Type of work Play
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 theatrical company
Tone Dark and ominous, suggestive of a world turned topsy-turvy by foul and unnatural crimes
Tense Not applicable (drama)
Setting (time) The Middle Ages, specifically the eleventh century
Setting (place) Various locations in Scotland; also England, briefly
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.
Climax Macbeth’s murder of Duncan in Act 2 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 2; the weather
Foreshadowing The bloody battle in Act 1 foreshadows the bloody murders later on; when Macbeth thinks he hears a voice 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.