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Macbeth Character Traits & Analysis

Sasha Blakeley, Patricia Vineski
  • Author
    Sasha Blakeley

    Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

  • Instructor
    Patricia Vineski

    Patricia has an MFA in Writing, an MS in Teaching and English Language Arts, and a BA in English.

Explore the protagonist in Macbeth--learn who Macbeth is, identify Macbeth's character traits, and what he does in the play. Then, read an in-depth Macbeth character analysis. Updated: 11/27/2021

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Who is Macbeth?

Macbeth is the titular character and protagonist in Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Macbeth goes through several profound character changes over the course of the play. When the play begins, Macbeth is thane of Glamis, which is equivalent to being a lord of an area of Scotland. After he encounters three witches who make prophecies about his future, Macbeth starts to become much more ambitious and power-hungry. Ultimately, the play is about how Macbeth changes, transforming from a genuine hero to a tragic hero over the course of the story.

Macbeth Characters

There are many Macbeth characters who all come together to create the terrible situation that leads to Macbeth's downfall. They all have their specific roles in the story and their own relationships to Macbeth. Engaging in Macbeth's character analysis requires looking at all of the other characters in the play as a whole. The following are brief Macbeth character descriptions of the most important figures in the play:

Character Role in the Story
Lady Macbeth Macbeth's wife, Lady Macbeth starts out as a much more ambitious character than her husband is. Over time, she starts to feel increasingly guilty about what she and her husband have done, and she ultimately kills herself near the end of the play.
King Duncan Duncan is the king of Scotland at the beginning of the play, and, by all accounts, he is a good king. Lady Macbeth pushes Macbeth to kill Duncan and take his crown, starting him on his path to destruction.
Banquo Banquo is Macbeth's friend who also receives a prophecy from the witches. He is Macbeth's second victim and his ghost returns to remind Macbeth of his crimes. There is also a prophecy about Banquo that says that his children will go on to be kings after his death.
Macduff Macduff is a noble who is initially one of Macbeth's closest allies. When he grows suspicious of Macbeth, the new king has Macduff's wife and children killed, which devastates him.
The witches The three witches are supernatural figures who give Macbeth and Banquo prophecies about their own lives. Though the prophecies are misleading, they all eventually come true. The witches are invested in creating chaos in the world.
Malcolm Malcolm is King Duncan's eldest son and rightful heir who eventually becomes king of Scotland at the end of the play.

Macbeth interacts with all of these characters throughout the play, often changing his relationship with them over time. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is close with his wife Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Duncan, and Macduff. Over time, he becomes more and more opposed to all of them. He also trusts the witches at the beginning of the play, but later learns that they have misled him.

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Macbeth Character Traits

Macbeth is one of the most famous plays by William Shakespeare

A monument to Shakespeare, creator of the Macbeth characters

Any Macbeth description that tries to parse all of Macbeth's character traits will by necessity result in contradiction. Macbeth changes so dramatically throughout the play, and his motivations are so multifaceted, that he embodies many traits as well as their opposites. Macbeth is a brave warrior with a kind heart. He cares about his friends and wants to do the right thing. He is also a power-hungry tyrant who will stop at nothing to expand and maintain his control. He is tempted into his wickedness by his desire for power, the witches' prophecies, and especially by the urging of his wife. He often doubts himself, but he also acts decisively and often violently when he needs to. All of these traits together are what allow him to become a tragic hero.

What is Macbeth's Journey in the Play?

Perhaps no Shakespeare character changes as dramatically in a single play as Macbeth does in his quest for power. His journey, when broken down to its simplest form, goes from brave warrior to reluctant murderer to king to brutal killer to and finally back to brave warrior. The play begins shortly after Macbeth and Banquo have fought bravely in battle, positioning Macbeth as a heroic character. This heroic portrayal begins to change when Macbeth first meets the three witches.

The Prophecies

Macbeth meets three witches who tell him that while he is currently Thane of Glamis, he will soon also be Thane of Cawdor and king of Scotland. Banquo is told that his descendants will be kings. When Macbeth returns home, he learns that the Thane of Cawdor has died and that he has inherited the title. This gives him faith that the rest of the prophecy is also true. Lady Macbeth feels even more strongly about Macbeth's future as Scotland's king, and she pushes him to kill King Duncan so that he can take the throne.

Duncan and Banquo

Macbeth is very reluctant to kill Duncan, but he eventually agrees. He stabs Duncan with a dagger and then blames the action on Duncan's servants. Following his murder of Duncan, Macbeth is then crowned king. Almost immediately, Macbeth starts to feel more and more paranoid and guilty about his actions. Because he grows concerned about the prophecy of Banquo's descendants becoming kings, he tries to have Banquo and his son Fleance killed. The murderers he hires do kill Banquo, but Fleance manages to escape, compounding Macbeth's paranoia. Macbeth's guilt over his friend's murder causes him to see Banquo's ghost during a dinner with other nobles, causing him to say dangerous things in front of his guests while Lady Macbeth tries to keep him under control and explain away his strange behavior.

Further Prophecies and Macduff

The people of Scotland start to have serious doubts about Macbeth's tyrannical rule. Worried about what his future might hold, Macbeth returns to the witches to hear more prophecies. They tell him to beware Macduff, but they also say that no man born of woman can harm him, which makes Macbeth believe that he is invincible. The final prophecy that the witches give Macbeth is that no harm will come to him until Birnam Wood, a large forest, comes to Dunsinane Castle, where Macbeth lives. He feels reassured by these last two prophecies, but, when he learns that Macduff has fled to England to join Malcolm's army in an attempt to end Macbeth's rule, he has Macduff's family killed.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Macbeth a bad person?

Macbeth is a very complex person who does a lot of bad things. Whether or not he is a bad or irredeemable person is something for audience members to decide.

Who was Macbeth before he was king?

Before becoming king, Macbeth is the thane of Glamis. The title of ''thane'' in this context is a Scottish title similar to being the lord of a region.

What are Macbeth's character strengths?

Macbeth is very courageous and is willing and able to do what is necessary to achieve his goals. Sometimes, these strengths are good, while other times, they can be destructive.

Who killed Macbeth in the play?

Macduff kills Macbeth at the very end of the play. He cuts off Macbeth's head and brings it to the new King Malcolm.

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