The plot begins with the end of a war, or an invasion, to be exact. The Norwegians had waged war on Scotland with the assistance of rebels but were majorly defeated and forced to retreat due to the heroic efforts of the Scots. Two, in particular, Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis, and Banquo end up being singled out for their immense bravery on the battlefield. Duncan, the king of Scotland is notified of their performance. He also learns of the former’s exceptional success in the execution of Macdonald, who had previously betrayed the king. Incidentally, the king is also notified of another betrayal: the Thane of Cawdor has shifted to the Norwegian side. Thus, the title of Thane of Cawdor is bestowed upon Macbeth.
Meanwhile, three witches await the appearance of the two aforementioned victors as they return home in all their glory. As Macbeth arrives, the witches proclaim him as, at first, the Thane of Glamis (his current status), and then, as the Thane of Cawdor (his soon-to-be official title) and at last, as the king of Scotland. The two warriors are startled and confused with Banquo approaching the witches as to their own introduction. Instead, the witches predict that while Banquo may not be destined to be king, his line of descendants shall be more fortunate. Before they can be further apprehended, they disappear into the air, while, at the same time, messengers appear with the message that Macbeth has been made the new Thane of Cawdor. Banquo is of immediate concern that this news may ignite the ambition of dethroning the king in Macbeth’s mind. His suspicions are correct; Macbeth imagines killing the king to make the third prophecy true as well and is horrified at the darkness of his own thoughts.
The next scene jumps to a conversation between the king and his son, Malcolm, who is discussing the fate of the previous Thane of Cawdor when Macbeth and Banquo enter the room. Duncan informs everybody present in the room of his intentions to make Malcolm his heir. He further notifies Macbeth of his intention to stay for a while at the newly stated thane of Cawdor’s home in Inverness.
At that moment, in Inverness, a different scene is playing out. Lady Macbeth has discovered a letter her husband had written as a form of a memorandum regarding his episode with the witches. Unlike Macbeth, his wife has no qualms about murdering the king for her own benefits. She is now contemplating how to convince her apparently timid husband to actually go through with the deed. When a messenger comes with the announcement of the royal visit, Lady Macbeth has already formulated the plan of the Duncan’s assassination in her mind. When Macbeth returns home, his wife calls out to him as the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor respectively, urging him to fulfill the last stop of his destined prophecy as the king himself. Lady Macbeth constantly taunts her husband with his lack of manhood and courage, ultimately using his male ego to agree to the plan. She assures him that all arrangements for the murder shall be made; all he has to do is do his part.
The king arrives in Inverness with Banquo at his side as Lady Macbeth greets him alone. Duncan wonders and asks for Macbeth, who is, at that moment, going through an emotional turmoil as he attempts to prioritize morality and ambition. He is even more disturbed by the idea of murdering a man who is not only related to him but is also a person who has put immense trust in him. At one point he seems to have resisted the temptation and informs his wife that he shall not be a part of this great sin. As she had done before, and with consistent success, Lady Macbeth goads her husband’s ego by declaring how the only way he could ever dream to be a man is if he succeeds in fulfilling his destiny, be the consequences a smear on his morality. The audience is also made aware of the more key details of the plan. After the king has fallen asleep, the bodyguards standing before the doors of his room shall be made drunk. After that, Macbeth may proceed to kill the king, whose death shall then be blamed on the two drunken guards.
After much hesitation and further resisting, Macbeth is finally convinced to go ahead with the plan. The next morning, Macduff, a thane of Scotland, finds the king dead in his bed. As a feat of seeming outrage, Macbeth then proceeds to execute the two drunken bodyguards with his own hands. This is to ensure that there are no doubts regarding who the accused are in the case of this assassination.
Meanwhile, Duncan’s sons leave the country in fear of their own lives, which, instead, makes them gain suspicion of the country people who now believe that Duncan’s sons may have had something to do with his murder. Amidst all these confusion and conspiracy theories, Macbeth is crowned the king of Scotland, thus enabling him to reach his ultimate status. At the same time, Macbeth is disturbed by the presence of Banquo, who is not only aware of the witches’ prophecy but also has been destined to be the ancestor of kings. Therefore, Macbeth not only sees Banquo as a threat to his own life but also those of his future male heirs.
Now that he has already committed three murders in order to complete his dream, Macbeth has no hesitations about committing it again. He arranges for a great feast, where Banquo has also been asked to be present, along with other thanes. This time, instead of doing it himself, Macbeth hires other men to do his dirty deed. The murderers are successful in the killing of Banquo but are unable to assassinate his son, Fleance, who flees. Macbeth is relieved at the news of Banquo’s death and is disturbed, but to a lesser extent, about Fleance’s escape. He returns to the feast, but alas! Macbeth is unable to be rid of Banquo’s presence; he hallucinates that Banquo’s apparition is sitting at the head of the table. Lady Macbeth hastily attempts to explain away her husband’s erratic behavior as a side effect of acquiring the title of the king at such a short notice. However, the thanes are now wary of Macbeth, made more suspicious due to the untimely death of Banquo. Macduff, the thane who had originally discovered the king’s dead body, moves his allegiance in support of Malcolm, who is by now residing in England and attempting to recapture his country back with an army.
These consequent events makes Macbeth decide on visiting the witches once again, in the hopes of being informed about his fate amidst these troubling times. The witches are not stating anything themselves this time, rather allowing apparitions to come forth with the fate of the king. The first one is that of a floating head which warns him of Macduff. The second is a bloody child who assures him that no man who is born of a woman has the ability to harm Macbeth. The third vision is also an assurance coming from a crowned child who affirms that as long as the forest of Birnam Wood does not move into the castle of Dunsinane Hill, Macbeth is safe. However, the witches again mention that it will be Banquo’s line of heirs who shall one day rule as kings. Nevertheless, the last two predictions further uplift Macbeth’s mood and as for the warning regarding Macduff, action is taken against the former thane by taking the lives of his family. Macduff, who is in England with Malcolm, preparing an army to take over Macbeth, is enraged to hear the news of his family’s death and swears revenge.
Hence, we move forward to the last act of the play, the stage of the ultimate climax. Macbeth is now a changed man. Any shred of self-doubt or remorse has long left his soul and body after his previous encounter with the witches. An example is his reaction to the news of the death of his wife. While Macbeth has finally become the man his wife had envisioned him to be, she herself has now resorted to sleepwalking to ease away her building guilt. Her suicide barely affects Macbeth, who is now preparing to fight off a siege. Malcolm and his army move forward with a unique strategy; they cut off the branches of the trees of Birnam Wood as a form of a shield, all the while giving the appearance that the forest itself is marching towards the castle. Thus, the unwavering confidence of Macbeth falters by a measure, whose castle is quickly captured by Malcolm’s army. His confidence breaks into pieces completely when it is revealed that Macduff was not born from his mother, but is actually a result of a cesarean surgery. Macbeth fearfully asks to be pardoned but is then incensed when Macduff makes fun of him. A battle ensues where the titular character is killed off, thus making Malcolm the new king of Scotland.