Macbeth Synopsis

ACT 1             Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
The play begins with generals Macbeth and Banquo returning home to Scotland as war heroes. During their journey, they are confronted by three witches who prophesize that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and eventually the King of Scotland. The first part of the prophecy is quickly fulfilled and Macbeth sends word to his wife. Upon learning the news, Lady Macbeth begins to plot the death of King Duncan, who is spending the evening in their home, so that her husband will be King. She manipulates Macbeth until he agrees to go through with the deed.

ACT 2             Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?
Macbeth begins to doubt the plan and has hallucinations of a floating dagger. He sneaks into King Duncan’s chamber and murders him. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth frame the servants and both get their hands bloody. Two Scottish noblemen, Macduff and Lennox, arrive to visit King Duncan and discover his body. Macbeth kills the “guilty” servants as punishment as King Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain arrive. Believing that their own lives are in danger, Duncan’s sons flee the court; Malcolm to England and Donalbain to Ireland. Their decision to run away makes them the prime suspects and King Duncan is buried. Macbeth is proclaimed  Duncan’s successor to the throne.

ACT 3             What’s done is done.
Based on the witches’ prophecy, Banquo suspects Macbeth of killing King Duncan. Macbeth becomes aware of these suspicions and hires assassins to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. Banquo is murdered that night, but Fleance escapes into the darkness. At a feast celebrating his coronation, Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost and madly converses with it. Lady Macbeth tries to cover up her husband’s strange behavior by saying he is prone to fits. Elsewhere in Scotland, many begin to suspect Macbeth for the string of murders and it is revealed that Macduff has gone to England to aid Malcolm and Edward, King of England, as they prepare for war against Macbeth and Scotland.

ACT 4             Something wicked this way comes.
Macbeth confronts the witches and sees terrifying apparitions that tell him to fear Macduff but that “none of woman born” shall be able to kill him. The witches vanish before Macbeth can force them to explain the prophecies. Macbeth sends murderers to kill Macduff’s wife and children.  Macduff begs Malcolm to return to Scotland and seize the throne, a suspicious Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty with a series of lies. Macduff proves himself trustworthy, and Malcolm agrees to return to Scotland. Macduff discovers the murder of his family and promises revenge upon Macbeth.

ACT 5             Out, damned spot! Out I say!
Lady Macbeth has gone mad with guilt. She sleepwalks around the castle, wringing her hands and inadvertently confessing to the crime before she eventually dies. The English army arrives in Scotland and prepares for the attack. Macbeth is confident that he will be victorious, but begins to crack under the mounting pressure. Macbeth finally faces off against Macduff, boasting that he cannot be killed by any naturally born man. Macduff reveals that he was born via Caesarean section and Macbeth resigns himself to death. Macduff slays Macbeth and hails Malcolm as the new King of Scotland.

Thomson Jaffe
Education Program Assistant