Macbeth condensed

The epic tale of Macbeth and his wife is set in Scotland around 1040 A.D., a time we’re told of witches, violence and assassinations.  If that is true, then this play fairly represents the era.  The play was first performed in 1603. James I of Scotland was England’s new king. England’s James I was Scotland’s James VI and was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots; Mary, Queen of Scots and England’s Queen Elizabeth I being cousins.  Elizabeth I had just died and Elizabeth I had been a Shakespeare benefactor.  It’s been said this play had been written and performed to honor James I, James I being England’s first king born in Scotland. 

Act 1. As the play opens, three witches (also known as the Weird Sisters) tell Macbeth “All hail, Macbeth, that shall be king hereafter,” and Banquo that “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.”  The witches then vanish. We learn that Macbeth and Banquo were heroes in a battle against the Norwegians, but that England’s thane of Cawdor had been disloyal.  King Duncan has the thane of Cawdor executed and transfers the title to Macbeth, putting him in line to be king. But a little later King Duncan names his son Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland, and the Prince of Cumberland is the direct heir to the Scottish throne. Through a letter, Macbeth tells his wife of his good fortune and notes that Malcolm now has the inside track to the crown.  He asks her to think about where they might go with all this. She does. King Duncan and his entourage plan to visit the Macbeths at their castle at Inverness. Lady Macbeth convinces her husband that they must use this opportunity to kill Duncan, and find a way to blame Malcolm. She develops a plan.  A frightened Macbeth reluctantly agrees to her plan. Duncan arrives.  Lady Macbeth gossips with the king’s guards, the wine flowing freely.  The guards fall asleep.

Act 2.  Alone and afraid, Macbeth makes his way to Duncan’s chambers.  It’s here where he famously has an imaginary vision, saying to himself “Is this a dagger I see before me?”  He murders the king, but isn’t up to killing the guards as planned.  He returns to his wife with the bloody daggers, his wife saying “this is a sorry sight.”  He says “I’ll go no more.”  She responds “Infirm of purpose. Give me the daggers.”  She murders the guards, leaving the bloody daggers on their pillows.  Macduff, a young Scotish nobleman, arrives to waken Duncan. It is almost dawn.  He finds Duncan murdered.  He wakens everyone, causing much commotion.  Lady Macbeth enters saying “What’s the business?”  Malcolm’s brother Donalbain enters saying “What is amiss?” Macduff tells him “Your royal father’s murdered.” Finding the bloody daggers in the guard’s room, an aide to the late king says the guards “as it seemed, had done ‘t.”  Fearing for their safety, Malcolm says he will flee to England; Donalbain saying “to Ireland I.”  Macduff announces that Macbeth is to be crowned king at Scone, Malcolm by this time is nowhere to be found.  Macduff plans to return to his castle at Fife.  Many in the entourage believe Malcolm and Donalbain to be guilty, both having so quickly fled.

Act 3.  Macbeth has his buddy Banquo murdered, fearing Banquo knows too much.  Macbeth and his wife have a dinner party planned for that evening.  During the party Macbeth goes to the door and learns that Banquo’s “throat is cut.” While Macbeth is at the door, the ghost of Banquo slips into the banquet hall and sits at Macbeth’s place at the table.  The ghost is seen only by Macbeth.  Macbeth cries out at the ghost “Never shake thy gory locks at me.” Lady Macbeth cries “Sit, worthy friends.” The ghost exits. Things settle down. Macbeth offers a toast to the missing-from-the-party Banquo.  The ghost reenters, again only seen by Macbeth.  Macbeth cries “Quit my sight. Let the earth hide thee.”  A lord says “What sights, my lord?”  Lady Macbeth interrupts saying “He grows worse and worse. At once good night.” The banquet ends. Lady Macbeth says to her husband “you lack the season of all natures, sleep.” In the morning Macbeth visits the witches. They tell him to “beware of Macduff” but that he has nothing to fear from “any man of woman born” or until “Birnam Wood goes to Dunsinane.”  It’s learned that Macduff has left his castle at Fife and returned to England.

Act 4. Murderers hired by Macbeth slay Macduff’s wife and children at Fife.  Macduff, unaware of the slaughter of his family, meets in England with Malcolm. Malcolm, fearing Macduff is acting as an agent for Macbeth, puts Macduff to a loyalty test, which he passes.  They team up, Malcolm suggesting Macduff lead their cause to overthrow Macbeth.  Siward, Malcolm’s uncle and leader of ten thousand English troops, will join them in their cause.  When Macduff learns that his family has been murdered, Malcolm tells him to “dispute it like a man.”  Macduff says “I shall do so, but I must also feel it as a man.”  Malcolm is ready for action, saying “Macbeth is ripe for shaking. The night is long that never finds the day.”

Act 5. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are at their castle at Dunsinane.  Lady Macbeth of late has been walking and talking in her sleep.  Macduff, Malcolm and Siward and the English troops have assembled in Birnam Wood, located just outside the castle at Dunsinane.  Macbeth scolds his doctor, telling him to “cure her.”  The doctor responds “Therein the patient must minister to herself.”  Lady Macbeth soon dies. Macbeth famously says “Out, out brief candle! Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets upon the stage and then is heard no more.”  Using tree branches as shields, the soldiers attack the castle at Dunsinane. Macbeth learns that Macduff’s mother died just before he was born. Macduff slays Macbeth. Macduff proclaims Malcolm to be king of Scotland.