What happens in Macbeth

It’s got witches, ghosts, Sting lyrics, and the original serial killer. This month in What Happens in Shakespeare, we nod to Halloween with the play that dare not speak its name: Macbeth.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company tweeted: “Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to be more aggressive in pursuing career options.”
What happens in Macbeth

Macbeth is a soldier and wealthy landowner. He and his comrade Banquo are on their way home from war. They meet three witches prophesy on the road, who prophesy that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor (royalty) and later King of Scotland. They also predict that Banquo will be the father of kings.

King Duncan meets them on the road and gives Macbeth a new title: Thane of Cawdor. So the first prophesy has come true.

Macbeth goes home to his wife, who convinces him to kill King Duncan and frame the servants. Macbeth famously says “Is this a dagger I see before me?” He overdoes it by killing Duncan and the servants.

Macbeth becomes King of Scotland, even though you might think one of Duncan’s two sons, Malcom and Donalbain, would be next in line.

Malcom and Donalbain are justifiably afraid Macbeth is going to kill them next. They leave town.  

Macbeth is afraid Banquo will take over the throne, since the witches prophesied that he would be the father of kings. He kills Banquo.

At a dinner party Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo. No one else can see it, but they do see Macbeth acting crazy. Lady Macbeth tries to cover for him.

Macbeth goes back to the three witches, who know he’s coming by the pricking of their thumbs and famously say “something wicked this way comes.” The witches tell Macbeth to watch out for Macduff, another nobleman who is against Macbeth being king.

The witches also prophesy two things: no man born of woman can harm Macbeth, and he will be safe until Birnam Wood (the forest) comes to Dunsinane (his home).

Macbeth gets the news that Macduff has gone to England to join Malcolm’s forces. Remember, Malcom’s father was King Duncan. Macbeth goes to Macduff’s home and kills his wife and children.

There is a harrowing scene where Macduff gets that news.

Malcolm, Macduff and their army invade Scotland to overthrow Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth kills herself out of guilt for all the murders she and her husband have committed. Macbeth is shocked. He famously says “Out, out, brief candle!”

Malcolm’s army uses branches cut from Birnam Wood for camouflage. Birnam Wood is now coming to Dunsinane, just like the witches prophesied.

On the battlefield, Macduff announces that he was not “of woman born” but was instead “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb (born by cesarean section). He and Macbeth fight. Macduff kills Macbeth.

Malcolm becomes King of Scotland.


For more, try out No Fear Shakespeare‘s scene-by-scene translation of Macbeth.