is a Scottish general and the thane of Glamis who is led to wicked
thoughts by the prophecies of the three witches, especially after their
prophecy that he will be made thane of Cawdor comes true. Macbeth is a
brave soldier and a powerful man, but he is not a virtuous one. He is
easily tempted into murder to fulfill his ambitions to the throne, and
once he commits his first crime and is crowned king of Scotland, he
embarks on further atrocities with increasing ease. Ultimately, Macbeth
proves himself better suited to the battlefield than to political
intrigue, because he lacks the skills necessary to rule without being a
tyrant. His response to every problem is violence and murder. Unlike
Shakespeare’s great villains, such as Iago in Othello
and Richard III in Richard III, Macbeth
is never comfortable in his role as a criminal. He is unable to bear the
psychological consequences of his atrocities.
Macbeth’s wife, a deeply ambitious woman who lusts for power
and position. Early in the play she seems to be the stronger and more
ruthless of the two, as she urges her husband to kill Duncan
and seize the crown. After the bloodshed begins, however, Lady
Macbeth falls victim to guilt and madness to an even greater
degree than her husband. Her conscience affects her to such an extent that
she eventually commits suicide. Interestingly, she and Macbeth are
presented as being deeply in love, and many of Lady Macbeth’s speeches
imply that her influence over her husband is primarily sexual. Their joint
alienation from the world, occasioned by their partnership in crime, seems
to strengthen the attachment that they feel to each another.
Three Witches - Three “black and midnight hags” who plot
mischief against Macbeth using charms, spells, and prophecies. Their
predictions prompt him to murder Duncan, to order the deaths of Banquo
and his son, and to blindly believe in his own immortality. The play
leaves the witches’ true identity unclear—aside from the fact that
they are servants of Hecate,
we know little about their place in the cosmos. In some ways they resemble
the mythological Fates, who impersonally weave the threads of human
destiny. They clearly take a perverse delight in using their knowledge of
the future to toy with and destroy human beings.
The brave, noble general whose children, according to the witches’
prophecy, will inherit the Scottish throne. Like Macbeth, Banquo thinks
ambitious thoughts, but he does not translate those thoughts into action.
In a sense, Banquo’s character stands as a rebuke to Macbeth, since he
represents the path Macbeth chose not to take: a path in which ambition
need not lead to betrayal and murder. Appropriately, then, it is
Banquo’s ghost—and not Duncan’s—that haunts Macbeth. In addition
to embodying Macbeth’s guilt for killing Banquo, the ghost also reminds
Macbeth that he did not emulate Banquo’s reaction to the witches’
Duncan - The good king of Scotland whom Macbeth, in
his ambition for the crown, murders. Duncan is the model of a virtuous,
benevolent, and farsighted ruler. His death symbolizes the destruction of
an order in Scotland that can be restored only when Duncan’s line, in
the person of Malcolm,
once more occupies the throne.
A Scottish nobleman hostile to Macbeth’s kingship
from the start. He eventually becomes a leader of the crusade to unseat
Macbeth. The crusade’s mission is to place the rightful king, Malcolm,
on the throne, but Macduff
also desires vengeance for Macbeth’s murder of Macduff’s wife and
The son of Duncan, whose restoration to the throne signals Scotland’s
return to order following Macbeth’s reign of terror. Malcolm becomes a
serious challenge to Macbeth with Macduff’s aid (and the support of
England). Prior to this, he appears weak and uncertain of his own power,
as when he and Donalbain
flee Scotland after their father’s murder.
The goddess of witchcraft, who helps the three witches work their mischief
Banquo’s son, who survives Macbeth’s attempt to murder him. At the end
of the play, Fleance’s
whereabouts are unknown. Presumably, he may come to rule Scotland,
fulfilling the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s sons will sit on the
A Scottish nobleman.
A Scottish nobleman.
Murderers - A group of ruffians conscripted by Macbeth to
murder Banquo, Fleance (whom they fail to kill), and Macduff’s wife and
The drunken doorman of Macbeth’s castle.
Macduff - Macduff’s wife. The scene in her castle
provides our only glimpse of a domestic realm other than that of Macbeth
and Lady Macbeth. She and her home serve as contrasts to Lady Macbeth and
the hellish world of Inverness.
Duncan’s son and Malcolm’s younger brother.