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Macbeth scene summaries

Scene Summaries: Act I – Part 1
Scene 1
Three witches meet in a deserted place and ask one another when they will meet
again. They prophesise they will meet upon a heath once a battle that is currently
waging has been ‘lost and won’. It is there that they will meet with Macbeth.
Scene 2
A sergeant from the battle reports to King Duncan and his sons, Malcolm and
Donalbain. He reports that the battle being fought between Scotland and Irish
rebels stood upon a knife’s edge, with both sides losing in heavy numbers, until
Macbeth and Banquo (Scottish generals) turned the tide in Scotland’s favour.
The Irish were then supported by the Norwegians, but Macbeth doubled
his efforts and killed the Norwegian King, claiming victory for Scotland. It was
discovered that the Thane of Cawdor was secretly working against Scotland with
the rebels, and Duncan pronounces his death sentence, rewarding Macbeth by
making him the new Thane of Cawdor.
Scene 3
The witches wait for Macbeth upon the heath, and eventually he arrives from the
battle with Banquo. The witches greet Macbeth as Thane of Glamis (which he
already is), Thane of Cawdor (which Duncan has just made him, but Macbeth
does not know it yet), and he ‘that shalt be King hereafter’ (implying that
Macbeth will become King in the future).
When Banquo asks what the future hold for him the witches tell him that
he is ‘lesser than Macbeth and greater, not so happy yet much happier’, and
forsee that he will father a long line of Kings but will not be King himself.
The witches disappear and, just as Macbeth and Banquo are considering
these things, troops arrive from Duncan’s camp and announce Macbeth is the
new Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth thinks to himself that ‘the greatest is behind’ and
begins to consider that if this part of the prophecy us true then he might become
King after all.
Scene 4
Duncan greets and thanks Macbeth and Banquo himself, praising their efforts in
battle. Duncan also announces that his heir to the throne will be his son,
Malcolm. Macbeth is distressed at this news, wondering what this means for the
prophecy. Driven by his ambition, he decides he may have to take matters into
his own hands if he is to become King.
At Duncan’s request, the King and his attendants will visit Macbeth’s
castle to celebrate the battle being won. Macbeth plans to write to his wife to let
her know of their arrival.
Scene Summaries: Act I – Part 2
Scene 5
Lady Macbeth reads a letter sent by her husband, Macbeth, and commits to do
everything possible to help him fulfil the prophecy of the witches.
Lady Macbeth fears that Macbeth is ‘too full o’ the milk of human
kindness’ and that is he is ‘not without ambition, but without the illness that
should attend it.’ In short, she believes that despite Macbeth’s ambition he does
not have the strength of will to murder his King.
With this in mind, Lady Macbeth resolves that it will be up to her to push
her husband forward and calls on spirits to ‘unsex me here’, doing away with her
more womanly traits to become more ruthless and ‘man-like’ in order to commit
the deed.
The scene ends with Lady Macbeth telling Macbeth to ‘leave all the rest to
Scene 6
This is a short scene designed to make it clear to the audience that Duncan is a
kind and just, but ultimately naïve King. He is welcomed to Macbeth’s castle by
Lady Macbeth but does not suspect the danger that awaits him, instead
commenting that the air around the castle ‘sweetly recommends itself unto our
gentle senses’.
Scene 7
This scene begins with a soliloquy, giving us an insight into Macbeth’s thoughts.
He is clearly troubled by the idea of killing his King and wrestles with the fact
that Duncan stays at Macbeth’s castle ‘in double trust’, as both his King and as his
guest. He also notes that Duncan his been nothing but kind to him and has
recently rewarded him for his efforts in battle. He recognises that ‘I have no spur
to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’erleaps
itself…’, meaning that the only reason he has for killing Duncan is his ambition.
He tells Lady Macbeth that ‘We will proceed no further in this business’,
but Lady Macbeth questions his manhood and his resolve. She tells Macbeth that
if she had promised to kill her own child, as Macbeth has promised to kill
Duncan, then even as the child drank from her own breast, smiling up at her, she
would still dash its brains out to fulfil her promise.
Lady Macbeth plots to drug Duncan’s guards with their wine and then
frame them for the murder by using their own daggers to kill Duncan. Macbeth
agrees to the plan, in awe of lady Macbeth’s ruthlessness, saying she should
‘bring forth men-children only’.
This marks the end of Act I.
Scene Summaries: Act II
Scene 1
Banquo is talking to his son Fleance when their conversation is interrupted by
Macbeth. The exchange between Banquo and Macbeth is tense, with Banquo
attempting to discuss the Witches, but Macbeth lies in reply that ‘I think not of
them’. When Macbeth is left to himself he sees a vision of a dagger in front of him.
Macbeth questions his state of mind as the dagger disappears like a phantom,
then reappears with blood upon it. He asks ‘Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to
feeling as to sight? Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation,
proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?’ We may speculate that this dagger
could represent Macbeth’s fate, as he is destined to kill Duncan immediately after
this scene, or as a symbol of Macbeth’s fears and doubts about his King being
manifested in front of him.
Scene 2
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth meet in the courtyard after Macbeth has killed
Duncan. In his haste, he as returned with blood on his hands and clothes, and the
murder weapons in his hands. Both are jumpy at every sound they hear, but it is
again Lady Macbeth who is calm and controlled under pressure, and she who
returns the daggers to the scene of the murder. Lady Macbeth questions
Macbeth’s manhood again, saying “My hands are of your colour, but I shame to
wear a heart so white.” A knocking is heard outside the castle gate and Macbeth
cries “Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!” Demonstrating his
regret over killing his King.
Scene 3
A Porter, who rambles about imagining himself as the porter to the gates of Hell,
admits Macduff and Lennox into the castle the morning after Duncan’s murder.
Macduff is the first to discover Duncan’s murdered body and grieves for his King,
waking the rest of the castle. Lady Macbeth pretends to faint at the scene and
Macbeth admits to killing the two guards in what he claims was a fit of passion
for his King, but Macduff has suspicions about Macbeth. Duncan’s two sons,
Malcom and Donalbain, privately decide to flee to England and Ireland
respectively, fearing that whomever killed their father may come for them next.
Scene 4
An Old Man and Ross discuss the strange things that occurred in nature the night
of Duncan’s death. A King was considered to be second only to God, and the
killing of a King was an unnatural act, reflected in the natural world. Examples
include a mousing owl killing a falcon (a much larger bird), which could be seen
as a metaphor for Macbeth killing Duncan, while Duncan’s horses flee their
stables, then eat each other. Macduff meets with the two men and relates that
news that Macbeth is to be crowned as the new King. His tone suggests that he
feels all these events are aligning too conveniently in Macbeth’s favour.
Scene Summaries: Act III
Scene 1
Banquo states of Macbeth that “Thou hast it now… and I fear thou play’dst most foully
for’t”, suspecting Macbeth of killing Duncan in order to become King. Banquo is also
hopeful that Macbeth’s side of the witches prophecy coming true is an indication that he
sons will one day be Kings.
Macbeth asks Banquo whether he will be attending his royal banquet that
evening, but their conversation is tense with each hiding something from the other.
Once Banquo leaves on his ride with Fleance, Macbeth speaks privately to two
murderers, who he convinces to murder Banquo and his son. Macbeth feels threatened
by the Witches’ prophecy and fears that “Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
and put a barren sceptre in my grip…No son of mine succeeding. If it be so, for Banquo’s
issue have I filed my mind; for them the gracious Duncan have I murdered.” These
words represent Macbeth’s fear that he has killed Duncan only to have Banquo’s sons
ultimately reap the rewards.
Scene 2
Lady Macbeth reflects on her unhappiness, but councils Macbeth that ‘what’s done is
done’, but Macbeth feels ‘We have scorched the snake not killed it’. Notice that in this
scene it is Macbeth who is pushing events forward, not Lady Macbeth as before. Also,
Macbeth does not reveal his plans to kill Banquo to Lady Macbeth.
Scene 3
The two murderers are joined by a third as they are about to attack Banquo and Fleance.
There is much speculation over whom the 3rd murderer may be, but his presence
suggests that Macbeth does not trust anyone and he is there as insurance. The
murderers manage to kill Banquo, but his son Fleance escapes.
Scene 4
Macbeth holds a banquet for the Scottish nobles, and laments that Banquo is not there,
despite knowing full well he is dead. To his horror, the ghost of Banquo appears, sitting
in his seat at the table, but only Macbeth can see him. Lady Macbeth tries to cover for
Macbeth’s irrational behaviour, suggesting he has had an illness since he was a boy that
brings on these fits. Aside to Macbeth she says the vision is “The very painting of your
fear”, suggesting the vision is simply Macbeth’s fears and insecurities manifesting in his
mind, similar to the dagger he saw before murdering Duncan. Ultimately the lords
present are asked to leave and Macbeth speaks of “Strange things I have in head, that
will to hand” and states “we are but young in deed”, implying this is only the beginning
of events to come and that he must act on the thoughts troubling his mind.
Scene 5
Hecate (the goddess of hell and witchcraft) meets the 3 witches and scolds them for not
involving her in their plans for Macbeth. She resolves that they will meet with Macbeth
again, this time lulling him into a false sense of security.
Scene 6
Lennox is suspicious of the recent events and notes that everything has worked
out all too conveniently for Macbeth. He hears news that English forces are
gathering under Duncan’s son Malcolm (the rightful heir to the throne) and that
Macduff has joined them.
Scene Summaries: Act IV
Scene 1
The Witches are making a charm, anticipating Macbeth’s arrival. Macbeth
demands answers about his future and is shown 3 visions which appear out of
the cauldron. The first is a soldier who warns him to ‘Beware Macduff’, which
confirms Macbeth’s suspicions about Macduff’s loyalty. The second vision is a
child covered in blood who states that “none of woman born shall harm
Macbeth”. Macbeth feels over-confident at this statement, thinking himself
invincible, and he feels more so when a child, crowned, with tree in its hand says
“Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane
Hill shall come against him”, which seems equally impossible. Finally, when
asking if Banquo’s sons will become Kings, Macbeth is shown a vision of a long
line of Kings with the last holding a mirror, reflecting the line back again, and at
the end of the line stands Banquo. This confirms Macbeth’s fears, and they are
confirmed again when Lennox brings news that Macduff has joined forces with
Malcolm. Macbeth resolves to kill Macduff’s family and servants for his betrayal.
Scene 2
Lady Macduff is introduced as bitter about her husband’s recent departure,
without any explanation as to why he had left. Ross defends Macduff, saying he’s
sure he had reasons for doing so. Lady Macduff and her son exchange some last
words before murderers enter and kill Macduff’s son, with Lady Macduff fleeing
but being followed by the murderers.
Scene 3
Macduff greets Malcolm in England, pledging his allegiance, but Malcolm is not
quick to trust Macduff and tests him first. He convinces Macduff that he would be
a far more terrible King than Macbeth, despite Macbeth’s terrible crimes, and
when Macduff despairs for his country Malcolm reveals himself to in fact be a
virtuous man, as Macduff had hoped. Later, Ross brings news of the murder of
Macduff’s family and when Macduff despairs Malcolm tells him to “dispute it like
a man”. Macduff answers that he “must also feel it as a man”, providing a contrast
between he and Macbeth when Macbeth’s manhood was questioned by his wife.
The Act ends with Malcolm, Macduff, Siward (an English general) and the English
forces all poised to attack Scotland and replace the ‘tyrant’ Macbeth as King.
Scene Summaries: Act V
Scene 1
A Doctor and Gentlewoman observes the strange behaviours of Lady Macbeth in the castle. Lady
Macbeth sleepwalks and talks without noticing their presence and the Gentlewoman seems to
suggest that this is a routine she goes through nightly. Lady Macbeth speaks in riddles but seems
to confess to her knowledge and part in the murders of Duncan, Banquo and Macduff’s family
with fractured sentences like “The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?” Lady Macbeth
also makes the motion of constantly washing her hands, scrubbing at imaginary blood frantically,
saying “Out damn spot! Out I say!... will these hands ne’er be clean?” The Doctor understands
what all this means but fears he can not cure insanity. He also notes that “I think, but dare not
speak.” Afraid to speak against Macbeth.
Scene 2
Scottish forces loyal to Malcolm and the invading English army discuss the battle and note of
Macbeth that “Now does he feel his murders sticking on his hands…Those he commands move
only in command, nothing in love; now does he feel his title hang loose about him.” This indicates
that Macbeth has not followers or support except those who only follow his orders in fear.
Scene 3
Macbeth is frantic yet over-confident as the battle approaches, still thinking himself invincible
thanks to the Witches’ prophecies. News is also brought to him about his wife’s illness, but he
ignores the doctor’s explanation that sickness of the mind is not so easily cured.
Scene 4
Malcolm formulates a plan to hide the numbers of his army but cutting down branches of Birnam
wood, with each soldier holding them in front of him. This hints that one of the Witches’ visions
shown to Macbeth is about to come true, as it will seem the wood is moving as the army marches
towards the castle.
Scene 5
Macbeth hears the cry of a woman screaming but is unmoved by it, and he notes that “I have
almost forgot the taste of fears. The time has been, my senses would have cooled to hear a nightshriek… I have supped full with horrors.” It is discovered that the cry came from Lady Macbeth
and she is now dead, but again Macbeth is emotionless. He says only that “She should have died
hereafter, there would have been time for such a word.” He then reflects on the futility of life,
likening a man’s life to that of “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and
then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Scene 6
Malcolm’s army arrives at the castle walls.
Scene 7
The army invades the castle, with Young Siward the first to confront Macbeth. Macbeth kills him,
still clinging to the prophecy that none of woman born can harm him. Macduff seeks Macbeth for
himself, to avenge his family.
Scene 8
Macbeth and Macduff at last face off against one another. Macduff reveals that he was “from his
mother’s womb untimely ripped”, meaning he was born by caesarean and is technically not “of
woman born.” Macduff kills Macbeth and places his head upon a spike.
Scene 9
Everyone rejoices as Malcolm is to be crowned King, with Malcolm recognising Macbeth and Lady
Macbeth only as “that dead butcher and his fiend like Queen”. It is interesting to note this
description of the two, compared to how they were presented at the beginning of the play.
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