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Macbeth and Banquo, Scottish generals in King Duncan’s army, are returning victorious from battle. They are hailed by three witches who predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland. They tell Banquo that his descendants will one day be kings. The first part of the prophecy is fulfilled instantly when Duncan rewards Macbeth's loyalty by making him Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth expresses his ambition and confusion when King Duncan names his son Malcolm as his heir.
In Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband about the witches’ prophecy. Encouraged and inspired, she calls on the ‘spirits’ to make her strong enough to persuade Macbeth to murder Duncan while he is a guest at their castle. Macbeth has doubts but goaded by his wife, murders the elderly king in his sleep and frames his guards for the crime. Duncan's sons flee to England for safety but Banquo and fellow lord, Macduff, are suspicious of Macbeth who is crowned king, and his wife, Queen.
A SECOND VISIT
After Duncan’s murder, the childless Macbeth starts to unravel and grow distant from his wife. Fearing that the witches’ prophecy about Banquo will come true, Macbeth has Banquo murdered to secure his position as king but Banquo's son, Fleance, escapes. After Banquo's ghost appears to him at a banquet, Macbeth visits the witches again for reassurance. They tell him he will not be beaten until ‘Burnham wood comes to Dunsinane’. They also warn him to beware of Macduff, who has also fled to England, but tell him that he cannot be harmed by any man born of woman. Macbeth is encouraged but orders the murder of Macduff's wife and children.
TEST OF LOYALTY
In England, word of the ‘sickness’ in Scotland has spread and Macduff asks for Malcom’s help to overthrow Macbeth. Malcolm tests Macduff's loyalty by pretending he is not worthy of being king. In a tragic scene, Macduff hears that Macbeth has murdered his entire family in his absence. Malcolm urges him to use his grief to fight and together, they raise an army to march against Macbeth.
THE PROPHECY COLLAPSES
In his castle, Macbeth, armed with the witches' prophecy, believes that he is invincible. But, as his enemies draw nearer, Macbeth learns that his wife has killed herself. Malcom’s army cut down trees to hide their numbers and Macbeth sees Birnham Wood move towards his castle. He puts on his armour, prepares to fight and when Macduff appears, Macbeth boasts that none of woman born can kill him. Macduff then declares that he was born by Caesarian section (i.e. not 'born of woman'), Macbeth realises the witches have tricked him from the start. He refuses to fight but Macduff pursues him, eventually killing Macbeth. Malcolm is crowned King of Scotland in an ending that suggests hope and healing for the land.