Here’s a summary of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, including each Act and Scene.
It’s perfect for anyone taking English Literature at GCSE, IGCSE, or A-Level — particularly on the AQA, CIE, OCR, Edexcel, and WJEC exam boards. This work was completed by one of my students, with the aim of making each scene description as short as possible so you can get a quick understanding of the whole story in just a few minutes!
Thanks for reading! If you find this resource useful, you can take a look at our full online Macbeth course here. Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!
This course includes:
- A full set of video lessons on each key element of the text: summary, themes, setting, characters, context, attitudes, analysis of key quotes, essay questions, essay examples
- Downloadable documents for each video lesson
- A range of example B-A* / L7-L9 grade essays, both at GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-Level (age 16+) with teacher comments and mark scheme feedback
- A bonus Macbeth workbook designed to guide you through each scene of the play!
For more help with Macbeth and Tragedy, read our article here.
MACBETH BY SHAKESPEARE – SUMMARY
1.1 We meet witches, and they tell us the story of Macbeth. They’re discussing a battle between Scotland and Norway. Duncan is the King of Scotland, while Macbeth is fighting for Duncan, Macbeth is a war general. The only people we meet in the first scene are the witches.
1.2 In this scene the captain appears and tells Duncan about Macbeth and Banquo’s success in battle. Thane of Cawdor joined the Norwegians. Duncan sends the Thane to be executed. He’s very happy with Macbeth and Banquo.
1.3 Moorlands, Macbeth, and Banquo meet the witches. The witches foreshadow the succession of Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor and eventually the King of Scotland. The witches tell Banquo that his sons will be kings.
1.4 King Duncan’s castle.
Duncan is upset that the Thane of Cawdor betrayed him. He then makes Macbeth the new Thane of Cawdor, this surprises Macbeth as this shows that the witches’ prophecies are starting to come true. Duncan’s son Malcolm says that he will become the next king.
1.5 Macbeth’s castle, Inverness. Lady Macbeth is introduced.
Macbeth arrives and Lady Macbeth reveals her plan of killing Duncan, Macbeth is unsure but Lady Macbeth is very persuasive, this reveals how their relationship works.
1.6 Duncan arrives at the castle, Lady Macbeth welcomes him.
1.7 Macbeth’s uncertainty is shown in the scene.
2.1 Banquo and Macbeth discuss the witches’ predictions, Macbeth is very worried again, he starts to have hallucinations, these are very important, he sees a floating dagger, covered in blood, pointing to Duncan’s room. He also hears a bell that signals the end of the scene.
The murder happens off stage, so we don’t see it happen.
2.2 Lady Macbeth is getting the guards drunk, and Macbeth runs in, covered in blood in a panic. He thinks that the guards woke up when he was doing it, he’s very paranoid. Lady Macbeth shouts at him for being weak.
2.3 Duncan is dead. Malcolm and Donalbain (Duncan’s sons) have run away. Malcolm runs away to England, while Donalbain goes to Ireland. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth use this to blame them for Duncan’s murder, so they can avoid being blamed themselves.
2.4 Russ is a different Thane, he is arguing with an old man. Macduff arrives and tells them that Macbeth has been made king.
3.1 Banquo is worried about Macbeth and suspects Macbeth of conspiracy. The Macbeths invite him to a feast.
Macbeth is worried about Banquo, since the Witches said that Banquo’s sons will be Kings. He asks 2 servants to hire murderers to kill Banquo and his sons.
3.2 Lady Macbeth is in a different part of the castle and she is panicking. She’s stressed. She calls for Macbeth to comfort her, but he’s also very stressed, so they just talk about their panic together
3.3 The murderers try and kill Banquo and Fleance. Fleance flees while Banquo dies.
3.4 They’re having the feast at the castle, the murderer comes in and tells Macbeth that Banquo is dead but Fleance fled. Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost at the table, and panics. Lady Macbeth tries to smooth things over.
3.5 The witches meet Hecate, an ancient goddess.
3.6 Lennox discusses what has happened. People think Fleance killed Banquo, a parallel to the murder of Duncan. Lennox starts to think that it was Macbeth.
4.1 A parallel to the first scene. The witches appear, Macbeth asks them for help, and they give 3 more predictions.
1. Beware Macduff.
2. “none of woman born / shall harm Macbeth” (4.1.96–97)
3. Macbeth will remain, king, until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill (where his castle is).
Because he is worried about Macduff, he murders his wife and children.
4.2 Macduff’s castle, Lady Macduff is really annoyed since she thinks he abandoned everyone. A group of murderers arrives, they attempt to kill them, one of the sons runs away. Lady Macduff and Macduff are similar to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
4.3 Macduff and Malcolm decide to test each other out. Malcolm says that he is going to return with 10,000 soldiers. Macduff learns that his wife and children have been killed, and vows revenge.
5.1 Lady Macbeth has gone mad, she starts sleepwalking and confesses what she has done.
5.2 Outside the castle, the army has prepared to attack, and they call him a tyrant.
5.3 Macbeth is very confident that he will be fine, he puts his armor on even though the battle is a long way away, he learns that Lady Macbeth is going crazy and he asks a doctor to fix her.
5.4 Malcolm decides to cut down the forest and carries the trees to the castle to disguise the actual numbers of the soldiers.
5.5 Macbeth is very boastful that his castle will stand, he orders banners to be hung. Offstage you hear a woman scream, Macbeth learns that Lady Macbeth has killed herself. He’s shocked but decides to continue. A messenger tells him that a forest has come to the castle. And he decides that he will die fighting.
5.6 The battle starts.
5.7 Macbeth seems to be winning.
5.8 Macduff is searching for Macbeth.
5.9 Malcolm and Siward enter the castle
5.10 Macbeth and Macduff fight, we learn that Macduff was born by a cesarean, at this point Macbeth knows that he’s going to die.
5.11 Macduff arrives with Macbeth’s head, Malcolm curses Macbeth and his wife. Malcolm is now reinstated as the rightful king.