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A scene from Macbeth

Introduction to the play

Listen to this introduction:

Read by Karen Peakes – a special recording for The Folger Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the Folger Theatre

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 his opponents’ good, and there are new attitudes toward both witchcraft and gender.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Macbeth

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

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

The Witches
Act 4, scene 1, lines 10–11

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

From the audio edition of Macbeth

Full recording available from Simon & Schuster Audio on CD and for download.

Macbeth in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Macbeth. Find more in our digital image collection

Columbia as Lady Macbeth: Yet here's a spot - out, damned spot, out, I say!
Playbill of 1868 performance of Macbeth
Henry Fuseli. Macbeth consulting the vision of the armed head. Oil on canvas with original inscribed frame, 1793
Orson Welles as Macbeth

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare


Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Macbeth
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Macbeth

Early printed texts

Macbeth was published for the first time in the 1623 First Folio (F1) and that text is the basis for all modern editions of the play.