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MacBeth is a Scottish nobleman who earns honor defending his king, Duncan, from a rebellion aided by Norwegian invaders. But his head is turned by three strange women who proclaim him the next king of Scotland. MacBeth's wife tells him to man up and make sure the prophesy comes true. But even an accurate prophesy proves fatal when taken too literally, with too much ambition and too little conscience. He and his wife become united by crime, not love.

"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? This my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red." (II.ii.78-81)

One of Shakespeare's best remembered plays, "MacBeth" is also his shortest tragedy, employing some of his tightest scene-setting and briefest soliloquies. It's also a masterpiece of moody mystery and mayhem. In the Weird Sisters, Shakespeare gives us three of literature's most memorable supernatural figures, who ply MacBeth with prophesy "that lies like truth."


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Believed to have been written around 1607, during the early days of James I's reign (which is addressed in the play itself through the character of Banquo, reputed to have been James' ancestor), "MacBeth" concerns itself with the impropriety of royal usurpation and its negative effect on the social order. Not a subtle play in that way, it uses the imagery of darkness and light, of birds and blood, to get across its key themes in a way that is both powerful and beautiful, as much for a young impressionable reader learning for him- or herself the brutality of life as for a more seasoned reader with experience in iambic pentameter.

The end result provides dynamic instruction for why Shakespeare matters today, how he still gets across ideas in ways that engage us where we live. "MacBeth" contains some of the most vicious characters in the Shakespeare canon (really, there's not a good person in the play, which makes its savagery easier to digest) with some of the Bard's most beautiful language outside the Sonnets.