Scenes in detail

In the following, we give you a detailed analysis of selected scenes of Shakespeare's Macbeth. The scenes have been chosen according to their popularity and general importance to the overall plot of the play. However, note that our analysis is no substitute for actually reading and analysing the text yourself. You still need to put in some work before you can get the most out of our analysis.

In Act 1, Scene 1, we meet the three witches. This rather short scene introduces some of the main themes of the play to us. Via the stormy weather, the witches, and their strange language we also understand that this is a world where the natural order of things has been upset and that something bad is coming.

In Act 1, Scene 3, Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches and each receive a prophecy. This event kick-starts Macbeth’s ambition to become king and thus becomes a major catalyst in the plot. This scene also deepens our understanding of Macbeth’s character as we clearly see how his reaction to the supernatural predictions differs from Banquo’s.

In Act 1, Scene 5, we are introduced to Lady Macbeth. Unlike her hesitant husband who considers the consequences, she comes across as a strong-willed woman who is quick to act. She recognises that Macbeth may be too soft to go for the throne, which is why she now dramatically orders evil spirits to remove her feminine characteristics so that she may become strong enough to assist her husband in becoming king.

In Act 2, Scene 2, Macbeth is at his point of no return: he murders King Duncan in his sleep. The setting underlines the horror of the event; the scene takes place at night in the claustrophobic rooms of Macbeth’s castle. After the murder, we clearly see the difference in character between Macbeth and his wife. While he is horrified at what he has done, she is confident.

In Act 3, Scene 4, we have the climax of the play. Macbeth is now king and has secretly had Banquo murdered, but Banquo’s ghost returns to haunt him at the banquet. His wife tries to save face for both of them, but Macbeth ends up having a nervous breakdown in front of their supporters. This scene also marks a turning point in the relationship between Macbeth and his wife, which has till now been very close.

In Act 5, Scene 5, Macbeth’s castle is under attack from Malcolm’s army, and he receives the news that Lady Macbeth is dead. He makes a rather ambiguous remark about this, but eventually seems to give up on everything now that he is alone in the world. More bad news arrive as he is told that Birnam Wood is moving towards his castle - according to the witches’ second prophecy this means death for Macbeth. This is starting to look like a tragedy.

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