is a Scottish general and the thane of Glamis who is led to wicked
thoughts by the prophecies of the three witches, especially after
their prophecy that he will be made thane of Cawdor comes true.
Macbeth is a brave soldier and a powerful man, but he is not a virtuous
one. He is easily tempted into murder to fulfill his ambitions to
the throne, and once he commits his first crime and is crowned King
of Scotland, he embarks on further atrocities with increasing ease.
Ultimately, Macbeth proves himself better suited to the battlefield than
to political intrigue, because he lacks the skills necessary to
rule without being a tyrant. His response to every problem is violence
and murder. Unlike Shakespeare’s great villains, such as Iago in Othello
Richard III in Richard III,
Macbeth is never comfortable
in his role as a criminal. He is unable to bear the psychological
consequences of his atrocities.
in-depth analysis of Macbeth.
wife, a deeply ambitious woman who lusts for power and position.
Early in the play she seems to be the stronger and more ruthless
of the two, as she urges her husband to kill Duncan and seize the crown.
After the bloodshed begins, however, Lady Macbeth falls victim to
guilt and madness to an even greater degree than her husband. Her
conscience affects her to such an extent that she eventually commits
suicide. Interestingly, she and Macbeth are presented as being deeply
in love, and many of Lady Macbeth’s speeches imply that her influence
over her husband is primarily sexual. Their joint alienation from
the world, occasioned by their partnership in crime, seems to strengthen
the attachment that they feel to each another.
in-depth analysis of Lady Macbeth.
The Three Witches
- Three “black and midnight hags” who plot mischief
against Macbeth using charms, spells, and prophecies. Their predictions
prompt him to murder Duncan, to order the deaths of Banquo and his
son, and to blindly believe in his own immortality. The play leaves
the witches’ true identity unclear—aside from the fact that they
are servants of Hecate, we know little about their place in the
cosmos. In some ways they resemble the mythological Fates, who impersonally weave
the threads of human destiny. They clearly take a perverse delight
in using their knowledge of the future to toy with and destroy human
in-depth analysis of The Three Witches.
brave, noble general whose children, according to the witches’ prophecy,
will inherit the Scottish throne. Like Macbeth, Banquo thinks ambitious
thoughts, but he does not translate those thoughts into action.
In a sense, Banquo’s character stands as a rebuke to Macbeth, since
he represents the path Macbeth chose not to take: a path in which
ambition need not lead to betrayal and murder. Appropriately, then,
it is Banquo’s ghost—and not Duncan’s—that haunts Macbeth. In addition
to embodying Macbeth’s guilt for killing Banquo, the ghost also
reminds Macbeth that he did not emulate Banquo’s reaction to the
in-depth analysis of Banquo.
good King of Scotland whom Macbeth, in his ambition for the crown,
murders. Duncan is the model of a virtuous, benevolent, and farsighted
ruler. His death symbolizes the destruction of an order in Scotland
that can be restored only when Duncan’s line, in the person of Malcolm,
once more occupies the throne.
Scottish nobleman hostile to Macbeth’s kingship from the start.
He eventually becomes a leader of the crusade to unseat Macbeth.
The crusade’s mission is to place the rightful king, Malcolm, on
the throne, but Macduff also desires vengeance for Macbeth’s murder of
Macduff’s wife and young son.
in-depth analysis of Macduff.
son of Duncan, whose restoration to the throne signals Scotland’s
return to order following Macbeth’s reign of terror. Malcolm becomes
a serious challenge to Macbeth with Macduff’s aid (and the support
of England). Prior to this, he appears weak and uncertain of his
own power, as when he and Donalbain flee Scotland after their father’s
goddess of witchcraft, who helps the three witches work their mischief
son, who survives Macbeth’s attempt to murder him. At the end of
the play, Fleance’s whereabouts are unknown. Presumably, he may
come to rule Scotland, fulfilling the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s
sons will sit on the Scottish throne.
group of ruffians conscripted by Macbeth to murder Banquo, Fleance
(whom they fail to kill), and Macduff’s wife and children.
drunken doorman of Macbeth’s castle.
wife. The scene in her castle provides our only glimpse of a domestic
realm other than that of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. She and her home
serve as contrasts to Lady Macbeth and the hellish world
son and Malcolm’s younger brother.