is a Scottish general and the thane of Glamis who is led to wicked thoughts by the prophecies of the three witches, especially
after their prophecy that he will be made thane of Cawdor comes true. Macbeth is a brave soldier and a powerful man, but he
is not a virtuous one. He is easily tempted into murder to fulfill his ambitions to the throne, and once he commits his first
crime and is crowned king of Scotland, he embarks on further atrocities with increasing ease. Ultimately, Macbeth proves himself
better suited to the battlefield than to political intrigue, because he lacks the skills necessary to rule without being a
tyrant. His response to every problem is violence and murder. Unlike Shakespeare’s great villains, such as Iago in Othello
and Richard III in Richard III,
Macbeth is never
comfortable in his role as a criminal. He is unable to bear the psychological consequences of his atrocities.
Macbeth’s wife, a deeply ambitious woman who lusts for power
and position. Early in the play she seems to be the stronger and more ruthless of the two, as she urges her husband to kill
and seize the crown. After the bloodshed begins, however, Lady Macbeth
falls victim to guilt and madness to an even greater degree than her husband. Her conscience affects her to such an extent
that she eventually commits suicide. Interestingly, she and Macbeth are presented as being deeply in love, and many of Lady
Macbeth’s speeches imply that her influence over her husband is primarily sexual. Their joint alienation from the world,
occasioned by their partnership in crime, seems to strengthen the attachment that they feel to each another.
The Three Witches
Three “black and midnight hags” who plot mischief against Macbeth using charms, spells, and
prophecies. Their predictions prompt him to murder Duncan, to order the deaths of Banquo
and his son, and to blindly believe in his own immortality. The play leaves the witches’ true identity unclear—aside
from the fact that they are servants of Hecate
, we know little about their place in the cosmos. In some ways they resemble the mythological Fates, who impersonally weave
the threads of human destiny. They clearly take a perverse delight in using their knowledge of the future to toy with and
destroy human beings.
The brave, noble general whose children, according to the witches’ prophecy, will inherit the Scottish
throne. Like Macbeth, Banquo thinks ambitious thoughts, but he does not translate those thoughts into action. In a sense,
Banquo’s character stands as a rebuke to Macbeth, since he represents the path Macbeth chose not to take: a path in
which ambition need not lead to betrayal and murder. Appropriately, then, it is Banquo’s ghost—and not Duncan’s—that
haunts Macbeth. In addition to embodying Macbeth’s guilt for killing Banquo, the ghost also reminds Macbeth that he
did not emulate Banquo’s reaction to the witches’ prophecy.
The good king of Scotland whom Macbeth, in his ambition for the crown, murders. Duncan is the model of
a virtuous, benevolent, and farsighted ruler. His death symbolizes the destruction of an order in Scotland that can be restored
only when Duncan’s line, in the person of Malcolm
, once more occupies the throne.
A Scottish nobleman hostile to Macbeth’s kingship
from the start. He eventually becomes a leader of the crusade to unseat Macbeth. The crusade’s mission is to place
the rightful king, Malcolm, on the throne, but Macduff
also desires vengeance for Macbeth’s murder of Macduff’s wife and young son.
The son of Duncan, whose restoration to the throne signals Scotland’s return to order following
Macbeth’s reign of terror. Malcolm becomes a serious challenge to Macbeth with Macduff’s aid (and the support
of England). Prior to this, he appears weak and uncertain of his own power, as when he and Donalbain
flee Scotland after their father’s murder.
The goddess of witchcraft, who helps the three witches work their mischief on Macbeth.
Banquo’s son, who survives Macbeth’s attempt to murder him. At the end of the play, Fleance
’s whereabouts are unknown. Presumably, he may come to rule Scotland, fulfilling the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s
sons will sit on the Scottish throne.
A Scottish nobleman.
A Scottish nobleman.
The Murderers -
A group of ruffians conscripted by Macbeth to murder Banquo, Fleance (whom they fail to kill), and Macduff’s
wife and children.
The drunken doorman of Macbeth’s castle.
Lady Macduff -
Macduff’s wife. The scene in her castle provides our only glimpse of a domestic realm other than
that of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. She and her home serve as contrasts to Lady Macbeth and the hellish world of Inverness.
Duncan’s son and Malcolm’s younger brother.