The play opens with a wounded Sergeant coming to King Duncan’s military camp to give good news of the Scottish victory, led by brave general Macbeth. Meanwhile, on a bleak moor in Scotland, Macbeth and Banquo, another generals, discover three witches who prophesy that Macbeth will be promoted twice: first to Thane of Cawdor (a rank of the aristocracy bestowed by grateful kings) and King of Scotland. Banquo’s descendants will be kings, but Banquo isn’t promised any kingdom himself. The generals want to hear more, but the “weird sisters” disappear.
Soon afterwards, King Duncan does name Macbeth Thane of Cawdor as a reward for his success in the recent battles! The King then proposes to make a brief visit that night to Macbeth’s castle at Inverness. Lady Macbeth receives news from her husband about the prophecy and his new title. She vows to help him become king by whatever means necessary!!
Macbeth returns to his castle, followed by King Duncan. The Macbeths plot together to kill Duncan and wait until everyone is asleep. At the appointed time, Lady Macbeth gives the guards drugged wine so Macbeth can enter and kill the King. He regrets this almost immediately, but his wife reassures him. She leaves the bloody daggers by the dead king just before Macduff, a nobleman, arrives. When Macduff discovers the murder, Macbeth kills the drunken guards in a show of rage and retribution. Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, flee, fearing for their own lives; but they are, nevertheless, blamed for the murder.
Macbeth becomes King of Scotland but is plagued by feelings of insecurity. He remembers the prophecy that Banquo’s descendants will inherit the throne and arranges for Banquo and his son Fleance to be killed. In the darkness, Banquo is murdered, but his son escapes the assassins.
The Macbeths are not enjoying their new positions of power like they thought they would. Macbeth assures Lady Macbeth that he’s taken care of Banquo, but at his state banquet that night, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo and worries the courtiers with his seemingly insane response. Lady Macbeth dismisses the court and unsuccessfully tries to calm her husband.
Macbeth seeks out the witches who say that he will be safe until Birnam Wood marches into battle against him. He also need not fear anyone born of woman. They also prophesy that the Scottish succession will still come from Banquo’s son. Macbeth embarks on a reign of terror, slaughtering many, including Macduff’s family. Macduff had gone to seek Malcolm (one of Duncan’s sons who fled) at the court of the English king. Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty, and Macduff passes with flying colors. As they prepare to march, Ross enters to bring Macduff the news of his family’s slaughter. The three men vow to rid the kingdom of Macbeth.
Macbeth feels safe in his remote castle at Dunsinane until he is told that Birnam Wood is moving towards him. Malcolm’s army is carrying branches from the forest as camouflage for their assault on Macbeth’s stronghold. Meanwhile, an overwrought and conscience-ridden Lady Macbeth walks in her sleep and tells her secrets to her doctor. She commits suicide. As the final battle commences, Macbeth hears of Lady Macbeth’s suicide and mourns.
In the midst of a losing battle, Macduff challenges Macbeth. Macbeth learns Macduff is the child of a caesarean birth (loophole!), realizes he is doomed, and submits to his enemy. Macduff triumphs and brings the head of the traitor Macbeth to Malcolm. Malcolm declares peace and goes to Scone to be crowned king.