Macbeth Book Summary - Macbeth Book explained in key points
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Macbeth summary

William Shakespeare

Regicide and Revenge in one of the World's Most Famous Tragedies

4.7 (127 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

Macbeth by William Shakespeare is a tragedy about a Scottish general who hears a prophecy from witches that he will become king. Driven by greed and ambition, he murders the current king and descends into madness and despair.

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    Act One

    Thunder booms and lightning crackles as three bearded women enter the stage. They’re witches –⁠ and they must decide when next to meet. Perhaps when the nearby battle is finished? Yes, that’ll do. At sunset, they’ll meet upon the heath and speak to Macbeth. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” they chant as they exit.

    Elsewhere, King Duncan of Scotland receives a battlefield report. His generals, Banquo and Macbeth, have defeated the opposing Norwegians, led by the traitorous general Macdonwald. Due to his betrayal, King Duncan strips Macdonwald of his title –⁠ Thane of Cawdor –⁠ and awards it to Macbeth. 

    In the next scene, thunder strikes again, ushering in the three witches. They hear a drumbeat: here comes Macbeth!

    Macbeth, accompanied by Banquo, approaches. Each witch hails Macbeth differently: as the Thane of Glamis, the Thane of Cawdor, and finally as king. As for Banquo, they hail him as “lesser than Macbeth and greater” and say that his children shall be kings.

    Macbeth is Thane of Glamis –⁠ this he already knows. But Thane of Cawdor? And king? Why would the witches address him as such?

    Before any of his questions can be answered, the witches vanish. While Macbeth and Banquo stand, puzzled, two other Scottish nobles enter. They tell Macbeth that Duncan has just pronounced him Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is shocked –⁠ one of the witches’ pronouncements has already come true. Can he truly be destined to be king, too?

    Afterward, Macbeth and Banquo greet King Duncan. Duncan names his son Malcolm his heir, then declares that he’ll soon visit Macbeth at his castle, Dunsinane. 

    Hearing Duncan’s declaration regarding Malcolm, Macbeth is incensed –⁠ Malcolm clearly stands in the way of the kingship. Immediately, he feels himself struck by “black and deep desires” and asks the stars to “hide [their] fires” so his wishes remain invisible. He’s beginning to imagine the terrible deeds he might soon need to commit to obtain kingship.

    Next, in advance of his own and Duncan’s arrival at Inverness, Macbeth writes a letter to his wife, Lady Macbeth, informing her of his new title and the witches’ predictions.

    Immediately, Lady Macbeth begins to have megalomaniacal visions. They must plan for Macbeth to murder Duncan so Macbeth can take the kingship. But is Macbeth enough of a man to do the deed? She worries about his nature –⁠ it’s “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness.” She’ll have to influence him with some of her own, much more ruthless nature.

    A messenger enters to announce Macbeth and the King’s imminent arrival, and Lady Macbeth resumes her machinations. She calls for “spirits” to “unsex” her and fill her from head to toe with “direst cruelty.” She wishes to feel no remorse, for her womanly nature to disappear so as not to interfere with her bloody mission.

    After the chilling speech, Macbeth enters, and Lady Macbeth tells her husband what she wants him to do. Macbeth stops short of agreeing but says they’ll speak again.

    In the final scene of Act One, Macbeth wishes for the assassination to be over as quickly as possible. He admits feeling guilty about the plot –⁠ Macbeth is the host, after all, and should be protecting the king from prospective murderers, not planning to do the deed himself. Plus, the king’s virtues are obvious –⁠ won’t the heavens object to him being so cruelly killed?

    Here, Lady Macbeth enters. Macbeth tells her that he no longer wants to go through with the murder, but Lady Macbeth won’t hear it. She questions his manhood and tries to rile him up. She tells him that she, who has felt a mother’s tender love, would murder her own baby –⁠ and brutally, at that –⁠ if she’d previously committed to doing so. She tells Macbeth to “screw [his] courage to the sticking place” and get it over with. She and his two chamberlains will get Duncan drunk and then Macbeth will murder him. At last, he agrees.

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    What is Macbeth about?

    Macbeth (1606) is the Shakespearean tragedy of Scottish general Macbeth and his doomed attempt to seize his country’s throne. His ambitions ignited by a prophecy spoken to him by three witches, Macbeth’s path to power begins with anxiety and reticence and ends with callousness and cruelty. His story is a timeless exploration of guilt, paranoia, madness, prophecy, and the evils of ambition.

    Macbeth Review

    Macbeth (1623) by William Shakespeare is a captivating tragedy that explores the destructive consequences of unchecked ambition. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Its examination of the corrosive nature of power and the moral dilemmas faced by the characters gives readers a thought-provoking reflection on the human condition.
    • The play's dark and atmospheric setting, filled with supernatural elements, adds an eerie and thrilling dimension to the story, keeping readers on the edge of their seats.
    • Shakespeare's masterful language, with its poetic and evocative imagery, allows readers to immerse themselves in the emotional turmoil and psychological depth of the characters.

    Who should read Macbeth?

    • Shakespeare lovers who haven’t had the chance to read Macbeth 
    • Those who find Shakespeare’s original language difficult to enjoy
    • Macbeth fans who want a refresher

    About the Author

    William Shakespeare is perhaps the most famous writer in all of English literature. He lived at the height of the English Renaissance and penned such iconic plays as Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Richard III, as well as a series of over 100 sonnets and other poetry.

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    Macbeth FAQs 

    What is the main message of Macbeth?

    The main message of Macbeth is the destructive nature of unchecked ambition.

    How long does it take to read Macbeth?

    The reading time for Macbeth can vary. But don't worry, you can read the Blinkist summary in just 15 minutes.

    Is Macbeth a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Macbeth is definitely worth reading! It's a gripping tale of ambition, power, and the consequences of our actions.

    Who is the author of Macbeth?

    William Shakespeare is the author of Macbeth.

    What to read after Macbeth?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Macbeth, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
    • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
    • Persuasion by Jane Austen
    • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
    • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
    • Beowulf by Unknown
    • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    • Animal Farm by George Orwell
    • The Tempest by William Shakespeare