This study guide will help you analyse William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth. We will guide you through the entire play and help you with in-depth analysis of the most important scenes. You can also find summaries of both the play as a whole and individual scenes, as well as information about the historical context of the Elizabethan era. Finally we will provide ideas for interpreting the play and putting it into perspective.
The text of the play can be found in numerous editions, and is also freely available online. Note that while the numbers of acts and scenes are the same between different editions, they sometimes count line numbers differently. The quotations in this guide are taken from The Complete Macbeth. An Annotated Edition of the Shakespeare Play (2013) by Donald J. Richardson.
Presentation of the text
Title: The Tragedy of Macbeth (1623)
Author: William Shakespeare
The English poet and playwright William Shakespeare is one of the most well known and highly regarded authors in history, even though very little is known about him.
He was baptised on the 26th of April, 1564, in the small village Stratford-upon-Avon, and was probably a student at the local grammar school. As an 18-year-old he married Anne Hathaway, a local woman whom he had three children with. But it was his later life in London as an actor and author that put him on the path towards fame. Even though theatre was not considered a respectable institution in Shakespeare's time, he succeeded in becoming a well-regarded playwright and in reforming English theatre.
It is believed that Shakespeare wrote (or co-wrote) 39 plays and 154 sonnets. He died on the 23rd of April, 1616, but he is incredibly famous to this day - often he is simply referred to as "the Bard", because many regard him as the most iconic writer in English history.
The tragedy Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's greatest dramatic works, despite being one of the shortest. It is believed that the play was first performed in 1606 in front of the Danish King Christian IV and the British King James I, who also provided economic support for Shakespeare's troupe. James I was also a Scotsman, and it is believed that Shakespeare intended some plot elements of Macbeth to be a tribute to James I and his background.
The play was first published in 1623, in the so-called First Folio collection of Shakespeare's plays.
This study guide was produced by Birgitte Amalie Thorn and the editorial team at Studienet.
You can read an excerpt from our study guide below:
General structure of Macbeth
Shakespeare’s Macbeth consists of five acts, in keeping with the structure of most like classical dramas. However, the number of scenes per act in this play vary quite a lot, as does the length of each scene. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays and it is very fast-paced, which can partly be explained by the fact that 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.
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 “foul” has become “fair” (and vice versa). Life is not black and white, and what may seem desirable like becoming king, may turn out to have catastrophic consequences.