Macbeth is a tragedy in five Acts. Each act is divided into several scenes. See below for a scene by scene plot synopsis.
The play opens with the three witches in a storm upon the heath planning to meet again after the impending battle to confront Macbeth.
King Duncan asks a wounded captain for news from the battlefield where they have been fighting the Irish invaders. The Captain tells him that generals Macbeth and Banquo fought bravely. Ross a nobleman arrives with news that the traitorous Thane of Cawdor has been defeated. Duncan orders the traitor to be slain and that the hero Macbeth should be given the title.
Macbeth and Banquo come across the witches on their way to the King’s court. The witches hail Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor they also prophecise that he will become King. The witches declare that Banquo will never be King but that his children will sit upon the throne. The witches then vanish before explaining anymore and the pair discuss what is meant by these prophecies. They are interrupted by noblemen Ross and Angus who inform Macbeth that he is to be made Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is stunned that the witches’ first prophecy has come true and muses on the idea that he might become King.
At the King’s castle Duncan thanks Banquo and Macbeth for their loyalty and they swear allegiance to him. The King then names his son Malcom as his heir. Macbeth expresses his joy however notes that Malcom now stands in the way of him becoming King. Plans are made for the King to dine at Macbeth’s Castle and Macbeth rides ahead to inform his wife.
At Inverness, Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband detailing his promotion and encounter with the witches. She fears that he is ‘to full of the milk of human kindness’ to take the steps necessary to seize the crown. She resolves to help her husband do what is necessary. When Macbeth arrives Lady Macbeth instructs him that he must kill Duncan that very night.
Duncan arrives at the castle in good spirits with his many lords and servants and is greeted by Lady Macbeth.
After contemplating alone whether to commit Duncan’s murder Macbeth admits to Lady Macbeth that he no longer plans to go through with it. Lady Macbeth responds by questioning his manhood. She informs him of her fiendish plan that after Duncan goes to sleep she will give his chamberlains wine to make them drunk allowing them access to Duncan’s chamber to commit the murder. They will then smear the chamberlains with blood thus incriminating them. Impressed by her plan Macbeth agrees to go through with the murder.
Wandering the castle at night Banquo and his son Fleance come across Macbeth in a hallway and are surprised to find him still up. Banquo has been kept awake by bad dreams about the weird sisters and he asks Macbeth about the prophecies to which Macbeth responds he hasn’t given them any thought since. After they have left Macbeth has an unnerving vision of a dagger floating infront of him. Lady Macbeth gives the signal and Macbeth makes his way to Duncan’s chambers to commit the crime.
As Macbeth leaves the hall Lady Macbeth enters and describes how she has set up the murder and that he cannot fail. Macbeth enters covered in blood and remarks that the deed is done. He is distressed because he thought he heard a voice say “Sleep No More Macbeth does Murder Sleep” as he killed Duncan. Lady Macbeth realises that Macbeth has failed to plant the daggers on the sleeping chamberlains, when he refuses to go back she completes the task herself. Macbeth is unsettled by a mysterious knocking and Lady Macbeth leads him back to their chambers remarking “a little water clears us of this deed.”
A drunken Porter stumbles to answer the knocking at the door from Macduff and Lennox. Macbeth enters and Macduff requests to see the King. Macbeth informs him that the King is still asleep but takes him to his chambers where he discovers the King murdered. Chaos ensues as the whole castle is woken, in the midst of which Macbeth announces that he has killed the chamberlains in a fit of rage. Macduff is suspicious of why Macbeth has acted so hastily. Banquo and Macbeth assemble the Lords to discuss the murder. Duncan’s sons Malcom and Donalbain decide to flee Scotland fearing for their lives.
Ross a noble man and an old man discuss the strange super natural goings on of the past few days. Macduff exits the castle and informs Ross that Macbeth has been made King and rides to Scone to be crowned. He remarks that the chamberlains seems like the most likely killers and that suspicion has now fallen upon the two princes after they fled the scene.
Alone Banquo reflects on Macbeth’s coronation and the witches prophecy that his children would sit upon the throne. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth invite Banquo to a feast and Banquo exits to go riding. In a soliloquy Macbeth confides that because of the prophecy he fears Banquo will over throw him to put his sons upon the throne. Macbeth hires some murderers to get rid of Banquo and his son Fleance.
Wracked with guilt Lady Macbeth summons Macbeth. In an almost swapping of roles he admits he is having similar feelings however that they need to finish what they’ve started. Macbeth then reveals his plan to have Banquo and Fleance murdered which shocks Lady Macbeth.
The murderers await Banquo’s and Fleance’s return. They succeed in murdering Banquo while Fleance escapes.
At the feast Macbeth is informed of Banquo’s murder and is angered by Fleance’s escape feeling his power remains in jeopardy. He then sees Banquo’s ghost sitting in his place at the table. Struck with horror Macbeth talks to the ghost which is invisible to everyone else while Lady Macbeth attempts to cover for him, eventually sending the alarmed guests away. Macbeth informs Lady Macbeth that he has heard from a spy that Macduff is planning to stay away from court. He determines to visit the witches again to find out more about who is plotting against him.
Upon the heath in another storm the witches convene with Hecate the goddess of witchcraft. Hecate is cross with them for meddling with Macbeth without consulting her and orders them to show him apparitions that will fill him with confidence and lead him to his destiny.
Lennox and another Lord discuss recent goings on. Fleance has been officially blamed for Banquo’s death but both men suspect Macbeth. The Lord tells Lennox that Macduff has gone to England to join Malcom and beg for support from the English while Macbeth readies himself for War.
In a cavern the witches and Hecate make a spell. Macbeth enters seeking answers about the truth behind their prophecies. The Witches summon three horrible apparitions each one gives him a prediction. A floating armoured head warns him to beware Macduff. A child covered in blood tells him “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”. Finally a crowned child holding a tree tells him he will be safe until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane. Macbeth is relieved by this news knowing that all people are born of women and the woods cannot move. He then asks the witches if Banquo’s sons will ever rule Scotland. In response they summon the vision of eight crowned Kings similar in appearance to Banquo the last of whom carries a mirror. After the witches have performed a crazy dance and vanished Macbeth is informed by Lennox that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth orders the murderers to kill everyone in Macduff’s castle including Macduff’s wife and children.
At Macduff’s castle Lady Macduff questions Ross about why her husband has fled he attempts to reassure her before departing after Macduff. The murderers then enter and kill Macduff’s son when Lady Macduff tries to escape they chase after her.
In England Malcom is suspicious of Macduff’s loyalties as he has fled without his family. He decides to test him. Macduff passes the test thanks to his loyalty to Scotland. Ross enters and begs Malcom to return to Scotland recounting the horror that have befallen the land since Macbeth became King. Malcom asserts he will return with an army of 10,000 English soldiers. Ross breaks down and informs Macduff that his wife and children are dead. Macduff is devastated but swears revenge on Macbeth.
At the Kings palace a doctor and a gentlewoman discuss Lady Macbeth’s strange habit of sleep walking when Lady Macbeth enters in a trance. She bemoans the murders of Lady Macduff and Banquo and claims she sees blood on her hands which cannot be removed. The pair are amazed by her descent into madness.
Outside the castle some Lords horrified by Macbeth’s tyrannical behaviour discuss the military situation. They decide the Scottish army will join forces with the English army at Birnam wood while Macbeth fortifies Dunsinane.
The prophecies have left Macbeth feeling invincible and he boasts than he cannot be killed. He calls his servant Seyton and insists on wearing his armour. The doctor informs the King that Lady Macbeth’s delusions have worsened.
Near Birnam Wood Malcom and the English Lord Siward hatch a plan to disguise their army’s number by cutting down branches and using them to obscure the soldiers.
Macbeth is still full of over confidence when Seyton informs him that Lady Macbeth has killed herself. Macbeth is destroyed. A messenger enters with the news that Birnam Wood advances towards Dunsinane. Macbeth realises that the prophecy has come true and he is now in danger but declares he will die fighting.
Outside the battle commences Malcom orders the soldiers to throw away their branches and draw their swords.
Macbeth fights arrogantly safe in the knowledge that no one of woman born can harm him. He slays Siward’s son before disappearing into the battle.
Macduff searches for Macbeth as he longs to be the one who kills him.
Malcom and Siward arrive near the castle.
Macduff and Macbeth finally meet upon the battle field. Macbeth informs Macduff of the witches prophecy and the fact that he cannot be killed. Macduff remarks that he was born by what would now be called a Caesarean section. Macbeth becomes frightened but refuses to surrender and they exit fighting.
Malcom and Siward walk in the castle after winning the battle. Ross informs Siward his son is dead. Macduff enters with Macbeth’s head. Malcom is confirmed King of Scotland and order is restored.