Lady Macbeth, King Duncan and the Witches. Why are the characters of Shakespeare’s "Macbeth" still discussed today?

Pre-University Paper, 2016

11 Pages, Grade: 1


table of content

1 Introduction

2 Biography of William Shakespeare

3 Summary of Macbeth

4 Covered Characters
4.1 Macbeth
4.2 Lady Macbeth
4.3 King Duncan
4.4 Three Witches or Weïrd Sisters

5 Conclusion


1 Introduction

If you type “William Shakespeare” into Google you will receive over 64 million results. And, although very little is known about his personal life the plays and poems he wrote have survived over four centuries and Shakespeare’s works are the second most quoted after the Bible. This research paper will be focusing on “one of Shakespeare’s most enduringly popular and globally influential plays”[1]: the tragedy Macbeth. The play was probably written around 1606. The play focuses on a Thane called Macbeth who is driven by witches and by his wife into the murder of King Duncan in order to take the throne for himself. Since 1606 Macbeth has been performed uncountable times in theatres and screened several times, the most recent one being Macbeth (UK, 2015) with Justin Kurzel directing and Michael Fassbender starring as Macbeth. Shakespeare’s plays, such as Macbeth, are still addressed in schools around the world. The following study focuses on the characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan and the Witches or Weïrd Sisters. The main focus being why they are still discussed today. What makes the conflicted characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth so interesting? What do the witches represent? Is King Duncan a weak or generous King? At the time Macbeth was enjoyed by rich and poor and still is appreciated today, but why?

For this research paper the works of Bünsch, Moschovakis and Mühlmann were used.

Characters like Macduff, Malcolm and Banquo will be excluded. Also excluded will be the thesis that Macbeth has no beginning, middle or end because that does not relate to the research question.

2 Biography of William Shakespeare

Most historians presume that William Shakespeare was born near or on the 23rd April 1564, as there are church records of his baptism on the 26th April of the same year in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. His parents were John and Mary Shakespeare. William Shakespeare was one of six children. Before Shakespeare’s birth, his father had become a successful merchant and a public official. Very little is known about William Shakespeare, the man who is credited for 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and two narrative poems, which often raises questions about the authorship of his plays. There even is some debate about whether or not Shakespeare even existed.

There are only minimal records regarding Shakespeare’s childhood and education. Historians suppose that he most likely attended the King's New School in Stanford. On the 28th November 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: two daughters and a son, who died at the age of 11.

Historians refer to the seven years that followed as ‘the lost years’ as there are no records of what was happening to the Shakespeare family. On the 20th September 1592 edition of the Stationers' Register Robert Greene, a London playwright, wrote the following of Shakespeare "...There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in a Player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country,"[2] This proves that Shakespeare was known as an actor and playwright in London by 1592. There are also documents that show that Shakespeare was a managing partner in a London acting company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men. The company most likely performed Shakespeare's Henry VI series, Richard III and The Comedy of Errors between 1590 and 1592. It is thought that Shakespeare possibly started writing most of his sonnets around 1593, of which 154 still well respected to this day.

Shakespeare’s plays were very popular with the London Masses and Lords. The Lord Chamberlain's Men often performed before the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Because of his success, Shakespeare was able to purchase the second largest house in Stratford in 1597 for his wife and children. In 1599, Shakespeare and others from the Lord Chamberlain's Men established the Globe Theatre. The company changed their name to the King's Men when King James I was crowned in 1603. It is believed that during King James I's reign, Shakespeare wrote many of his most accomplished plays about courtly power, including King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.

William Shakespeare died on the 23rd April 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon, leaving most of his estate to his oldest daughter.

3 Summary of Macbeth

Act 1

The play begins with three witches who plan to meet Macbeth after a battle. In the next scene, the audience is introduced to the royal household: King Duncan, Malcolm and Donaldbain. At the beginning of Macbeth, the King of Norway is invading Scotland. A captain who has been wounded in battle reports to King Duncan that Macbeth and Banquo fought bravely against the Norwegian troops and the troops of the traitor Macdonald, who Macbeth personally killed. King Duncan praises both Macbeth and Banquo. Ross reports to King Duncan that Macbeth has triumphed and that another traitor, the Thane of Cawdor, has been captured. King Duncan sentences the Thane of Cawdor to death and awards his titles to Macbeth, which is to be celebrated at Macbeth’s castle. After the battle, the three witches plot evil deeds while awaiting Macbeth. When Banquo and Macbeth arrive the witches foretell that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland. The witches also prophesy that Banquo will not be king but his descendants will. After the witches disappear Ross arrives reporting that King Duncan was delighted to hear about their victory and that Macbeth is now Thane of Cawdor. After the execution of Cawdor, King Duncan greets Macbeth and praises him and Banquo and declares that his son, Malcolm, will succeed to the throne. At Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband, telling of the recent events. Lady Macbeth fears that Macbeth is too decent to kill King Duncan. At the arrival of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth urges him to kill King Duncan and after several quarrels, they devise a plan to kill the king.

Act 2

Macbeth kills King Duncan while hallucinating. Macbeth feels guilty but Lady Macbeth plans an alibi. After having a conversation with the porter, Macduff discovers the dead King Duncan. Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Macduff and Banquo are all horrified. After they hear the terrible news Malcolm and Donaldbain, suspecting danger, decide to flee: Malcolm to England and Donaldbain to Ireland. While Ross is discussing strange events that mirror Duncan’s murder, Macduff tells him that Duncan’s sons have fled and, therefore, Macbeth has been elected King of Scotland.

Act 3

Banquo starts fearing that Macbeth has become king by evil means. Macbeth requests that Banquo and his son, Fleance, are present at the banquet. Macbeth plans to have both killed as he fears his claim to the throne, although Lady Macbeth urges him not to. The murderers kill Banquo but Fleance manages to escape. The news that Banquo had been killed but his sons managed to escape, do not satisfy Macbeth. As Macbeth welcomes his guests he starts to see Banquo’s ghost, causing create confusion between the lords. Macbeth vows to revisit the witches and to kill anyone who stands between him and the throne.


[1] Moschovakis, Nick: Introduction. Dualistic Macbeth ? Problematic Macbeth ?. in: Moschovakis, Nick (Hrsg.): Macbeth. New critical essays, Routledge, New York 2008, S. 1

[2], letzter Zugriff: 06.01, 17:30

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Lady Macbeth, King Duncan and the Witches. Why are the characters of Shakespeare’s "Macbeth" still discussed today?
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Rebekka Lohse (Author), 2016, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan and the Witches. Why are the characters of Shakespeare’s "Macbeth" still discussed today?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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