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Macbeth

Character summaries from Shakespeare's terrifying, tragic tale

Macbeth Main Characters

The brave, the true, the vengeful, the despairing: learn the complexities of the characters that make Macbeth unlike any other Shakespearian tragedy.

Macbeth

Macbeth

Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, is a brave Scottish general in King Duncan’s army. However, upon hearing the three witches’ prophecy that he would become King of Scotland, he becomes tyrannical. With his wife’s help and encouragement he kills King Duncan, but this fills him with deep regret and guilt. Plagued by insecurities and the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s descendants would be kings, he keeps spies on all the noblemen and arranges for Banquo and his son to be murdered, although he hides this from his wife. Banquo's ghost haunts him and he suffers from insanity and insomnia. He seeks out the witches again, who still affirm the prophecy, and he goes on a murderous rampage. He mourns his wife’s death and contemplates killing himself too as Malcolm’s army approaches him. However, Macduff challenges him and he decides to die fighting.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

— Macbeth; Act 5 Scene 5

Lady Macbeth

Even more ambitious and ruthless than her husband Macbeth, Lady Macbeth plots to murder King Duncan upon hearing of the witches’ prophecy. She goads Macbeth into the evil deed despite his hesitance, gives the guards drugged wine, and lays out the bloody daggers. She comforts her husband in his guilt afterwards. When Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost, Lady Macbeth nervously tries to calm him down and dismisses their guests. However, her guilt soon turns her mad as well and, tormented by nightmares, she sleepwalks as she tries to wash out the invisible bloodstains on her hands. She dies offstage in the final act, a supposed suicide.

Out, damned spot!

— Lady Macbeth; Act 5 Scene 1
Macduff

Macduff

Macduff, Thane of Fife, is loyal to King Duncan. He is the first to discover Duncan’s dead body and never believes it was the servants who killed him. Macduff flees to England, trying to find King Duncan’s son Malcolm and restore him as rightful king but meanwhile, Macbeth has Macduff’s wife and children murdered. Full of grief and revenge, he persuades Malcolm to lead an army against Macbeth, challenges Macbeth one-to-one and slays him. A child of a caesarean birth, he thus fulfils the witches’ prophecy that no man of woman born would harm Macbeth. 

O horror, horror, horror! / Tongue nor heart cannot conceive nor name thee

— Macduff; Act 2 Scene 3

Three Witches

The Three Witches, or Three Weird Sisters, are the morally ambiguous characters whose prophecies drive Macbeth to his tyrannical desire for power. When the witches first meet Macbeth and Banquo, they prophesy that Macbeth will become King of Scotland and that Banquo’s descendants will be kings. When Macbeth seeks them out again, they produce apparitions of his downfall while delivering three more prophecies to him: beware Macduff, none of woman born will harm him, and he will be safe until a local wood, Birnam Wood, marches into battle against him. They leave the audience questioning whether they are agents of fate or independent agents manipulating humans’ lives.

Double, double, toil and trouble; / Fire burn, and cauldron bubble

— Three Witches; Act 4 Scene 1
Malcolm_Macbeth

Malcolm

Malcolm is one of King Duncan’s sons and proclaimed heir to his throne. Suspected of his own father’s murder, he flees to England. When Macduff comes to find him in England, Malcolm initially tests his loyalty. Ultimately, Malcolm is convinced that they need to enact vengeance and fight Macbeth. He mobilises an army in England and leads them to Scotland with Macduff’s help. He and his forces march on Dunsinane Castle, where Macbeth has retreated, camouflaging themselves with branches from Birnam Wood and thereby fulfilling the witches’ prophecy. He takes over as king and restores order.

What I believe, I’ll wail; / What know, believe; and what I can redress, / As I shall find the time to friend, I will

— Malcolm; Act 4 Scene 3

Banquo

Banquo, Thane of Lochaber, is a Scottish general known for his bravery like his friend Macbeth. They meet the witches together upon returning from battle, and Banquo is also eager to know what their prophecy is for him. They tell him that he will not be king, but that his descendants will inherit the throne. Banquo is sceptical of the prophecy and resists the temptation of power that Macbeth gives into. When Macbeth takes the throne, Banquo pledges loyalty to him despite his suspicions, but Macbeth has him murdered, seeking to secure his position as king. Banquo's ghost appears and haunts Macbeth at the banquet that night, as well as later in a vision from the witches.

Merciful powers / Restrain in me the cursed thoughts

— Banquo; Act 2 Scene 1

Macbeth Minor Characters

King Duncan
Donalbain

Lennox
Ross
Menteth
Angus
Cathness

Fleance
Seyward
Young Seyward
Seyton
Son of Macduff
Wife of Macduff
A Captain
English Doctor
Scottish Doctor
Porter
Old Man
Gentlewoman

Three other witches
Hecat
Apparitions

Murderers
Messengers
Servants
Lords
Soldiers

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