Who would you want to be?
Duncan King of Scotland
Malcolm Duncan's eldest son and heir to the throne
Donalbain Duncan's youngest son
Macbeth general in the King's army and main character in the play
Lady Macbeth Macbeth's ambitious wife
Banquo a fellow general and Macbeth's friend
Fleance Banquo's son
Macduff a Scottish nobleman
Lady Macduff Macduff's wife
Son Macduff's son
Lennox a Scottish nobleman
Ross a Scottish nobleman
Menteith a Scottish nobleman
Angus a Scottish nobleman
Caithness a Scottish nobleman
Siward Earl of Northumberland
and head of the English army
Young Siward Siward's son
The three witches
Hecate Goddess of witchcraft
Porter the drunken doorman at Macbeth's castle
The three murderers hired by Macbeth
Doctors, servants, soldiers, maids and messengers
Macbeth is one of the specially abridged plays for primary school children from The Shakespeare Schools Festival.
To truly appreciate the play, you need to see it performed. Here is a UK listing for 2015.
Witches: Fair is foul, and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filth air.
The three witches are the first characters we meet. We can tell a lot about them when they say goodness is foul and evil is fair enough! But this is also a hint of something else... that those who appear good can be evil. They greet Macbeth and Banquo on the heath after they have fought and won a big battle...
First witch: All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis.
Second witch: All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor.
Third witch: All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, that shalt be King.
Macbeth is confused. He already has the title Thane of Glamis (Thane is like a duke), but why do they also greet him as Thane of Cawdor, and what do they mean he will be king? He doesn't know that the Thane of Cawdor has been a traitor to Scotland. King Duncan has sentenced him to death and given Macbeth the title for his heroism in battle. When Macbeth finds out, he wonders if the third witch's prediction will also come true.
Banquo to Macbeth: Oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths.
Banquo warns Macbeth against trusting the witches. He says that often evil people tell you a truth to lure you to your destruction. But Macbeth can't shake off what they have said, and soon his thoughts turn to murdering the king!
When Macbeth's wife learns of the witches' prophecy, she fears Macbeth doesn't have what it takes to seize the crown.
Lady Macbeth: Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty.
Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to make her think more like a man and fill her with cruelty from head to toe so she can murder the King. When Macbeth has second thoughts, it is Lady Macbeth who persuades him to go through with the murder and blame it on the King's servants.
To find out if they go through with it, go to Act II
Macbeth to Lady Macbeth: I have done the deed.
Macbeth appears with two bloody daggers. He's killed the King and is already troubled by it. He is seeing and hearing things. Lady Macbeth has to take the daggers back to the King's room and splatter blood on the sleeping guards so they are blamed.
MacDuff: Ring the alarum-bell: murder and treason! Banquo, and Donalbain! Malcolm! Awake! Shake off this downy sleep, Death’s counterfeit, and look on Death itself!
MacDuff and Lennox discover the King's body and sound the alarm, waking everyone in the house. When the King's sons wake up, Macbeth tells them that he has killed the culprits – saying he killed them out of fury when he found them blood-splattered by the King's body. He sounds like a hero, but of course he's a liar and a murderer. The King's sons fear for their own lives and run away – one to England and one to Ireland – making it seem as if they were behind their father's murder. Why would they flee if they were not to blame? Macbeth is made king, just as the witches said he would!
Macbeth has it all, except a clear conscience. Read on...
Banquo (to himself): Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all. As the weird women promised, and I fear
thou play'dst most foully for ’t.
Banquo sees that Macbeth has everything the witches predicted but suspects that Macbeth has done something evil to get it. But the witches also predicted that Banquo's children will be kings. This troubles Macbeth... he wants his children to inherit the throne, not Banquo's. He decides Banquo and his son Fleance have to die. He hires some poor, desperate men to kill them, persuading the men that Banquo is the one who ruined their lives.
Macbeth to Lady Macbeth: Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!
Macbeth's mind is in turmoil. He hasn't been able to sleep, tortured by what he has done and what he feels he must do to Banquo and his son. When the murderers return, they tell him they have killed Banquo, but Fleance has escaped. Macbeth returns to the banqueting table, where he is having dinner with his nobles. He sees the ghost of Banquo in his seat! Everyone at the table is disturbed by Macbeth's behaviour, ranting and raving at an empty seat.
The witches prepare to meet Macbeth again in Act IV...
Witches: Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
The witches are around their cauldron, throwing in all sorts of incredible and disgusting ingredients – 'eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog'. They are cooking up a charm that will cause 'powerful trouble' to please Hectate, the goddess of witchcraft. Macbeth arrives. He demands that the witches answer his questions, not caring if buildings fall down or people are killed as a result. The witches conjure up three ghosts who tell him what he wants to know...
First ghost: Beware Macduff. Beware the thane of Fife.
Second ghost: Laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.
Third ghost: Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood... shall come against him.
The three ghosts tell him three things: to beware Macduff, that no man 'born of a woman' can harm Macbeth; and that he will never be defeated until Great Birnam Wood comes against him. The last two are puzzling, because aren't all men born from women, and how can a wood attack a person? Macbeth thinks neither will happen, but the first is clear – Macduff is dangerous and must die, and his family must die too. He sends the murderers to kill Macduff's wife and children. It's clear that Macbeth has become a muderous, power-crazy tyrant, and Scotland is in turmoil and despair.
Malcolm and Macduff seek revenge... See Act V.
Lady Macbeth (sleepwalking): Out, damned spot! Out, I say!... Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.
A doctor has been called to see Lady Macbeth. She is sleepwalking and talking, trying to remove imaginary blood from her hands. The doctor and Lady Macbeth's maid realise it is Duncan's blood.
Doctor: Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles.
The doctor says there is nothing he can do for her – he cannot treat a deranged mind and a guilty conscience with medicine. Eventually Macbeth learns that she has killed herself – his reaction is cold and undramatic.
Meanwhile Malcolm is leading the English army to attack Macbeth's castle. The Scottish nobles join them at Birnam Wood – they want to defeat Macbeth and restore Scotland to a peaceful and safe country again.
When Macbeth's servant reports that there could be up to 10,000 soldiers, Macbeth is unafraid. He trusts the prophecies – no man born of woman can kill him, and unless the wood gets up and walks, he will not be harmed.
Messenger: As I did stand my watch upon the hill, I looked toward Birnam, and anon methought the wood began to move.
Malcolm's men have broken off tree branches and are holding them it in front of themselves to disguise their numbers. To the messenger it looks as if the wood is moving. This rattles Macbeth and he sets the alarm bells ringing!
Macbeth to Macduff: Get thee back... I bear a charmed life, which must not yield to one of woman born.
Macbeth's castle is captured and Macduff goes to find Macbeth, Macbeth tells Macduff that he can't hurt him if he was 'born of woman', but Macduff wasn't 'born' – his mother was cut open and he was taken from her womb (like a Caesarian today). They fight and Macbeth is killed. His reign of tyranny is over, and Malcolm will be crowned king,. Peace is restored at last.
BUY THE BOOK
A book designed to be an engaging and enjoyable first introduction to Shakespeare; his life, work and plays. Discover what is was like to live in Elizabethan England, and learn why Shakespeare is still so popular 400 years after his death.
READ THE STORY
Retellings for children don't get much better than this one. Lively, easy to read, large print, fun illustrations.
Illustrations © Adria Meserve 2014. Text © Penny Worms 2014. All rights reserved.