introduction for essay on macbeth

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Macbeth: Introduction

Macbeth: plot summary, macbeth: detailed summary & analysis, macbeth: themes, macbeth: quotes, macbeth: characters, macbeth: symbols, macbeth: literary devices, macbeth: quizzes, macbeth: theme wheel, brief biography of william shakespeare.

Macbeth PDF

Historical Context of Macbeth

Other books related to macbeth.

  • Full Title: The Tragedy of Macbeth
  • When Written: 1606
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1623
  • Literary Period: The Renaissance (1500 - 1660)
  • Genre: Tragic drama
  • Setting: Scotland and, briefly, England during the eleventh century
  • Climax: Some argue that the murder of Banquo is the play's climax, based on the logic that it is at this point that Macbeth reaches the height of his power and things begin to fall apart from there. However, it is probably more accurate to say that the climax of the play is Macbeth's fight with Macduff, as it is at this moment that the threads of the play come together, the secret behind the prophecy becomes evident, and Macbeth's doom is sealed.

Extra Credit for Macbeth

Shakespeare or Not? There are some who believe Shakespeare wasn't educated enough to write the plays attributed to him. The most common anti-Shakespeare theory is that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and used Shakespeare as a front man because aristocrats were not supposed to write plays. Yet the evidence supporting Shakespeare's authorship far outweighs any evidence against. So until further notice, Shakespeare is still the most influential writer in the English language.

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Macbeth Summary and Analysis

Home » Literature Explained – Literary Synopses and Book Summaries » Macbeth – William Shakespeare » Macbeth Summary and Analysis

Introduction to Macbeth

Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare. One of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, Macbeth tells a tale of greed and lust for power and how the pursuit of such things inevitably leads one to their ultimate downfall. Macbeth is a Scottish general who has managed to lead his army to defeat invaders. Near the beginning of the play, a chorus of witches prophesize that Macbeth will eventually be made king of Scotland. Intrigued by the prophecy, Macbeth writes to his wife to tell her about it. She becomes consumed with thoughts of power and control and pushes Macbeth to commit unthinkable crimes in order to make the prophecy come true.

Literary Elements of Macbeth

brief plot of macbeth

Type of Work: Drama

Genres : Tragedy

Published Date: First performed in 1606

Setting: 11th century Scotland

Main Characters: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth. See full characters list .

Protagonist/Antagonist: Protagonist – Macbeth (he is considered a tragic hero); Antagonist – every other character acts to threaten Macbeth and therefore almost every other character can be considered the antagonist. Macbeth vs. the world. See character descriptions .

Major Thematic Elements: Corruption and unchecked ambition, cruelty and masculine authority, guilt, the loss of children. See major themes .

Motifs: Hallucinations, acts of violence, prophecy

Exposition: Macbeth is a military general who has recently seen significant success in battle. As he returns home, he encounters three witches who deliver a prophecy.

Conflict: Lady Macbeth urges Macbeth to resort to murder to make the prophecy come true. Once Macbeth has been made king, political mistrust adds another layer of conflict.

Plot: Linear; chronological

Major Symbols: Blood, dark/gloomy/stormy weather. See major symbols .

Climax: The assassination of King Duncan

Literary Significance of Macbeth

Macbeth book notes

Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest and most violent play that speaks to Scottish bravery. It is a complex and emotionally intense play that gained wide popularity when it was first performed. To this day, Macbeth remains a wildly popular drama. Macbeth differs from Shakespeare’s other tragedies which explore intellectually complicated dilemmas by exploring the rapid descent into madness that results from greed and power. Because it is so jarring and fascinating, it has shocked audiences for centuries and is likely not going out of rotation any time soon.

Summary of Macbeth

Macbeth Act 1 Summary

macbeth plot summary

As Macbeth and Banquo make their way back to the king’s palace in a storm, they encounter the three witches who reveal that Macbeth is about to discover that he has been appointed thane of Cawdor. Macbeth asks for more information and they declare that he will also one day be king of Scotland. As for Banquo, they say that he is “lesser than Macbeth, and greater” and although he will never hold the throne, a long line of his descendants will. The witches vanish, leaving Macbeth and Banquo stunned.

Back at the palace, King Duncan announces the changes and reveals that he intends to make his son, Malcom, heir to the throne. Macbeth notes that Malcom stands between himself and the throne. Learning her husband’s prophecy, Lady Macbeth is wild with lust for her husband to become king and resolves that murder is the best course of action. She informs her husband of her intentions and begins planning. When Macbeth later reveals that he does not wish to murder King Duncan, Lady Macbeth verbally berates him until he complies. Lady Macbeth devises a plan to frame King Duncan’s chamberlains by smearing the king’s blood all over them as they drunkenly sleep.

Macbeth Act 2 Summary

After briefly running into Banquo and his son, Macbeth has a vision of a dagger floating before him in the air. The tip of the dagger is aimed towards King Duncan. Macbeth tries in vain to grasp the dagger and he has trouble discerning if it is real or imagined. He gazes at the dagger in wonder and realizes that there is blood on the blade. He decides it is a figment of his imagination and Macbeth resolves to follow through with his wife’s plan.

Lady Macbeth ponders about the event that is about to take place, feeling bold. Soon after, Macbeth returns, covered in blood, and informs her that the deed is done. He is badly shaken.

In the early morning hours, a knocking comes at the door of the Macbeth castle. It is fellow military men Macduff and Lennox who request to speak with the king. Macbeth says that the king is still asleep but agrees to take them to him. Macduff discovers the king’s murdered body. Macbeth says that the chamberlains must have done it. However, Macduff grows suspicious. King Duncan’s sons become concerned for their own safety and flee the castle. This causes suspicion to fall on the sons.

Macbeth Act 3 Summary

Macbeth is preparing for his coronation as king. Banquo is pondering the witches’ prophecy and thinks that since everything else has come true, his descendants will probably wind up as heirs to the throne. He feels ambitious but makes no plans of action. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth invite Banquo to attend the feast they will be throwing later that night.

Once alone, a servant informs Macbeth that some men have come to meet with him. The servant leaves to get the visitors and while alone, Macbeth delivers a soliloquy about Banquo and how his friend has turned into someone he fears. He worries that if the witches’ prophecy is true, he will not have any heirs to whom he will be able to leave the crown. The murder of King Duncan weighs heavily on his conscious and his suspects that may be his undoing. The men who were waiting to meet with Macbeth are two murderers who he has hired to murder Banquo and his son. Later, the murderers ambush Banquo and his son on their way to the feast and manage to kill Banquo, but his son escapes.

At the feast, Macbeth is outraged to learn that Banquo’s son escaped. He returns from speaking with the reporting murderer and sees the ghost of Banquo seated in his chair at the table. Macbeth begins speaking to him, but none of the other guests understand what he was doing. Lady Macbeth makes an excuse, and everyone decides to ignore Macbeth. Concerned, Macbeth plans to try and meet with the witches once more.

Elsewhere in Scotland, Lennox is meeting with other lords and it is revealed that Macbeth is starting to be seen as a usurper and is believed to be responsible for the murders of King Duncan and Banquo. Macbeth is preparing to fight to defend his role as king and Lennox and the lord hope that the King Duncan’s son, Malcolm, and Macduff can successfully save Scotland.

Macbeth Act 4 Summary

Macbeth finds the witches and asks them to reveal more information to clarify their prophecies for him. The witches provide confusing visions for him. Later, Lennox informs Macbeth that Macduff has left for England. Macbeth decides to have Macduff’s family murdered to prevent any meddling. In her home, Lady Macduff and her son are assaulted by a group of murderers. Her son is stabbed, and Lady Macduff flees with the killers chasing after her. Elsewhere, Malcom and Macduff worry about the future of Scotland.

Macbeth Act 5 Summary

Lady Macbeth is descending into madness, seeing visions of blood all over herself that can never be washed off. The English army approaches the Macbeth castle and Macbeth prepares by donning his armor. Macbeth soon learns that Lady Macbeth has died but he refuses to believe the news. Macbeth goes into battle to defend his castle and court. Macbeth and Macduff engage in battle, until Macbeth is slain by Macduff who carries Macbeth’s head back to the castle to announce victory in overthrowing the tyrant. Malcom is declared King of Scotland

William Shakespeare

  • Literature Notes
  • Major Themes
  • Macbeth at a Glance
  • Play Summary
  • About Macbeth
  • Character List
  • Summary and Analysis
  • Act I: Scene 1
  • Act I: Scene 2
  • Act I: Scene 3
  • Act I: Scene 4
  • Act I: Scene 5
  • Act I: Scene 6
  • Act I: Scene 7
  • Act II: Scene 1
  • Act II: Scene 2
  • Act II: Scene 3
  • Act II: Scene 4
  • Act III: Scene 1
  • Act III: Scene 2
  • Act III: Scene 3
  • Act III: Scene 4
  • Act III: Scene 5
  • Act III: Scene 6
  • Act IV: Scene 1
  • Act IV: Scene 2
  • Act IV: Scene 3
  • Act V: Scene 1
  • Act V: Scene 2
  • Act V: Scene 3
  • Act V: Scene 4
  • Act V: Scene 5
  • Act V: Scene 6
  • Act V: Scene 7
  • Act V: Scene 8
  • Act V: Scene 9
  • Character Analysis
  • Lady Macbeth
  • Character Map
  • William Shakespeare Biography
  • Critical Essays
  • Major Symbols and Motifs
  • Macbeth on the Stage
  • Famous Quotes
  • Film Versions
  • Full Glossary
  • Essay Questions
  • Practice Projects
  • Cite this Literature Note

Critical Essays Major Themes

The Fall of Man

The ancient Greek notion of tragedy concerned the fall of a great man, such as a king, from a position of superiority to a position of humility on account of his ambitious pride, or hubris . To the Greeks, such arrogance in human behavior was punishable by terrible vengeance. The tragic hero was to be pitied in his fallen plight but not necessarily forgiven: Greek tragedy frequently has a bleak outcome. Christian drama, on the other hand, always offers a ray of hope; hence, Macbeth ends with the coronation of Malcolm , a new leader who exhibits all the correct virtues for a king.

Macbeth exhibits elements that reflect the greatest Christian tragedy of all: the Fall of Man. In the Genesis story, it is the weakness of Adam, persuaded by his wife (who has in turn been seduced by the devil) which leads him to the proud assumption that he can "play God." But both stories offer room for hope: Christ will come to save mankind precisely because mankind has made the wrong choice through his own free will. In Christian terms, although Macbeth has acted tyrannically, criminally, and sinfully, he is not entirely beyond redemption in heaven.

Fortune, Fate, and Free Will

Fortune is another word for chance. The ancient view of human affairs frequently referred to the "Wheel of Fortune," according to which human life was something of a lottery. One could rise to the top of the wheel and enjoy the benefits of superiority, but only for a while. With an unpredictable swing up or down, one could equally easily crash to the base of the wheel.

Fate, on the other hand, is fixed. In a fatalistic universe, the length and outcome of one's life (destiny) is predetermined by external forces. In Macbeth, the Witches represent this influence. The play makes an important distinction: Fate may dictate what will be, but how that destiny comes about is a matter of chance (and, in a Christian world such as Macbeth's) of man's own choice or free will.

Although Macbeth is told he will become king, he is not told how to achieve the position of king: that much is up to him. We cannot blame him for becoming king (it is his Destiny), but we can blame him for the way in which he chooses to get there (by his own free will).

Kingship and Natural Order

Macbeth is set in a society in which the notion of honor to one's word and loyalty to one's superiors is absolute. At the top of this hierarchy is the king, God's representative on Earth. Other relationships also depend on loyalty: comradeship in warfare, hospitality of host towards guest, and the loyalty between husband and wife. In this play, all these basic societal relationships are perverted or broken. Lady Macbeth's domination over her husband, Macbeth's treacherous act of regicide, and his destruction of comradely and family bonds, all go against the natural order of things.

The medieval and renaissance view of the world saw a relationship between order on earth, the so-called microcosm , and order on the larger scale of the universe, or macrocosm. Thus, when Lennox and the Old Man talk of the terrifying alteration in the natural order of the universe — tempests, earthquakes, darkness at noon, and so on — these are all reflections of the breakage of the natural order that Macbeth has brought about in his own microcosmic world.

Disruption of Nature

Violent disruptions in nature — tempests, earthquakes, darkness at noon, and so on — parallel the unnatural and disruptive death of the monarch Duncan.

The medieval and renaissance view of the world saw a relationship between order on earth, the so-called microcosm, and order on the larger scale of the universe, or macrocosm. Thus, when Lennox and the Old Man talk of the terrifying alteration in the natural order of the universe (nature), these are all reflections of the breakage of the natural order that Macbeth has brought about in his own microcosmic world (society).

Many critics see the parallel between Duncan's death and disorder in nature as an affirmation of the divine right theory of kingship. As we witness in the play, Macbeth's murder of Duncan and his continued tyranny extends the disorder of the entire country.

Gender Roles

Lady Macbeth is the focus of much of the exploration of gender roles in the play. As Lady Macbeth propels her husband toward committing Duncan's murder, she indicates that she must take on masculine characteristics. Her most famous speech — located in Act I, Scene 5 — addresses this issue.

Clearly, gender is out of its traditional order. This disruption of gender roles is also presented through Lady Macbeth's usurpation of the dominate role in the Macbeth's marriage; on many occasions, she rules her husband and dictates his actions.

Reason Versus Passion

During their debates over which course of action to take, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use different persuasive strategies. Their differences can easily be seen as part of a thematic study of gender roles. However, in truth, the difference in ways Macbeth and Lady Macbeth rationalize their actions is essential to understanding the subtle nuances of the play as a whole.

Macbeth is very rational, contemplating the consequences and implications of his actions. He recognizes the political, ethical, and religious reason why he should not commit regicide. In addition to jeopardizing his afterlife, Macbeth notes that regicide is a violation of Duncan's "double trust" that stems from Macbeth's bonds as a kinsman and as a subject.

On the other hand, Lady Macbeth has a more passionate way of examining the pros and cons of killing Duncan. She is motivated by her feelings and uses emotional arguments to persuade her husband to commit the evil act.

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The Folger Shakespeare

An Introduction to This Text: Macbeth

By Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine Editors of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions

Listen to this introduction:

Macbeth was first printed in the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays now known as the First Folio. (Since the nineteenth century there have been scholars and editors who believe that parts of Macbeth as it appears in the Folio were written not by Shakespeare but by Thomas Middleton. Such scholars have offered to identify precisely Middleton’s contributions to the play, but their attributions to him remain the subject of fierce controversy.) The present edition of the play is based directly upon the 1623 printing. 1 For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the First Folio. Sometimes we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, when a means “he,” we change it to he ; we change mo to more and ye to you. But it is not our practice in editing any of the plays to modernize forms of words that sound distinctly different from modern forms. For example, when the early printed text reads sith or apricocks or porpentine , we have not modernized to since, apricots, porcupine. When the forms an, and , or and if appear instead of the modern form if , we have reduced and to an but have not changed any of these forms to their modern equivalent, if. We also modernize and, where necessary, correct passages in foreign languages, unless an error in the early printed text can be reasonably explained as a joke.

Whenever we change the wording of the First Folio or add anything to its stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in superior half-brackets ( ⌜ ⌝ ). We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in the First Folio does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change the First Folio’s wording or change its punctuation so that the meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes , even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

We correct or regularize a number of the proper names, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, the Folio’s occasional spelling “Dunsmane” is altered to “Dunsinane,” the Folio’s more usual spelling, and the various Folio spellings of Birnam Wood—“Byrnam,” “Byrnan,” “Birnan,” “Byrnane,” and “Birnane”—are all spelled “Birnam” in this edition. Since no scholars believe that the Folio Macbeth was printed directly from Shakespeare’s own papers, it would be difficult to identify the Folio’s spellings of names as Shakespeare’s preferences.

This edition differs from many earlier ones in its efforts to aid the reader in imagining the play as a performance, rather than as a series of historical events. Thus stage directions are written with reference to the stage. For example, at 2.3.20 , instead of providing a stage direction that says “The Porter opens the gate,” as many editions do, this edition has “The Porter opens the door.” There may have been doors on Shakespeare’s stages for the Porter to open, but almost certainly there were no gates.

Whenever it is reasonably certain, in our view, that a speech is accompanied by a particular action, we provide a stage direction describing the action. (Occasional exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader.) Stage directions for the entrance of characters in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the characters’ participation in the scene, even though these entrances may appear somewhat earlier in the early printed texts. Whenever we move a stage direction, we record this change in the textual notes. Latin stage directions (e.g., Exeunt ) are translated into English (e.g., They exit ).

We expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. We also regularize the speakers’ names in speech headings, using only a single designation for each character, even though the early printed texts sometimes use a variety of designations. Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

In the present edition, as well, we mark with a dash any change of address within a speech, unless a stage direction intervenes. When the – ed ending of a word is to be pronounced, we mark it with an accent. Like editors for the last two centuries, we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

However, when there are a number of short verse-lines that can be linked in more than one way, we do not, with rare exceptions, indent any of them.

  • We have also consulted the computerized text of the First Folio provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.

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Ambition & Guilt: Great Essay Introduction for Macbeth

Table of Contents

Do you want to write an essay introduction for Macbeth ? This article covers the play’s major themes to help you write a compelling essay.

Macbeth is a tragedy that tells the story of a Scottish nobleman who becomes obsessed with his own ambition to rule. It also showcases the repercussions of the actions he takes to get there.

The themes of Macbeth, which range from ambition to guilt, help to explain why it is regarded as one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. Macbeth’s themes and underlying ideas add layers of significance to this excellent work of literature.

An Overview of the Play “Macbeth”

“Macbeth” is a tragedy by William Shakespeare that shows how the main character, Macbeth, goes from being a war hero to a murderous villain. Beginning as the thane of Glamis, Macbeth progressively advances to the position of King of Scotland.

The higher Macbeth progressed along his path to power, the more corrupt and evil he grew in the process. Macbeth’s character shift drives the whole theme of this play.

How to Write an Essay Introduction for Macbeth

An introduction paragraph is your opportunity to introduce the reader to the play and the main . Some other points to include in your introduction paragraph are the setting, conflict, and protagonist. Make sure you also introduce the protagonist’s main goal and the conflict that is central to the story.

When writing an essay on Macbeth, make the introductory sentence provocative to draw the readers in.

Also, avoid beginning your introduction with a quote, no matter how tempting it may be. If you must quote, consider paraphrasing as an alternative. You’ll get plenty of opportunities to use quotations throughout the essay.

gray eyeglasses placed on a opened book on brown panel

Understanding the Major Themes in Macbeth

Macbeth is a tragedy that dramatizes the psychological effects of unchecked ambition.

Loyalty, guilt, innocence, and fate all center on the notion of ambition and its consequences. The play, Macbeth, has some major themes in the play which are as follows:

Macbeth’s ambition turned out to be his tragic flaw. It lacks morality which ultimately leads to Macbeth’s downfall. Two things fueled his desire. The Three Witches’ prophecy states that not only would he rule Cawdor as thane but also as king. More significantly, the attitude of Macbeth’s wife, who mocks his assertiveness and manliness and actively orchestrates her husband’s deeds.

But Macbeth’s ambition quickly gets out of hand. He believes his authority is in danger to the point where it can only be maintained by killing his perceived enemies. Ambition ultimately leads to the downfall of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. He loses the battle and is beheaded by Macduff, while Lady Macbeth kills herself due to insanity.

Macbeth features numerous instances of loyalty. Macbeth is a valiant general at the beginning of the play. King Duncan rewards Macbeth with the title thane of Cawdor after the original thane betrayed him and allied with Norway. However, once Duncan names Malcolm as his heir, Macbeth concludes that to become the king himself, he must assassinate the king.

Shakespeare’s loyalty and treachery dynamic is demonstrated once more as Macbeth betrays Banquo, his noble best friend, out of paranoia. Although they were allies in battle, Macbeth recalls the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s descendants would one day rule Scotland once he becomes king. Then, Macbeth decides to get him killed.

After discovering the king’s death, Macduff, who suspects Macbeth, goes to England. He teams up with Malcolm there, the son of Duncan, to plot Macbeth’s demise.

Appearance and Reality

Near the close of act I, Macbeth already has plans to kill Duncan. Macbeth then tells him, “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”

Similar to this, the witches’ statements—such as “fair is foul and foul is fair” subtly manipulate reality and appearance. Their prophecy that no child “of woman born” can defeat Macbeth is proven false. This was when Macduff revealed that he was born by Caesarean section.

Also, the witches assured that Macbeth would not be defeated until “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him.” It was considered unnatural, as a forest would not climb a hill. But in reality, it meant soldiers cutting trees in Birnam Wood to get closer to Dunsinane Hill.

Fate and Free Will

If Macbeth hadn’t followed his violent path, would he have become the king? This question raises the issues of fate and free will. He was appointed thane of Cawdor shortly after the witches predicted that without him doing anything to earn the position.

The witches predict Macbeth’s future and his fate. But Macbeth exercised his own free will in killing Duncan, and he planned the other assassinations after Duncan’s death. The same is true of the other visions the witches conjure for Macbeth. He interprets them as a sign of his invincibility, but they actually foretell his demise.

Macbeth is a tragic play about human lack of control and choice, the seeming inevitability of destiny, and adherence to nature. An introductory essay for Macbeth would analyze that it is one of Shakespeare’s early tragedies driven by ambition, loyalty, guilt, and fate. This article gives a quick overview of Macbeth and the major themes of the play.

Ambition & Guilt: Great Essay Introduction for Macbeth

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Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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Macbeth Introduction and Summary

One of Shakespeare’s shorter tragedies,  Macbeth  is based on a historical king of Scotland. Although some of the basic facts in the play are true to history, the murder of the king for example, Shakespeare largely wrote the play as an entertaining tragic story rather than a historical document. The play is a tale of ambition, revenge, and justice. Unlike some of Shakespeare’s other villains who seem to enjoy their misdeeds such as Richard III or Iago, Macbeth is a reluctant villain. Throughout the play he expresses fear and remorse.

He is terrified of the consequences of his actions yet he plots onward to the end. Lady Macbeth is equally a figure of over-reach and remorse. The play works with these themes and ideas throughout . Since Shakespeare wrote the play under the reign of James I, the theme of just vengeance against the murder of a king and the proper restoration of order are important themes. The setting for the play is Scotland, the home of James I. As much as Shakespeare wrote to please the tastes and sensibilities of Elizabeth I, he also catered to her successor.

The setting is medieval Scotland, the Highlands. Duncan, the King of Scotland, is waging a war against the King of Norway. The scene opens as the kind learns of Macbeth’s victory over the treacherous Macdonald who aided the Norwegians against the king and against Scotland. This coincides with news of the treachery of the Thane of Cawdor. Duncan, the king, gives the title Thane of Cawdor to Macbeth to reward his heroism.

On their way home from battle, Macbeth and Banquo encounter three witches who predict that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and king of Scotland, as has been ordained by the king in his absence. They also foretell that Banquo will be the father of kings. This concerns Macbeth and he returns to his castle plotting a different course.

Upon returning to his castle Macbeth is persuaded by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, to kill the king and take his place on the throne . An opportunity easily presents itself when King Duncan pays a visit to Macbeth castle. Macbeth initially resists the plot to kill the king out fear of punishment both in life and beyond . However, his wife continues to persuade him and eventually convinces him to kill the king. After a night of celebration, Lady Macbeth drugs the guards to the King’s chambers. At her signal, Macbeth approaches the king’s chambers, voicing his doubts to himself, and kills the king in his sleep. Macbeth is filled with remorse, but his wife scolds him. Her ambition grows with her misdeeds. At this moment they hear a knock at the castle door.

One of the porters, who is drunk at the time, answers the knock at the door to discover Macduff, a man loyal to the king, who has been sent to get Duncan for the journey home. Macbeth directs him to the king’s room and Macduff discovers the body of the king. As soon as murder is suspected, Macbeth kills the guards of the king’s chamber as they are the only witnesses to the crime. Lady Macbeth faints at this. They assemble the lords of Scotland, including Macbeth, and vow revenge for the murder of the king. However, two of the lords suspect Macbeth, Donalbain and Malcom. These two characters who represent the rightful order. Each flee to Ireland and England respectively in order to raise an avenging force.

Macbeth is proclaimed the king of Scotland. However, he has not forgotten the second part of the prophecy of the witches. Banquo and his successors would seem to be in line for the crown and Macbeth decides to kill him and his son, Fleance. Macbeth hires men to murder them and in the course of the crime they manage to kill Banquo, but Fleance escapes. At the celebration that night, Macbeth is put into a terror when the ghost of Banquo appears at the dining table. Even as Lady Macbeth attempts to reassure him, Macbeth begins to be rattled.

Macbeth returns the following day to the place where he met the witches who foretold the prophecy. Upon this second meeting, the witches confirm the original prophecy and tell Macbeth further that Macbeth will be invincible in his battle against the forces which are moving against him in the forests of Birnam. What is more, he will remain invincible and can only be killed by a man “not born of a woman.” Macbeth dismisses this cryptic prophecy as nonsense and becomes emboldened as he prepares for battle.

Macbeth soon learns that Macduff has deserted him and from here he begins his tragic fall . He attacks and murders the family of Macduff. While Macduff is in England swearing his allegiance to Malcom, he gets the news of the murder of his family. Malcom convinces Macduff that he should take revenge against Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth becomes ill and she starts walking in her sleep seemingly in a delirium. She has fragmentary memories of the details of the murder. The play begins to move quickly after this point, alternating between scenes of Malcom advancing with his army against Macbeth and Macbeth preparing his defense.

Malcom’s army advances in disguise as they cover themselves with branches. Macbeth believes he see the woods themselves moving toward his defenses at Dunsinane. He finally squares off against Malcom in combat. As Macbeth boasts of the prophecy that he cannot be killed by a man born of woman, Malcom tells him that he was brought to birth by a cesarean section, thus he was not, strictly speaking, born of a woman . Macbeth, in his arrogance, refuses to believe this and attacks Malcom. Macbeth is killed. Malcom is finally crowned King of Scotland.

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Macbeth Essays

There are loads of ways you can approach writing an essay, but the two i favour are detailed below., the key thing to remember is that an essay should focus on the three aos:, ao1: plot and character development; ao2: language and technique; ao3: context, strategy 1 : extract / rest of play, the first strategy basically splits the essay into 3 paragraphs., the first paragraph focuses on the extract, the second focuses on the rest of the play, the third focuses on context. essentially, it's one ao per paragraph, for a really neatly organised essay., strategy 2 : a structured essay with an argument, this strategy allows you to get a much higher marks as it's structured to form an argument about the whole text. although you might think that's harder - and it's probably going to score more highly - i'd argue that it's actually easier to master. mainly because you do most of the work before the day of the exam., to see some examples of these, click on the links below:, lady macbeth as a powerful woman, macbeth as a heroic character, the key to this style is remembering this: you're going to get a question about a theme, and the extract will definitely relate to the theme., the strategy here is planning out your essays before the exam, knowing that the extract will fit into them somehow., below are some structured essays i've put together., macbeth and gender.

Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Macbeth — Theme Of Guilt In Macbeth


Theme of Guilt in Macbeth

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Published: Mar 5, 2024

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Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2009.Bradley, A. C. 'The Witch Scenes in Macbeth.' In Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. Macmillan, 1904.Knight, G. Wilson. 'The [...]

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introduction for essay on macbeth

introduction for essay on macbeth

Macbeth – A* / L9 Full Mark Example Essay

This is an A* / L9 full mark example essay on Macbeth completed by a 15-year-old student in timed conditions (50 mins writing, 10 mins planning).

It contained a few minor spelling and grammatical errors – but the quality of analysis overall was very high so this didn’t affect the grade. It is extremely good on form and structure, and perhaps could do with more language analysis of poetic and grammatical devices; as the quality of thought and interpretation is so high this again did not impede the overall mark. 

Thanks for reading! If you find this resource useful, you can take a look at our full online Macbeth course here . Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!

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For more help with Macbeth and Tragedy, read our article here .


Macbeth’s ambition for status and power grows throughout the play. Shakespeare uses Macbeth as an embodiment of greed and asks the audience to question their own actions through the use of his wrongful deeds.

In the extract, Macbeth is demonstrated to possess some ambition but with overriding morals, when writing to his wife about the prophecies, Lady Macbeth uses metaphors to describe his kind hearted nature: “yet I do fear thy nature, / It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness”. Here, Shakespeare presents Macbeth as a more gentle natured being who is loyal to his king and country. However, the very act of writing the letter demonstrates his inklings of desire, and ambition to take the throne. Perhaps, Shakespeare is aiming to ask the audience about their own thoughts, and whether they would be willing to commit heinous deeds for power and control. 

Furthermore, the extract presents Macbeth’s indecisive tone when thinking of the murder – he doesn’t want to kill Duncan but knows it’s the only way to the throne. Lady Macbeth says she might need to interfere in order to persuade him; his ambition isn’t strong enough yet: “That I may pour my spirits in  thine ear / And chastise with the valour of my tongue”. Here, Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as a manipulative character, conveying she will seduce him in order to “sway “ his mind into killing Duncan. The very need for her persuasion insinuates Macbeth is still weighing up the consequences in his head, his ambition equal with his morality. It would be shocking for the audience to see a female character act in this authoritative way. Lady Macbeth not only holds control of her husband in a patriarchal society but the stage too, speaking in iambic pentameter to portray her status: “To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great”. It is interesting that Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth in this way; she has more ambition for power than her husband at this part of play. 

As the play progresses, in Act 3, Macbeth’s ambition has grown and now kills with ease. He sends three murders to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance, as the witches predicted that he may have heirs to the throne which could end his reign. Macbeth is suspicious in this act, hiding his true intentions from his dearest companion and his wife: “I wish your horses swift and sure on foot” and “and make our faces vizards to our hearts”. There, we see, as an audience, Macbeth’s longing to remain King much stronger than his initial attitudes towards the throne He was toying with the idea of killing for the throne and now he is killing those that could interfere with his rule without a second thought. It is interesting that Shakespeare presents him this way, as though he is ignoring his morals or that they have been “numbed” by his ambition. Similarly to his wife in the first act, Macbeth also speaks in pentameter to illustrate his increase in power and dominance. 

In Act 4, his ambition and dependence on power has grown even more. When speaking with the witches about the three apparitions, he uses imperatives to portray his newly adopted controlling nature: “I conjure you” and “answer me”. Here, the use of his aggressive demanding demonstrates his reliance on the throne and his need for security. By the Witches showing him the apparitions and predicting his future, he gains a sense of superiority, believing he is safe and protected from everything. Shakespeare also lengthens Macbeth’s speech in front of the Witches in comparison to Act 1 to show his power and ambition has given him confidence, confidence to speak up to the “filthy nags” and expresses his desires. Although it would be easy to infer Macbeth’s greed and ambition has grown from his power-hungry nature, a more compassionate reading of Macbeth demonstrates the pressure he feels as a Jacobean man and soldier. Perhaps he feels he has to constantly strive for more to impress those around him or instead he may want to be king to feel more worthy and possibly less insecure. 

It would be unusual to see a Jacobean citizen approaching an “embodiment” of the supernatural as forming alliance with them was forbidden and frowned upon. Perhaps Shakespeare uses Macbeth to defy these stereotypical views to show that there is a supernatural, a more dark side in us all and it is up to our own decisions whereas we act on these impulses to do what is morally incorrect. 

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English Works

Sample student essay: Macbeth and the nature of evil

introduction for essay on macbeth


In  Macbeth Shakespeare focuses on the evil consequences of one man’s thrust for power. Through their prophecies, the witches plant an evil seed in Macbeth’s mind which has numerous repercussions, not only for Macbeth but for the King, his family and the people of Scotland.  Shakespeare shows that once his ambition has been inflamed, no one is immune from the consequences. Whilst both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth sacrifice their honour and pay a heavy price, many others are also killed to satisfy their thirst for power.

From the opening scene, it becomes clear that the witches are determine to use their supernatural powers to plant the seeds of evil and to undermine Macbeth’s honour. They create moral havoc by targeting his ambition. If the witches state that “fair is foul and foul is fair”, Macbeth soon finds that the prophecies “cannot be ill cannot be good”.  When the witches plant the seed that Macbeth is likely to become King, Macbeth is captivated by their prophecies. “I stood rapt in the wonder of it”. It is his ambition that promotes evil thoughts that undermine his sanity and corrupt him. As Shakespeare shows, Macbeth’s ambition creates “present fears” that are linked with “deep and dark desires” and that encourage him to put aside his moral compunctions.  After he commits the murders, he again seeks out the witches who give him a false sense of confidence. They predict that he will be safe from harm and Macbeth continues on his killing spree.

Lady Macbeth continues the corruption begun by the witches which has an immediate effect on Macbeth and a long-term corrosive effect on herself.  Shakespeare depicts the transformative power of evil as Lady Macbeth becomes “top – full of Direst Cruelty” in order to encourage Macbeth to murder King Duncan. She manipulates him, criticises his manhood and suggests that he is cowardly. She states that she would have plucked a baby from her breast and “dash’d the brains out” had she so broken a promise as Macbeth seems to be doing. Whilst she intimidates Macbeth and convinces him that it is cowardly to thwart one’s desires, she, ironically, pays the heaviest price. Her belief that a “little water clears us of this deed” returns to haunt her as she becomes increasingly obsessed with the evil she has unleashed. She is unable to remove neither the stain nor the deaths. She is also dismayed at the tyrant that continues unabated.

Owing to both the influence of the witches and Lady Macbeth, Macbeth succumbs to evil and pays a heavy price. Foolishly, he sets aside his scepticism and renounces his honour as he contemplates the ‘deep and dark desires”. His conscience alerts him to the evil nature of murder; he is fully aware of the “even – handed justice” or “judgement” which instructs people about good and evil. He also knows that “Bloody instructions return to plague the inventor”.  Most importantly, Macbeth knows that he should not commit evil deeds, because his conscience will torment him and undermine his honour. Despite all this, Macbeth wields the dagger and King Duncan becomes his first victim. He suffers the shocking consequences of Macbeth’s “overleaping” ambition that causes a  “heat-oppressed brain” to turn towards evil.

Macbeth continues to pay a heavy price and does not enjoy his royal status. Owing to his conscience, Macbeth becomes paranoid and guilt gives way to hallucinations and “strange self-abuse”. Macbeth becomes suspicious of everyone. He tries to harden himself to the pangs of his conscience. He wants to fight fear and become fearless by killing more people. He states, “t’is the initiate Fear that wants hard Use”. Macbeth has become a cruel tyrant and transforms Scotland into a country “almost afraid to know itself”. He sets spies on each of his thanes and even distrusts the witches for he is determined to make ‘assurance double sure’ by slaughtering Macduff’s entire family. This propels him  to the final showdown.

So the evil effects spread throughout Scotland, and even Banquo suffers from the cruel effects of evil. Banquo is honourable and rightly dismisses the witches even though they predict that his sons will be king. Because of this secret knowledge, Banquo becomes Macbeth’s second victim. Macbeth feels that “under him my genius is rebuked”. He is killed while his son Fleance escapes.

Tragically, many lives are lost because of one couple’s ambition. They both sacrifice their honour and do not enjoy their status because they become paranoid about the consequences. Once Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to commit murder, there is no stopping him. To soften his conscience, he continues killing and changes the whole atmosphere of Scotland. No one escapes. The citizens are so sick of the tyrant that they are relieved by his death.  Shakespeare shows that one man’s evil thirst for power does not pay and many other suffer a heavy price.

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