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Introduction to William Shakespeare
Shakespeare probably wrote Macbeth in 1606. The outline of the story was adapted from Holinshed Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. The King of Scotland, James the Sixth had just inherited the Crown of England on the death of Queen Elizabeth. He was supposedly descended from Banquo, and the prophecy that Banquo children would rule for many generations was intended to flatter James. King James passionately believed in witches, and had written a book, Daemonologie, about witchcraft. Shakespeare witches plotting the downfall of Macbeth conform to the king beliefs.
The illustrations are taken from the H. R. Forrest Collection, 76 folio volumes of illustrations to Shakespeare up to 1890. There are two volumes illustrating Macbeth, the first an extra-illustrated edition of the text, the second the illustrations. These include title pages, artists impressions of scenes from the play, Scottish scenes associated with Macbeth and portraits of famous actors.
When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightening, or in rain?
Second Witch: When the hurly-burlys done,
When the battles lost and won.
Ace 1 scene 1
Three witches meet on a desolate heath. Somewhere a battle rages. Although Shakespeare's play is set in Scotland, this could be any civil war, at any time, and Macbeth could be any honest soldier betrayed by ambition into seizing power..
Macbeth and Banquo meet the three witches.
The photograph is from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Archives, and shows a World War 1 battlefield from Sir Barry Jacksons modern dress production in 1928. Laurence Olivier played Malcolm.
The Witches appear to Macbeth and Banquo
King Duncan generals. Macbeth and Banquo, have defeated the army of the rebel Thane of Cawdor. Suddenly the three witches appear.
They prophesy, in riddling words, that Macbeth shall be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland, and that Banquo's children shall become kings. Then they vanish.
The earth hath bubbles as the water has,
And these are of them. Whither are they vanished?
Act 1 scene 3
Duncan greets Macbeth
There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face.
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust
Act 1 scene 4
King Duncan receives news of the execution of the traitor Thane of Cawdor. He promotes Macbeth to the Thane's title, and proclaims his eldest son Malcolm heir to the throne. The King and his retinue will sleep the night at Macbeth's castle, Glamis.
Lady Macbeth receives Macbeth's letter
Macbeth has written to his wife, telling her of the encounter with the witches and the prophecy. Lady Macbeth is filled with ambition and resolves:
'Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
what thou art promised; yet I do fear thy nature,
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way...
Come you spirits
that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top full
Of direst cruelty...
Act 1 scene 5
The tragedy of Macbeth and his wife is that ambition tempts them to betray their own deeper values.
Plotting to murder the King
I have given suck and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe than milks me;
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this.
If we should fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking-place
And we'll not fail...'
Act 1 scene 7
Macbeth imagines a dagger leading him on
After a banquet everyone in the castle is soundly asleep and Macbeth prepares to murder the sleeping King. He imagines that he sees a dagger leading him on:
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee;I have thee not, and yet I see thee still...
and on thy blade and dugeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before...
Act 2 scene 1
Almost, he turns back, but he is goaded on by Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth murders King Duncan
go and it is done. The bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan, for it is the knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.
Act 2 scene 1
After the murder Lady Macbeth takes the blood stained daggers back to Duncan chamber to smear his blood on the sleeping servants.
At dawn Macduff comes to rouse the King and discovers the murder. Macbeth kills the servants before they awake, and blames the murder on them.
Duncan sons flee to Ireland and England.
Macbeth plots Banquo's murder
What's to be done?
Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale.../em>
Act 3 scene 2
Macbeth has murdered Duncan, he and Lady Macbeth are crowned, but he cannot sleep secure. Tormented by terrible dreams, he determines to murder Banquo, and Banquo son Fleance, to secure his throne.
The Ghost of Banquo appears
Blood hath been shed ere now, i'th olden time,
...The time has been
That when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end. But now they rise again
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns
And push us from our stools....
Act 3 scene 4.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth give a feast to celebrate their coronation, inviting all their nobles. As Macbeth regrets the absence of Banquo, his Ghost appears and sits down at the table.
Only Macbeth sees the Ghost. He is overcome with terror; the guests are astounded, Lady Macbeth cannot calm him, and is forced to dismiss everyone.
The Witches, conjuring
The Witches, dancing round the caldron:
"Double, double toil and trouble
fire burn, and cauldron bubble...."
Act 4 scene 1
Macbeth is determined to find out what the future holds. He re-visits the witches who conjure spirits to prophecy the future to him.
This illustration from Rowe 1709 edition shows what 18th century staging of the play might have looked like.
The Apparitions give Macbeth three deceiving prophecies :
'Beware the Thane of Fife',
'None of woman born shall harm Macbeth',
Macbeth shall never vanquished be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him.'
'Show his eyes and grieve his heart,
Come like shadows, so depart
(Enter a show of eight kings, the last with a mirror in his hand, Banquo's Ghost following them)
Why do you show me this? A fourth? Start, eyes!
What, will the line stretch out th th'crack of doom?...
the blood-boltered Banquo smiles upon me,
And points at them for his.'
Act 4 scene 1.
The final Apparition confirms the prophecy that Banquo's heirs will rule Scotland. This prophecy is a compliment to King James I, who was descended from Banquo, and became ruler of Scotland, England and Ireland.
Lady Macduff is murdered
'The castle of Macduff I will surprise;
Seize upon Fife; give to the edge o'the sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
That trace him in his line...'
Act 4 scene 1
Macbeth acts on the witches' warning against the Thane of Fife. Macduff's wife, children and servants are all murdered, but Macduff has fled to Duncan's son Malcolm in England. There he hears the news of the murder of his entire family, and joins Malcolm's invasion army against Macbeth.
He has no children. All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? Oh hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
Act 4 scene 3.
Lady Macbeth sleepwalks
The murders Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have committed prey on their minds. Lady Macbeth's doctor and serving woman watch her sleepwalking and re-enacting the murder of Duncan:
The illustration shows Mrs. Siddons, a famous 19th century Lady Macbeth in the sleepwalking scene.
'Out damned spot! Out, I say! ...yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him...
The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? What, will these hands ne'er be clean?...Here's the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand....'
Act 5 scene 1.
Theobald's Shakespeare edition
An engraving by Francis Hayman from the 1744 edition of the Works of Shakespeare edited by Lewis Theobald, who was one of the earliest scholars to work on the plays.
The final battle
'Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day...Out, out, brief candle,
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more...'
Act 5 scene 5.
The army of Malcolm and Macduff advances, Macbeth is told that his wife is dead. With nothing left live for, Macbeth still determines to fight on. The army has taken branches from Birnham Wood to disguise their numbers, and the wood moves towards Dunsinane, as the witches prophesied.
In one final battle, Macbeth is confronted by Macduff, who disproves the witches prophecy:
'Despair thy charm,
and let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb
Act 5 scene 8.
Macduff defeats and kills Macbeth, and his head is paraded on a spear. Duncan's son Malcolm is proclaimed king of Scotland.
Sir Barry Jackson and Birmingham Repertory Theatre Archive 1913 - 1970
Introduction to William Shakespeare
The Birmingham Shakespeare Library