How is power represented by Macbeth?

1. What is "Macbeth"?

Macbeth is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare around 1606.

2. Where does the drama take place?

In scotland.

3. How does the plot work?

Macbeth and Banquo initially receive three prophecies from as many witches:

  • 1. Macbeth is said to be "Thane of Cawdor".
  • 2. Macbeth is to become King of Scotland.
  • 3. Banquo's descendants are said to form a long royal dynasty.

The 1st prophecy comes true shortly afterwards, as Macbeth actually receives the title "Thane of Cawdor".
This awakens the ambition and lust for power in Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth. They assassinate King Duncan while he is staying in the Macbeth castle.
Macbeth is then crowned king, but still has the 3rd prophecy in mind. He is afraid that he might have committed the murder for Banquo's descendants (and accordingly his descendants will not become kings) and therefore wants to have Banquo and his son Fleance murdered. Banquo actually dies, but Fleance escapes.
Macbeth learns about it at the royal banquet with the most important nobles of Scotland. He imagines he sees Banquo's ghost and speaks to it. Thereupon the nobles suspect Macbeth of having committed the murder of Duncan (previously Duncan's guards and his sons were considered to be the perpetrators or masterminds).
Shortly thereafter, Macbeth receives three new prophecies from the witches:

  • 1. He should only be afraid of Macduff.
  • 2. No one naturally born to a woman could ever be dangerous to Macbeth.
  • 3. Only when the forest came from Birnam to Dunsinane would Macbeth be defeated.

Macduff, the nobleman who first discovered Duncan's murder, has since fled to England (he was not present at Macbeth's coronation and the banquet). Macbeth then has his defenseless family murdered. Macduff finds out about this and allies himself with Malcolm, one of Duncan's two sons. With the support of King Edward of England, they want to raise an army and defeat Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, becomes increasingly desperate over her complicity in Duncan's murder and the crimes that followed. Shortly afterwards she dies (suicide). In the meantime, Malcolm's army has arrived near Birnam, Scotland. Malcolm orders each of his soldiers to cut a branch from the forest and hold it in front of them to camouflage the army. They set off towards Dunsinane (fulfillment of the newer third prophecy). Arrived in Dunsinane they attack Macbeth's castle. Most of his subordinates have since defected to the enemy. The remaining forces of Macbeth are crushed.
It comes to the "final battle" between Macbeth and Macduff. Macbeth learns that Macduff was born through a caesarean section (fulfillment of the second more recent prophecy). Macbeth realizes the ambiguity of the witches' prophecies, but continues to fight and is killed by Macduff (fulfillment of the first more recent prophecy).
Malcolm then becomes the new king.

4. What are the most important people and their characteristics?

Important characters:
  • Macbeth:
    first good and loyal commander, later brutal and ruthless tyrant, then killed by Macduff; always very ambitious
  • Lady Macbeth:
    unscrupulous and devious; persuades her husband to murder Duncan when he shows concern; later despairs of the series of murders and commits suicide; also very ambitious
  • Macduff:
    Antagonist of Macbeth; first discovers Duncan's murder; does not appear at Macbeth's coronation or at his banquet; later kills Macbeth; Name is similar to "Macbeth"
  • Duncan:
    is portrayed as an almost ideal king; is kind-hearted, grateful, popular with the people; trusts his subordinates too much and is too kindhearted -> weakness
  • Malcolm:
    one of Duncan's two sons; flees to England after Duncan's murder; allies with Macduff and attacks Macbeth; becomes new king after Macbeth's death
  • Banquo:
    initially friend of Macbeth and also commander; brave, wise, brave; is killed by Macbeth; warns Macbeth of the ambiguity of the prophecies
  • the three witches:
    give the first prophecies to Macbeth and Banquo; are the engine of drama (their prophecies create action); are manipulative and forces of evil

Less important characters:
  • Fleance: Son of Banquos; Macbeth tries to kill him to prevent the witches' prophecy against Banquo from coming true
  • Donalbain (English Donaldbain): one of Duncan's sons; flees to Ireland after Duncan's murder
  • young Siward: tries to kill Macbeth during the battle between Malcolm and Macbeth's army, but dies himself in the process
  • Siward: the father of the young Siwards; is proud of the honorable death of his son
  • Horses: a Scottish nobleman
  • Lenox (English Lennox): a Scottish nobleman
  • Angus: a Scottish nobleman
  • Lady Macduff: Macduff's wife; is killed by Macbeth's murderers
  • Macduff's son: the son of Macduff; is killed by Macbeth's murderers
  • Hecate: the goddess of witchcraft
  • Usher: leaves Macduff and Lenox in Macbeth's castle before they discover the murder; is drunk and makes several ambiguous jokes
  • Valet (English Gentlewoman): observes Lady Macbeth sleepwalking
  • Doctor: observes Lady Macbeth sleepwalking
  • three murderers: are sent off by Macbeth to kill Banquo and Fleance (but only kill Banquo)
  • Warrior (English Captain): tells Duncan of Macbeth's exploits on the battlefield
  • Seyton: wears Macbeth's armor
  • two guards: Duncan's guards; are poisoned by Lady Macbeth; they are initially accused of the murder of Duncan
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