth to fear Macduff. Then a bloody child appears and assures him that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” A third apparition of a crowned child with a tree in his hand tells Macbeth that he will not be vanquished until “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.”

Macduff’s Revenge

Macduff travels to England to help Malcolm (King Duncan’s son) avenge his father’s death and overthrow Macbeth. By this time, Macbeth has already decided that Macduff is his enemy and kills his wife and son.

Lady Macbeth’s Death

The doctor observes Lady Macbeth’s strange behavior. Every night she acts out washing her hands in her sleep as if trying to wash away her guilt. She dies shortly after.

Macbeth’s Final Battle

Malcolm and Macduff have assembled an army at Birnam Wood. Malcolm suggests the soldiers each cut down a tree in order to advance on the castle unseen. Macbeth is warned that the wood seems to be moving.

Scoffing, Macbeth feels confident that he will be victorious in battle as his predicted invincibility that “none of woman born shall harm him” will protect him.

Macbeth and Macduff finally confront each other. Macduff reveals that he was ripped from his Mother’s womb in an untimely manner, so the “none of woman born” prophesy does not apply to him. He kills Macbeth and holds his head aloft for all to see before declaring Malcolm’s rightful place as king.

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Jamieson, Lee. "'Macbeth' Summary." ThoughtCo, Sep. 27, 2016, thoughtco.com/summary-of-macbeth-2985022. Jamieson, Lee. (2016, September 27). 'Macbeth' Summary. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/summary-of-macbeth-2985022 Jamieson, Lee. "'Macbeth' Summary." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/summary-of-macbeth-2985022 (accessed November 20, 2017).