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Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Act 4, scene 1, lines 10–11

Out, damned spot, out, I say!
Act 5, scene 1, line 37

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time

Act 5, scene 5, lines 22–24

In 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne, becoming James I of England. London was alive with an interest in all things Scottish, and Shakespeare turned to Scottish history for material. He found a spectacle of violence and stories of traitors advised by witches and wizards, echoing James’s belief in a connection between treason and witchcraft.

In depicting a man who murders to become king, Macbeth teases us with huge questions. Is Macbeth tempted by fate, or by his or his wife's ambition? Why does their success turn to ashes?

Like other plays, Macbeth speaks to each generation. Its story was once seen as that of a hero who commits an evil act and pays an enormous price. Recently, it has been applied to nations that overreach themselves and to modern alienation. The line is blurred between Macbeth’s evil and this opponents' good, and there are new attitudes toward both witchcraft and gender.

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in about 1606 or 1607. It was published in the 1623 First Folio.

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1992 Folger Shakespeare Library


Further reading
William C. Carroll, ed. Macbeth: Texts and Contexts. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.

Stanley Cavell. Disowning Knowledge in Seven Plays of Shakespeare. Second edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Janette Dillon. The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Tragedies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Alexander Leggatt. Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Violation and Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Nick Moschovakis, ed. Macbeth: New Critical Essays. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Laura Shamas. "We Three": The Mythology of Shakespeare's Weird Sisters. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.

Gay Smith. Lady Macbeth in America: From the Stage to the White House. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Scott L. Newstok and Ayanna Thompson, eds. Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race and Performance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Wills, Garry. Witches and Jesuits: Shakespeare's Macbeth. New York: New York Public LIbrary, 1995.

Great Performances: Macbeth (2010. BBC, Gravitas Ventures, and PBS). Directed by Rupert Goold. Cast includes Patrick Stewart.

A Performance of Macbeth (1979, Royal Shakespeare Company and Thames Television). Directed by Phillip Casson. Cast includes Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Ian McDiarmid, and Roger Rees.

Macbeth (1948, Mercury Productions Inc. and Republic Pictures Corporation). Directed by Orson Welles. Cast includes Orson Welles.

Related movie
Throne of Blood (1957, Toho Company and Kurosawa Production Co.). Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Cast includes Toshiro Mifune.
Henry Fuseli. Macbeth consulting the vision of the armed head. Oil on canvas, 1793.


2013 Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture: Andrew Hadfield, Graymalkin and Other Shakespearean Celts

Unruly Women: Lady Macbeth

Shakespeare in American Life: Macbeth & the Astor Place Riot

Folger Theatre

On Stage: Macbeth

Blog: Teller on the Making of Macbeth

Inside the Collection

Folios from the Collection: Macbeth


Audio and Video Podcasts on Macbeth

Read the Play

Folger Digital Texts:

Teacher Resources

Teaching Macbeth

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