Here are our notes for Macbeth by William Shakespeare. If you need in-depth information, just follow the links.
Genre and historical background
- Genre: Macbeth is a drama. More specifically the play is a tragedy because it centers on human suffering caused by fate and a tragic flaw within the protagonist himself. Also, the ending is tragic.
- In a play, there is no narrator. This means that we must analyze the characters’ dialogue and actions to learn about their characteristics and motives.
- The historical context: The play is believed to have been written between the Elizabethan era (named after Queen Elizabeth I, reigned 1558-1603) and the Jacobean era (named after King James I, reigned 1603-1625). Shakespeare was English, but the play is set in Medieval Scotland.
- The Chain of Being: The Elizabethan worldview was influenced by Christianity and focused on order over chaos. It was believed that everything had its fixed place in a strict hierarchy determined by God. This was called the Chain of Being. When Macbeth kills his king, he disrupts the Chain, and world order turns into chaos.
- Fate or free will: The Elizabethans believed that an individual’s life was already destined by God. At the same time, they believed in free will. This paradox is central to Macbeth when discussing who is to blame for his downfall. Was it simply fate or did he make bad decisions?
Overall action and structure
- Overall action (summary): Macbeth is a well-respected nobleman and soldier favored by King Duncan, and he has a close relationship with his wife, Lady Macbeth. However, when three witches prophesy that he will become king, Macbeth kills King Duncan. This leads to more killings and prophecies, and eventually Macbeth loses his honor, loyal supporters, and wife. He is killed, Duncan’s rightful heir takes the throne, and order is