"Macbeth": Summary and Analysis of Acts I-IV

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Act 1 Scene 1

Summary: The three witches gather, and discuss what they should do about Macbeth. They conclude when they will meet with Macbeth.

Significance: This scene introduces Macbeth and the witches. It also brings forth the quote "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" which sets the stage for much of the story and how the characters will react. This quote defines the "flip-flopped" standing that much of the characters will partake in.

Act 1 Scene 2

Summary: This scene in the battlefield, a captain is called out by Duncan to explain the current condition of the entanglement. The captain speaks of Macbeth's great feats.

Significance: The purpose of this scene is to introduce more details about Macbeth and what kind of person he is. This also shows how the King comes to favor him and appoint him to the title of Thane of Cawdor. The brief history of how things come to be is also shown in the description of the battle scene and those in it.

Act 1 Scene 3

Summary: The three witches await and meet Macbeth and Banquo, while doing so they converse of their daily escapades. When Macbeth does come they hail him Thane of Cawdor and speak to both Banquo and Macbeth of things that are to be. Then they leave Macbeth and Banquo discussing how they are going to take the information.

Significance: This once again shows the disruption of nature when evil is afoot when the weather is frightening. It is also where we see how Macbeth and Banquo react to the prophecy. It also goes back to "Fair is foul and foul is fair" and gives it more meaning with Macbeth saying "So foul and fair a day I have not seen".

Act 1 Scene 4

Summary: The King and Malcolm converse of the traitor. Then we see Duncan bestow high names upon Macbeth. Macbeth himself is somewhat surprised reluctant. He also states "Stars, hide your fires let no light see my black and deep desires."

Significance: At this point you see Macbeth start taking the prophecy to seriously. One also is capable of observing how Macbeth to his desires for power but he wishes they were not.

Act 1 Scene 5

Summary: Lady Macbeth reads a letter from Macbeth and the events that took place. This is where she basically says he is not capable enough to do what it takes to fulfill the prophecy. She also asks for power to be able to carry out her newly acquired plans for murder.

Significance: In this scene we are introduced to Lady Macbeth and how evil she can really be. This is also where the concrete plotting to murder Duncan begins.

Act 1 Scene 6

Summary: The King returns to the castle with Banquo. Duncan is greeted shortly after by Lady Macbeth and receives much praise from her.

Significance: This is where the plot begins to unfold and where you will see how deceitful Lady Macbeth really is.

Act 1 Scene 7

Summary: Macbeth enters and speaks about the evil plan. He questions himself and posts the irony of his title as Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth and his lady have a short argument of how it is that he has lost his will to commit the murder. She then proceeds to put him back on task with his malicious plans.

Significance: Here you see Macbeth start to question himself and his actions. The irony of his servitude and the treason of the previous to him foreshadows that the title of Thane of Cawdor will once again betray King Duncan.


Act 2 Scene 1

Summary: Macbeth and Banquo meet and discuss the meeting of the witches. Macbeth claim to be unshaken by their prophecy. After the meeting, Macbeth envisions a dagger in mid-air with the handle pointing toward his hand and the blade toward King Duncan. Lady Macbeth rings the bell and signals Macbeth that the Chamberlains are asleep and he may proceed to Duncan's Chamber.

Significance: The fact that Banquo also knows about the witches' prophecy, makes him a threat to Macbeth's plot to kill the king. His vision signifies his state of mind leading toward insanity.

Act 2 Scene 2

Summary: Macbeth cries out and Lady Macbeth questions how he could have failed. She would've killed him herself had he not appeared to be her father as he slept. Macbeth returns from Duncan's Chambers, but has forgotten to leave the daggers with the sleeping chamberlains, so she leaves to plant them herself and comments the she would be ashamed to be a coward as that of Macbeth.

Significance: Lady Macbeth's vulnerability is shown when she comments about the sleeping resembled her father. The use of blood in the play recaps Macbeth's battlefield tactics and that there is some blood that cannot be washed clean from his hands.

Act 2 Scene 3

Summary: Macduff and Lennox arrive at the castle asking to speak with the king. A porter answers their knocks and rambles on about the effects of alcohol on the person. Macbeth offers to escort them to the king's chamber. There, Macduff runs out screaming "O horror.....the king has been murdered". They all testify that the chamberlains appear to be guilty because they hold the bloody daggers. Macbeth admits to killing them out of rage for the slain king. Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan's sons, fearing for their lives, decide to flee the country.

Significance: The porter's relaxed language seems to signal that his words and his role are less important than those of the other characters, but in his "merry banter" the porter hits on many truths. His description of the confusion and lust provoked by alcohol, captures Macbeth's moral confusion and lust for power. Macbeth offered to show them the way to the king's chamber knowing that the best place to hide is out in plain sight.

Act 2 Scene 4

Summary: Ross is walking outside the castle with an unknown man explaining the strange things happening around the castle. He explains that while it's daytime, it is still dark outside, and the wonderful horses had eaten each other. Macduff enters to inform them that Macbeth has been declared the new king by the other lords and is on his way to be crowned. The suspicion has been turned unto Duncan's sons since they have fled the scene.

Significance: The strange occurrences are all attributed to nature in disruption since everything that is happening is not normal. All these anomalies are also linked to Macbeth's election to kingship.


Act 3 Scene 1

Summary: Macbeth and Banquo speak of the sad or somber dinner they will have for the death of Duncan and Crowning of Macbeth. Macbeth requests Banquo's presence but he refuses because he has to leave. Then Macbeth proceeds to talk to the murderers and gives them their orders to slay Banquo and his son.

Significance: This is the spot where you see Macbeth is cold as opposed to the beginning where he was more kind-hearted toward his friends. You also see how seriously Macbeth is taking the prophecy and how much he desires to keep the power he has gained.

Act 3 Scene 2

Summary: Lady Macbeth looks for Macbeth and find him. She questions him on his persistence on being alone. To which he replies that the ordeal is not over yet and they should remain careful. Then they speak of the feast that night and how he should remain careful.

Significance: Once again, we see Macbeth start to be more calculative of his deeds. Yet you also still observe a hint of remorse on the action taken before.

Act 3 Scene 3

Summary: It opens up with the murderers speaking, as Banquo approaches. They attack and kill him, but Fleance manages to escape. The murderers choose to go and report their half-victory.

Significance: Here we see the death of Banquo, but the prophecy has not been broken since his son was able to escape.

Act 3 Scene 4

Summary: We start off the feast with Macbeth talking to some of his guests. He sees the murderers and proceeds to speak with them, receiving the report that Fleance had escaped. Macbeth hallucinates again to see Banquo sitting at the table with the guests. He breaks down and begins to collapse in front of all his guests. Lady Macbeth is trying to help the dangerous situation and orders the guests to leave at once.

Significance: Here we see the prophecy can still stand to be true with the failure to murder Fleance. Banquo's ghost gives Macbeth that feeling that he has really gone overboard with trying to keep his power.

Act 3 Scene 5

Summary: The three witches meet Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. Hecate is upset with their actions and meddling with Macbeth without consulting her. She wants the witches to fill Macbeth with a false sense of security.

Significance: Hecate does not play too big of a role in the play, but her orders to fill Macbeth with a false sense of security, will lead him to a belief that he is invincible.

Act 3 Scene 6

Summary: Lennox speaks with an unknown lord. The murder of Banquo has been officially blamed on Fleance since he has fled. However, they still believe that Macbeth is somehow still responsible for the murders and they call him a tyrant. Malcolm and Macduff flee to England to request aid to save Scotland from Macbeth.

Significance: The plot and retaliation against Macbeth thickens. Macbeth knows what is being planned and prepares for war. Although it has not been proven, Macbeth has now officially been discovered as the cause of all the murders.


Act 4 Scene 1

Summary: The weather is strong with plenty of thunder as the witches gather to perform their spells. Macbeth enters questioning how it is that they know of the future. He then begins to see apparitions. The first tells him to beware of Macduff. The second is of a bloody child telling him that no child of woman-born can hurt Macbeth. The third is a crowned child with a tree in his hand. The fourth is a series of kings that ends with Banquo.

Significance: The first apparition is obvious to Macbeth, beware of Macduff. The second is what really lead to his false sense of security. No child of woman-born can hurt Macbeth. The third is warning him to beware when Birnam Wood will rise to oppose him. The fourth does not phase him since he is already confident of his stay in power.

Act 4 Scene 2

Summary: Lady Macduff and Ross are speaking of how Macduff has left and he is a traitor. Then Lady Macduff and her son discuss whether or not Macduff is a traitor or not. Just then murderers sent by Macbeth ravage Macduff's castle and kill everyone there.

Significance: Here Macbeth has fallen to a state of mind where his murderous decisions are solely based on madness. Killing Lady Macduff and her son did not value toward a political goal nor to eliminate an enemy that would potentially reveal him.

Act 4 Scene 3

Summary: Macduff and Malcolm are walking around the castle of King Edward of England. Malcolm is skeptical of Macduff's loyalty and tests him by saying that he is not ready to become king because of his many evil faults. Macduff eventually agrees with him and the two become allies. Ross arrives to greet Macduff and Malcolm. He informs Macduff that his wife and son have been killed. Ross convinces Macduff to use his anger to drive his lust for revenge.

Significance: The conversation between Macduff and Malcolm discusses what the true nature of a good kingship should be, and Macbeth's is the farthest from that. As Malcolm tests Macduff, he realizes that Macduff does know the true meaning of a good kingship and supports it. An alliance has begun to form and the final straw was broken with the news that Macduff's family was slain. The alliance is now in a do or die situation, and die is not an option.