Macbeth is a fast-paced five-act play

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is structured into five acts like most classical dramas. However, the number of scenes per act vary quite a lot, just as the length of each scene. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays and very fast-paced, This is because there is no subplot: there is only the main plot about Macbeth’s desire to be king. This structure is typical of classical tragedies, too.

Overall, Macbeth has a two-part structure: the first part is about crime, the second is about consequence. What Macbeth does in the first part of the play returns to haunt him in the second. This may be linked to one of the key elements of the play: The world is turned upside down and “fair” has become “foul”. 

The play can be analyzed using Freytag’s pyramid

The structure of Macbeth can be analyzed in detail using Freytag's pyramid. This diagram divides a plot into five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Fig. 1. Freytag's pyramid of plot structure.


Act 1: Exposition

Macbeth starts in medias res in Act 1, Scene 1 when we meet the three witches who are in the middle of a conversation about a battle. The strange words and appearance of the witches, combined with the violent storm, catch our attention from the start and create a sense of suspense. What are these creatures up to? What is the battle they talk of? And who is Mac...

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