Character Directory


King Duncan of Scotland (c. 1001-1039) is the ruler of Scotland who Macbeth murders for his throne. Shakespeare's Duncan is an elderly man, a respected and noble figure; as Macbeth reflects, he 'Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been / So clear in his great office, that his virtues / Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongu'd' (1.7.17-19). Duncan's generous and trusting nature contrasts strikingly with the evil which surrounds Macbeth. Though he appears only in Act 1, he is an important symbol of the values that are to be defeated and restored in the course of the play. His generosity and fatherly affection for Macbeth make his murder even more appalling. The unconscious irony is sharp when he greets Macbeth, who is already plotting against him, with a declaration of his own ingratitude, in 1.4.14-16. Duncan's faith, misplaced first in the rebellious Cawdor and then in Macbeth, provides the audience with an introduction to the atmosphere of betrayal that exists throughout the world of the play. 

The historical Duncan was a much younger man than Shakespeare's character, only a few years older than Macbeth. The playwright altered Duncan's age to stress the evil of Macbeth's crime, but in fact Macbeth did not murder Duncan; he usurped the crown through a civil war, and Duncan died in battle. The two were first cousins, both grandsons of Duncan's predecessor on the throne of Scotland, King Malcolm II (ruled 1005-1034). Duncan's claim to the throne was somewhat stronger than Macbeth's as it appears that Malcolm II had named Duncan as his heir, although the facts are obscure. However, Macbeth's action was an ordinary political manoeuvre in 11 th-century Scotland; King Malcolm II took the throne previously by murdering his cousin, Kenneth III (997-1005). Shakespeare devised his version of Duncan's death from an account of an earlier royal assassination, that of Malcolm II's uncle. King DufF(d. 967), in his source, Raphael Holinshed’s history.


Malcolm (Prince Malcolm Canmore, d. 1093) is the son of the murdered King Duncan of Scotland. In 1.4 Malcolm is named his father's successor to the dismay of Macbeth, who plots to take the crown himself. However, when Duncan is murdered, Malcolm and his brother Donalbain fear for their lives and worry that suspicion will fall on them. They flee the country in 2.3 and leave Macbeth to occupy the throne. Malcolm seeks refuge at the court of the English king, where we find him in 4.3. Macduff joins him there, and they lead an army to Scotland in Act 5, and defeat and kill Macbeth. At the play's close, Malcolm makes a stately speech that thanks his supporters and announces his forthcoming coronation as King of Scotland. 

Like Macduff, the young prince is a figure of goodness placed in opposition to Macbeth's evil, and as such is somewhat two-dimensional. He is clever when he devises a form of camouflage—each soldier carries a branch of a tree as the army marches on Dunsinane—that proves significant in Macbeth's downfall. However, Malcolm is most distinctive when he tests Macduff’s patriotism, in 4.3.1-139. The prospective king describes himself as an intemperate and dishonest degenerate, certain to be bad for the country. When Macduff despairs for Scotland, Malcolm reveals himself as a virtuous prince and accepts Macduff as a leader of his invasion army. This episode has two functions: most important, it stresses the atmosphere of distrust that Macbeth's evil has loosed on Scotland. It also presents Malcolm as a sensible, cautious young man who seems likely to be a successful ruler. This impression, along with our recollection of the clever camouflage, helps establish the sense of healing that comes with his triumph at the play's close. Caithness refers to him, appropriately, as 'the medicine of the sickly weal' (5.2.27). 

The historical Malcolm did return from exile to defeat Macbeth, but Shakespeare's treatment of his career is otherwise almost entirely altered. Malcolm was a young child when Macbeth seized the throne in 1039. Duncan was not murdered, so Malcolm did not flee to avoid suspicion. He was in fact sent to his uncle, Earl Siward, and he later lived at the court of King Edward the Confessor of England, as in the play. Only 15 years later, once he was a man, did Malcolm attempt an invasion of Scotland in 1054. The attack was repulsed though some territory was taken. Three years later a second attempt succeeded; Macbeth was defeated and killed, and Malcolm took the throne. 

Malcolm's reign began a highly important period in Scottish history, the first European orientation for the country. Malcolm's second wife, later known as St. Margaret, was an English princess who had been raised at the cosmopolitan medieval court of the kings of Hungary. Under her influence, Scotland accepted the Roman rather than the Celtic church and the arts and culture of Europe as opposed to those of ancient Britain. Margaret had been a refugee from the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, and Malcolm engaged in periodic warfare against William the Conqueror. He died in battle in 1093, during his fifth invasion of England. His successor was Duncan II, his oldest son by his first wife (the sister or daughter of Cathness). Duncan was overthrown by his uncle, Donalbain, but eventually another of Malcolm's sons (by Margaret) ruled Scotland as King David I (ruled 1124-1153). Through him, Malcolm was an ancestor of James I, the ruler of England in Shakespeare's time.


Donalbain (c. 1033-1099) is the younger son of the murdered King Duncan of Scotland. Donalbain plays a very minor part in the play; after he attends his father in three scenes of Act 1, he speaks for the first time in 2.3 after Duncan's murder. He suggests to his brother, Malcolm, that they flee, lest suspicion fall upon them.  He declares that he will go to Ireland while Malcolm goes to England. Malcolm returns to reclaim the kingdom from Macbeth, but Donalbain does not reappear in the play though he is mentioned several times, lastly in 5.2.7-8, where it is observed that he is not with Malcolm's army of invasion. However, in the play's final speech, Malcolm says that he intends 'calling home our exii'd friends abroad' (5.9.32), a remark that may remind us of Donalbain. 

The historical Donalbain was a child when Macbeth seized the throne from Duncan in 1039. His name is a corruption of Donald Ban, or Donald the White, which suggests that he was flaxen-haired. For dramatic purposes, Shakespeare altered the story and increased the ages of the brothers, but they did in fact leave Scotland—taken by adults, however—for separate exiles, Donalbain going to the Hebrides Islands off Scotland's north-west coast. He may have spent some time in Ireland, but it is from the Hebrides that he reentered history years later. Donald became the leader of the conservative Celtic nobility of north-western Scotland who opposed the European orientation that Malcolm, as king, gave the country. When Malcolm died fighting the Norman rulers of England in 1093, Donald invaded Scotland and deposed Malcolm's heir, Duncan II, with the help of one of Duncan's brothers. They ruled jointly for three years. However, another brother reconquered Scotland with the assistance of England—gained by accepting feudal subordination to the English king—and in 1099 Donald was captured, blinded, and imprisoned for the last few months of his life.


Macbeth (c. 1005-1057) is the title character of Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman who kills King Duncan of Scotland and rules the country until he is killed in combat by Lord Macduff. The evil of Macbeth's deed, and its effects on him and on Scotland, are the central elements of the play. He is conscious of the evil his ambition gives rise to, but he cannot overcome temptation. This is combined with his ambition, the urging of the equally ambitious Lady Macbeth, and the encouragement given him by the Witches, whose supernatural powers seem certain to help him though in fact they bring him to his doom.  As a man who abandons his own potential for good, Macbeth may be seen as an illustration of the fall of man, the prime Judeo-Christian example of sinful humanity's loss of God's grace. Eventually, Macbeth is destroyed by two virtuous men—Macduff and Duncan's son Malcolm—who are his opposites in the play's balance of good and evil. 

One of the play's manifestations of the power of evilis the collapse of Macbeth's personality. Macbeth commits or causes to be committed, more than four murders: first, that of the king, which he performs himself in 2 2 and then those of Banquo, in 3.3, and of Lady Macduff and her children, in 4.2. His behavior during and after each of these events is different, and in this progression is the heart of the drama. 

We hear of Macbeth before we see him. In 1.1 the Witches reveal that he is their target, and in 1.2 the king hears of his prowess on the battlefield. He appears to be a brave and loyal follower of the king, but when the Witches suggest, in 1.3, that Macbeth is to become king himself, we see that he has already entertained the possibility of usurping Duncan's crown.  However, in 1.7, as he contemplates the prospect of killing King Duncan, he wavers. He still remembers his society's crude discipline, the 'even-handed Justice' (1 7.10) that dictates that if he kills the king, someone else may kill him. He further acknowledges that in simple decency he should not kill the man who is his kinsman and his guest, and who has, moreover, been notably kind to him. On another ethical level, he recognizes that it is evil to deprive society of a virtuous man and a fine ruler. 

Macbeth still retains the moral sensibility to declare, 'I dare do all that may become a man. / Who dares do more is none' (1.7.46-47), but Lady Macbeth encourages him to overcome his scruples, and in 2.2 he kills the king. He is immediately plagued by his conscience; he tells of how he 'could not say Amen' (2.2.28) and of the voices that foretold sleeplessness. His absorption with his bloody hands foreshadows his wife's descent into madness in 5.1. Nevertheless, he carries his plot through and is crowned between 2.4 and 3.1. 

Though the influence of the Witches and of Lady Macbeth is very prominent and reflects different aspects of the ways we can fall into evil, Macbeth is basically not controlled by them. His story is one of a moral choice, and the consequences of that choice. It is clear that Lady Macbeth's influence helps him on his way, but once he has killed Duncan he withdraws from her, and she has no role in his subsequent plots; he plainly can get along without her. At the same time, his response to the supernatural is carefully contrasted with Banquo's suspicion of the Witches. Macbeth has every opportunity to avoid his fate: he could have ignored Lady Macbeth, or followed the lead of Banquo. However, he made a different choice, for he is a driven, self-destructive man. 

Once installed as king, he considers murdering Banquo. He hopes to dispose of the Witches' prediction that Banquo's descendants will rule. He is troubled and cannot rest; he sees life as a 'fitful fever' (3.2.23), and he cries out, 'O! full of scorpions is my mind' (3.2.36). But he hires murderers to dispose of Banquo and his son Fleance. Again, he is tormented by his conscience, especially by the sight of Banquo's Ghost. He returns to the Witches a second time and is warned by the Apparitions against Macduff. He determines to eliminate this threat also, with the result that the murderers kill Macduff’s wife and children, although Macduff has already escaped to England. 

By now, however, Macbeth's qualms have disappeared, replaced by a more fundamental disorder. We next see him in 5.3 as he prepares to defend himself against the army of Malcolm and Macduff, and he has become a different person. He veers wildly between rage and despair and has lost any emotional connection to his fellow humans. He declares that he is 'sick at heart' and has 'lived long enough' (5.3.19, 22), and he realises that all that he might once have expected in his old age, 'honour, love, obedience, troops of friends' (5.3.25), is irrevocably lost. Informed of Lady Macbeth's death, he can only reflect on the meaninglessness of life. He has lost his ordinary human repertoire of responses to life and death. 

Even his courage, the only virtue he has retained, has an inhuman quality: 'bear-like, I must fight the course' (5.7.2), he growls. Only when he finally understands the deceptive prophecies of the Apparitions does he succumb once again, too late, to a genuine human emotion^. He feels sheer terror—'it hath cow'd my better part of man', he cries (5.8.18) when he realises that Macduff is not 'of woman born' (5.8.13). He recovers courage enough to die, and thus in death he is not wholly lost. 

His basic strength is also demonstrated in his capacity to face and withstand the ugly truth about himself. He sees the evil to which he has subjected himself and his world. He recognises his own immorality, and he is not satisfied with the position he attains, but he nevertheless defends this position with continued murder. He is aware of this irrational phenomenon; one of his most fascinating features is that he is conscious of the goodness he abandons. When he first contemplates the murder of Duncan, he says its 'horrid image doth unfix my hair' (1.3.135). He recognizes the 'deep damnation' to be expected and his hallucination of the dagger confirms the force of this knowledge. After he commits the murder his immediate concern is not with being discovered, but with his conscience. 'To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself (2.2.72), he says. And at the end of the play he is tormented by the awareness that his life could have been altogether different. It is the contrast with what might have been that makes Macbeth a tragic figure. Though Malcolm understandably refers to 'this dead butcher, and his fiend-like Queen' (5.9.35), the real point of the play resides in the extent to which Macbeth is not simply a monster. He cannot accept his evil callously; he suffers for it. 

The historical Macbeth did indeed seize the throne from his cousin Duncan, but Shakespeare's depiction of the man and his reign is otherwise entirely fictional. Shakespeare took some of his errors from his source, Holinshed’s Chronicles, which itself depended upon the unreliable, quasi-legendary history of Hector Boece. However, much of the playwright's version varies from Holinshed, anyway, for he was interested in drama, not history. Though in the play the stigma against Macbeth's action is immense, his usurpation was fairly ordinary in 1 Ith-century Scotland. Duncan's predecessor, King Malcolm II, had taken the throne when he murdered his cousin, Kenneth III. By the standards of the day, Macbeth's claim to the throne was fairly legitimate, as Holinshed makes clear. Macbeth, like Duncan, was a grandson of Malcolm II, and thus a plausible heir. He might also have asserted a claim as the husband of Gruoch (the real Lady Macbeth), who was a granddaughter of Kenneth III. However, there is no evidence that he received—or needed—any prodding from his wife to usurp power. Tradition dictated that any male member of the royal family who could establish that he had regal qualities—usually interpreted as control of an armed force—was qualified to succeed to the crown. In principle, an election within the family settled conflicting claims, though a resort to force was ordinary. 

Macbeth, however, did not murder Duncan; he launched a civil war, and Duncan died in battle. Shakespeare took from Holinshed an account of an earlier royal assassination and ascribed it to his protagonist. Further, the play shows Scotland convulsed by the usurper's crime and tormented by his tyranny, but in fact Macbeth was a benign and successful king who ruled in peace for 15 years. Holinshed reported Macbeth's virtues as a king, but Shakespeare ignored them in the interests of drama. As in the play, Macbeth's reign ended when the exiled Prince Malcolm invaded the country with English forces. Malcolm's first attempt at conquest was only partially successful. Siward won a victory at Dunsinane Castle in 1054, but it was not until 1057 that Macbeth was finally defeated in a battle nowhere near Dunsinane.


Banquo is friend and later victim of Macbeth. In 1.3 Banquo and Macbeth encounter the Witches, who predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland. They add that Banquo, whom they describe as 'Lesser than Macbeth, and greater' (1.3.65), shall father a line of rulers, though he shall not be one himself. Macbeth, inspired by this encounter to fulfill his ambition, kills King Duncan and seizes the throne. He then worries about the possibility that his kingdom will fall to Banquo's heirs, and he orders Banquo and his son Fleance murdered. In 3.3 the First Murderer and his companions kill Banquo, though Fleance escapes. Banquo's Ghost later appears to Macbeth, aggravating his bad conscience. In 4.1 the Ghost confirms the Witches' prediction that his descendants will be Kings. King James I, England's ruler in Shakespeare's day, was believed to be descended from an historical Lord Banquo. 

Banquo is a decent and honorable nobleman who senses that the Witches are evil and thus not to be relied on. He warns Macbeth that 'oftentimes, to win us to our harm, / The instruments of Darkness tell us truths' (1.3.123-124), and his concern contrasts strikingly with Macbeth's susceptibility to the Witches.  Banquo's resistance points up Macbeth's failure to resist and stresses his tendency towards evil, the flaw that makes the tragedy possible. When he decides to murder Banquo, Macbeth acknowledges his 'royalty of nature' (3.1.49). He fears that Banquo's righteousness may turn him into an enemy. Thus, we see that Banquo's fate is dictated by his virtue, just as Macbeth's is determined by his villainy. 

In Shakespeare's source for Macbeth, Holinshed’s Chronicles, Banquo collaborates with Macbeth in the murder of Duncan and is killed because he knows too much. The playwright may have altered Banquo simply to avoid depicting the king's ancestor as a murderer, though Banquo could merely have been omitted to achieve this end. However, Shakespeare probably realized that the play is stronger with only a single villain, and Banquo's supposed ancestry to the king made him an apt choice to stand in opposition to that villain as a pointedly virtuous comrade. That this was Banquo's more important function for Shakespeare is suggested by the playwright's disregard for Fleance's fate or for the question of Banquo's descendants, once Fleance's survival ensures that he could have had some. 

Though Holinshed, Shakespeare, and King James himself had no reason to doubt the belief that Banquo was a predecessor of the Stuart dynasty, modern scholarship has established that this was not true. Banquo may reflect some ancient chieftain of Scotland, but outside Holinshed's source, the semi-legendary history of Hector Boece, he has no historical standing.


Macduff, Thane of Fife (active c. 1054?) is the rival and vanquisher of Macbeth. After Macbeth murders King Duncan of Scotland and succeeds him on the throne, Macduff joins Duncan's son Malcolm in exile in England. There he learns that Macbeth has massacred his family, and when he and Malcolm lead an army against Macbeth, Macduff seeks out the usurper at Dunsinane to exact personal vengeance. Macbeth relies on the supernatural assurance that no man 'of woman born' (4.1.80, 5.8.13) can harm him, but it turns out that Macduff was 'from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd' (5.8.14-15)—that is, delivered by Caesarean section and thus not 'born' in the ordinary construction of the word. In the subsequent fight, Macduff kills Macbeth; he presents the usurper's severed head to Malcolm, in 5.9.  

Shakespeare painstakingly builds Macduff up as the play's agent of retribution. We first notice Macduff in 2.4, when he returns to Fife rather than attend Macbeth's coronation. In 3.4 Macbeth suspects Macduff is hostile, and in 3.6 we hear that he has fled to join Malcolm. Thus, even before he takes a prominent role, Macduff distinguishes himself because he refuses to accept Macbeth's succession to the crown. In 4.1 Macbeth is told by the Apparitions to 'Beware Macduff (4.1.71), and it is evident that the Thane of Fife will be the usurper's rival though Macbeth is calmed by the Apparitions' other predictions. In 4.3 Macduff proves that he is a disinterested patriot. Malcolm fears that Macduff may be Macbeth's agent and tests him. The prince pretends to be a degenerate who would make a terrible king. Macduff despairs for Scotland, and Malcolm accordingly accepts him. Thus, the playwright places Macduff’s virtue in clear opposition to the villainy of Macbeth. As a symbol of triumphant good, Macduff is a somewhat stylized character. He rejects Macbeth, he proves himself dedicated to Scotland, he is able to overcome the magic that Macbeth relies on, and in the end he kills the villain. A multifaceted persona is not required for such a character, and generally we do not see one. However, he has one majestic moment that powerfully evokes our sympathy for him as a man. In one of Shakespeare's most moving episodes, Macduff grieves for the death of his wife, Lady Macduff, and their family, at the hands of Macbeth's hired killers. At first, he can hardly believe it: 'All my pretty ones? / Did you say all?—0 Hell-kite!—All?' (4.3.216-217), he cries. When Malcolm encourages him to revenge and says,'Dispute it like a man' (4.3.220), Macduff replies with great dignity, 'I shall do so; / But I must also feel it as  a man: / I cannot but remember such things were / THat were most precious to me' (4.3.220-223). We are deeply moved, aware that the grieving thane is profoundly engaged with his love and sorrow. The source of Macduff s virtue is exposed: he is a complete human being who cannot sever the bonds of kinship and love. We see that Macduff’s strong acceptance of his grief is the opposite of the cold inhumanity of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

It is uncertain whether Macduff existed in history.  Shakespeare found him in Holinshed’s Chronicles, which was based on the quasi-legendary history of Hector Boece, but he cannot be certainly identified with anyone recorded in 11th-century documents.  Nevertheless, the name probably represents a historical ruler of Fife who was an ally of Malcolm against Macbeth. His birth by Caesarean section is even more speculative. The procedure, though known to have existed since ancient times, was certainly extremely rare in medieval Scotland, if practiced at all. In premodern societies the strangeness of this mode of birth led to its being associated with the extraordinary figures of history and legend—such as Julius Caesar, for whom it is named—and this doubtless accounts for the belief that Macbeth's killer entered the world in this fashion.


Thane of Lenox (Lennox) is a Scottish nobleman. Lenox functions as an attendant for most of the play. He is a silent companion of King Duncan in Act 1, and he speaks only a little when he arrives to join the king in 2.3, at the time of Duncan's murder. After Macbeth is crowned, Lenox transfers his services to the new king and attends him silently in 3 1, and with a few words in 3.4 and 4.1. Only in 3.6—a misplaced scene (in the First Folio text) that should follow 4.1—does Lenox assume any importance. In this scene he speaks against Macbeth and makes clear the extent to which his evil is loathed in Scotland Like his fellow thanes Rosse and Angus, Lenox' chief significance lies in his rebellion, which demonstrates the extremity of the nation's disorder once evil has been permitted to flourish. In Act 5 Lenox serves the cause of Prince Malcolm. Shakespeare's use of the name Lenox may have been intended as a compliment to the new English king, James I, who was descended from an Earl of Lenox.


Thane of Rosse (Ross) is a Scottish nobleman. Rosse is a pawn of the plot; he often is the bearer of news. In 1.2 Rosse tells King Duncan of Macbeth’s success in battle, and in 1.3 he conveys to Macbeth the king's thanks. In 2.4 he discusses evil omens with the Old Man and speaks with Macduff of Macbeth's coronation. In 4.2 he attempts to encourage the bereft Lady Macduff. In this scene he delivers a speech that stresses the play's motif of fear and mistrust. 'Cruel are the times, when we are traitors, /And do not know ourselves' (4.2.18-19), he says. In 4.3 he reports her murder to her husband and joins him in revolt against Macbeth. In 5.9 he tells Siward of the death of his son, Young Siward. Rosse's greatest significance is seen in his gradual revolt against; Macbeth. He represents Scotland as a whole, which suffers from Macbeth's evil and then rejects him.

Historically, the Thane of Ross (the correct spelling, which has been adopted by many editors instead of the First Folio’s Rosse') was Macbeth himself, who had received the title years before the time of the play. Shakespeare took his error from his source, Holinshed’s history, where the name appears in a list of Scottish noblemen who revolted against Macbeth.


Walter Dalyell, Thane of Menteth (Menteith), (active 1056)  In 5.2 Menteth, with Caithness, Angus, and Lenox, joins the army led by Malcolm and Macduff against Macbeth. They are presumably among the 'many worthy fellows' (4.3. 183) reported earlier to have risen in arms against Macbeth's tyranny. In 5.4 they prepare to march on Dunsinane. Though his character is not developed, Menteth's presence helps strengthen the political aspect of the play. The rebellion of the nobles indicates the extent of political and social disruption in Scotland due to Macbeth's evil.  The historical Walter Dalyell ruled Menteith, a territory in central Scotland. Little more is known of him; Shakespeare took his name from a list of Malcolm's allies in his source, Holinshed’s history.


Gilchrist, Thane of Angus (active 1056) Historical figure and minor character in Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman. A minor follower of King Duncan in Act 1, with Rosse he brings Macbeth the news that he has been named Thane of Cawdor, in 1.3.89-116. Angus reappears in 5.2 and 5.4 as one of the Scottish rebels against Macbeth who join the army of Prince Malcolm. Angus speaks very little, though he does deliver a telling description of the depraved Macbeth, who feels ' his title / Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe / Upon a dwarfish thief (5.2.20-22). His mere presence in Malcolm's army is significant, for the rebellion of the nobles demonstrates the extreme disorder in Scotland caused by Macbeth's evil. The historical Thane of Angus, whose surname was Gilchrist, ruled a small territory in eastern Scotland. In 1056, as a reward for his services to Malcolm, he as named Earl of Angus as is anticipated in 5.9.28-30, but little more is known of him; Shakespeare took his name from a list of Malcolm's allies in his source, Holinshed’s history.


Thorfin Sigurdsson, Earl of Cathness (Caithness), (active 1014-1065) Historical figure and minor character in Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman. In 5.2 Cathness, with Menteth, Angus, and Lenox, marches to join the army led by Malcolm and Macduff against Macbeth. In 5.4 they prepare to march on Dunsinane, though Cathness does not speak. This Scottish soldier helps to suggest the play's national scope, for the rebellion of which he is a part results in the restoration of good government and social stability in Scotland. The historical Earl of Caithness was in fact a Viking lord, the powerful independent ruler of the Orkney and Hebrides Islands and parts of mainland Scotland, including Caithness on the northernmost coast. Known as Thorfin the Mighty, he is also a minor figure in King Harold's Saga, a classic of medieval Norse literature. His daughter (or possibly his sister) later married Malcolm.


Fleance is the son of Banquo and the intended murder victim of Macbeth. The Witches-predict to Macbeth that he will be king but that Banquo's descendants will rule, rather than his own, so once Macbeth has seized the throne of Scotland, he decides that he must kill Banquo and Fleance to prevent the prediction coming true. Fleance appears briefly in 2.1, simply to establish his existence, and when Banquo is killed in 3.3 Fleance escapes after an even briefer appearance. Thus, the possibility is preserved that Banquo's line will eventually replace Macbeth's, and this is Fleance's sole function in Macbeth. Once his survival is noted, he is not mentioned in the remainder of the play. 

Banquo and Fleance are named as forefathers of the Stuart dynasty in Shakespeare's source for the play, Holished’s Chronicles. A Stuart ruled England at the time Macbeth was written in the person of King James I, and the playwright dutifully included the information (the connection to the Stuarts is made by Banquo's Ghost). However, this was simply a legend recorded as fact in Holinshed's source, the semi legendary history by Hector Boece. Fleance in fact never existed, although the name may well have beenused by some ancient Scottish lord.


Siward (Sigurd the Dane), Earl of Northumberland (d. 1055) is an English ally of Malcolm and Macduff against Macbeth. Siward, a famous soldier who commands an army of 10,000 men, is provided by England's king to the exiled Prince Malcolm of Scotland. As a noble and knightly figure, Siward stands for the virtues lost to the world of the play through Macbeth's evil, and as a foreigner who must be brought in to restore the country's health, he points up the extremity of Scotland's need. He appears briefly several times in Act 5 and is a direct and simple soldier. His most notable moment comes when he is informed that his son, Young Siward, has died in com- bat. With noble fortitude he observes, 'Why then, God's soldier be he! / Had I as many sons as I have hairs, / I would not wish them to a fairer death.' (5 9 13-15). 

The historical Siward, or Sigurd, was of Danish royal descent. His family had seized Northumberland during the Danish conquest of England a few generations earlier; in Northumberland it was traditionally said that his grandfather was a bear. Siward was a famous warrior who had fought for the English kings Hardicanute (ruled 1040-1042) and Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), and he was thus a fitting choice to command Malcolm's army of invasion, quite aside from his kinship to the prince. He was either Malcolm's brother-in-law or uncle—11th-century references differ. Shakespeare's source, Holinshed’s history, mistakenly called him Malcolm's grandfather, for he was considerably older than Malcolm's father. King Duncan. The playwright made him Malcolm's uncle—perhaps thereby unknowingly correcting an error—to place him in the same generation as Duncan. Much more than the legendary Banquo, Siward deserved to be called 'the root and father / Of many kings' (3.1.5-6). His oldest son, Osberne, died fighting against Macbeth, as in the play. His younger son, Waltheof (d. 1075), led the last British resistance to William the Conqueror and was later canonized for it as Saint Waldeve. He had a daughter, Matilda, who married Malcolm's son, later King David I of Scotland (ruled 1124-1153). Two of their sons were kings of the Dunkeld dynasty, as were a grandson and great-grandson. A third son of Matilda and David was an ancestor of King Robert II (1371-1390) who was the founder of the Stewart (later Stuart) dynasty. Thus Siward is an ancestor of Shakespeare's sovereign, King James I, whose supposed descent from Banquo is celebrated in the play. All this was certainly unknown to Shakespeare, who simply followed Holinshed, and presumably to King James as well, for he seems to have enjoyed his supposed connection to Banquo.


Young Siward (Osberne of Northumberland, d. 1054) is an English soldier killed by Macbeth. Son of Siward, the English ally of Malcolm and Macduff, Young Siward appears with the leaders in 5.4 but does not speak. In the ensuing battle he bravely challenges Macbeth to personal combat in 5.7, and dies in the encounter. The youth has no personality and serves only as a foil to Macbeth, whose evil is emphasized by the contrast with Young Siward's noble bravery, and whose malign nature is demonstrated in the otherwise unnecessary death of so fine a young man. The actual son of Siward was named Osberne. He did indeed die in combat at an early age during Malcolm's invasion of Scotland, but nothing more is known of him.


Seyton is an attendant to Macbeth. Seyton appears briefly in 5.3, where he endures Macbeth's impatient abuse, and even more briefly in 5.5, where he informs Macbeth of the death of Lady Macbeth. This triggers Macbeth's famous soliloquy on 'to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow' (5.5.19). He is a patient servant who functions as a sounding board for Macbeth's increasing dementia.  The men of a Scottish family named Seyton (Seton, Seaton) were hereditary armorers to the kings of Scotland, and Shakespeare may have intended Seyton as one of them. However, the Seytons' position did not exist until the rule of King Edgar (ruled 1097-1107), who was a son of Macbeth's foe and successor Malcolm. Some scholars think Shakespeare may also have intended the name to be a pun on 'Satan', a reference to Macbeth's last loyal servant that stresses the king's depravity as he approaches his end.

McDuff's Son

Son is the child of the Macduffs who is killed by Macbeth’s hired Murderers, in 4.2. The Son sees that his mother is distressed by Macduff’s departure to England to join the rebellion against Macbeth, and he attempts to understand the situation with pertly humorous questions and remarks. His wit and intelligence make his slaughter all the more vicious and contribute greatly to the power of the episode, which stresses the depths of evil to which Macbeth has descended. The boy's courage in death—he calls one of the Murderers a 'shag-hair'd villain' (4.2.82), and with his last breath he futilely attempts to warn his mother—contrasts tellingly with the villainy of his kill.

An English Doctor

The English Doctor is serving King Edward the Confessor of England (ruled 1042-1066). In 4.3 the Doctor tells Malcolm and Macduff of King Edward's power to miraculously cure disease by merely touching the victims. This is a reference to a well-known superstition that any English sovereign could cure scrofula, a tuberculosis of the lymph nodes that could leave its victims 'All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye' (4.3.151), as Malcolm puts it. The positive magic of the saintly king is contrasted with the evil machinations of the Witches who support Macbeth. The episode may also have been intended as a compliment to the new King of England, James I; it suggests the sacred status of his office. Some scholars believe that the entire passage, 4.3.139-159—probably written by Shakespeare—may have been interpolated into the original text of the play on the occasion of a performance before the king.

A Scotch Doctor Scottish Doctor is the witnesses of Lady Macbeth's hallucinations in the sleep-walking scene (5.1) and understands the allusions to the murders she has on her conscience. He observes, 'Unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles . . . More needs she the divine than the physician' (5.1.68-71). This emphasizes the play's connection of evil with psychological disorders. Further, the Doctor points up the atmosphere of fear and distrust that surrounds the rule of Macbeth when he departs, saying, 'I think, but dare not speak' (5.1.76). In 5.3 at besieged Dunsinane, the Doctor reports to Macbeth that Lady Macbeth continued to suffer from mental disturbances; he confesses that he cannot cure them and incurs the king's disdain. Again, he has a pertinent exit line: 'Were I from Dunsinane away and clear, / Profit again should hardly draw me here' (5.3.61-62), a salty reminder of Macbeth's evil influence as it was felt by ordinary citizens of Scotland.
A Porter Porter is a doorkeeper at the castle of Macbeth. In 2.3, immediately following Macbeth's murder of King Duncan, the Porter appears in response to a knocking at the gate. His humorous drunkenness contrasts strikingly with the grim murder scene, and thus he reinforces the suspenseful horror that we have just been exposed to. Also, in his drunkenness the Porter pretends to be the gatekeeper of hell, and this motif emphasizes the fact that Macbeth has just lost his soul.

Shakespeare's original audiences will have recognized immediately that the Porter was imitating a familiar figure of the medieval Morality Play; the gatekeeper of hell who admits Christ to Limbo in the ancient legend of the 'Harrowing of Hell'. This gatekeeper guarded the literal mouth of hell—a familiar image from the painted backdrops of a gigantic, flaming lion's mouth (derived from Rev. xiii:2) used in the morality plays. The Porter makes it clear that we are to see Macbeth's castle as hell, and leaves no doubt whatever that the enormity of Macbeth's evil is of the greatest importance in the play. When the Porter finally opens the door and admits Macduff, a subtle analogy between Macduff and Christ is suggested. This foreshadows Macduff’s role as the final conqueror of the evil Macbeth.

The Porter also provides comic relief. His humor is both topical, with references to a contemporary treason trial —a resonant theme in a play of regicide—and simply vulgar, as in his remarks on the effects of drink, in 2.3.27-35. This vulgarity inspired high-minded commentators such as Alexander Pope and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to declare the Porter a non-Shakespearean addition, on the grounds that a genius of literature would not stoop to such low comedy. However, modern critics recognize that the Porter is a typically humorous Shakespearean representation of unsophisticated humanity. With his comedy and his simple mind that nevertheless offers important commentary on the situation, the porter is the nearest thing to a Fool.  Also like the old man of 2.4, he serves the function of a chorus and offers a point of view entirely outside that of all the other characters.

An Old Man The Old Man converses with Rosse in 2.4 and comments on the evil omens that have accompanied the murder of King Duncan. This conversation, like a Greek Chorus, offers a commentary on the action so far. The description of the omens—especially that of Duncan's horses eating each other—stresses an important theme of the play: Duncan's murder and its perpetrator are horribly unnatural. The Old Man states the theme explicitly when he describes the eerie darkness of the day. ' 'Tis unnatural, / Even like the deed that's done' (2.4.10-11), he says.

The Old Man presents himself as venerable but unsophisticated—'Threescore and ten I can remember well' (2.4.1), he says when he introduces himself. This, along with his distinctively rustic image of the 'mousing owl' (2.4.13) that killed the falcon, helps establish that the play's catastrophe is universal. Scotland’s collapse due to Macbeth’s evil is a major motif of the play, and the country as a whole is represented by this ageing peasant.

The episode is a good instance of a technique that Shakespeare was fond of: the plot is interrupted by the introduction of an anonymous figure who comments on it and then disappears from the play. In Macbeth the Porter serves a similar function in a more elaborate manner; the Gravedigger of Hamlet is another particularly well-known example.

LADY MACBETH Lady Macbeth (c. 1005-c. 1054) is the wife of Macbeth. Lady Macbeth shares her husband's lust for power, and her fierce goading in Act 1 leads him to murder King Duncan in 2.2 and seize the throne of Scotland. He is reluctant and fears detection. He recognizes that the deed is evil, but Lady Macbeth's ferocious will inspires him with the perverse intensity necessary to overcome his scruples. However, the evils unleashed by the murder prove too much for the new queen, and she goes insane. Reduced to sleep-walking and hallucinations in 5.1, she eventually dies, as is reported in 5.5. Her death is declared a suicide in 5.9. Lady Macbeth's principal importance lies in her ability to influence her husband early in the play when she urges him to murder the king. When she learns of Duncan's approach to Inverness—which offers the opportunity for murder—she fervently prays, 'Come, you Spirits . . . unsex me here, / And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full / Of direst cruelty!' (1.5.40-43), and she asks that the milk of her breasts be changed to gall. This speech introduces an important motif: the distortion of sexuality, which is a symbol of moral disorder. She goes on to summon 'the dunnest smoke of Hell' (1.5.51) to obscure her deeds from Heaven's sight. This invocation of supernatural horrors is chilling, and reminds us of the Witches, already established as a source of evil.

With hypocritical charm. Lady Macbeth welcomes King Duncan to Inverness in 1.6, after which she must deal with her husband's qualms. She insinuates that he is not an adequate man if he gives in to his fears. 'When you durst do it, then you were a man' (1.7.49), she taunts. This tactic is another instance of dysfunctional sexuality as a manifestation of evil. She goes on to exploit her own sexuality when she describes the experience of nursing a loving infant. She insists that she would have ruthlessly 'plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dash'd the brains out' (1.7.57-58), if it had been necessary to achieve their goal. Shamed by her vigour, Macbeth agrees to proceed, but in 2.2 it is left to her to break the horror-struck trance into which he falls after he murders Duncan and to bring their plan to completion. Her ruthless intensity has brought the throne within reach, and Macbeth is crowned soon thereafter.

Lady Macbeth's viciousness has horrified generations of readers and audiences. However, her grim fervor not only makes her fascinating—the role has consistently attracted major actresses of all periods—but it also illuminates the most important element of the play: Macbeth's relationship to evil. He clearly would not have carried out the regicide, although he had already considered it, without the impetus from her. She, on the other hand, willingly commits herself to evil. The contrast makes clear the potential goodness in Macbeth that he abandons when he kills his king. Lady Macbeth thus functions as a symbol of evil until she falls victim to it herself.

However, Shakespeare's major characters are never one-dimensional, and Lady Macbeth is not a simple cartoon of villainy. She, too, is repelled by the evil inherent in murder, though only subconsciously. She can only refer to the regicide euphemistically—Duncan must be 'provided for' (1.5.66); the killing is 'this enterprise' (1.7.48) or merely 'it' (5.1.34), and she is unable to bring herself to do the deed because Duncan too closely resembles her father. When Macbeth speaks of evil just after he has killed Duncan, she prophetically declares, 'These deeds must not be thought / After these ways: so, it will make us mad' (2.2.32-33). Finally, her anguish in the sleep-walking scene demonstrates convincingly that she simply cannot tolerate her too-hastily accepted immersion in evil. Lady Macbeth's madness, along with her husband's profound emotional malaise, is essential to one of the play's strongest effects. Because we see their dreadful breakdown so vividly, we must acknowledge that they are victims of evil as well as its instruments. Indeed, Lady Macbeth finally commits suicide, as reported in 5.9.36-37.

There may also be another cause for her madness.  She and Macbeth are obviously fond of each other, as we see when they first meet in 1.5. Macbeth's letter to her—read in her first speech—makes clear that they have long confided in each other, and that their ambitions are closely shared. Yet when they accomplish their long-sought goal it has an unforeseen consequence for her. Once Duncan has been killed, Lady Macbeth becomes increasingly unimportant to her husband as he begins to undergo the emotional collapse that is the play's principal development. She does not become Macbeth's 'dearest partner of greatness' (1.5.11), as both had anticipated, but is instead excluded from his confidence. He does not inform her of his plan to kill Banquo, and after her ineffectual attempts to control him when he sees Banquo's ghost, in 3.4, she disappears from the plot. The evil she was so willing to accept betrays her—as it betrays Macbeth—and produces only anguish in place of the rewards she had envisioned. Not only does she lose her husband to his increasingly dead emotional life, she also loses the access to power that had motivated her in the first place. Nothing remains to her and she goes insane. When she stimulates action, in Act 1, Lady Macbeth overflows with vitality; in 5.1 she is reduced to fear of the dark. Though she seemed much stronger than her husband, in the end she lacks the animal strength he uses to bear the aftermath of their deed to its fatal conclusion.

The intimacy between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth combined with the use of perverse sexuality as a symbol of moral disorder has led to a theatrical tradition (dating to the interpretation of Sarah Berhardt, in the late 19th century) that presents their relationship as highly charged sexually, and she as a bold flaunter of her sexual charms. However, the play could also suggest sublimated passions whose energies have been displaced onto political ambition. In any case, it is clear that their relationship—however construed—withers in the atmosphere of mistrust and emotional disturbance that is unleashed with Duncan's murder. 

The historical Lady Macbeth, whose first name was Gruoch, was the grand-daughter of a Scottish king who was murdered in 1003 A.D., 36 years before the time the play begins. Macbeth was Gruoch's second husband. By her first, a nobleman from northern Scotland, she bore a son, Lulach, whom Shakespeare presumably had in mind when Lady Macbeth remembers nursing a child, in 1.7.54-58. When Macbeth seized the throne, his wife's royal descent doubtless supported his pretensions, though it was not necessary to his claim. There is no evidence at all that she attempted to persuade her husband to make such a claim, nor that she needed to. In fact, Gruoch is very little in evidence at any point in the history of Macbeth's reign, though after his fall her influence may be supposed. Lulach ruled briefly after Macbeth's defeat and death in 1057 before being killed by the triumphant Malcolm. Since Lulach was known as 'the Simple', some historians think that his mother engineered his assumption of power. Perhaps her spirit passed down to Lulach's grandson Angus, Lady Macbeth's last known descendant, who attempted unsuccessfully to seize the throne in 1120.

LADY MACDUFF Lady Macduff is the wife of Lord Macduff and a victim of Macbeth’s hired Murderers. In 4.2 Lady Macduff is afraid that her husband's departure for England to join the rebellion against Macbeth has placed her and her children in danger. Rosse attempts to reassure her, but he can only say 'I dare not speak much further: / Butcruel are the times . . .' (4.2.17-18). This exchange makes plain the extent to which evil has triumphed in Macbeth's Scotland. Rosse leaves, and the Lady, in her distress, blurts out to her son that Macduff is dead. He is an intelligent lad who realises that stress has made her say it, and her loving appreciation of his childish wit shines through her distracted grief. This touching moment is interrupted by the Messenger who warns them to flee, and the immediate appearance of the Murderers, who kill the Son and chase Lady Macduff out of the room and off the stage. Her death is reported in 4.3.

Though a minor figure, this pathetic character—created only to be unjustly killed—is a striking example of the well-crafted small role of which Shakespeare was a master. In her brief appearance she is vivid enough to contrast powerfully with Lady Macbeth.  As a loving mother, domestic life is more important to her than politics, and she is everything in a woman that Lady Macbeth is not. As she is the only other female character (except the Witches), the contrast is firmly impressed on us. She also affects us in another way, for her helpless bewilderment is another of the many instances of the nation's disorder. The terror she experiences in her last moments alive constitutes the depths of the play's horror. Her death is an important turning point, for it motivates Macduff, in 4.3, to undertake the fight against Macbeth with a stronger will than politics alone could prompt.

Gentlewoman Gentlewoman is an attendant to Lady Macbeth. The Gentlewoman confers with the Doctor on her mistress' sleepwalking, and together they witness Lady Macbeth's hallucinatory manifestations of guilt in the famous sleep-walking scene (5.1). Before Lady Macbeth appears, the Gentlewoman refuses to tell the Doctor ; what she has heard—her mistress' obsession with ' Macbeth’s murders—without a witness to back her up.  This demonstrates the distrust that permeates the play's world, one of Macbeth's important themes.
HECATE Hecate (Hecat, Heccat) is a supernatural being allied with the Witches. In 3.5 Hecate appears to the Witches and chides them because they did not include her in their entrapment of Macbeth. She goes on to plan for another encounter with him and promises to devise extremely powerful spells for the occasion. Then ghostly music begins, and Hecate is called away by invisible singers. In 4.1 she appears briefly to the Witches as they prepare for their second meeting with Macbeth. She praises their witchcraft and leaves to the accompaniment of another spectral song.

Hecate's appearance in Macbeth was obviously added to the play after it was originally written (c.1606) but before it was published (1623). This can be determined because the songs were written by Thomas Middleton for a play, The Witch, probably written sometime between 1610 and 1620, and because 3.6 has been moved from its proper chronological position (it should follow 4.1), in order to separate the two Witch scenes, 3.5 and 4|.l, which would otherwise be in direct sequence. Because Middleton was associated with the King’s Men, the theatrical company that performed Macbeth in the early 17th century, and because the Hecate episodes are clearly designed to introduce Middleton's songs, it has been traditionally presumed that he wrote them. However, the Hecate passages of Macbeth are quite different in style from Middleton's work, and most modern scholars believe that someone else wrote these lines, possibly—though it is a minority opinion—Shakespeare himself.

Hecate was a familiar figure in classical literature and was frequently invoked, for instance, in Seneca, whose plays were well known to Shakespeare. She was a fearsome goddess of the underworld, associated with witchcraft and other ghostly and uncanny things.  The ancients commonly worshipped three-faced statues of her at lonely country crossroads, where she glared down a side lane and both directions of the main trail. She remained well known throughout the Middle Ages, especially in connection with black magic, and Shakespeare was clearly familiar with her. Whether or not he employed her as a character in Macbeth, he had his protagonist mention her twice, in 2.1.52 and 3.2.41 (in passages that were definitely written by Shakespeare). Further, she is also invoked in Hamlet (3.2.252), A Midsummer Night's Dream (5.1. 370), and King Lear (1.1.109). Her name is a synonym for witch in 1 Henry VI (3.2.64), though here the name has three syllables—pronounced heckity rather than heckit—and, partly for this reason, some scholars think this passage may have been written by someone else.

Three Witches

Witches are a group of characters in Macbeth, supernatural beings who encourage Macbeth in his evil inclinations. In 1.1 three Witches appear in the thunder and lightning of a storm; they say that they will meet again to encounter Macbeth. In 1.3 they boast of their evil deeds before they accost Macbeth and Banquo. They greet the former with titles he does not possess: Thane of Cawdor and 'King hereafter' (1.3.50)-—though we already know that Macbeth has been named Thane of Cawdor—and they assure Banquo that he shall not be a king but that his descendants shall. After they make these puzzling remarks, they disappear. When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth learn that he is in fact Thane of Cawdor and the Witches' prophecy is corroborated, their ambition is sparked to murder King Duncan so that Macbeth can rule Scotland. Then, once he is king, Macbeth worries over the Witches' pronouncement that Banquo's heirs would replace his own, and he murders him, as well. Thus, the Witches inspire the central action of the play.  In 3.5 we see the three Witches with a more powerful spirit, Hecate, who is accompanied by several more witches. (However, most scholars believe that this scene was not written by Shakespeare, and that Macbeth's Witches were originally only three in number.) In 4.1 the Witches concoct a magical brew in a cauldron. They are preparing for another visit from Macbeth, who wishes to learn what he must do to assure his safety now that he is king. They summon the Apparitions, whose predictions seem to promise safety but actually foretell his destruction. Finally, in a passage that may be a non-Shakespearean interpolation, the Witches perform a ritual dance, after which they vanish. 

Though their appearances are brief, the Witches have an important function in Macbeth. The play opens with their grim and stormy meeting, and this contributes greatly to its pervasive tone of mysterious evil. Moreover, they offer another important theme of the play, the psychology of evil. The Witches are an enactment of the irrational. The supernatural world is terrifying because it is beyond human control, and in the play it is therefore symbolic of the unpredictable force of human motivation. At their first appearance, the Witches state an ambiguity that rules the play until its close: 'Fair is foul, and foul is fair:' (1.1.11). Their deceptive pictures of the future—both in their initial predictions of Macbeth's rise, and in the prophecies of the Apparitions—encourage in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth a false sense of what is desirable or even possible. The magic of the Witches is thus an image of human moral disruption. Through their own uncertain nature, they demonstrate—and promote—the disruption in the world of the play. When Macbeth meets them a second time, he describes their capacity for disorder: they 'untie the winds, and let them fight Against the Churches . . . palaces and pyramids, do slope / Their heads to their foundations . . . Even till destruction sicken' (4.1.52-60). They declare that their activity comprises 'A deed without a name' (4.1.49). Their world is without definition; similarly, Macbeth's disordered sense of the world comes to encompass the assumption that 'Life's ... a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing- (5.5.24-28). 

Many people in Shakespeare's day believed in thereality of the supernatural world, but at the same time, a recognition that many folk beliefs were merely superstitions had arisen as well. Shakespeare's opinion on the subject cannot be determined, for his handling of the Witches is ambiguous. Banquo asks them, 'Are ye fantastical, or that indeed which outwardly ye show?' (1.3.53-54). After they leave, he wonders if he and Macbeth have 'eaten on the insane root' (1.3.84) and have simply imagined them. Their nature is never clearly stated. Moreover, the extent to which they have powers other than those of persuasion is also uncertain, which perhaps reflects—or exploits—the generally uncertain sense of such things in the playwright's original audiences. Shakespeare may have shared his audiences' ambivalence as to the supernatural, or he may simply have played on it to devise a dramatic grouping of characters. Despite a modern disbelief in the supernatural, we can respond to its dramatic use in Macbeth, and find in it a symbol of obscure regions of the human psyche. In this light, the Witches can be thought of as manifestations of Macbeth's ambition and guilt. That Banquo also sees them and Lady Macbeth accepts their reality does not argue against such an interpretation of Shakespeare's intentions; it merely points up the ambivalence of 17th-century attitudes towards the supernatural.  

It is interesting to note that Shakespeare altered the nature of the Witches considerably when he took them from his source, Holinshed’s Chronicles. There, the beings who appear to Macbeth are described as 'nymphs or fairies' who could read the future through magic. A number of references connect them with the three Fates, ancient goddesses who are figures of dignity and grandeur, quite unlike the hags of British folklore. Nymphs and female fairies were traditionally beautiful, but the Witches of Macbeth are 'So wither'd and so wild in their attire, / That [they] look not like th'inhabitants o'th'earth' (1.3.40-41). Scholars have surmised that Shakespeare replaced Holinshed's classical spirits with his own, earthier creatures in light of King James I' well-known interest in contemporary witchcraft. However, the traditionally horrifying creatures of folklore are entirely appropriate to the association in Macbeth of these beings with the potential evil in humankind.

Apparitions Apparitions are supernatural phenomena shown to Macbeth by the Witches, in 4 1 These specters are designated as the First, Second and Third Apparition; each has a distinctive appearance and message. The First Apparition is described in the stage direction at 4.1.69 as •an armed head', and it warns Macbeth to beware of Macduff.  The Second, 'a bloody child' (4.1.76), declares that '. . . none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth' (4.1. 80-81). The Third Apparition is 'a child crowned, with a tree in his hand' (4.1.86), and it adds that 'Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be, until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him' (4.1.92-94). Macbeth naturally receives these prophecies as 'Sweet bodements!' (4.1.96) and assurances that he will not be killed by his enemies. The tensions of the play tighten with this episode, the first intimation of its climax. Macduff is brought into sharp focus for the first time, yet Macbeth's defeat is made to seem all but impossible. These portents come from the same supernatural agency whose prediction of Macbeth's rise—in the Witches' prophecy of 1.3—was gravely accurate.

In Act 5 the prophecies of the Apparitions are borne out, though not as Macbeth anticipates. With hindsight we can see that the Apparitions bear clues as to Macbeth's true fate, for their appearances are symbolically significant The armored head that is the First Apparition forecasts the severing of Macbeth's own head after 5.8. The Second Apparition, a bloody child, suggests Macduff from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd' (5.8.15-16). The Third Apparition, the child crowned, foretells the reign of the young Prince Malcolm with which the play closes, and the tree it bears refers to his decision to have his soldiers bear boughs cut from Birnam wood as they march on Dunsinane.

Sergeant He is a wounded soldier who describes the brave Macbeth’s achievements in battle against the rebels who oppose King Duncan. In 1.2 the Captain offers an image of Macbeth as an hero, and the shock of Macbeth's later treason is the greater because this initial image is shattered. The effect is furthered by the Captain's considerable dignity; he speaks in measured rhetorical cadences and his own suffering is bravely suppressed until he closes touchingly with, 'But I am faint, my gashes cry for help' (1.2.43). He is not seen further, however, being important only as a commentator on the opening situation.  Some modern editors note that the Captain is referred to by Malcolm as 'the Sergeant' in 1.2.3 and designate him with that rank in the stage directions.

Murderers are assassins recruited by Macbeth. In 3.1 the First Murderer and his accomplice, the Second Murderer, accept Macbeth's assignment to kill Banquo and Fleance. They are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Neither speaks much, although each makes a brief complaint (3.1.107-113) about the desperation of his unfortunate life and his determination to perform any deed that may improve his lot. In 3.3 the Murderers, assisted by the Third Murderer, undertake their commission. They cooly assault their targets and kill Banquo, though Fleance escapes. In 3.4 the First Murderer reports the deed succinctly to Macbeth. He takes pride in their fierceness and describes Banquo's wounds as 'twenty trenched gashes on his head; / The least a death . . .' (3.4.26-27). In 4.2 an unspecified number of Murderers, probably the First and Second, kill the son of Lady Macduff and chase her offstage where they kill her, as we learn in 4.3. Their cold-bloodedness is here particularly horrifying as one of them notes his victim's youth, calling the Son an 'egg' (4.2.82) as he kills him.  The Murderers are not distinct from each other as individuals. The First Murderer offers a pleasing description of a sunset in 3.3.5-7, but we do not imagine that he is a man of esthetic sensibility. He is merely a vessel for Shakespeare's poetic lyricism, which here helps to establish the eerie atmosphere of dusk for a scene that, in the playwright's theatre, was performed without modern stage lighting to set the mood. 

Third is one of the assassins hired by Macbeth to kill Banquo and Fleance. The Third Murderer joins his colleagues as they approach their targets. He was not with them when they were recruited in 3.1, and they initially distrust him, but his exact instructions convince them that he has been sent by Macbeth. His presence suggests that with the distrust typical of despots, Macbeth has felt the need to plant an agent among his hired assassins. The Third Murderer is indistinguishable from his fellows and speaks only a few brief lines.


Messenger is a servant of Macbeth. In 1.5 the Messenger brings Lady Macbeth the news that King Duncan, whose murder she has just been contemplating, approaches. Her startled response to this sudden opportunity for the crime serves to escalate the plot's tension. In 4.2 the Messenger (or, possibly, another one) betrays his master when he warns Lady Macduff that Macbeth's hired killers approach. He is bravely willing to stand up against Macbeth's villainy and his action provides a moment of relief from the growing evil of the plot. In 5.5 the Messenger, still employed by Macbeth (unless, again, he is a different person), brings his master word that the forest appears to be moving. This message signals Macbeth's downfall, and his wrathful response emphasizes his desperate position. Though they seem unimportant, all three of the Messenger's appearances mark a change in the play's emotional tone, a striking Shakespearean technique.


Lords are members of Macbeth’s royal court. In 3.4 several Lords are present at a banquet and witness Macbeth's distress at the appearance of the Ghost of Banquo.  They accept Lady Macbeth’s explanation—that the king is suffering the effects of an old illness—and depart. In 3.6 a single, unidentified Lord meets with Lenox, and they observe that Prince Malcolm has arrived in England, and that Macbeth has defected to his cause. In both scenes, the anonymous noblemen bear witness to the unraveling of Macbeth's power. Some scholars agree with the suggestion of Samuel Johnson that the First Folio stage direction calling for 'Lenox and another lord' at the opening of 3.6 was an error that resulted from the misinterpretation of a manuscript abbreviation—'An'.—for ANGUS, who was actually intended as Lenox' companion. This idea cannot be proven, and in any case, as Angus is a minor character like the Lords, the effect would be identical.

Banquo's Ghost

Ghost is the spirit of the murdered Banquo. The Ghost appears at the banquet hosted by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in 3.4. It can only be seen by Macbeth, who had ordered Banquo's murder and is the only one present who knows he is dead. It appears again in 4.1 in the company of the ghostly procession of future Kings shown to Macbeth by the Witches. In both cases the Ghost is silent. In 4.1 Macbeth observes that it 'points at them [the Kings] for his' (4.1.124); this confirms the Witches' power.


Servants are workers in Macbeth’s household. In 3.1 a Servant is sent to bring the Murderers to Macbeth; in 3.2 Lady Macbeth sends a Servant (possibly the same one) to summon her husband; and in 5.3, a Servant (again, perhaps the same one) reports to Macbeth that the woods appear to be advancing on Dunsinane. In all three instances, the Servant's function is to effect a transition or provide information, though in the final scene, Macbeth's fury at the innocent Servant demonstrates his desperate and baleful state of mind.


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