Here are our notes for Macbeth by William Shakespeare. In these notes, we outline the genre, historical context and structure of the play, central characters, main themes, the style of language, and the most important scenes. If you need more in-depth information, just follow the links.
Genre and historical background
- Genre: Macbeth is a drama or play. More specifically it is a tragedy because it centres on human suffering caused by fate and a tragic flaw within the main character himself. The ending of the play is tragic.
- In a play, there is no narrator. This makes the characters’ dialogue and actions even more important.
- The historical context: The play is believed to have been written between the Elizabethan era (named after Queen Elizabeth I, reigned 1558-1603) and the Jacobean era (named after King James I, reigned 1603-1625). Shakespeare was English, but the play is set in Medieval Scotland.
- The Chain of Being: The Elizabethan worldview was influenced by Christianity and focused on order over chaos. It was believed that everything had its fixed place in a strict hierarchy determined by God. This was called the Chain of Being. When Macbeth kills his king, he disrupts the Chain, and world order turns into chaos for everyone.
- Fate versus Free will: The Elizabethans also believed that their lives were fated. At the same time, they believed in free will. This paradox has to with the fact that the Elizabethan era was a mixture of old Medieval ideas and modern humanistic ones.
Overall action and structure
- Overall action (summary): Macbeth is a well-respected nobleman and soldier favoured by King Duncan, and he has a close relationship with his wife, Lady Macbeth. However, when three witches prophesy that he will become king, Macbeth kills King Duncan. This leads to more killings and prophecies, and eventually Macbeth loses his honour, loyal supporters, and wife. He is killed, Duncan’s son takes the throne, and order is restored.
- Dramatic structure: Macbeth is a short, fast-paced play. The first half focuses on crime and the second part on its consequences. When Macbeth kills his king, it is his point of no return; now he has to go on killing and lying. Wh