Macbeth Summary - Act 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 (A Shakespeare classic)

Macbeth Summary

Macbeth Summary By Act

TL;DR: When Macbeth, at the hands of 3 witches, finds that he is the future king, he, with assistance from Lady Macbeth kills people to become a king; both die in the end.

Brief summary: Macbeth is a Scottish general who on his way through a moorland, encounters three witches who tell him that in the near future he will be the King of Scotland. With assistance from his wife, he murders the king and kills other people out of paranoia. It all ends in the Civil war, more death and Macbeth is overthrown.

Macbeth Act 1 Summary 

After winning two battles in a day, two Scottish generals, Macbeth and Banquo on their way to their king meet three witches in a bleak moorland. The witches tell Macbeth that he will be elevated twice in status; to the position of Thane of Cawdor and then the King of Scotland. When Banquo asks about his future, they state that though he will not be a king, his descendants will be. Macbeth demands more but the ‘weird sisters’ vanish into the thin air. 

Just after the witches disappear, King’s men Ross and Angus appear and tell Macbeth that he has been named Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan in reward for his bravery and success in the recent battles. The promotion supports the witches’ prophecy & Macbeth finds himself in a daze and the sudden unnerving thoughts of murdering King Duncan shakes him to the core. Soon they reunite with the joyous King who reveals his desire to spend a night at Macbeth’s castle at Inverness. Macbeth leaves for his castle and sends a messenger with a letter to his wife. Lady Macbeth receives the letter and learns about the prophecy and her husband’s new titles; she pledges to help him become the King no matter what. 

Macbeth Act 2 summary

Macbeth returns to his castle and meets Lady Macbeth. King Duncan arrives immediately by Macbeth and is received by Lady Macbeth. Macbeth and his wife plot to murder Duncan and wait for everyone to go to sleep. When the appointed time arrives, Lady Macbeth renders the guards unconscious by giving them drugged wine. Macbeth enters the room and kills the king, and regrets it immediately. Lady Macbeth reassures him and leaves the daggers by the king’s side. When Macduff arrives and finds the King dead, Macbeth pretends to be furious and kills the drunk guards. When Duncan’s sons hear about their father’s murder, to save their own lives they leave the country and are declared murderers of their own father.

Macbeth Act 3 Summary

Macbeth succeeds in becoming the king but is constantly tormented by insecurity. The words uttered by the witches that Banquo’s descendants will be the future kings (as per the prophecy) haunts him relentlessly, and he decides to kill Banquo & his son. As arranged by Macbeth, Banquo is killed by the assassins in the darkness but his son Fleance escapes. That same night, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo during his state banquet and worries the courtiers with his mad response. Lady Macbeth intervenes and dismisses the court to avert more damage but fails to calm her husband. 

Macbeth Act 4 Summary

Macbeth, shaken by what he has witnessed, seeks out the witches. They tell him that he doesn’t have to worry about his safety till Birnam Wood stands against him in battle. They tell him that he doesn’t have to fear anyone born of a woman.  However, they foretell that the kingdom will still be inherited by Banquo's son. Macbeth in his state of madness slaughters many, including the family of Macduff who had gone to seek one of Duncan’s sons, Malcolm, at the court of the English King. Though young Malcolm is unsure, Macduff, engulfed by grief, coaxes him to march into battle against Macbeth. 

In his remote castle at Dunsinane, Macbeth’s sense of safety vanishes when he finds out that Birnam Wood is marching towards him with Malcolm's army. The army uses branches from the forest to camouflage so as not to give away their presence before their assault on Macbeth’s stronghold. Amidst all this, Lady Macbeth, tortured by her conscience, sleepwalks and tells everything she has done (every dirty secret) to her doctor. Overwrought and remorseful, Lady Macbeth commits suicide. Macbeth finds about Lady Macbeth’s suicide and mourns. The battle begins.

Macbeth Act 5 Summary

Amidst a losing battle, Macduff challenges Macbeth. When Macbeth learns that Macduff is of cesarean birth, the feeling of doom overpowers him & he surrenders. Macduff kills Macbeth and takes his head to Malcolm, who eventually declares peace and leaves for Scone where he is crowned as the King.