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Macbeth Summary

Macbeth: The Play

Act I

Scotland. Macbeth and Banquo discover three strange women. They are witches. They are the Weird Sisters. They are older than you can possibly imagine. The witches prophesy that Macbeth will be promoted first to Thane of Cawdor, and then King. Queen Duncan soon after names Macbeth Thane of Cawdor as a reward for his success in the recent civil war. Lady Macbeth receives word from her husband about the prophecy and his new title. She vows to help him become king by whatever means are necessary.

Act II

Macbeth returns to his castle, followed almost immediately by Queen Duncan. The Macbeths plot together to kill Duncan and wait until everyone is asleep. Macbeth kills the Queen, regretting this almost immediately, but his wife reassures him. Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, flee, fearing for their own lives.

Act III

Macbeth becomes King of Scotland but is plagued by feelings of insecurity. He arranges for Banquo and his son Fleance to be killed. At his state banquet that night, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo and worries the courtiers with his mad response. 

Act IV

Macbeth seeks out the witches who say that he will be safe until a local wood, Birnam Wood, marches into battle against him. He also need not fear anyone born of woman. Macbeth embarks on a reign of terror, slaughtering many, including Macduff's family. Macduff, pained with grief, persuades Malcolm to lead an army against Macbeth.  

Act V

Malcolm's army is carrying branches from the forest as camouflage for their assault on Macbeth's stronghold. Meanwhile, a conscience-ridden Lady Macbeth walks in her sleep and tells her secrets to her doctor. She commits suicide.  In the midst of a losing battle, Macduff challenges Macbeth. Macbeth learns Macduff is the child of a caesarean birth, realizes he is doomed. Macduff triumphs and brings the head of the traitor Macbeth to Malcolm. Malcolm declares peace and goes to Scone to be crowned king.

Summary (adapted and shortened) courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace and Trust. Read the full version here.

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