Plot Summary Of Macbeth By Shakespeare

“The tragedy of Macbeth is the most vehement, the most concentrated and the most tremendous of the tragedies of Shakespeare.” Yet it is the simplest and the smallest of all of Shakespeare’s plays with the exception of Comedy Errors. The brevity of the play is mostly owing to the simplicity and unity of the plot. Shakespeare has not introduced a single episode or sub plot which does not directly lead the plot towards the climax or final catastrophe. Of all Shakespeare’s tragedies, Macbeth is the simplest in outline, the swiftest in action. After the Witches’ prelude, the first scene brings us at once into the centre of stormy interest, and in Macbeth’s firs words as ambiguous note prepares us for strange things to come. Thence to the end there is no turning aside in the increasing speed of events. Thought jumps to action and action is overtaken by consequence with precipitate haste, as if it were all written breathlessly”. The only scene which ‘seems obstruct the speed of action and dally the plot is the witch-scene in Act III which is generally supposed by critics to be a later interpolation.

The play opens with a most spirited and striking exposition. The opening witch- scene on the deserted heath strikes the key note of the spirit of the tragedy. Bradley says, “The opening of Macbeth is even more remarkable, for there is probably no parallel to its first scene, where senses and imagination are assaulted by a storm of thunder and supernatural alarm. This scene is only eleven lines long, but its influence is so great that the next can safely be occupied with a mere report of Macbeth’s battles a narrative which would have won much less attention if it had opened the play. The first words we hear from Macbeth “so foul and fair a day I have not seen.” echo the last words we hear from the witches. “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” These words at once establish a kind of spiritual kinship between the witches and Macbeth and give us a peep into the innermost recesses of the mind and heart of the hero. We are prepared to expect something dreadful and sinful from Macbeth who displays a close analogy with the witches who are awful inspirers of murder, insanity and suicide- “wells of sin springing up into everlasting death”. A more striking and suggestive exposition is difficult to find in the plays of Shakespeare.

The development of the plot is very simple and straight-forward. It has a classical unity about it. Macbeth, the hero, is the central figure and the whole story revolves around his personality, character, success and failure. The plot of Macbeth may simply be stated as the story of the rise and fall of the hero. The first half of the play depicts the sweeping success of Macbeth and the second unfolds the story of his inevitable fall. The plot is, therefore, clearly divided into two clear divisions. The first dealing with the rise of Macbeth his early victories, temptation, spiritual agonies, final decision about committing the murder of the king, the execution of murder and his installation on the throne of Scotland. The murder of Banquo and the escape of Fleance mark the turning point of the fate of Macbeth. The tragedy heads towards its catastrophe from this point. Thereafter begins the second part of the play-the murder of Macduff’s family, Macbeth’s visit to the Witches, their ambiguous prophecies and assurances, the failure of the security promised to Macbeth by the Weird Sisters, the death of Lady Macbeth, the battle, the movement of the forest of Dunsinane, the fierce battle and Macbeth’s death at the hands of Macduff who was of no woman born. ‘Shakespeare represents to us the three successive stages in the life of Macbeth-his crime, his prosperity, and his punishment. We need to be in no wise surprised at the multiplicity of events unfolded in this play. Yet can we find in it no element foreign to the action. Every circumstance contributes towards the denouement. This unity results from the development of a single character. Macbeth fills the play. Everything refers to him. Present or absent he never ceases to occupy our attention, and nothing happens that does not bear upon his destiny. This character binds in one all portions of the drama.” There is thus an organic unity in the development of the action. Prof. Moulton observes another unity in the plot of Macbeth. “The r and fall of Macbeth constitute a perfect arch, with a turning point in the centre. Macbeth’s series of success is unbroken till it ends in the murder e Banquo, his series of failure is unbroken from its commencement in the escape of Fleance. Success thus constitutes the first half and failure the second half of the play, the transition from the one to the other is the expedition against Banquo and Fleance, in which success and failure are mingled and the expedition, the key-stone to the arch, is founded to occupy the exact middle of the middle act.” Moulton observes yet another unity in the working tragedy in Macbeth. “To outward appearance it is connected with the re and fall of a sinner, the analysis that searches for inner principles construction traces through incidents three forms of action working harmoniously together, by which the rise and fall of Macbeth are so linked to exhibit at once a crime with its Nemesis, an Oracle with its fulfilment and the Irony which works by the agency of that which resists it. Again the separate halves of the play, the rise and the fall of the hero. are found to present each the same triple pattern as the whole.” The plot of Macbeth thus has a classic unity and a compact structure in form and spirit alike.

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The catastrophe emerges as an inevitable outcome of the character and actions of the hero. The catastrophe is natural and convincing because it emerges from within and is not imposed from without. Some critics, however, hold the opinion that the catastrophe of the play falls short of the grandeur of the tragic effect within the preceding scenes. Bradley says that some critics “have held that some of his greatest tragedies fall off in the fourth act, and that one or two never wholly recover themselves. Some readers would find that Julius Caesar Hamter, King Lear and Macbeth have all a tendency to ‘drag’ in this section of the play and perhaps the last of these four fails even in the catastrophe to reach the height of the greatest scenes that have preceded the fourth act.”



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