MacBeth – Synopsis

Act I

Scene one – A forest  Returning from battle Macbeth and Banquo happen upon a coven of witches that makes three rather unsettling predictions: they promise Macbeth his noble rank shall rise from Thane of Glamis to Thane of Cawdor, and then he shall be king; to Banquo they foretell that kings shall number among his descendants. The witches vanish, leaving the bewildered Macbeth and Banquo to consider what they’ve witnessed. Messengers inform them of the treasonous Thane of Cawdor’s recent execution – Macbeth has been named his successor. Already dark thoughts of ambition begin to cloud his judgment.

Scene two – A hall in the castle  Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband detailing his unusual experiences and the swift fulfillment of the first prophesy. She draws the conclusion that their next step must be to usurp the throne. A servant informs his mistress that King Duncan plans to spend the night as their guest.

Late into the night, the Macbeths hash out their deadly scheme. After his wife gives the signal that all have retired to bed, Macbeth murders the sleeping Duncan. His remorse is pronounced, but Lady Macbeth holds strong, returning to the scene of the crime and planting the bloodstained dagger among the king’s sleeping bodyguards to implicate them. As dawn breaks Macduff and Banquo discover the king has been assassinated.


Act II

Scene one – A room in the castle  Duncan’s son, Malcolm, has fled Scotland. As a result he is now suspected of the regicide. Macbeth, now crowned king, is still unsettled by the witches’ third prediction – that Banquo’s children shall one day rule. He and his wife concur more blood must flow.

Scene two – The castle park.  Assassins descend on Banquo and his young son, Fleance. Banquo is killed, but Fleance manages to escape.

Scene three – A magnificent banquet hall  A celebration is held in Macbeth’s honor, and Lady Macbeth leads the toast. An assassin quietly confirms that Banquo has been killed, but Fleance remains at large. To his guests, Macbeth notes Banquo’s absence and makes the noble gesture to seat himself at his place. He is visibly horrified to find Banquo’s ghost already seated there. The guests are shocked by the strange behavior, and Lady Macbeth demands he control himself. To divert everyone’s attention she strikes up the drinking song again, but the ghost returns, and Macbeth loses his composure. Macduff grows suspicious.



A dark cave  Regrouped for the sabbath, the witches prepare an unearthly brew. Specters and demons dance as Hecate, goddess of the night and of sorcery, materializes. Macbeth returns in search of more answers. The powers of darkness yield an apparition warning him to beware Macduff. The second spirit, a child, advises him not to fear any man born of a woman. A final apparition assures him not to worry until Birnam Wood moves against him. Macbeth is reassured but insists on knowing the fate of Banquo’s son. The witches refuse to answer, but Banquo’s progeny is displayed in a parade of specters, followed by the reappearance of Banquo’s ghost. The witches and spirits vanish as Macbeth faints.

Macbeth confides the strange happenings to his wife. Recognizing Macduff as the most serious threat, they agree Lady Macduff and her children must die.


Act IV

Scene one – A deserted place on the Scottish border  A chorus of Scottish refugees bewail the plight of their oppressed country under Macbeth’s tyrannous rule. Macduff agonizes over the slaughter of his wife and children. Malcolm arrives with English soldiers. He instructs the army to camouflage themselves with branches from the forest.

Scene two – A room in the castle  The queen’s lady-in-waiting confers with a doctor. Together they observe the strange nocturnal activities of Lady Macbeth. She enters as if in a trance, and while trying to wash imagined blood from her hands, she exposes the hideous details of her crime.

Scene three – A room in the castle  Macbeth has been informed of the uprising against him. In light of the witches’ promises, he is certain the battle will be won. He receives news of his wife’s suicide but is barely moved. Yet his confidence is shaken by reports of Birnam Wood advancing on the castle.

Macduff confronts Macbeth. The king’s belief in the final prophecy is crushed when Macduff reveals that he was not born of a woman the usual way but “… from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.” Malcolm enters with soldiers and women of the castle. Macduff informs them that Macbeth has been slain. All hail Malcolm as their new king.

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