Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title The Tragedy of Macbeth

author  William Shakespeare

type of work  Play

genre  Tragedy

language  English

time and place written  1606, England

date of first publication  First Folio edition, 1623

publisher  John Heminges and Henry Condell, two senior members of Shakespeare’s theatrical company

tone  Dark and ominous, suggestive of a world turned topsy-turvy by foul and unnatural crimes

tense  Not applicable (drama)

setting (time)  The Middle Ages, specifically the eleventh century

setting (place)  Various locations in Scotland; also England, briefly

protagonist  Macbeth

major conflicts  The struggle within Macbeth between his ambition and his sense of right and wrong; the struggle between the murderous evil represented by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the best interests of the nation, represented by Malcolm and Macduff

rising action  Macbeth and Banquo’s encounter with the witches initiates both conflicts; Lady Macbeth’s speeches goad Macbeth into murdering Duncan and seizing the crown.

climax Macbeth’s murder of Duncan in Act 2 represents the point of no return, after which Macbeth is forced to continue butchering his subjects to avoid the consequences of his crime.

falling action  Macbeth’s increasingly brutal murders (of Duncan’s servants, Banquo, Lady Macduff and her son); Macbeth’s second meeting with the witches; Macbeth’s final confrontation with Macduff and the opposing armies

themes  The corrupting nature of unchecked ambition; the relationship between cruelty and masculinity; the difference between kingship and tyranny

motifs  The supernatural, hallucinations, violence, prophecy

symbols  Blood; the dagger that Macbeth sees just before he kills Duncan in Act 2; the weather

foreshadowing The bloody battle in Act 1 foreshadows the bloody murders later on; when Macbeth thinks he hears a voice while killing Duncan, it foreshadows the insomnia that plagues Macbeth and his wife; Macduff’s suspicions of Macbeth after Duncan’s murder foreshadow his later opposition to Macbeth; all of the witches’ prophecies foreshadow later events.