Macbeth, written in 1606 and first performed at the Globe Theatre, London, in the same year, was not published until 1623. Despite its historical basis, however, the play is one of Shakespeare's great tragedies, rather than a history play.
The play is set in Scotland. Returning from battle with his companion Banquo, the nobleman Macbeth meets a group of witches. They predict that Macbeth will first become thane (baron) of Cawdor and then king of Scotland. Urged on by Lady Macbeth, his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan. But Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, escape. Macbeth then seizes the throne of Scotland. But Macbeth has no peace. In a bid to prevent Banquo's descendants from becoming kings according to the witches' prophecy, Macbeth arranges for him to be murdered, along with his son Fleance. Macbeth's men kill Banquo, but Fleance escapes. Haunted by Banquo's ghost, Macbeth seeks counsel from the witches. They tell him to beware of Macduff, another Scottish nobleman. Macbeth is now hardened to killing. He orders the murder of Macduff's wife and children. By contrast, Lady Macbeth, who had encouraged her husband to embark upon his path of slaughter, goes mad with guilt and dies. Macduff's army attacks Macbeth's forces. Macduff meets Macbeth in single combat and kills him. Malcolm, Duncanís son, is then proclaimed king of Scotland.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare wrote a tragedy of conscience. In addition to its psychological insights, Macbeth has many passages of great poetry. The play is also noted for its bitter humour, which reinforces the tragic action.