Theatre / Macbeth
Fill me from the crown to the toe top full / Of direst cruelty!

"By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes..."

The Tragedy of Macbeth is a 1606 play written by William Shakespeare. It was written at the express request of King James I/VI of England and Scotland, who asked Shakespeare to present a new play to honor his visitor, the King of Denmark.

The play takes place in the Scottish Highlands. Fresh from putting down a rebellion against King Duncan, Lord Macbeth meets three witches who relate a series of prophecies, one of them being that he will rule Scotland. When one of the other seemingly unlikely predictions comes true, his scheming and heartless wife convinces him to kill Duncan and his heir. Both are driven mad with guilt; while Lady Macbeth copes by sleepwalking and then killing herself, Macbeth enters into a paranoid frenzy, killing everyone in sight in order to consolidate his power — especially after the witches predict that "none of woman born" shall slay him. After being visited by the ghost of one of his victims, Macbeth is overthrown and killed by Macduff, who was "from his mother's womb untimely ripped" — in other words, delivered via crude caesarean section from his mother's dead or dying body. D'oh.

Many of the inconsistencies in Macbeth come from the fact that Macbeth was a real person who was featured in Holinshead's Chronicles, a best-selling popular history of Shakespeare's time. Holinshead played fast and light with the facts in many cases, though — for instance, he includes legendary or wholly fictional characters such as Fleance, who was supposedly an ancestor of the Scottish royal family. (In the play as produced now, Fleance disappears in Act Three: in the original 1606 presentation, he was brought back on stage after the play in a "dumb show" that explained he was the ancestor of the Stuarts.) Holinshead also refers to Lady Macbeth as "burning with an unquenchable desire to bear the name of a queen". In reality he had no historical justification for this — the only thing that's actually known about Lady Macbeth is that she existed (and that her first name was Gruoch, and that Macbeth was her second husband) — but Shakespeare turned that one sentence into one of his best-known female characters.

Shakespeare also takes liberties with the facts, although in his case his changes are justifiable as they improve the dramatic tension and the flow of the action; after all, he was writing a play, not a history. For instance, he makes Duncan a wise, old good king (at least superficially) instead of a young wastrel, he has Macbeth kill him while sleeping instead of in a fair fight, and he compresses the action into two seasons when the real Macbeth ruled for 17 years (and successfully). He also leaves aside the fact that the real Macbeth actually did have a legitimate claim to the throne.

Another source of the inconsistencies is that Shakespeare wanted to get in all kinds of things that he thought King James would like — witches, ghosts, the legitimacy of the Stuart line, the divine right of kings (something James was for, to put it mildly), and the portrayal of his Scottish ancestors as noble and warrior-like. The fact that Shakespeare snuck in the trope that "power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely" — possibly a criticism of James's desire for absolute power — was not noticed until after Shakespeare had died, and may not even be noticed these days by readers looking for the blood and guts. And yet, even considering all this, the play still endures to this day.

Superstitious actors refer to this as "The Scottish Play" (or, occasionally, "The Tartans"). The head role is "The King" or "Mackers" anywhere outside the play itself. And though the script calls for it, sometimes things still happen, though they are usually less injurious. Some of the wackier ones talk about The Scottish Restaurant.

Macbeth has been adapted into several notable films over the decades by the likes of Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski, Bela Tarr and recently a 2015 version by Justin Kurzel starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and David Thewlis.

Notable adaptations:

  • The 1936 "voodoo" stage production by the Negro People's Theatre (an all-black unit of the Federal Theatre Project), directed by Orson Welles and set in Haiti, was considered one of the best stage productions in history. (A snippet of this production was filmed for the WPA newsreel "We Work Again.")
  • Welles also made a film version in 1948, where he played the title role. Bombed due to several changes that critics didn't like, such as transposing scenes and dialogue, dropping the redundant characters of Donalbain and the Third Murderer, inventing a new character (a Christian minister), and actually having the cast speak in Scottish accents. Since Vindicated By History, though it still has some amators among Orson Welles fans who don't care that much about the changes as long as there is Welles's genius in it.
  • Roman Polanski's 1971 film version, memorable for its explicit violence (allegedly influenced by the murder of Polanski's wife and unborn child by the Manson Family) and for Lady Macbeth's nude sleepwalking scene (non-explicit). This is notable for being produced by Playboy Productions, as part of a short-lived attempt to create a mainstream film arm as well as a personal attempt by Polanski's friends to pull him out of depression.
  • Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa's take on the story, set in feudal Japan. Considered by many to be the best film adaptation of the material.
  • uMabatha, a South African adaption, turning Macbeth and King Duncan into Zulu chiefs. Made Peter Ustinov claim that he after having seen it finally truly understood Macbeth.
  • From a Jack to a King- Bob Carlton musical, with a lot of Sixties songs.
  • It's one of the four adapted-to-modern-times stories from the 2006 BBC mini-series Shakespeare Re Told. They changed the setting to a plush Glaswegian restaurant. Duncan is the owner, who carries the laurels off the actual chef, Macbeth (played by James McAvoy). McAvoy would later portray the titular character on stage in a 2013 production directed by Jamie Lloyd, and the actor was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award.
  • Scotland, PA, a dark comedy also set in a restaurant, this one in 1970s Pennsylvania.
  • Mac Homer, Rick Miller's one-man show, which casts Simpsons characters in the roles. While largely following the play's basic story, many liberties, fourth wall breaks and lampshades unsurprisingly occur for comedic effect.
  • A 2006 Australian film starring Sam Worthington, with a Setting Update to the Melbourne ganglands. It sticks to the play fairly well, but adds a few silent scenes, and suggests that Lady Macbeth acted out of grief of a dead child. And she's also a cocaine addict.
  • British immersive theatre company Punchdrunk created Sleep No More, a loose adaptation of Macbeth mixed with elements of Hitchcock, Kubrick, and other suspense/noir styles, set in the late 1930s. Audience members are masked and silent as they wander on their own through the massive 100,000-square-foot McKittrick Hotel and the play and actors move around them. Characters are lifted from The Scottish Play and mingle with new, more Hitch-like characters. One of the more popular theatrical adaptations, with consistently sold-out shows extending the run well past its initial six weeks. It's now been running for six years.
  • A 2007 West End stage production with a Setting Update to a vaguely Soviet-Russia-esque or Alternate History setting, starring Patrick Stewart. Transferred to Broadway in 2008, and adapted into a television production in 2010. Free to watch on
  • An audio novelization by A.J. Hartley and David Hewson, narrated by Alan Cumming. It features deep analysis of several characters, portraying both Macbeth and his wife as tragic figures.
  • A 2013 stage production for the Manchester International Festival (and later moved to New York) co-directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, with Alex Kingston as Lady Macbeth and Richard Coyle as Macduff. It was praised for its visceral, immersive atmosphere that placed the audience right in the middle of the action. Martin Scorsese will soon direct a documentary about the production, which will be restaged at the Second World War Leavesden Aerodrome in Hertfordshire.
  • A film adaptation directed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, released in October 2015. Filmed on location in the Scottish Highlands, performed with Scottish accents, and uses carefully-researched 11th-century costumes and settings.

The play itself provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Affably Evil: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are often portrayed as having a loving relationship and are great ones for entertaining their guests.
  • All Witches Have Cats: One of the witches has a Familiar named Greymalkin, a name associated with witches' cats.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Banquo is unsure what gender the three witches are. Remember that the play was written in a time where only men were allowed to be actors, meaning that the witches were originally played by men pretending to be women, so his line that they have beards is likely an inside joke.
  • Ambiguously Human: The Witches, which seem to have attributes that a normal human would never have.
  • Ambition Is Evil: At least if you have to murder your king for it. What's especially sad is that Macbeth had already gained enormous prestige and rewards for his heroism in putting down the rebellion and invasion from Norway, and the high esteem he was held in by Duncan would have given him tremendous influence even if the king had stayed alive and passed the throne on to Malcolm. At that period in Scottish history the kingship was more adoptive than hereditary, and Macbeth, as a successful general and a lord in his own right, had every reason to suppose that he might be tapped as next in line to the throne. (This is the back-story to the part about "if chance will have me king, then chance may crown me" and the reason he is so shocked when Duncan names his son Malcolm as Prince of Cumberland, i.e. heir to the throne.) In real life, Macbeth drew his support from the more conservative element in the Scots ruling class, who were horrified at the thought that supreme power might become a monopoly of one family. In that sense, he might be seen as the Darker and Edgier version of Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Macbeth goes after his families of his numerous enemies. Banquo's son, Fleance, manages to escape, leaving Macbeth in mortal fear of some future revenge on his part... which is never carried out.
  • Anachronism Stew: A clock is mentioned centuries before they would have been found in Europe. The same error is found in Julius Caesar.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Witches can predict the future and cast spells, dead men can come back as ghosts, apparitions can rise from cauldrons... but trees can't move. That would just be silly.
  • Arc Number: 3. Three witches, three murderers, twenty-seven (three cubed) scenes, et cetera.
  • Assassination Attempt: The play revolves around Macbeth's cold murder of King Duncan and the downward spiral Macbeth falls into trying to ensure his continued rule by killing anyone else of political significance.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Inverted. Macbeth refuses to "play the Roman fool and die on [his] own sword", instead choosing to die in single combat with Macduff.
  • Big Bad: Macbeth himself. The play is about his murdering his way to the top, culminating in his death. In an unusual twist, he's also the main character. Macduff acts as this in the sense of being the main antagonist, but he's a Hero Antagonist.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to be one: "Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Despite being named a Tragedy (as it details a man being corrupted and descending into evil and ruin) the ending is far more positive than most of Shakespeare's Tragedies, but still quite dark.
  • Bond One-Liner: "Thou wast born of woman."
  • Bookends: Towards the beginning, Macbeth displays the severed head of the traitor Macdonwald. At the end, his own treasonous head is on display.
  • The Caligula: Macbeth, supposedly. We never actually see any evidence of vices from him save for, y'know, all the murder. More clearly, Malcolm describes himself this way to Macduff at first, but then admits that he is nothing of the sort, and he was merely testing Macduff. (Macduff is not amused.)
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Lady Macbeth, to the point that she prays for demons to come and turn her into a man out of the belief that it will allow her to be even eviler than she already is.
  • Come to Gawk: Invoked, and why Macbeth's willing to fight to death.
  • Creepy Child: The second and third apparitions take this form.
  • The Dark Side Will Make You Forget: Specifically, Lady Macbeth wants to become evil so that she will be able to carry out the murder without remorse.
  • Death of a Child: Macduff's entire family is murdered, including his children.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Macbeth decapitated Macdonwald (after disemboweling him), then affixes the rebel's head to a Scottish battlement. In the last scene, Macduff greets Malcolm with Macbeth's severed head.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Macbeth pins Duncan's murder on a pair of guards, then kills them.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Macbeth reaches it when he learns of his wife's death, which prompts his Despair Speech.
  • Despair Speech: The "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" monologue.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Mentioned by the first Witch in one of the Witches' first scenes. Supposedly, she once tracked down a sailor at sea and drove him insane by cursing him with permanent insomnia, all because the guy's wife refused to share some chestnuts with her.
  • Driven to Suicide: Lady Macbeth. Macbeth, however, rejects suicide and decides to fight to the death.
  • Dying for Symbolism: Banquo is more conscientious than Macbeth, and tends to point out what Macbeth ought to be doing. After Macbeth Jumps off the Slippery Slope, he has Banquo killed; this represents the loss of Macbeth's moral conscience.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Gender Inverted. Lady Macbeth mentions that the only reason she doesn't kill Duncan herself is because he looks too much like her dad.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are typically depicted as loving each other.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: As Macbeth sinks further into underhanded deeds and cruelty, even the witches start to regard him as evil. "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."
  • Exact Words: Macduff's family is well at peace. Resting in peace, that is.
  • Eye of Newt: The witches' song features a long list of the ingredients they're boiling in their cauldron to power their spells.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Macbeth begins the story as a straight up hero of the Scottish people, despite seemingly being a bit bloodthirsty, and is well regarded by his peers, feared by his enemies, and highly respected by King Duncan. But his ambition and his subsequent guilt over all the murders he's ordered done to keep his crown cause him to go straight up insane towards the end. The play seems to hint that Macbeth knows what he is doing is wrong and wants to stop, but once he's murdered the king, there is simply no way but forward since he is going to burn in hell anyways.
  • Fainting: Lady Macbeth fakes a faint when Duncan's murder is discovered.
    • More specifically, she does it when Macbeth almost says too much regarding his murder of the king's guards. The fainting was likely a ploy to draw attention away from her husband's actions.
  • Fallen Hero: One of the best examples there is, possibly the Trope Codifier.
  • Foreshadowing: Duncan mentions that the treacherous Thane of Cawdor who had just been executed for treason in Act I, Scene 4 "was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust." In an ironic contrast, Macbeth, the new Thane of Cawdor, is the one who will murder Duncan, who has just rewarded and praised Macbeth's heroic accomplishments on the battlefield.
  • Genre Savvy: Upon hearing of their father's murder, Malcolm and Donalbain immediately resolve to leave the country, realizing the murders are unlikely to stop with Duncan.
  • Girls with Moustaches: The Weird Sisters are bearded.
  • The Good King: There's no indication that Duncan was a bad king.
  • Greater Scope Villain: The witches are this to Macbeth, as their Self-Fulfilling Prophecy leads to Macbeth's Face–Heel Turn. Hecate is also this to the witches being their superior that makes them deliver their second round of prophecies.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: "Till he unseamed him from the nave to th' chops" is how a character in an early scene describes how Macbeth killed a rebel. In other words, Macbeth stuck a sword in the guy's belly and sliced up to his chin.
  • Happily Married
    • We never see Macduff and his wife in a scene together, but they seem to be this, despite her complaints about his leaving her behind. He's certainly devastated when she's killed, along with their children.
    • Despite their horrific deeds, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are in love with each other. Critic Harold Bloom points out that it's the only happy marriage in Shakespeare among protagonists.
  • Healing Hands: King Edward is said to be able to cure diseases.
  • Henpecked Husband: Macbeth. His wife loses her hold on him, however, after Duncan's murder.
  • Hero Antagonist: Macduff and Malcolm, fighting the good fight against Villain Protagonist Macbeth.
  • He Will Not Cry, So I Cry for Him: Malcolm attempts this to Seward. Seward stops him.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The actual historical figure Macbeth is based on killed Duncan fairly on the field of battle (after Duncan invaded his lands), then proceeded to rule with little resistance for 17 years and was generally celebrated as a generous and decent king. However, James I, whom Shakespeare was no doubt aiming to please, was descended from the guy who overthrew him, sooooo...
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Duncan, who holds Macbeth in high esteem, makes him Thane of Cawdor, and goes to stay in his castle. Bad move.
  • Hourglass Plot: Twofold:
    • At the start of the play, the original Thane of Cawdor, who has turned traitor, is put to death for treason, and is redeemed by his bravery in death. At the end of the play, Macbeth, who had become the new Thane of Cawdor, has the same fate.
    • Initially, Macbeth shows more scruples/hesitancy to kill Duncan than does his wife, and she pushes him into doing it. Afterward, however, while Lady Macbeth goes increasingly mad from guilt, Macbeth's reaction to guilt is to seemingly lose all emotion and scruples and he far surpass his wife in villainy.
  • Human Resources: The potion in Act IV includes some.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Macbeth realizes several times, most prominently after the feast, the wrongness of what he's done and that he has a chance to turn back. He doesn't.
  • I've Come Too Far: "I am in blood / Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er"
  • I Will Fight Some More Forever: As befitting an ex-soldier. This is Macbeth's last line to Macduff, even though he's re-interpreted the prophecy and already knows he's screwed.
  • The Insomniac: "Glamis hath murdered sleep, and there Cawdor/Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more!"
  • It Gets Easier: Macbeth feels a lot more guilty about murdering Duncan than about any of his later crimes.
  • It's Personal: Macduff learns that his wife, kids, and servants are all murdered.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Banquo's ghost. It doesn't help his case that Macbeth's the only one who can see the ghost anyway.
  • Karma Houdini: The Murderers who do in Banquo and Macduff's family subsequently disappear from the story without receiving any comeuppance.
  • Kick the Dog: The witches have a lengthy discussion of all the petty, cruel things they've been doing in their free time.
  • Klingon Promotion: How Macbeth becomes thane of Cawdor, and later king.
  • Lady Macbeth: Macbeth is keen on becoming king from the beginning, but it is his wife who persuades him to murder Duncan.
  • Last Name Basis: Lady Macbeth's first name is never stated. This may be because the historical Lady Macbeth had what most non-Scots would consider to be an Embarrassing First Name — Gruoch.
  • Last Villain Stand: Macbeth has an extremely famous one.
  • Leave No Witnesses: Banquo, who was unlucky enough to be present at the witches' citation.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: The Porter's scene is chock full of this stuff.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Macbeth wouldn't have gone so far without the encouragement of his wife. This is taken Up to Eleven as Macbeth was spurred on by the witches who in turn work for Hecate.
  • Magic Cauldron: The three witches use a cauldron for their magic. Quite a few subsequent depictions of witches' cauldrons likely stem from this.
  • Manly Tears: Macduff, after learning of the death of his children, reprimands Malcolm for suggesting that real men don't cry.
    Malcolm: Dispute it like a man.
    Macduff: 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.
  • Medical Monarch: In England, while Malcolm is taking refuge there, King Edward is touching for the King's Evil off-stage — thus providing a Foil to Macbeth's less humane and efficacious kingship.
  • Mobile Shrubbery: "Birnam Wood to Dunsinane." The soldiers attacking Macbeth's castle disguises themselves as trees.
  • Mood Whiplash: Between the scene in which Duncan is murdered and the scene where his body is found, we're treated to an interlude involving a drunk doorman complaining about how he can't get an erection when liquored up.
    • In his famous essay "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth", Thomas De Quincey argues that Mood Whiplash is the entire point of this interlude, commencing of course with the loud knocking from offstage; its effect is to increase the horror of what the Macbeths have done by abruptly throwing us back out of the horror and into more mundane concerns.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: A ham-fisted murder coverup quickly turns into a bloodbath as Macbeth targets his potential rivals. He's got a big field to go after, too.
  • Mushroom Samba: Macbeth initially tries to explain away their encounter with the witches as this, before concluding it must indeed have been real.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Lady Macbeth in the sleepwalking scene.
  • Never One Murder: Explored from Macbeth's perspective as the body count rises.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: The murderers successfully kill Banquo, but Fleance escapes, which makes the Witches' prophecy to Banquo that "he shall get kings, though thou be none" more ominous when Macbeth asks if Banquo's descendants will ever reign, followed by a train of ghosts whose appearances resemble Banquo's future descendants.
  • No Man of Woman Born: The witches tell Macbeth that no man of woman born can kill him. Macbeth drops this knowledge on Macduff before their fight, only for Macduff to drop the bomb:
    And let the angel whom thou still hast served
    Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb
    Untimely ripped.note 
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Seyton's name is actually pronounced "See-tin" not like the way the Devil's name is pronounced.
  • Ominous Fog: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair/Hover through the fog and filthy air." The play opens on the creepy, fog-bound moors of Scotland, where Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches after defeating the Thane of Cawdor's rebellion.
  • Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Three Witches. They observe everything in the play, but never interfere with the plot.
  • Only in It for the Money: One of the assassins hired by Macbeth notes that they shouldn't doubt the orders they're given as long as they get paid.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Poor Lady Macbeth goes mad and imagines blood that she can't get off her hands.
  • Papa Wolf: A variation; Macduff is unable to protect his family, becomes his motivation for bringing Macbeth down.
  • Pet Rat: The murderers Macbeth hires to kill Banquo.
  • Pride: Like a lot of Shakespeare's tragedy protagonists, Macbeth has this as a major failing.
  • Properly Paranoid: The survivors flee to England to marshal forces against Macbeth, just as he feared.
  • Prophecy Armor: Macbeth believes he has this near the end, thanks to the witches' prophecy that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth". In the final battle, even though the odds seem to stand greatly against him, Macbeth takes courage from the fact that he still cannot be defeated by anyone "born of woman", and warns his opponents to attack him because (he thinks) he is unkillable. This assumption proves to be wrong with Macduff, who was delivered by Caesarean section.
    Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests:
    I bear a charmed life, which must not yield
    To one of woman born.
  • Prophecy Twist: The witches have nasty surprises for Macbeth. No man of woman born can kill him—but Macduff was born by C-section. He can't be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane—but it sure looks like that happens when soldiers dress as trees.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Macbeth's journey from war hero to psychopathic tyrant king is one of the most famous examples of this trope ever.
  • Protagonist Title
  • The Purge: Averted in that Macbeth fails to prevent Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, from getting away, which comes back to bite him; however, as he slips into madness and paranoia, he starts ordering that more of his enemies and their families (including children) be murdered — which also comes back to bite him, as it sets Macduff off on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Damned if you do, damned if you don't — and Macbeth is certainly damned.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Lady Macbeth makes this point to convince her husband to murder the king, but the rest of the play can be seen as a massive deconstruction of this trope. Also played straight in Act I Scene ii, where a minor character recites Macbeth's bloodthirsty feats of arms to universal applause. "Unseamed him from the nave to the chaps and fixed his head upon our battlements" comes pretty close to Ludicrous Gibs.
  • Remember the New Guy: The Third Murderer, who appears out of nowhere—Macbeth charges two Murderers with killing Banquo and Fleance, but when the time comes three show up. Given that the Third Murderer is of no importance, this is probably a continuity error due to textual corruption. Even the other murderers act this way, asking, "But who did bid thee join with us?"
  • Rightful King Returns: Malcolm back from England to take the throne.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The Tiger, wracked at sea "Sennights nine times nine", was based off the story of a ship called the Tiger's Whelp. This ship had disappeared at sea and been presumed lost in 1604, but returned to port five hundred sixty-seven days later.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Suffice it to say that Macduff does not take the murder of his family well.
  • Rule of Three: The witches total three, chant in threes, and spin around in circles ('winding up' their spells, so to speak, like a clock) three times.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Macbeth worries about killing Duncan while he is a guest in Macbeth's castle.
    He's here in double trust:
    First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
    Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
    Who should against his murderer shut the door,
    Not bear the knife myself.
  • Sanity Slippage: An archetypal example, as gnawing guilt drives the Macbeths crazier and crazier as the story progresses. Lady Macbeth also suffers this, as she starts to have visual and aural hallucinations and eventually kills herself.
  • Secret Test of Character: When Macduff finds Malcolm, Malcolm claims to be a lustful, greedy son of a bitch completely unfit to rule and then asks if Macduff will still restore him to the throne. Horrified, Macduff refuses, and then Malcolm explains it was a test and he's actually Purity Personified, and knowing Macduff has scruples means he can join the righteous cause of toppling Macbeth.
  • Seers: The Witches appear to have powers like this, as they predict various things set to happen to Macbeth.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Inspired by the witches' prophecy that Macbeth will be king of Scotland, Macbeth and his wife resolve to usurp the throne by murder, rather than to wait for fate to bring it about.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Subverted in that Malcolm and Donalbain are suspected of murdering Duncan because they fled, although they are in fact innocent.
  • Shout-Out: Macbeth disdains the idea of acting like a "Roman fool" who "dies on my own sword," as Brutus does in Shakespeare's own Julius Caesar.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Macduff delivers one to Macbeth during their climactic fight.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: The assassination of Duncan.
  • The Starscream: An Unbuilt Trope variant. After Macbeth successfully usurps King Duncan and claims the throne, he descends into paranoia and kills off anyone else that remotely seems to be a threat to him. He himself is overthrown by Macduff, whose family was murdered by Macbeth.
  • Start of Darkness: The beginning of Act II, when Macbeth murders King Duncan.
  • Succession Crisis: Shakespeare's intent was to show why you should always follow proper succession laws, otherwise look what happened in Scotland! A guy who wasn't related to the king was appointed heir and ended up murdering everybody to get ahead. Obviously, this subtext was particularly relevant to Shakespeare's patron, King James I. That said, some scholars speculate it was the other way around: Shakespeare was subtly attacking the idea of divine succession and sowing the seeds for the English Commonwealth in peoples' minds. Since the guy's been dead for four hundred years, the "true" answer isn't likely to be forthcoming.
  • Super OCD: Freud compared Lady Macbeth's obsession with bloodstains with mysophobia, a typical trait of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
  • Symbolic Blood: Macbeth is drenched in symbolic blood, like the blood on the floating dagger and the blood on Lady Macbeth's hands.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Banquo gets his throat slashed and receives "twenty trenched gashes on his head" before being thrown in a ditch to rot. To say that he was murdered is an understatement.
  • This Cannot Be!: How Macbeth usually reacts to the Prophecy Twists.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Macbeth, as Duncan rewards him for his heroism by giving him the lands and titles of Macdonwald, the rebellious thane who tried to help King Sweno of Norway conquer Scotland. He'd have probably been more than happy with this if the witches hadn't inflamed Macbeth and his wife's ambitions.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Macbeth and his lady manage to be both this and Happily Married.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Shakespeare changed lots of historical details in order to please the newly crowned King James, who believed himself to be a descendant of Banquo, a friend of and probable co-conspirator with Macbeth that Macbeth eventually killed. The character of Macbeth himself was also changed dramatically. In reality, Donnchad (Duncan) failed badly at invading part of England, and so decided to pillage Mac Bethad's (Macbeth's) territory. Mac Bethad defeated him in battle, Donnchad dying, and Mac Bethad became King. He proceeded to rule for the best part of two decades and evidently felt pretty secure in his position, since it's documented that he took several months off to go to Rome and get personally blessed by the pope. The time frame of Shakespeare's play isn't entirely clear, but seems to be quite a bit shorter than the seventeen years of Mac Bethad's historical reign.
  • Villain Protagonist: Macbeth himself. He murders his way to the top, and becomes a tyrant ruling with an iron fist over Scotland, killing anyone who could possibly get in his way, suffering Sanity Slippage all the while. He is also without a doubt the protagonist of the play.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Macbeth has one when he hears Lady Macbeth has died. "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day..."
  • Villainous B.S.O.D.: Well, sort of. Macbeth's brain sort of breaks for a while after he kills Duncan.
  • Villainous Valour: Macbeth, at the end. Having spent the latter half of the play convinced nobody can kill him, all the omens of his doom are before him and he loses his courage. Then, realizing he'll be captured and humiliated, he resolves to go down fighting, and does.
  • The Weird Sisters:
    • Macbeth's descent into villainy is triggered by his encounter with three old and freakishly ugly witches who predict that he is destined to be king of Scotland, which prompts Macbeth to murder King Duncan. In act IV, Macbeth seeks out the witches again and receives three more prophecies which lull him into a false sense of security. While the witches manipulate Macbeth, their prophecies are truthful, just worded in ways apt to be misinterpreted by Macbeth, and they do not interfere with fate directly.
    • There are also three more witches who form the company of Heccat (Hecate), and who do not have any speaking lines.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • So Donalbain just stayed in Ireland, then?
      • Malcolm's last speech makes a reference to "calling home our exiled friends", which likely included his brother.
    • Banquo's son, Fleance, simply flees from some murderers and never returns despite the claim of the witches that his father's descendants would rule. Although this was undoubtedly meant as a reference to King James (as he was supposedly a descendant of Banquo), there is no resolution whatsoever in the context of the play.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Macbeth mentions that he could face a tiger without fear, but seeing Banquo's ghost is too much for him.
  • Worthy Opponent: Banquo is killed not only because of what he knows but because Macbeth respects him so highly; in fact, he is the one man Macbeth is intimidated by. So of course, Banquo has to go.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Lady Macbeth claims she would kill her baby child if she had sworn to. Later Macbeth has no qualms about sending his murderers to kill Macduff's children.
  • Written by the Winners: Or written to appeal to a descendant of the winners, to be more precise; Duncan was an ancestor of King James, and portraying him in a historically accurate way might have upset King James; he was in fact an ineffective ruler who died in an unsuccessful attack on Macbeth.

Particular productions and adaptations provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Traditionally, the Witches are repulsive old hags, whose status as women (or even humans) is questioned at least once. The 2006 Australian version chucks that out the window and turns them into sexy young Wiccan girls who gladly make out and even have a squicky four way with Macbeth. They're still really creepy, though.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Hecate, in Welles's "Voodoo Macbeth", was given a much-expanded role. He was given dialogue and scenes from several minor characters, transforming him into an Iago-esque villain, manipulating the other characters to his own sinister ends.
    • Ross in the Polanski film, an Ascended Extra who becomes the Third Murderer and is instrumental in the murder of Macduff's family, but gets off scot-free when he defects to Malcolm.
    • The Porter in the Patrick Stewart version. A mere comic relief character in the original play, here, he's just as creepy as the witches, and even helps Macbeth murder Macduff's family.
  • Age Lift:
    • The Witches in the 2006 version. Instead of old hags, they're depicted as a trio of sexy young ladies. It somehow manages to be more creepy than titillating, considering the fact that they're still Ambiguously Human.
    • When Patrick Stewart played the role in 2007, the portrayal of the character was changed into that of an aging general with a young trophy wife, rather than the vigorous thirty-something (sometimes forty-something) warrior he is portrayed as in most film and stage productions of the last century.
  • Badass Mustache: In keeping with the pseudo-Soviet style of the adaptation, Patrick Stewart's Macbeth sports one that would make Stalin proud.
  • Beard of Evil: In Roman Polanski's film, Macbeth starts as a baby-faced young Thane, and as his murderous intentions grow, so does his beard.
  • Canon Foreigner: The 2015 adds two witches (a child and an infant), a child soldier who Macbeth gets attached to (and who dies during the battle against Macdonwald), and a child for the Macbeths (who died prior to the events of the movie).
  • Coitus Ensues: In the 2006 film, out of nowhere, Macbeth ends up having a foursome with the witches while they discuss about his future.
  • Combat Pragmatist:
    • The 1990s adaptation Macbeth On The Estate turns Macduff into this. He goads Macbeth into charging him, then pulls out a gun. Given the setting, a gun would be hard to obtain, but when taking revenge for your murdered family...
    • The 2006 version from Australia turns the final fight between Macduff and Macbeth into this. After their guns run out, they go at it with knives, fists, wine bottles, broken glass, and more.
    • The 2007 production starring Patrick Stewart takes a page from the Raiders of the Lost Ark book in Macbeth's fight with Young Seward:
      Young Seward: With my blade, I'll prove the lie thou speakest!
      (Macbeth pulls out a pistol and shoots him dead)
    • The 2010 movie gave Macduff's army camouflage suits, in comparison to the Badass Longcoats of Macbeth's men. Though, they do not travel through any forest despite the lines about trees moving.
  • Composite Character: In some productions, the mysterious third murderer is another previously established character in service to Macbeth, charged with being a spy on the first two. The idea adds more depth to the idea that Macbeth is pretty paranoid at this point. Sometimes it's even Macbeth himself.
  • Creepy Child: The 2011 Royal Shakespeare Company production changed the Weird Sisters into three eerie children—two boys and one girl. This made the Act IV prophecy scene especially creepy; the three played with dolls as they gave their predictions.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • In the 2006 version, the murderers of Banquo and Macduff's family; there's a silent scene where Macduff and Malcolm kill them before attacking Macbeth.
    • The 2007 version has Seyton killed by Malolm's forces in the final battle
    • In the 2010 film, the witches kills the Sergeant.
    • In the 2013 Globe version, the Third Murderer kills the first two after they've mortally wounded Banquo, and then finishes Banquo off.
  • Downer Ending:
    • The 1971 adaptation adds a silent epilogue (sometimes tacked onto the play) in which Donalbain goes to the witches' hut, presumably to do exactly what Macbeth did. It is deeply unsettling.note 
    • The 2006 Australian version has Fleance, who Banquo tried to keep out of the gang warfare, sneaking into the attack on Macbeth's home, even killing a maid in a Start of Darkness.
    • The 2015 film foreshadows a future conflict by ending with Fleance coming across Macbeth's body on the battlefield and taking his sword, intercut with the newly-crowned Malcolm looking unsettled.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: The 2007 version has a scene after the credits showing Macbeth and his wife in a descending elevator symbolizing their souls going to hell
  • Dramatic Thunder: The Welles adaptation leans on this trope pretty hard for the scene in which Macbeth murders Duncan.
  • Fan Sequel: Author Noah Lukeman's play The Tragedy of Macbeth Part II: Seed of Banquo continues the story about ten years after the original's conclusion, following Malcolm's reign as king, his marriage to Macbeth's daughter, and his eventual downfall at the hands of a vengeful Fleance.
  • Get It Over With:
    • Twice in the 2015 film, forming Bookends. In the opening battle scene the Thane of Cawdor sees Macbeth on the battlefield and sort of just gives up and allows Macbeth to whack off his head. At the end, after Macduff drops the "from my mother's wound untimely ripp'd" bomb, Macbeth goes right up to him and embraces him while delivering the "Lay on, Macduff" line, allowing Macduff to finish him off with a few gut-stabs.
    • In the 2007 version when Macbeth almost kills Macduff he sees the witches and simply says "It's over." before giving up and letting Macduff kill him.
  • Hitler Cam: One of Orson Welles' favorite tropes, which he used in the 1948 film to film the scene where Macbeth is raging after the murderers tell him that Fleance got away.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • The 1983 BBC production made for television did not show Banquo's ghost, instead all we saw was an empty chair. Likewise, for the apparitions all we saw Macbeth's reaction making it all seem like Macbeth going insane. However, the prophecy involving Birnam Wood, no man of woman born and all that still comes true as the text dictates it must.
    • The 1978 filmed staged production featuring Ian Mckellen in the title role did much of the same. The witches are portrayed as charlatans taking advantage of a man's superstitious belief in something as dated as fate and have an Oh, Crap! moment when Macbeth asks them to show him if Banquo's issue will ever reign in Scotland.
  • Scenery Porn: The 2015 film takes advantage of filming in Scotland, with many shots spent just highlighting the gorgeous landscape.
  • Setting Update: Very popular for this particular play, with the kingdom usually replaced with either a business or an organised crime syndicate. The fun part is seeing what the Witches are changed to (practitioners of Wicca, Gothic schoolgirls, Japanese forest spirit, black garbage collectors, nurses/organ poachers...).
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The 2015 film portrays Macbeth as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which gives a new context to his visions.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The 2015 film cuts everything related to comic relief, including the porter at the gate and large chunks of the Witches' dialogue.
  • Those Two Guys: Many productions put Ross and Lennox together as this. Some productions in which Ross is given more presence play Lennox and Angus as this.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: In the 2015 film Macduff upchucks outside of Duncan's tent after going inside and discovering that the king has been murdered.