Timeline

Act 1

The witches meet

The three witches with long hair, rags and sticks.

The witches.

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In Scotland, three witches vow to meet with Macbeth ‘when the battle’s lost and won’.

Macbeth the warrior

Macbeth dressed as a soldier.

Macbeth the soldier.

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King Duncan is at war with the ‘merciless Macdonald’ and Macbeth has been fighting really well. Duncan sentences the Thane of Cawdor to death for treason, and announces that Macbeth will get his title instead.

Key Scene

The witches’ prophecies

Macbeth and Banquo encounter the weird sisters.

Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches.

Photo by Angus McBean Browse and license our images
On their way back from battle, Macbeth and his friend Banquo meet three witches on the heath. The witches make three prophecies: Macbeth will become the Thane of Cawdor; Macbeth will become king; and Banquo’s children will be kings. Almost immediately, Ross arrives to tell Macbeth he is now the Thane of Cawdor.

Lady Macbeth receives the news

Lady Macbeth reads Macbeth's letter

Lady Macbeth reads Macbeth's letter.

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Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth about the witches’ prophecies and his new title. She fears that he is too weak and ‘full o’th’milk of human kindness’ to get the crown quickly and thinks that she will have to do it. She calls on the spirits and ‘murdering ministers’ to give her strength.

The Macbeths plot murder

Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to murder Duncan

Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to murder Duncan.

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Macbeth arrives home to his ‘dearest love’, Lady Macbeth. She tells him that they should murder King Duncan that night so that the prophecy can be fulfilled and Macbeth can become king.

Macbeth has doubts

Macbeth lies at the feet of King Duncan.

Macbeth lies at Duncan's feet.

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King Duncan arrives at the castle. Macbeth worries about whether he should go through with the ‘horrid deed’ but Lady Macbeth convinces him to ‘screw’ his courage ‘to the sticking place' and murder Duncan.

Act 2

Macbeth has a vision

Macbeth in white shirt and black trousers

Macbeth.

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On the way to kill Duncan, Macbeth sees a vision of a dagger with the handle pointing towards him. He dismisses it as an illusion caused by the ‘bloody business’ he is about to do and goes on to murder King Duncan in his bed.

Key Scene

Planting the weapons

Lady Macbeth urges Macbeth to return to Duncan's chamber.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

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After the murder, Macbeth returns to Lady Macbeth with his hands covered in blood and still holding the daggers. He was meant to leave them with the guards but won’t go back. Lady Macbeth takes them from him saying ‘give me the daggers’ and she goes back and plants them by Duncan’s sleeping guards to make it look like they murdered the king.

Macduff asks questions

Macduff in long black leather coat

Macduff.

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Macduff and Lennox arrive at the castle to meet Duncan. They discover the murdered king and Macbeth explains that he killed Duncan’s guards out of ‘fury’. Macduff questions his actions, so Lady Macbeth pretends to faint to distract them.

The suspects flee

Macbeth on his throne in white gown and golden crown

Macbeth.

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Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan’s sons, decide to flee Scotland for their safety and, because they are ‘stol’n away and fled’, they are suspected of murdering the king. It is announced that Macbeth will be the new king.

Act 3

Banquo has suspicions

Banquo in a fur-lined coat.

Banquo.

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Banquo reflects on how the second prophecy has come true and suspects Macbeth ‘played’st most foully’ and killed Duncan for the crown.

Banquo dies

A murderer takes a knife to Banquo's throat

A murderer takes a knife to Banquo's throat.

Photo by Ellie Kurttz Browse and license our images
Macbeth is afraid that the witches’ other prophecy, about Banquo’s future children being kings, will come true as well. He sends two murderers to kill Banquo and Banquo’s son, Fleance. As the murderers kill Banquo he shouts to his son ‘fly, good Fleance, fly’ and the boy escapes.

Key Scene

Banquo’s ghost appears

Banquo's ghost menaces Macbeth.

Banquo's ghost menaces Macbeth.

Photo by Ellie Kurttz Browse and license our images
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth hold a banquet for all the thanes. Macbeth is haunted by visions of Banquo’s ghost and seems terrified. Lady Macbeth tells the thanes that Macbeth is ill and that they should leave as it ‘grows worse and worse’. Macbeth is still fearful that ‘blood will have blood’ and begins to worry about Macduff’s loyalty. He decides to visit the witches again.

Act 4

Macbeth visits the witches

The Weird Sisters.

The weird sisters in the 1999 production of Macbeth. 

Photo by Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale Browse and license our images
Macbeth visits the witches a second time and they make three more prophecies: Macbeth should fear Macduff; Macbeth cannot be harmed by anyone born of a woman; and Macbeth will not be defeated until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane. Macbeth is reassured by this, thinking he is unbeatable and saying ‘then live Macduff, what need I fear of thee?’ However, he decides to listen to the first warning and have Macduff and his family murdered to be completely safe.

Macduff’s family are murdered

Lady Macduff holds onto her son.

Lady Macduff with her son.

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Murderers arrive at Macduff’s castle in Fife and find Macduff has gone away. They kill Macduff’s wife and children.

Macduff and Malcolm raise an army

Macduff holds a sword in front of himself.

Macduff plots his revenge.

Photo by Hugo Glendinning Browse and license our images
Macduff has gone to England to convince Duncan’s son Malcolm to return to Scotland to fight against Macbeth. News reaches Macduff that Macbeth has ‘savagely slaughter’d’ his wife and children and Macduff vows to avenge them.

Act 5

Lady Macbeth sleepwalks

Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, looking pale and scared

Lady Macbeth sleepwalks.

Photo by Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale Browse and license our images
Lady Macbeth has been walking and talking in her sleep. Her servant and the Doctor watch her talking about how she cannot wash the blood clean from her hands, saying ‘out, out, damned spot!’ and ‘who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him’. They realise she must be guilty of the murder but ‘dare not speak’.

The army advances

Macbeth in body armour.

Macbeth.

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Malcolm and Macduff’s army grows, but Macbeth is fixated on the witches’ prophecies believing he can't be beaten until ‘Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane’. Malcolm’s army cut down branches from Birnam Wood to use as camouflage and start to march towards the castle.

Lady Macbeth dies

An apprehensive Lady Macbeth in a pink silk dress.

Lady Macbeth.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Macbeth is told that Lady Macbeth is dead and he remarks that life is only ‘a brief candle’. He is confronted with news that Birnam Wood is moving towards the castle.

Key Scene

Macbeth is killed

Macbeth and Macduff fight.

Macbeth and Macduff fight.

Photo by Angus McBean Browse and license our images
Macduff confronts Macbeth. Macbeth holds on to the witches’ prophecy that he cannot be killed by a man born of a woman. Macduff reveals that he was ‘untimely ripped’ from his mother and not born naturally. Macbeth realises that all the prophecies have come true and he is going to die but decides to die fighting, saying ‘Yet I will try the last. Before my body / I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff,’ and is killed by Macduff.

Malcolm becomes King

Malcolm in armour and crown

Malcolm.

Photo by Manuel Harlan Browse and license our images
Macduff presents Macbeth’s severed head to Malcolm as proof that he has killed the tyrant. He hails Malcolm as the new King of Scotland.

Teacher Notes

The following activity is a great way to explore the actions of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth while looking at the story in more detail.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (2011)

The activity can be found on page 14 and takes approximately 40 minutes.

You can also ask students to create their own timelines of the play, physically arranging themselves in a line down the middle of the room or by creating their own versions as they work through the play, questioning the actions of these two central characters at each stage.

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