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08 January 2020

‘Told by an Idiot’: Macbeth for Beginners

Never seen Macbeth before or forgotten your high school English classes? Don’t panic, we have a quick run-through of the plot to bring you up to speed…

Beware of spoilers!

Macbeth and Banquo, celebrated generals in the service of King Duncan of Scotland, are returning victorious from battle when they are hailed by three witches who predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland. They also prophesy that, later, Banquo’s descendants will be kings.

Macbeth writes to his wife, Lady Macbeth, with news of the witches’ visions, and the first part of the prophecy is soon fulfilled when King Duncan rewards Macbeth’s loyal service. However, Duncan names his son, Malcolm, as his successor to the throne. Driven by this and their shared ambition, the couple decide him to murder Duncan while he is a guest at their castle so that Macbeth can steal the crown. Malcolm and his brother, Donalbain, flee to England for safety. Macbeth, now king, has Banquo and his son, Fleance, murdered in an attempt to secure his own position. Banquo is killed, but Fleance escapes. Banquo’s ghost appears to Macbeth at a banquet, driving him further and further into insanity.

Macbeth is visited by the witches again. They warn him to beware of Macduff, a noble who has also fled to England, but assure him that he cannot be harmed by any man born of woman. Macbeth, now frantic with power, orders the murder of Macduff‘s wife and children.

Seeing the violent consequences of their unbridled ambition, Lady Macbeth is herself driven mad by guilt. She paces the castle in her sleep, and sees visions of the blood of the people her husband has murdered on her hands.

In England, Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty and they then raise an army to march against Macbeth. However Macbeth, armed with the witches’ prophecy, believes that he is invincible.

As his enemies draw nearer, Macbeth learns that his wife has died. He faces Macduff in combat but when he learns Macduff was born by Caesarian section, he realises that he must face death.

With Macbeth dead, Malcolm is crowned King of Scotland.

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