Macbeth abbreviated

The strange tale of Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth is set in Scotland around 1040 AD.  It was the time of the reign of King Duncan, a time, we’re told, of violence, assassinations, and witches. We’re told the play was first performed in 1603 to honor James VI of Scotland; Scotland’s king who was now England’s King James I.  How this violent Scotland-based fable could have been presented as an honor to this man of Scotland, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, remains a mystery, but there you go. James I succeeded Elizabeth I, a Shakespeare benefactor.

Soon after the play opens, three mysterious witches, also known as the Weird Sisters, tell Macbeth and Banquo, two military heroes, that good fortune lies in front of them.  They cry out to Macbeth, the thane of Glamis, saying “Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!” and “that shalt be king hereafter.”  Being ignored by the witches, Banquo says to them “if you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak, then, to me.” One of the witches answers him saying “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none. So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!”  (Fantasy, Act 1, Scene 3) The witches then vanish. The prophesies of the witches are central to the play.  Shakespeare throws in so many supernatural happenings as the play moves along that this play could be considered sort of a sixteenth-century-told fairy tale. 

Early in the play we learn that a military captain addresses King Duncan, reporting that in a recent battle against the Norwegians Macbeth and Banquo were magnificent and valiant officers.  We also learn that during the battle the thane of Cawdor was disloyal. King Duncan has the thane of Cawdor executed and as a reward transfers his title to Macbeth, placing him in line to be king.  When Macbeth and Banquo learn that the king has given Macbeth a second title, the thane of Cawdor, they come to believe the witches’ prophesies.  However, King Duncan soon names his older son Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland, a title that makes him the first-in-line heir to the Scottish throne.

In a letter to his wife, Macbeth tells her of the witches’ prophesies; that he is now the thane of Cawdor and that it now seems that the witches knew what they were talking about. He wants her to think about how he might go about becoming king, now that Malcolm has the inside track, now being the Prince of Cumberland.  She does think about it. 

King Duncan travels to the Macbeths’ Inverness Castle for an overnight stay. He is to be hosted by the Macbeths. (Introspection, Act 1, Scene 5)  He is joined by his sons (Malcolm and Donalbain), by Banquo, and by the young Scottish nobleman Macduff. Those accompanying King Duncan have major roles in the play.  Ruthlessly ambitious for her husband, Lady Macbeth convinces her husband that if he is ever to be king he must seize the moment, so to speak; he must murder King Duncan, using this opportunity handed to them. (Introspection, Act 1, Scene 7) The Macbeths commit to a plan. (Wife to Husband, Act 1, Scene 7)

Lady Macbeth spends the evening schmoozing with the king’s guards, sharing stories, all the while making sure the wine flows freely.  The guards fall asleep.  She leaves the guards, leaving the next step in the plan up to her husband.

An insecure and frightened Macbeth, taking his first steps in his role in this demented scheme, a plan mostly concocted by his wife, happens to run into Banquo on his way to kill the king, Banquo, up and about late, having remembered that he has a jewel that King Duncan had asked him to give to Lady Macbeth.  Banquo says “This diamond he greets your wife withal, by the name of most kind hostess.”  As Banquo and a servant exit, Macbeth, spooked as he is, heading for the king’s chambers, famously says to himself “Is this a dagger I see before me?” (Fear, Act 2, Scene 1) But, perhaps intimidated by his wife, Macbeth does his best to carry through with his part of their plan.  He murders the king.  But, to his wife’s chagrin, he is so shaken by his actions that he returns to their chambers holding the bloody daggers.

At about this time, Lady Macbeth, speaking of the guards, waiting for her husband’s return, tells us “that which hath made them drunk hath made me bold.  What hath quenched them hath given me fire.”  Macbeth enters telling his wife “I have done the deed.  Didst thou not hear a noise?”  She looks at the daggers and says “This is a sorry sight.”  However, not being able to kill the guards as they had planned, he says to his wife “They did wake each other” and “I could not say ‘Amen’ when they did say ‘God bless us.” She says “Consider it not so deeply.”  He says “Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more’.”  She says “What do you mean?”  He says the voice cried “Macbeth shall sleep no more.”  She says “Go get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hand.” He says “I’ll go no more.”  She says “Infirm of purpose. Give me the daggers.” She exits with the daggers and kills the guards, leaving on purpose the bloody daggers on the guards’ pillows.  She returns to her husband saying “I hear a knocking at the south entry.  Retire we to our chamber.  A little water clears us of this deed.”

The knocking comes from Macduff, the Scottish nobleman, and his aide Lennox who have arrived very early in the morning to waken King Duncan.  Macbeth comes to the door.  Macduff asks him “Is the king stirring worthy thane?”  Macbeth responds “Not yet. I’ll bring you to him.”  Macduff soon enters the king’s chambers saying “I’ll make so bold a call,” but then quickly exits the chambers crying “Murder and treason! Banquo and Donalbain, Malcolm, awake! Shake off this downy sleep and look on death itself.  Ring the bell.”  Lady Macbeth enters, saying “What’s the business?”  Banquo enters saying “Dear Duff, I prithee, contradict thyself and say it is not so.”  Donalbain enters saying “What is amiss?”  Macduff says “Your royal father’s murdered.”  Malcolm asks “By whom?”  Lennox says “Those of his chamber, as it seemed, had done ‘t.  Their unwiped daggers we found upon their pillows.”  To protect his wife, Macbeth cries out “O, yet I do repent me of my fury, that I did kill them.”  Macduff asks “Wherefore did you so?”  Macbeth responds “Here lay Duncan, his silver skin laced with blood; there the murderers, their daggers unmannerly breeched with gore.  Who could refrain that had a heart of love.” 

All but Duncan’s sons exit.  Suspicious of events and fearing for their safety, Malcolm says to his brother “What will you do?  I’ll to England.”  Donalbain responds “To Ireland I.”  Malcolm says “This murderous shaft that’s shot hath not yet lighted, and our safest way is to avoid the aim.  Therefore to horse; let us shift away.”  They exit. But in their hasty exit they become suspects in the murder of their father.  With Malcolm now nowhere to be found, Macduff announces that Macbeth is to be crowned king at Scone, while he, dismayed by events, lets us know that he plans to stay behind at his castle at Fife. 

King Macbeth now fears that his buddy Banquo represents a threat, knowing as much as he knows. (Introspection, Act 3, Scene 1) Macbeth hires two killers and helps them make plans to murder Banquo and his son Fleance.  The killers plan to ambush Banquo and his son at night along a roadside. Macbeth and his wife make plans for a state dinner, all the while Macbeth being consumed with fear. There’s a knock at the door, just as the banquet is about to begin.  It’s one of the murderers.  Macbeth goes to the door, greets the murdering saying “There’s blood upon thy face.”  The murderer responds “’Tis Banquo’s then.  His throat is cut.”  But he says, “Fleance is ‘scaped.”  Macbeth says “Get thee gone.  Tomorrow we’ll hear ourselves again.”  (Fear, Act 3, Scene 2) But, while Macbeth was at the door, the Ghost of Banquo had entered and decided to sit at Macbeth’s place at the table.  As Macbeth re-enters the banquet room he says “The table’s full.  Which of you have done this?”  A lord asks “What, my good lord?”  Macbeth turns to the Ghost and says “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake thy gory locks at me.”  Lady Macbeth says “Sit, worthy friends.”  She takes her husband aside saying “Are you a man? This is the very painting of your fear.  This is the air-drawn dagger which you said led you to Duncan.  Why do you make such faces?”  The Ghost exits.  Things settle down.  As the unseen-by-Macbeth Ghost reenters, Macbeth offers a toast to Banquo, saying “I drink to th’ general joy o’ th’ whole table and to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss.”  As Macbeth turns and sees the Ghost he says, “Quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee.”  To her husband Lady Macbeth says “You have displaced the mirth, broke the good meeting with most admired disorder.”  A lord says “What sights, my lord?”  Lady Macbeth interrupts, saying “I pray you, speak not. He grows worse and worse. At once good night.”  As the lords exit, a lord says “Good night, and better health attend his Majesty.”  Macbeth notes that “Macduff denies his person at our great bidding.  I will tomorrow to the Weird Sisters.  More shall they speak.  Strange things I have in my head.”  Lady Macbeth ends the scene saying “You lack the season of all natures, sleep.”

The next morning Macbeth does revisit the witches.  The witches’ apparitions (the witches’ masters) tell him he should “beware of Macduff,” but that he has nothing to fear from “any man of woman born” or until “Birnam Wood goes to Dunsinane.”  Macbeth listens intently.  Hecate, the apparitions’ supervisor lectures the ladies, telling them their contact with Macbeth has been inappropriate.  (Fantasy, Act 3, Scene 5) Seriously, this is how it goes.

Macbeth learns from Lennox, the aide to Macduff, that Macduff has left for England, leaving his wife and children unattended and vulnerable at their Fife castle there in Scotland.  Murderers (hired by Macbeth) enter and kill Macduff’s family. 

Later, Macduff, unaware of the slaughter of his family at Fife, meets with Malcolm in England, but Malcolm, the would-be-heir to Scotland’s crown, is suspect of Macduff’s motives, fearing he is Macbeth’s agent, Macbeth having tried to trick him in the past. Malcolm puts Macduff to a most interesting loyalty test. (Chivalry, Act 4, Scene 3) Macduff passes the test, and in an inspired moment, Malcolm suggests to Macduff that he lead a collective effort against King Macbeth. (Inspiration, Act 4, Scene 3) The king of England has offered Malcolm access to ten thousand English forces with Siward as their commander, Siward being Malcolm’s uncle.  Macduff then learns that his wife and children have been murdered at Fife.  Speaking of Macbeth he says “He has no children. What, all my pretty chickens and their dam at one fell swoop?”  Malcolm says “dispute it like a man.”  Macduff responds “I shall do so, but I must also feel it as a man.  Heaven rest them now.”  Malcolm says “Let grief convert to anger.  Blunt not they heart; enrage it.”  Macduff says “Front to front bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself.”  Malcolm ends the scene with “Come, go we to the king. Our lack is nothing but our leave. Macbeth is ripe for shaking.  The night is long that never finds the day.” 

Meanwhile at Dunsinane, Lady Macbeth takes to walking and talking in her sleep.  She appears seriously ill to those around her. (Despair, Act 5, Scene 1)

Macduff, Malcolm, Siward and the English forces assemble outside Dunsinane in Birnam Wood.  Macbeth is warned by a servant of an impending assault by the English forces, but Macbeth dismisses the warnings on the basis of the apparitions’ admonitions. (Introspection, Act 5, Scene 5)

The Doctor warns Macbeth that Lady Macbeth is not well, saying “As she is troubled with thick-coming fancies that keep her from her rest.”  Macbeth scolds him, saying “Cure her of that. Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, raze out the written troubles of the brain?”  The Doctor responds “Therein the patient must minister to herself.” Sensing his own time is short, Macbeth gamely moves on.  Macbeth soon learns from an aide that “The queen, my lord, is dead.”  Macbeth responds “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. Out, out brief candle! Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” 

Using tree branches from Birnam Wood as camouflage and shields, soldiers attack Macbeth’s castle at Dunsinane. Macbeth kills Siward’s son.  Macbeth learns that Macduff’s mother died just before he was born. (Chivalry, Act 5, Scene 8) Macduff slays Macbeth.  Macduff proclaims Malcolm the new king of Scotland.