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Macbeth Plot Synopsis

Compiled by Benjamin Fainstein, Literary Manager

September 20, 2019

Something wicked this way comes …

Please note, this synopsis contains spoilers.

We enter the world of Shakespeare’s tragedy through the eyes of three witches, who have lured Macbeth, a top general to the Scottish king, Duncan, to divine his fortune. Macbeth has just won spectacular battles against the armies of Norway and Ireland, and the witches tempt him with a glimpse of his fate to become a decorated noble and eventual king of the Scots. The prophecies for Macbeth’s friend and fellow general, Banquo, are not as encouraging…

King Duncan arrives to Macbeth’s castle at Inverness to celebrate the wartime victories and name his son, Malcolm, as his official heir. Despite initial hesitations, Macbeth joins his wife, Lady Macbeth, in a plot to kill Duncan and usurp the throne. A nervous Macbeth eventually goes through with the plan and stabs the king in his chamber, but Macbeth is so distraught afterward that Lady Macbeth must take control and see their regicide through to success. The kingdom is thrown into chaos: Macbeth’s nemesis Macduff discovers Duncan’s body and suspects Macbeth. Malcolm flees the country to avoid being murdered himself. Banquo suspects Macbeth’s terrible deed but stays quiet because of the witches’ prophecies. And with Lady Macbeth’s ingenuity, Macbeth assumes the throne with relative stability. 

As the Macbeths’ mental health deteriorates, they go to great lengths to protect their secrets and their reign, continuing to commit murders to cover up the trail of their other murders. Banquo and his son Fleance arrive for a royal banquet, which is actually a trap. Banquo is executed but Fleance escape. From here on, Banquo’s ghost haunts his old friend Macbeth as he sinks into madness. In his anguish — and increasing hunger to maintain his power — Macbeth agrees to have his enemy Macduff assassinated. But Macduff is not at home, so instead Macbeth has Macduff’s entire family slaughtered. 

Lady Macbeth, for her part, has become so consumed by guilt and despair that she suffers a complete mental break. She sleepwalks at night and loses her grip on reality, forever trying to wash away the phantom blood on her hands to no avail. As Macbeth learns that Malcolm and Macduff have discovered him and plan to bring their armies to destroy him, he also gets word that Lady Macbeth has died by suicide. This loss is the final straw for Macbeth, and he hits utter rock bottom. Overwhelmed by hopelessness and melancholy, he reflects on his choices and on what he sees as the bitter folly of existence.

Nevertheless, he resolves to go out fighting, and faces Macduff in a duel. Macduff kills Macbeth and beheads him, restoring order to the kingdom. Malcolm is placed on the throne, and in mysterious ways, one after another, all of the witches’ prophecies have come true.

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