Key Facts

Full title - Macbeth

Author - William Shakespeare

Type of work - Play

Language - English

Time and place written - 1606, England

Date of first publication - First Folio edition, 1623

Publisher - John Heminges and Henry Condell, two senior members of Shakespeare's acting troupe

Setting (time) - The Middle Ages, specifically the eleventh century

Setting (place) - Various locations in Scotland; also England, for one scene

Protagonist - Macbeth

Major conflicts - The struggle within Macbeth between his ambition and his sense of right and wrong; the struggle between the murderous evil represented by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the best interests of the nation, represented by Malcolm and Macduff

Rising action - Macbeth and Banquo's encounter with the witches initiates both conflicts; Lady Macbeth's speeches goad Macbeth into murdering Duncan and seizing the crown.

Climaxes - Macbeth's murder of Duncan in Act II represents the point of no return, after which Macbeth is forced to continue butchering his subjects to avoid the consequences of his crime.

Falling action - Macbeth's increasingly brutal murders (of Duncan's servants, Banquo, Lady Macduff and her son); Macbeth's second meeting with the witches; Macbeth's final confrontation with Macduff and the opposing armies

Themes - The corrupting nature of unchecked ambition; the relationship between cruelty and masculinity; the difference between kingship and tyranny

Motifs - The supernatural, hallucinations, violence, prophecy

Symbols - Blood; the dagger that Macbeth sees just before he kills Duncan in Act II; the weather

Foreshadowing - The bloody battle in Act I foreshadows the bloody murders later on; when Macbeth thinks he hears a voice crying that he is murdering sleep itself while killing Duncan, it foreshadows the insomnia that plagues Macbeth and his wife; Macduff's suspicions of Macbeth after Duncan's murder foreshadow his later opposition to Macbeth; all of the witches' prophecies foreshadow later events.

By Nathaniel Hirtle and Marco Saad, 2004