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Theatre / Macbeth

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As the play is Older Than Steam and most twists in Shakespeare's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.
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 Weird Sisters

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 hail him as the future king. His scheming and ambitious wife convinces him to make the prophecy come true by killing Duncan. They succeed, but the two of them spend the rest of the play slowly going insane from guilt; Lady Macbeth begins sleepwalking, scrubbing at imaginary bloodstains and hallucinating, and ultimately kills herself. Macbeth himself enters into a paranoid frenzy, killing every potential rival in order to consolidate his power. The witches predict that "none of woman born" shall slay him, which gives him some reassurance... until he meets Macduff, whose family he murdered, and 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, not "born" as Elizabethans defined it. D'oh.

Many of the inconsistencies in Macbeth come from the fact that Macbeth was a real person who was featured in Holinshed's Chronicles, a best-selling popular history of Shakespeare's time. Holinshed 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"), due to the belief that speaking the main character's name brings bad luck. 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.

Notable adaptations:

  • An Italian Opera by Giuseppe Verdi. It was the first of Verdi's three Shakespeare operas, along with Otello and Falstaff, (the former of which was used to entice him out of retirement).
  • 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.
  • Roman Polański'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.
  • A condensed 75-minute, five cast ensemble 1977 version in Prague (then part of a unified, Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia) by Pavel Kohout.
  • 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.
  • Gregory Doran’s 1999 RSC production, starring Antony Sher and Harriet Walter (and with a young Richard Armitage in a minor role.) Notable for its claustrophobic intensity, the chemistry between the two leads and its dark humour; often regarded as one of the finest contemporary productions. Filmed without an audience using hand-held cameras and commercially released in 2001.
  • 2003's Maqbool, a Bollywood adaptation directed by Vishal Bhardawaj in the Hindi and Urdu languages, set in the Mumbai underworld.
  • 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 Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley 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 eight years.
  • A 2007 West End stage production with a Setting Update to a vaguely Communist - Romania esque or Alternate History setting, starring Patrick Stewart as Macbeth as a Ceausescu . 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 2015 film adaptation directed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Filmed on location in the Scottish Highlands, performed with Scottish accents, and uses carefully-researched 11th-century costumes and settings.
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth is a 2021 feature film directed by Joel (but not Ethan) Coen, with Denzel Washington in the title role, Coen Brothers regular Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, and Corey Hawkins as Macduff.

The play itself provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Aerith and Bob: The Tragedy of Macbeth costars such colorful characters as Macduff, Banquo, Fleance, Lancelet, and...Duncan and Malcolm. Downplayed Trope as some of the former examples are common names in Scotland, so this depends on who the audience is.
  • Age Lift: Duncan, who is portrayed as elderly, reigned for six years (1034-1040) before he was killed in battle at the age of 39 after an ill-fated expedition against the men of Moray led by Macbeth near Elgin.
  • 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, so his line that they have beards was a bit of Leaning on the Fourth Wall, as Shakespeare often alluded to the ban on actresses for humorous effect. In the Orson Welles version, one of them was played by a man.
  • Ambiguously Evil: While the Witches certainly appear sinister, and viewing them as the masterminds behind the whole plot is certainly a valid interpretation, there's nothing explicitly indicating them as anything other than sources of dangerous wisdom.
  • 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.
  • Anachronism Stew: A clock is mentioned centuries before they would have been found in Europe. The same error is found in Julius Caesar.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Macbeth goes after the 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.
  • Anti-Villain: The Macbeths. Before the Witches put the idea of kingship in his head, Macbeth was a very loyal general, and even after his ambition drives him to murder, he feels incredibly guilty about it. For all Lady Macbeth's tough talk about abandoning human kindness in order to commit the murder, she ultimately can't go through with it and her involvement in the deed drives her insane with guilt, leading to the famous sleepwalking scene and eventually her offscreen death.
  • 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.
  • Audience Participation: Macbeth's vision of Banquo's ghost and eight kings (his descendants), one carrying a mirror ("glass") in which he sees many more, some of which carry two balls and three scepters. This is undoubtedly a reference to King James who was king over England, Ireland, and Scotland (three royal scepters), was crowned twice, in Scotland and then England (two royal orbs), and was supposed to be descended from Banquo himself. Since the play was probably first performed in court, the actor with the mirror would have held it up to James's face.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: "Hail, king of Scotland!" The last scene ends with everyone hailing Malcolm as king. Many productions will have Macduff give him the crown.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Early on, Macbeth fantasises about him being king of Scotland and how he'd be much better than the current King Duncan. He's later crowned king but regrets this since he killed Duncan.
  • 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 like this in the sense of being the main antagonist, but he's a Hero Antagonist.
  • Big Bad Slippage: Macbeth starts the story as a good and loyal soldier before the influence of the three witches and his wife starts him on a downward spiral toward becoming the Big Bad.
  • 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.
  • Bloody Hallucinations of Guilt: Lady Macbeth convinces her husband Lord Macbeth to kill the current king because of a prophecy that says he's to be the next king of Scotland. The ensuing murders the two have to commit to maintain their position slowly drives Lady Macbeth mad with guilt, which includes her imagining bloodstains and furiously attempting to scrub them away to no avail, culminating in her infamous line "Out damned spot!"
  • Bond One-Liner: "Thou wast born of woman."
  • Bookends: Towards the beginning, Macbeth displays the severed head of the traitor Macdonwald. In the end, his own treasonous head is on display.
  • Bring It: This line:
    Macbeth: Lay on, Macduff — and damn'd be he who first cries "Hold, enough!"
    • Unlike most examples, it does not reflect the confidence of victory but rather the desire to go down fighting rather than be taken prisoner.
  • 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.)
  • Call-Back: Right after Macbeth kills Duncan, Lady Macbeth, having grasped his bloodstained hands with her own, says "A little water clears us of this deed. How easy is it then?" This sets up a powerful Call-Back in the late going when an insane Lady Macbeth hallucinates that she can't wash the blood off her hands in the "Out, out damned spot!" scene.
  • Call-Forward: In the scene where the witches show Macbeth the line of kings descended from Banquo, Macbeth notes "some I see/That two-fold balls and treble scepters carry." That is a reference to King James I/James VI of England/Scotland unified the monarchies of England and Scotland when he succeeded to the throne of England in 1603. The regnal ornaments of Scotland consisted of one ball and one staff, while the ornaments of England were one ball and two staffs. This entire passage is an exercise in flattery towards King James, who claimed descent from the possibly legendary Banquo.
  • 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 the 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. It doesn't work, however — the guilt drives her insane and eventually to suicide.
  • Death of a Child: Macduff's entire family is murdered, including his wife and son.
  • 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, supposedly out of grief from just seeing Duncan's body.
  • 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. It’s basically Macbeth saying, “There is no afterlife, so life is meaningless.”
  • 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 is implied to have gone out this way (adaptations usually have her jumping off the battlements). 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.
  • Elective Monarchy: In the play, the Scottish kings are elected, which explains why the title character is chosen after Duncan, rather than his son. Reading between the lines, it may be that Duncan incurred some ire from the nobles for making his son heir-apparent while he was living.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Gender-Inverted. Lady Macbeth mentions that the only reason she doesn't kill Duncan herself is that he looks too much like her dad.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are typically depicted as Happily Married and very loving towards one other. Macbeth also crosses into a Despair Event Horizon after hearing news of his wife's death.
  • 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."
    • Lady Macbeth's Sanity Slippage truly kicks in after Lady Macduff and her children are massacred on Macbeth's orders. Some adaptations - notably the 1948 and 2015 films - have her witnessing the deaths and having a Heel Realization as they happen.
  • Exact Words:
    • Macduff's family is well at peace. Resting in peace, that is.
    • Macbeth is perfectly safe so long as the woods of Dunsinane don't come to his castle. Of course, nobody said that those same woods still had to be planted in the ground, as opposed to being used as camouflage by an attacking army
    • And Macbeth's supposed invulnerability, given that he can be defeated by no man of woman born. A pity then that Macduff was delivered via caesarian section.
  • Eye of Newt: The witches' song features a long list of the ingredients they're boiling in their cauldron to power their spells.
    Second Witch: Fillet of a fenny snake/ In the cauldron boil and bake/ Eye of newt and toe of frog/ Wool of bat and tongue of dog/ Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting/ Lizard's leg and owlet's wing/ For a charm of powerful trouble/ Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
  • 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.
  • Fake Faint: Lady Macbeth fakes a faint when Duncan's murder is discovered, to distract from Macbeth almost Saying Too Much regarding his murder of the king's guards.
  • Fallen Hero: Macbeth goes from a war hero to a bloodthirsty tyrant.
  • False Reassurance
    • Macduff asks if Macbeth has been bothering his family, and Ross says "they were well at peace when I did leave 'em." Macduff notes Ross's oddly tight-lipped manner, and a few lines later Ross gathers his nerve and delivers the bad news: Macbeth has massacred Macduff's entire family.
    • Just about every 'good' omen Macbeth receives is false reassurance in hindsight, since they lead him to believe he is safe when he is actually doomed.
  • Family Extermination: Macbeth orders the whole Macduff family to be exterminated after being told to "beware Macduff". Unfortunately, Macduff himself isn't at home when the slaughter is carried out.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are often portrayed as having a loving relationship and are great ones for entertaining their guests. Unfortunately, Lady M urges her husband to "look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it", and accuses her husband of wimping out under the pretence of false courage when he sent his first report and convinces him to let the guards take the rap for Duncan's murder.
  • First-Name Basis: Macbeth has Only One Name in the play. The historical Macbeth's real name was Mac Bethad mac Findlaích. (MacBheatha MacFhionnlaigh in modern Scots Gaelic, anglicised as Macbeth MacFinlay. His father's name was Findláech/"Finlay", Thane of Angus and kingnote  of Moray. Despite looking like a patronymic, "Macbeth" is a first name, which is why it doesn't get CamelCase in English.)
  • 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." Duncan also trusts the new Thane of Cawdor — Macbeth — implicitly, and Macbeth, just like the old Thane, betrays him and ends up dying in battle with loyalist forces.
  • Free-Sample Plot Coupon: The witches hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and he that shall be king thereafter. Since Macbeth is only Thane of Glamis, he dismisses it: moments later, he gets word that the sitting Thane of Cawdor has been executed for treason and Macbeth has been given his title. This makes him and his wife give serious thought to how they might get the crown.
  • Freudian Excuse: The killers that Macbeth hires both allude to having had troubled pasts.
  • Girls with Moustaches: The Weird Sisters are bearded, according to Banquo.
  • 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 it 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 very much in love with each other. Critic Harold Bloom points out that it's the only happy marriage in Shakespeare among protagonists.
  • Haunting the Guilty: After Macbeth had Banquo assassinated, he ends up seeing his former friend's ghost at the banquet. Only Macbeth can see the ghost, however, and it's left to interpretation if it was really a ghost or a hallucination created by his guilty conscience.
  • 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.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Malcolm fears that he would become lustful, greedy for his subjects' land and money and that he would make a poor king because he appears to lack the necessary royal virtues. After Macduff reminds him of the virtuous character of Duncan and his mother, he reveals that this was a Secret Test of Character to Macduff, who had felt guilty about leaving his wife and son behind to be slaughtered.
  • He Will Not Cry, so I Cry for Him: Malcolm attempts this to Siward. Siward stops him.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • In reality, Malcolm did not become king after slaying Macbeth, rather, Macbeth's stepson Lulach was crowned, only for Malcolm to murder and usurp him, ironically the exact crime that the play (falsely, see below) portrays Macbeth committing.
    • Duncan is portrayed as a good king who ends up dishonorably slain by someone he trusted while in bed. While he was killed by Macbeth in real life, it was in combat in which he was the aggressor.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • The actual historical figure Macbeth 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. Shakespeare's portrayal of Macbeth as a murderer and usurper is usually credited to him trying to please King James I, who was descended from the guy who overthrew Macbeth.
    • Macbeth's wife, whose name was Gruoch, is obscure so little is really known of her life. There's no indication of her murdering anyone whoever, inciting Macbeth to, or killing herself in guilt over the previous.
  • 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 about killing Duncan than does his wife, and she pushes him into doing it. Afterward, however, Lady Macbeth suppresses any feelings of guilt, and constantly tells Macbeth to stop fretting, whereas Macbeth is haunted by his feelings of guilt—until her repressed guilt comes back in her sleep and drives her to suicide, while he becomes more and villainous and slowly loses all his remaining scruples about killing. Her death takes away the only other person he cared about, and by the end of the play he’s a shell of himself.
  • Human Resources: The potion in Act IV includes some.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Macbeth realizes several times, the wrongness of what he's done and that he has a chance to turn back, most notably before he has scrupulous thoughts about being ingrateful to Duncan whom he murders at his wife's urging to prove his love for her, and after the feast. He doesn't, and when recalling the witches' prophecy of Banquo's descendants and Macduff, he further silences his conscience by ordering the murder of Banquo, in addition to Macduff's wife and son.
  • The Insomniac: "Glamis hath murdered sleep, and there Cawdor/Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more!"
  • Irony: Lady Macbeth assures her husband that "a little water clears us of this deed", with regards to cleaning the bloodstains off after Duncan is murdered. She later hallucinates that there is a spot of blood she cannot wash off her hands.
  • It Gets Easier: Macbeth feels a lot more guilty about murdering Duncan than about any of his later crimes.
  • It's Personal: Macduff resolves to kill Macbeth after learning that his wife, kids, and servants were all murdered on Macbeth's orders.
  • 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.
  • I've Come Too Far: Macbeth states: "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.
  • 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.
  • Kill the Cutie: The naive Lady Macduff, who erroneously dismisses her husband's actions as cowardly and treacherous, is slain with her son by the murderers after ignoring a warning from a messenger who unsuccessfully urges her to take refuge.
  • 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. Trope Namer.
  • 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.
  • Lighter and Softer: If the Witches' song is ever found in a book of children's poetry (and it often is) you can bet it won't include the lines, "Liver of blaspheming Jew", or "Finger of birth-strangled babe".
  • Literal-Minded: The witches tell Macbeth that his crown will be safe until "Birnam Wood walks to Dunsinane". He thinks that he's 100% safe since trees don't walk. The soldiers attacking his castle use big branches cut from Birnam Wood, which makes it looks like it's walking to Dunsinane.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: The Porter's scene is chock-full of this stuff. (Hey, this was written by Shakespeare, master of the Double Entendre.)
  • Lonely at the Top: Once the Macbeths rule Scotland, there's no one beside them (since Macbeth murdered his friend Banquo to avert a prophecy that Banquo's descendants would be kings) and their underlings are suspicious of them.
  • The Low Middle Ages: Technically set in this era. note 
  • By Maggotpies and Choughs and Rooks: Act 3, scene 4, line 150. After hallucinating Banquo, Macbeth rants about how magpies and crows and ravens bring forth "The secret’st man of blood."
  • Magic Cauldron: The three witches use a cauldron for their magic. Quite a few subsequent depictions of witches' cauldrons likely stem from this.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • The text suggests that Duncan does this after he expresses his thanks to Macbeth and Banquo for the victory, and they answer that they owe it all to him. Duncan says "My plenteous joys / Wanton in fulness, seek to hide themselves / In drops of sorrow."
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's up to the director to decide whether to actually show Banquo's ghost or the blood on Lady Macbeth's hands.
  • 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 disguise 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.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Inverted - the historical Lady Macbeth had a first name, Gruoch - but it is never used in the play.
  • 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.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Macbeth becomes this when he realizes that Birnam Wood has indeed come to Dunsinane, concluding that life is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
  • No Man of Woman Born: The Trope Namer. 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 
  • Not His Blood: Macbeth is not happy when the First Murderer shows up at his front door spattered with blood, after killing Banquo, while a bunch of lords and nobles are sitting down to eat inside the castle.
    Macbeth: There's blood on thy face.
    First Murderer: 'Tis Banquo's then.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Macbeth's death. He and Macduff leave the stage fighting, and then later Macduff returns holding his severed head.
  • Oh, Crap!: Macbeth says as much upon Macduff's rebuttal to his "no man of woman born" boast.
    Macbeth: Accursed be that tongue that tells me so,
    For it hath cow'd my better part of man!
  • 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 "only" interact by delivering prophecies.
  • 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.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Macduff really does not want anyone else to kill Macbeth.
    Macduff: Tyrant, show thy face! If thou be'st slain and with no stroke of mine, my wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Macduff's entire household was slaughtered. We see the death of his eldest son on stage.
  • Papa Wolf: A variation; Macduff is unable to protect his family (because he was elsewhere when they were murdered), so avenging their slaughter becomes his motivation against Macbeth.
  • Pet Rat: The murderers Macbeth hires to kill Banquo.
  • Pet the Dog: Lady Macbeth's kind treatment of an exhausted servant who serves as an envoy contrasts with the following scene of her wishing her best nature destroyed so she can properly vie ruthlessly for Macbeth's rise to the throne.
  • 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 wasn't 'born' in the literal sense of the word. He can't be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane — but when soldiers approach the castle at night, under cover of branches chopped in Birnam Wood...
  • 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: As is standard for a Shakespeare tragedy.
  • 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.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The MacBeths killed King Duncan, forever destroying the mental peace of Lady Macbeth and turning Macbeth into a Fallen Hero who cannot help to order ever more unjust killing, all for a temporary victory. In the long term, what they accomplished was to make Banquo's descendants kings.
  • 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, a third shows up. Even the other Murderers are surprised, asking, "But who did bid thee join with us?" Given that the Third Murderer is of no obvious importance, people have debated for decades what significance he has. Many productions take the opportunity to cast pre-established characters as the Third Murderer. Usually he is revealed to be either Seyton, the Thane of Ross, or even Macbeth himself, come to ensure the deed is done properly. Writer James Thurber even wrote a humorous short story in which he is revealed to be Macduff, playing both sides for his own benefit.
  • Rhyming Wizardry: The three witches recite a poem as they brew a potion for Macbeth to drink. They notably use rhyming couplets rather than the iambic pentameter Shakespeare was known to employ, emphasizing their otherworldly nature.
    Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and cauldron bubble
  • 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 on 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.
  • Scrubbing Off the Trauma: The famous sleepwalking scene, where Lady Macbeth, guilt-ridden over Duncan's death, dreams that she has a bloodstain on her hand that she cannot get out by any means.
  • 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: The witches do this a lot, to the point where critics are not sure whether they actually predict the future or are just Manipulative Bitches using a Batman Gambit by telling people what they need to hear for these futures to come about.
    • The prophecy that Macbeth would become king put the idea of kingship into Macbeth's head — enough so that when he is told that the heir will be someone else (Malcolm), he decides to take matters into his own hands by assassinating Duncan, which makes him king.
    • Macbeth is told to "beware Macduff". If he hadn't heard that, he wouldn't have thought Macduff was a threat, decided to kill Macduff's whole family, pissed Macduff enough to join a rebellion against him, and found out that Macduff, being born by C-section, was an exception to the prophecy that 'none of woman born' would kill Macbeth.
  • 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.
  • Stuffed in the Fridge: Lady Macduff is murdered along with her son, which is what properly motivates Macduff to go after Macbeth.
  • 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 an 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.
  • Suicide by Cop: Macbeth’s death has been played like this, as he deliberately launches into single combat with someone he knows can kill him, at a point where he’s passed the Despair Event Horizon and has nothing left to live for.
  • Symbolic Blood: Macbeth is drenched in symbolic blood, like the blood on the floating dagger and the blood on Lady Macbeth's hands.
  • Tempting Fate: Siward observes that the victory was "cheaply bought", only to hear immediately after that his son was killed.
  • 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.
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • This is the Trope Namer and Codifier for Lady Macbeth. Rather than being the woman behind the man or being more evil than her husband, she's on an equal level with him. She's only the one who influences him to commit the first murder (of Duncan), and it's Macbeth himself who goes down the Start of Darkness. Lady Macbeth herself feels massive amounts of remorse and suffers Sanity Slippage over what they've done, eventually committing suicide in guilt.
    • One of the earliest known examples of the Wicked Witch with regards to the three weird sisters. But rather than being Obviously Evil they're merely a source of dangerous wisdom, and the text doesn't state whether they actually are evil. It's telling that many modern productions - inspired by the trope - expand them into being chessmasters who orchestrated the whole thing.
  • Unexpectedly Real Magic: One of the reasons this is known as The Scottish Play is because it used "real" witchcraft chants (which King James, a notable believer in witchcraftnote , decreed should only be spoken during a performance, just in case).
  • 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..."
    • Lady Macbeth has her own breakdown out of guilt for her actions, resulting in her becoming so unhinged that she starts sleepwalking and sleeptalking, bemoaning her crimes and trying to get an imaginary spot of blood off her hands.
  • Villainous BSoD: 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.
    "At least we'll die with harness on our back!"
  • 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.
  • Wham Line:
    Macduff: Despair thy charm,
    And let the angel whom thou still hast served
    Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb
    Untimely ripped.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • So Donalbain just stayed in Ireland, then? (The last mention of Donalbain in the text has Caithness asking if Donalbain is with his brother's army, and Lennox answering that he is not, but not saying where Donalbain actually is.) The 1971 film adds an epilogue scene for him.
    • The murderers who killed Banquo are never heard from again after reporting his death to Macbeth. Though some productions and possibly the original text depending on which version your reading have them also kill Macduffs family , but even then they disappear afterwards usually.
  • 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.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Macbeth does this a few times:
    • The most obvious one is his murdering Duncan to seize Duncan's throne.
    • A more honorable example is the title of Thane of Cawdor, which originally belonged to the treacherous Macdonwald. Duncan gives Macbeth the title as a reward both for leading Scotland's victory over the Norwegian invasion and for killing Macdonwald in the process.

Particular productions and adaptations provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The 1948 adds more scenes for the witches to increase their significance. Notably they appear at the very end of the film to watch the carnage.
    • The 2006 and 2015 versions suggests that Lady Macbeth lost a child and is partly motivated by that.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Adapted Out: Donalbain is cut from the 1948.
  • Age Lift:
    • The Witches in the 1999 RSC version were three semi-feral young women in grubby clothes (Noma Dumezweni, Polly Kemp and Diane Beck), resembling homeless junkies, who scurried around like animals. Gregory Doran gave them secret rehearsals on their own so that when they first showed up in rehearsal, they creeped the hell out of everyone.
    • 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.
  • Bowdlerization: The 1948 film had to censor the double entendres in the Porter's speech at the behest of the Hays Code.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In the film of the 1999 version, the soliloquies are mostly done as voice-over, or else as the characters speaking to themselves. But when Macbeth is told that Lady Macbeth is dead, he says the first half of his speech aloud to himself (She should have died hereafter), and then briefly breaks down before pulling himself together and delivering the last part directly to the camera (Life's but a walking shadow, etc.) After sneering the final line (Signifying nothing!), he walks past the camera and off the set, and the camera follows him up a flight of stairs and to an exit door from the venue they were shooting in, which he goes through, literally leaving the building.
  • 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.
    • In the 1948 film, Macduff appears to have just one child. Granted only one appears on stage anyway, but other adaptations tend to show the rest.
  • 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.
  • Cross-Cast Role: In the 1948 film, one of the witches is played by Brainerd Duffield, a man, and Orson Welles's daughter played Macduff's son.
  • 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 Malcolm's forces in the final battle
    • In the 2010 film, the witches kill 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.
  • Decomposite Character: In the 2015 film, the Doctor and Gentlewoman who attend Lady Macbeth are present for the scene in which her death is announced but are absent for the Scrubbing Off the Trauma scene. She instead gives this speech to an apparition of her dead son.
  • Demoted to Extra: Most of Duncan's scenes are cut from the 1948 film.
  • Downer Ending: 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.
  • 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: In the 2007 version, Macbeth almost kills Macduff, but he sees a vision of the witches; seeming to realize what he's been a pawn to, he simply repeats the word "Enough." — and lets Macduff stab him instead.
  • Here We Go Again!:
    • The 1971 version adds an epilogue showing Donalbain, who disappears after Duncan's murder and is never mentioned again (see What Happened to the Mouse? above) returning to Scotland after Malcolm retakes the Scottish throne. Donalbain comes across the witches in a cave, implying that they're going to repeat their evil scheme by manipulating him to try and overthrow Malcolm.
    • Noah Lukeman's Fan Sequel shows the witches manipulating Malcolm into causing his own downfall the way they did to Macbeth.
  • Hitler Cam: One of Orson Welles's 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.
  • Identical Stranger:
    • Orson Welles's film had the witches appearing as other characters — The First Murderer, Gentlewoman, and Lady Macduff respectively.
    • A couple of productions have had Hecate played by the same actress as Lady Macbeth, adding a new layer of subtext.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: In the 1948 film Lady Macduff is clad in white with blonde hair (light feminine) while Lady Macbeth is dark-haired and wearing darker colours (dark feminine).
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • The 1983 BBC production made for television did not show Banquo's ghost, but an empty chair. Likewise, for the apparitions all that is shown is 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 2007 production, when filmed for television, cut back and forth between shots with Banquo's ghost and shots without him, again making the scene ambiguous.
    • 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 because he's asked them to do the impossible and they know they can't fake that.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: The 1948 film implies that Lady Macbeth already fatally stabbed Duncan before Macbeth attacked him.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: In the 1948 version, Macduff's son speaks with an American accent when the others do Scottish.
  • Off with His Head!: 1948's Macbeth dies this way, instead of first getting stabbed and having his corpse beheaded.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Orson Welles inserted a Holy Man character into his film to illustrate a struggle between new religion and old religion (represented by the witches, who are portrayed like Celtic druids).
  • 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...).
  • Sinister Silhouettes: Orson Welles's film depicts the witches this way. Their faces are never seen, kept only in shadow with their long grey hair visible.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Noah Lukeman's Fan Sequel subverts this with Macbeth's daughter. Macduff plans to kill her when he learns her identity, but stays his hand when he overhears her prayers and shame for her parents' crimes.
  • 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.
  • Voodoo Doll: The 1948 film has the witches creating one of Macbeth at the start.