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Main Characters

King Duncan of Scotland
Duncan is a mature and effective king who rules Scotland during a time of political upheaval and turmoil. He is too old to command the armies himself and his sons are too young and inexperienced to fight in wars, but he has several great captains under his command, which allows him to remain in power. Those that remain loyal to him do so because they see that his rule is divinely sanctioned. When Macbeth hesitates in his decision to assassinate Duncan, the reason is that he fears Duncan's "virtues / Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued against the deep damnation of his taking-off" (I.vii.17-18) - that the very heavens will object to the murder of a king so holy. It turns out that Macbeth's fears are justified - on the night of his murder, chimneys are blown down, the earth shakes, owls scream and kill falcons, and horses run wild and eat each other.

The elder son of King Duncan, Malcolm is named the Prince of Cumberland and heir apparent early on in the play. After his father is murdered at Macbeth's castle, he and his younger brother, Donalbain, decide to split up and flee for safety because they will probably be the next targets of the murderers. Although they are safe abroad (Malcolm in England, Donalbain in Ireland), they are not at home to defend themselves against accusations by the Scottish thanes (the equivalent of English earls), that they murdered their own father for the crown. In time, it becomes clear that Macbeth perpetrated the regicide on Duncan, and Macduff seeks out Malcolm in the English court to return to Scotland to claim his birthright and rescue them from Macbeth's tyrannical rule. Malcolm has since been prospering in the English court of Edward the Confessor, a figure remarkably similar to Duncan, and he has learned much about politics and warfare. By the time Macduff comes looking for him, he has already enlisted the aid of Siward, Earl of Northumberland, who has provided him with an army, ten thousand strong. He leads the soldiers to victory over Macbeth, and it appears that he will reign brilliantly at play's end because he is a virtuous and an intelligent young man.

The Thane of Glamis, then Thane of Cawdor, and then King of Scotland as the witches prophesy. He is Thane of Glamis by birthright, and he achieves Thane of Cawdor through his unparalleled bravery and prowess in a recent war to squelch a rebellion led in part by the traitorous Thane of Cawdor. Before he received the official word of his promotion to Thane of Cawdor, three witches visited him and his friend Banquo and predicted that Macbeth would become Thane of Cawdor and then the King of Scotland thereafter. The witches predicted for Banquo that he would father a line of kings, although he would not be a king himself -the implication being that Macbeth will die leaving his throne empty for Banquo's issue. The truth of the first prediction that he will become Thane of Cawdor, makes him hungry for the fulfillment of the second prediction, the throne of Scotland. At first, Macbeth is content to see what the fates have in store for them. After all, he might not have to do anything to achieve the throne since Thane of Cawdor was achieved so effortlessly. In a subsequent post-war meeting with Duncan and the other thanes, Duncan announces Malcolm as his heir. Macbeth realizes that the throne, on the other hand, will not come as easily.
He tells his wife Lady Macbeth of the witches' predictions and their confirmed truth. He promises his wife royal greatness, and she makes him hold his promise. Even when it becomes clear to him that he should not commit the murder of Duncan for fear of the consequences, Lady Macbeth appeals to his impulsive and insecure side to proceed with the assassination. One could argue that were it not for the suggestion of the witches or the prodding of his wife, he never would have murdered Duncan, but he chooses of his own volition to perform a further series of murders to cover up his first one. He murders the two drunken guards, who were supposed to be their scapegoats for the murder, in a nervous fit. Soon thereafter, he orders the murder of Banquo and his son to prevent Banquo's prophecy from becoming true (although the son escapes) and because he thinks that Banquo suspects Macbeth of murdering Duncan.
Pretty soon, the thanes of Scotland get wise to the particulars of his treacherous rise to the top. With no friends or advisors to turn to and his wife refusing to acknowledge his horrible visions, Macbeth seeks the advice of the witches. They give him three predictions that are true but phrased in a way to inspire overconfidence in an already diseased mind. They say to beware Macduff, but then say that no man of woman born will harm him, and finally say that he will rule until a large forest moves towards his castle. Armed with the belief that he is indestructible, Macbeth brings about a course of events that ultimately lead to his downfall. He orders the slaughter of Macduff's family on a whim, but that only enrages Macduff enough to kill him.

Lady Macbeth
She is the wife of Macbeth who conspires with him to murder King Duncan in pursuit of the crown. As soon as she hears the prediction that Macbeth will become king, she knows that they must murder Duncan. When Macbeth hesitates for fear of the consequences, she goads him onward by mocking his love and manhood, and she divulges the seemingly foolproof plan of intoxicating the king's guards, which will give them easy access to the king's bedchambers. She keeps a calm and level head to safeguard their innocence in the tense moments following the crime. Lady Macbeth places the bloody daggers near the drunken guards when Macbeth thoughtlessly brings the daggers out with him. When Macbeth explains to the gathered throng why he killed the guards, Lady Macbeth pretends to faint before Macbeth talks too much and reveals something he shouldn't. Later in the banquet scene where Macbeth is haunted by the ghost of the recently murdered Banquo, Lady Macbeth ends the party before it becomes too obvious what is going on.
Although she doesn't suffer from the same visions as Macbeth does early on, her dementia near the end of the play is much more severe. She remains in a trance-like state between waking and sleep. She tries to wash the imaginary drops of blood from her hands when earlier the real drops of blood seemed so
easy to wash off with a little water. No one can cure her of her mental illness, and in the end she is reported to have taken her own life.

A thane and close friend to Macbeth, Banquo rides with Macbeth when they encounter the witches. After the witches promise Macbeth promotions culminating in the position of king, Banquo demands to know something about his future. The witches tell him that although he will not be a king himself, he will father a line of kings. As much as the predictions excite him, Banquo makes it clear to Macbeth that he will not do anything treacherous to achieve those ends. For his destiny and his knowledge of Macbeth's fate, Macbeth hires assassins to kill him and his son. In the scuffle, Banquo's son Fleance escapes, which leaves the possibility of the prophecy coming true intact. After he is dead and buried, his ghost returns to haunt Macbeth during a banquet that almost every noble in the kingdom attends.

The Thane of Fife, Macduff arrives late at Macbeth's castle to meet Duncan only to find him murdered. Not trusting anyone after so horrible a deed, he returns to Fife to be with his family. In the second half of the play, he abandons his family in an attempt to persuade Malcolm to return to free Scotland from Macbeth's tyranny. While he leaves his family unprotected, Macbeth orders assassins to kill them. When news of this reaches Macduff, he begs heaven to give him a chance to face Macbeth in single combat. At the siege by Malcolm's army of Macbeth's castle, Macduff finds Macbeth and they fight to the death. In the fight, Macduff reveals to Macbeth that he was ripped from his mother's womb early, which makes him not of woman born. That shatters Macbeth's confidence, and he dies by Macduff's hand. Macduff enters in the final scene with Macbeth's head on a pike.

They are called the weird sisters, hags that look like women but have beards. The witches meet Macbeth and Banquo upon the heath to tell him a fortune that will ruin his life and countless others. They predict that he will be Thane of Cawdor and then predict that he will be king. They tell Banquo that he will be a father of kings, although he won't be one. Immediately, Macbeth receives word that he has become Thane of Cawdor. They thereby win the trust of Macbeth, who later visits them again in a time of desperation. At that time they boost his confidence by predicting that he should beware Macduff but that no man of woman born will harm him. This turns out to be true because Macduff, by a technicality, is not of woman born and he kills Macbeth. The witches never lie; they only "equivocate" or talk in riddles, which is in some ways more devious and confusing than lying. They also tell him that he will continue to rule so long as the forest doesn't move towards his castle. Again, Macbeth understands this to be impossible, and he believes that he will live out natural life span as King of Scotland.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Scenes 1.1 and 1.2
Scene 1.3 - An open place
Scenes 1.4 and 1.5
Scenes 1.6 and 1.7
Scenes 2.1 and 2.2
Scene 2.3 and 2.4
Scene 3.1
Scenes 3.2 and 3.3
Scene 3.4
Scenes 3.5 and 3.6
Scene 4.1
Scene 4.2
Scene 4.3
Scenes 5.1 and 5.2
Scenes 5.3 and 5.4
Scenes 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, and 5.8
Scenes 5.9, 5.10, and 5.11


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