This study guide will help you analyze William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. We give you notes on the play, summaries, background information about the Elizabethan era, and in-depth analysis of popular scenes. We also suggest ways to interpret the play and put it into perspective. As a bonus, we guide you through Shakespeare in relation to the oral exam.

Note: A text version of Macbeth can be found online as well as in various textbooks. While the numbers of acts and scenes are always the same, line numbers may vary depending on the edition. The quotes in this webbook have been taken from The Complete Macbeth. An Annotated Edition of the Shakespeare Play by Donald J. Richardson, 2013.

Presentation of the text

Title: The Tragedy of Macbeth (1623)

Playwright: William Shakespeare

Genre: Drama

Macbeth is considered one of Shakespeare's greatest dramatic works, despite being one of the shortest. It is believed that the play was first performed in 1606 in front of the Danish King Christian IV and the British King James I, who also financially supported Shakespeare's theater troupe. James I was a Scotsman, and Shakespeare is believed to have included a tribute to James I in his play about royal power struggles in Scotland.

The play was first published in 1623 in the so-called First Folio of Shakespeare's complete plays.

More help

You can find more information on how to analyze a Shakespeare play in our topic guide about William Shakespeare. You can also read about Shakespeare texts in relation to your SRP or exam.

William Shakespeare

This topic guide gives you thorough knowledge about the famous English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. We give you a biography of him, explain the Elizabethan era, and offer a glossary of Shakespeare-related terms. We also explain how to analyze his plays, sonnets, dramatic devices, and language in general.

Here you can read an extract from our study guide:

Despite Banquo’s healthy skepticism towards the witches, he almost appears too trusting towards Macbeth. Banquo does not seem to realize that if their individual prophecies both come true, Banquo and his heirs will be in danger. Macbeth has been promised that he will become king, and Banquo that he will father future kings. This would make it logical for Macbeth to remove Banquo and his line of heirs so that Macbeth will be the one fathering future kings. 

Perhaps this is the downside of not being imaginative: Just as Banquo cannot believe the witches are real, he simply cannot imagine that his friend would turn on him.

However, once Duncan has been murdered and Macbeth crowned as king, Banquo becomes nervous. This is clear from his soliloquy, which he addresses at Macbeth (who is not there): “Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all./ As the weird women promised, and I fear,/ Thou play’dst most foully for’t.” (3.1.1-3). 

In the end, Banquo seems to decide to give his loyalty to the new king, Macbeth, in the hope that all will end well. But Macbeth has him murdered before long. Banquo’s son Fleance escapes, though, which indicates that Banquo may indeed father a line of kings.

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