William Shakespeare
Contributed by Sharon Fleming
Character Analysis

Macbeth is a warrior and antihero who has won the hearts of many people — including King Duncan — with his military skills. Thus, it is not surprising that the king visits him for dinner. Aside from his military prowess, Macbeth is an ambitious man. He wants to achieve honor and glory. Macbeth’s monologues make clear the fact that he will do anything to attain his heart’s desires. However, the witches’ prediction of Macbeth’s ascent to the throne troubles him. His thought processes are hazy. He does not understand what he needs to do to make the prophecy a reality. Macbeth’s frustration peaks when King Duncan announces appoints his son, Malcolm, his heir. Since the witches had informed Macbeth he would be the next king, it was inevitable that he would be devastated by King Duncan’s pick. When it becomes clear to Macbeth that he must kill King Duncan to take his place, Macbeth’s conscience plagues him. His ambition conflicts with his morality. Moreover, in Act 1 Scene 7, Lady Macbeth mocks and chides Macbeth for his apparent failure, as a man, to do what needs to be done. This adds to Macbeth’s torment.

With time, Macbeth overcomes his emotions to behave in ways he initially resisted. By Act 3 Scene 2, Macbeth becomes a villain, and he is no longer worries about the consequences of his actions. By this time, his ambitions have taken control over him, and he commits terrible deeds. After killing King Duncan, Macbeth finds it easy to commit one murder after another. He plots Banquo’s death as a response to his efforts to stop the prophecy. Macbeth also orders the murder of Macduff’s wife and children. Macbeth’s descent into murderous amorality appears unstoppable. Yet, as Macbeth wades through this bloodbath, supernatural events surround and worry him. At one point, Banquo’s ghost appears and terrifies Macbeth.

Near the end of the play, a bloodthirsty Macbeth faces Malcolm on the battlefield. Just as Macbeth lurches forward to kill him, he lands on Malcolm’s sword. With this misstep, Macbeth suffers his tragic downfall.

Lady Macbeth

One of the most powerful female characters in literature, especially in Shakespeare’s time, is Lady Macbeth. From the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth emerges a villain willing to do anything in service of her goals, even shed innocent blood. Contrary to the traditionally feminine trait of care for others, Lady Macbeth demonstrates no concern for anyone but herself. In fact, she invites the “spirits that tend the mortal thoughts” to suppress her feminine instincts from interfering with her misdeeds. Lady Macbeth’s red-hot ambition to become the queen of Scotland is the motivation behind her malevolent actions. Moreover, Lady Macbeth is the inspiration behind Macbeth’s evil actions. When Macbeth is apprehensive and hesitant to kill King Duncan, Lady Macbeth chides him for lacking the necessary manliness to do it.

After forcing Macbeth's hand to commit several murders, Lady Macbeth finally demonstrates contrition. Her conscience troubles her, and she keeps thinking about the crimes she orchestrated. She suffers a serious mental illness that hinders her ability to act reasonably. Finally, she confesses her role in the murders. Lady Macbeth’s demise devastates Macbeth, who says he should have died.

King Duncan

As Scotland’s ruler, King Duncan plays a critical role in society. He is the figurehead of order and commands respect from his subjects. One of the factors that make King Duncan stand out is his grace and formal speeches. On the battlefield, King Duncan presents a speech that leaves all his listeners in awe of his eloquence. Unlike Macbeth, King Duncan accepts his failures, such as when he fails to realize the Thane of Cawdor’s treachery. In Act 1 Scene 4, he says that “there's no art to find the mind's construction in the face.”

In 1606, Macbeth was first performed before King James I, who recognized his title as one of divine leadership. Those upon whom powers had been bestowed to take charge of affairs were supposed to do so diligently and respectfully. As a result, King Duncan represents divine leadership by the humility and sympathy his displays toward his subjects. King Macbeth appreciates the divine nature of King Duncan's leadership when he says that King Duncan has “royal blood.” When King Duncan's son, Malcolm, takes the throne, he says, “By the grace of Grace / we will perform” to indicate his position as a God-appointed leader.


Macduff is the play’s hero in search of vengeance. However, Macduff does not seek to repay wrong with wrong. Instead, the need to return good leadership to the country motivates Macduff. When he realizes that Macbeth is responsible for King Duncan’s murder, he rejects Macbeth’s authority and flees the country. Macduff endures significant trauma throughout the play. First, he discovers the murder of King Duncan. Second, Macbeth murders all his family members. Their demise compels Macduff to join forces with Malcolm and plot oust Macbeth from power.

Macduff’s personality comes to light when he loses his “pretty chickens.” Although this loss devastates him, he holds back tears and emotions, forcing himself to exercise reason. Moreover, when Malcolm urges him to “dispute like a man,” Macduff politely responds that he “will do so… but… must also feel it like a man.” Macduff’s understanding of and control over his emotions create a stark contrast with Macbeth.


Just as it the case with Macbeth, the witches foretell fortune to Banquo’s family. They prophesy that Banquo's lineage will yield future kings, a prediction Macbeth refuses to accept. As a result, the prophecy positions Banquo against Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Like Macbeth, Banquo has ambitions. He wants his family to make the witches’ prophecy come to fruition and produce future leaders. In Act 2 Scene 1, Banquo cannot sleep because he obsesses over the witches’ words. Despite his obsession with power, Banquo remains oblivious to the fact that Macbeth killed King Duncan and plans to kill him, too.


Malcolm is a brilliant leader. After realizing that he could become Macbeth’s next target after his father, King Duncan, he decides to flee from Scotland. He and his brother, Donalbain, leave the country together. Following his disappearance in Act II Scene 3, Malcolm reappears in Act IV Scene 3. By this time, Malcolm has obtained the support of Edward the Confessor, the King of England. With his support, Malcolm assembles an army with which he intends to end Macbeth’s reign.

Before placing his trust in Macduff, Malcolm tests his allegiance. Malcolm makes sure that all who support him believe in his vision and ideas. He does not wish to proceed with a person capable of stabbing him in the back. Unlike Macbeth, Malcolm intends to promote good, not do evil, to his supporters. Ultimately, Malcolm's army manages to defeat the enemy, and as a result, he ascends to the throne. Malcolm uses the term “by the grace of Grace” to demonstrate his commitment to do what is right in the eyes of God and man alike.

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