Macbeth is certainly one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and emotionally intense plays, tackling universal themes of guilt, ambition, and tyranny. Despite having been written centuries ago, the titular character’s journey into despair remains a timeless warning of unchecked power that’s especially relevant today.

Teachers and students continue to fall in love with Macbeth for its supernatural elements and depiction of evil. Because it’s the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, it’s easy to include in any high school curriculum.

As with other Shakespeare works, students may have trouble understanding the Bard’s language. Before diving into the play, show students a few strategies for comprehending Shakespeare’s writing style. If you need ideas, Prestwick House’s Literary Touchstone Classic edition outlines a number of ways to tackle Shakespeare’s language, as well as a glossary, margin notes, and vocabulary definitions to help students while they read.

When teaching Macbeth, invite your students to discuss how character flaws influence the story and how Shakespeare employs the concepts of fate and prophecy. Is Macbeth acting of his own free will, or is he subject to a predetermined course of events? Conversations can also cover how these major themes connect with events and figures in today’s society.

Examine with your students the role of women in the play, especially Lady Macbeth. To what extent does she influence her husband’s actions? How does her characterization contrast with Lady Macduff? Have students analyze how Shakespeare employs these two characters as foils and determine what greater idea this choice conveys.

Particular pieces of dialogue, such as the Witches’ prophecies in Acts I and IV, make great lessons on the use of equivocation. How does the use of ambiguous language throughout the play affect the plot? Students may find it beneficial to examine lines from the prophecies and determine how they might be interpreted differently.

Read on to learn more about the tragic tale of Macbeth!

Summary of Macbeth

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1623 (original text); 2005 (Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Classic)
  • Length: 96 pages
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11-12

Macbeth tells the story of the ambitious, ill-fated soldier Macbeth, who learns from the Witches’ prophecy that he is to become King of Scotland. Spurred by the prediction, Macbeth and his wife conspire to kill the current king, Duncan, in turn leading to Macbeth’s ascension to royalty.

Macbeth fears having the throne taken from him and recklessly eliminates anyone he sees as a threat, making enemies on all sides. Paranoid and racked with guilt, Macbeth again seeks out the Witches for help, but their new predictions don’t unfold in his favor. By the story’s end, both Macbeth and his wife must answer for their ambition and face the consequences that come along with their actions.

Content Warning: Macbeth contains violence.

What Your Students Will Love About Macbeth

  • The dark and ominous tone of the play
  • The universal themes of greed, power, and guilt

Potential Student Struggles With Macbeth

  • Understanding Shakespeare’s language
  • Deciphering the play’s various symbolic elements

Learning Objectives for Macbeth

  • Trace the development and moral decline of Macbeth’s character in the play.
  • Analyze the importance of the Witches in the play and describe how they contribute to the overall tone.
  • Understand the significance of regicide to a Jacobean audience.
  • Discuss the role of prophecies and hallucinations in the plot and explain how they manipulate the characters.
  • Identify the role of women in the play and explain how various female characters influence Macbeth.
  • Discuss whether Macbeth fits the definition of a tragic hero.
  • Consider to what extent Macbeth is controlled by fate and to what capacity he exercises free will.

Literary Elements in Macbeth

  • Equivocation
  • Figurative Language
  • Foil
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Paradox
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • Tragic Hero
  • And more!

Major Themes in Macbeth

Ambition — Macbeth goes to violent lengths to guarantee himself the title of King.

Related Works:

Fate vs. Free Will — Macbeth’s actions call into question whether what happens to him is his fate, or if these consequences came about through actions he takes.

Related Works:

The Supernatural — The Witches’ prophecies, ghosts, and Macbeth’s visions become driving factors behind the play’s events.

Related Works:

Other Resources for Macbeth