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Presented by State Library Victoria

A Handy Guide To: Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”


If you haven’t heard of Macbeth, it is one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies.

The most basic, basic plot is as follows:

  1. The three witches give Macbeth a prophecy that says he will be the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor (one position he already has, the other is a higher position) and that Macbeth will “be King hereafter”.
  2. Macbeth sends a letter to Lady Macbeth (his wife) telling her that he will become King.
  3. Lady Macbeth encourages/tells Macbeth to kill the current king (Duncan).
  4. Macbeth kills the king but feels a bit guilty about it.
  5. After a bit of messing around, Macbeth becomes the King.
  6. Macbeth has his friend Banquo murdered because he is a threat to his throne and tries to kill his son but fails.
  7. Macbeth gets more prophecies from the witches.
  8. Macbeth kills the family of Macduff (Thane of Fife) after hearing the prophecies.
  9. Macduff joins with the son of the dead king (Malcolm), convincing him to take back the throne.
  10. Lady Macbeth goes mad with guilt and paranoia and dies.
  11. Macduff, Malcolm and their army disguise themselves as trees to fulfill one of the witches’ prophecies.
  12. Macduff kills Macbeth.



  • Macbeth: the main character and namesake of the play. He starts off the play being described as “brave Macbeth” and a “worthy gentleman”, as he continues to commit “deeds of dreadful note”, he begins to be described as a “tyrant” and eventually a “dead butcher”.
  • Lady Macbeth: Macbeth’s wife. She starts off the play seemingly very vicious, asking demons to “unsex her” so she feels no guilt, but by the conclusion of the play she is shown to be far less in control of both her husband and herself, with it ultimately being implied that she killed herself because of this guilt and paranoia.

Major themes: (All of these are likely to be essay topics too 😋)

  • Deception: whether it be the Witches or Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, there’s deceit all throughout the play.
  • Fate and Destiny: as in many Shakespearean plays, the question of “Was it fate?” needs to be asked in regards to what has triggered the actions in the play.
  • Blame: who is to blame? Is it Lady Macbeth or the Witches for convincing Macbeth to commit the acts or does Macbeth do it of his own accord? Was it fate that forced it?
  • Ambition (Fatal Flaw): it is often said that Macbeth’s fatal flaw was his ambition. Is that really his fatal flaw? Does he only have one? Is that to blame for his actions in the play?
  • Masculinity and Femininity: how do gender roles affect the characters of the play, most notably Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? Their roles and levels of masculinity/femininity seem to change, shift and react to one another throughout the play.


So, is anyone else actually studying Macbeth? Have you read it before? I thought it was one of Shakespeare’s more enjoyable (dark and a little twisted but good :P).

What else does everyone’s need to read for school this year?

1 comment



29th Jan, 19