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Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and SuccessShakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success




Key characters

Macbeth, Thane (Lord) of Glamis.

Lady Macbeth, his wife.

Banquo and Macduff, thanes (Scottish aristocrats).

The Three Witches.

 Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

Set in...

11th century Scotland.


Fun facts

  • Shakespeare’s shortest and most gruesome play. Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success
  • Actors never mention the play’s name, because they think it’s bad luck. They call it ‘the Scottish play’.
  • Many great actresses have played Lady Macbeth including Judi Dench, pictured right above (M in the James Bond films) and Maggie Smith, pictured right (Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter films).


The story

Having helped Duncan, the king of Scotland, defeat the Norwegian army. Macbeth and his fellow general, Banquo, meet three witches who prophesy that Banquo’s descendants and Macbeth will become kings.Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

This prophesy fuels Macbeth's ambition, encouraged still further by his wife, Lady Macbeth. She persuades him to murder King Duncan, while he is staying at their castle at Glamis.

Macbeth (Kenneth Branagh, pictured right, in a 2013 production) hesitates approaching Duncan’s bedroom, troubled by strange hallucinations. But he kills the drugged Duncan.

Then Macduff, another Scottish lord, arrives and discovers the body. Faking horror, Macbeth kills the guards whom Lady Macbeth has attempted to frame by smearing them with blood.

Fearing for their own lives, Duncan’s two only sons, Donalbain and Malcolm, flee. So Macbeth becomes king and the witches’ prophesy comes true.

Although Banquo thinks Macbeth might have been the murderer, he agrees to attend a banquet to celebrate Macbeth’s coronation.

To silence Banquo and fearful of the witches' prophesy that his heirs will become kings, Macbeth hires assassins to kill him. But his son, Fleance, manages to escape

At the banquet Macbeth is haunted by Banquo’s ghost, and Macbeth’s guilt is now suspected by some lords including Macduff.

The witches then prophesy that

“none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”.Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

So Macbeth (Orson Welles, pictured right, in a 1948 film) kills Macduff’s wife and children.

But Macduff:

  • escapes to England.
  • joins the army of Malcolm, Duncan’s eldest son.

Lady Macbeth is now:

  • greatly troubled.
  • sleep walking.
  • ranting about the murders.

Malcolm’s army advances and disguises itself with branches from Birnam Wood, near Macbeth’s castle.

But Macbeth responds slowly to the threat, convinced of his invincibility by the witches’ latest prophesy (but they also say that this will end when Birnam Wood moves!).

Lady Macbeth commits suicide (offstage) but Macbeth fights on, meeting Macduff, whom he learns was delivered by Caesarean section (so fitting the witches’ description “none of woman born”).

Macduff kills him and Malcolm becomes king.


Lessons for life


1. Beware of ruthless ambition

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are prepared to kill for their ambition.

He reflects that only “vaulting ambition” can overrule his troubled conscience. Lady Macbeth even says she would kill her own child, if necessary.

But they both pay the price with:Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

  • guilt.
  • nightmarish hallucinations (like Banquo’s gory ghost).

“Out, damned spot; out, I say”, Lady Macbeth cries as she tries to wash Duncan’s imaginary blood off her hands.



2. You reap what you sowShakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

Lady Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most wicked and ambitious characters:

  • is the one who suffers most.
  • commits suicide.

Her thoughts about the murders change from:

  • dismissiveness (“what’s done is done”) to
  • guilt (“what’s done cannot be undone”, she says just before her suicide).

Macbeth, too, is plagued by guilt and horrendous hallucinations.

So he becomes indifferent to his

  • life (“signifying nothing”).
  • beloved wife (whom he once described as “his dearest partner of greatness”).

 Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

3. You alone are responsible for your life

It seems that Macbeth’s fate is predetermined by the witches’ prophecies.

But it is his actions that condemn him, not witchcraft.

So his doctor tells him that

“the patient must minister to himself”

In other words, Macbeth must sort out his own problems.

 Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

4. Temptation can be tempting (even to good people)

Macbeth probably never thought about becoming king until the witches suggested it.

He was:

  • a brave soldier.
  • loyal to the king.
  • “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness” (according to Lady Macbeth).

But he didn’t have the moral courage to resist her evil persuasion.

 Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

5. Good accompanies evil

Macbeth (see point 4) and even Lady Macbeth are not totally evil (leading to their tortured consciences).

She refuses to kill Duncan herself, because he reminded her of her father.


6. Put virtue into action

Duncan is:

  • honest and kind.
  • honourable and trusting.Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

Just before his murder, he:

  • kisses Lady Macbeth.
  • gives her a diamond for her hospitality.


  • is also wise and good.
  • stoutly resists (with God’s help) the temptation of the witches’ prophesy.
  • has (according to Macbeth) “a wisdom that doth guide his valour”.

Banquo's only weakness is that he fails to act quickly enough against Macbeth, because he doesn't see his bad side.


7. One bad thing leads to another

Macbeth hoped that one murder would be enough (“the be-all and end-all”), but one killing led to another.

“Blood will have blood”, he says.

 Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

8. Trust can be misplaced

Duncan and Banquo:

  • are too trusting.
  • blind themselves to other people’s evil intentions.

Just before his murder, Duncan is completely deceived by Lady Macbeth’s “thoughtfulness”.

 Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

9. Envy is evil


  • envies Banquo because he has children.
  • concludes that the only way to fill this hole in his life is ambition (that, of course, ends in murder).


 Macbeth (Ian McKellen, Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films) and Lady Macbeth (Judi Dench) are pictured right above in a 1978 production.

 Shakespeare's Macbeth - Happiness and Success

10. Alcohol and sex don't mix!

“It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance” , the porter tells Macduff.



Key quotes on ethics and evil

Screw your courage to the sticking-place and we’ll not fail, Lady Macbeth.

Is this a dagger I see before me, the handle toward my hand?, Macbeth.

We but teach bloody instructions which, being taught, return to plague the inventor, Macbeth.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair, the Witches

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble, the Witches.

Blood will have blood, Macbeth.

Key quote on success

It [life] is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, Macbeth.


Key quote on decision making

Things without all remedy should be without regard, Lady Macbeth.


Key quotes on stress and pain

What’s done cannot be undone, Lady Macbeth.

The night is long that never finds the day, Malcolm.

Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break, Malcolm.


Key quote on relationships

There’s daggers in men’s smiles, Donalbain.


Key quote on fear

When our actions do not, our fears do make us traitors, Lady Macduff.

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