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Macbeth: A Summary

"Macbeth" is one of William Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, exploring themes of ambition, power, guilt, and fate. This summary provides an overview of the play's key elements, enriched by scholarly insights from K. Deighton's introduction and notes in the 1891 edition published by Macmillan and Co.

Introduction by K. Deighton

K. Deighton provides a comprehensive introduction, highlighting the historical basis of "Macbeth" and Shakespeare's adaptation of those events for the stage. Deighton notes that while the play is grounded in historical incidents, Shakespeare took creative liberties to enhance the dramatic effect and thematic depth.

Plot Overview

The tragedy of "Macbeth" unfolds in medieval Scotland, following the rise and fall of Macbeth, a Scottish general whose ambition is ignited by a prophecy from three witches. Encouraged by his manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth, he murders King Duncan to ascend the throne, only to be consumed by guilt and paranoia. His tyrannical rule leads to a reign of terror, culminating in his downfall and death, restoring order to Scotland through the rightful heir, Malcolm.


  • Macbeth: A brave Scottish general whose ambition leads him to treachery, murder, and tyranny.
  • Lady Macbeth: Macbeth's wife, whose ambition for power drives her to encourage his worst impulses.
  • Duncan: The virtuous King of Scotland, whose murder marks the beginning of Macbeth's downfall.
  • Banquo: Macbeth's friend and a general, whose descendants are prophesied to inherit the Scottish throne.
  • Macduff: A nobleman who becomes Macbeth's nemesis, leading the charge to restore Malcolm to the throne.


  • Ambition and Power: The dangerous consequences of unchecked ambition and the lust for power are central to the tragedy.
  • Guilt and Conscience: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are tormented by guilt and madness as a result of their actions.
  • Fate vs. Free Will: The play explores the tension between destiny and the characters' choices in shaping their futures.


Deighton's notes emphasize the play's historical inaccuracies, reflecting Shakespeare's focus on the psychological depth and moral questions rather than historical fidelity. The commentary enhances our understanding of "Macbeth's" enduring appeal, shedding light on its complex characters, intricate plot, and timeless themes.

"Macbeth" remains a powerful exploration of the human condition, captivating audiences with its profound insights into ambition, morality, and the nature of evil.