Macbeth is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, based loosely on the historical King Macbeth of Scotland. Scholars think it an archetypal Jacobean play with plenty of references to the reign of James I, and place its composition around 1608.
There is considerable evidence that the text of the play as we have it incorporates later revisions by Thomas Middleton, which insert popular passages (notably extra scenes involving the witches, for such scenes proved highly popular with audiences) from his own play The Witch (1615).
Actors often consider this play to be 'unlucky', and usually refer to it as 'the Scottish play' rather than by name. To say the name of the play inside a theatre is considered to doom the production to failure.
On the stage Lady Macbeth is seen by many as one of the most challenging roles in Western theater for women. She is driven mad for her part in the king's murder and dies off stage in the final act.
The story of Shakespeare's play
Macbeth, Thane of Glamis and a general of the army of Duncan, King of Scotland, quickly rises through the ranks after a great victory over the rebel Macdonwald. In his lust for power, inspired by the witches' prediction that he would become king, he and his wife murder the king, and he becomes King of Scotland himself. The heir, Malcolm, flees to England, where he is joined by Macduff, the loyal Thane of Fife.
His friend Banquo, who, the witches have predicted, will be the ancestor of future kings, begins to suspect him, and Macbeth, becoming more evil every day, orders Banquo's murder in order to prevent the prediction from coming true. However, Banquo's son, Fleance, escapes the assassins. Macbeth is haunted by Banquo's ghost, whilst Lady Macbeth also suffers pangs of remorse, and constantly sleep-walks.
Urged on by Macbeth, the witches conjure spirits which tell him that he will not "vanquish'd be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come" and that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth," but also to "fear Macduff". Since Macduff is in exile, Macbeth orders the murder of his wife and children. Macduff, spurred into seeking revenge, leads an army camouflaged by boughs from Birnam wood to Dunsinane, where in a battle with Macbeth he reveals that he was ripped from his mother's body (ie, by Caesarean section) and therefore is not "of woman born."
Macduff vanquishes Macbeth, and Duncan's son, Malcolm, takes the throne.
Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, based on Hector Boece's 1527 Scotorum Historiae.
Reginald Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft
King James I of England's 1599 Daemonologie
Macbeth's words on dogs and men in Act 3, scene 1, (91-100), likely came from Erasmus' Colloquia
Macbeth, directed by Orson Welles
Macbeth, directed by Roman Polanski
Throne of Blood, directed by Akira Kurosawa
Macbeth, Verdi's 1847 opera with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, with additions by Andrea Maffei, based on Shakespeare's play. Verdi substantially revised the opera in 1865.