Skip to main content

What happens in Macbeth?

Here is the plot of the dramatic opera Macbeth, based on the masterpiece by Shakespeare.

In Shakespeare’s original play, we are in Scotland around the middle of the 11th century.

The two generals Macbeth and Banco (Banquo), who also are close friends, celebrate the victory after a battle on behalf of the Scottish King Duncan. Suddenly, witches appear and predict that Macbeth will receive the title Thane of Cawdor – and become king of Scotland. The witches also tell Banco that his children will become kings.

Shortly afterwards, a messenger from King Duncan arrives and announces that Macbeth has been appointed Thane of Cawdor. The former Thane has turned out to be a traitor to the king, and so has been deprived of his title as well as his life.

At home in the castle, Lady Macbeth reads a letter she has received from her husband, in which he tells about the promising predictions of the witches, and that he has already become Thane of Cawdor. When the Lady hears that King Duncan is coming with Macbeth to the castle the same evening, she hatches a bloody plan to fulfill the second part of the prophecy: that Macbeth will be King. When Macbeth returns home, he follows Lady's will and kills King Duncan that very night. To pass the blame on to others, Lady Macbeth leaves the bloodstained knife by the sleeping guards.

The nobleman Macduff discovers the murdered king, and everyone in the castle sink into despair. Macbeth and the Lady also pretend to be shocked.

Macbeth has been crowned as the new king. Malcolm, the son of Duncan, has fled to England - and the rumors say that Malcolm is the killer. Even though Macbeth has managed to ascend to the throne, he is still unsettled and anxious: He remembers the witches' prophecy that the descendants of Banco will become kings, and Macbeth himself is childless. He therefore convinces Lady Macbeth that Banco as well must be murdered.

Macbeth gives assassins the task of killing both Banco and his son, Fleanzio (Fleance). They kill Banco, but little Fleanzio manages to escape.

The Macbeths have a grand banquet in the castle. One of the assassins arrives and whispers to Macbeth that they have followed his instructions. Macbeth thinks he sees the ghost of the murdered Banco in the middle of the guests, and breaks down.

Lady Macbeth tries her best to calm the guests, but the party is ruined. Macduff decides to flee the country and to join King Duncan´s son Malcolm.

The tormented Macbeth seeks the witches once more, to be told what awaits him. The witches evoke three different "visions" (apparitions):

The first apparition warns against Macduff. The other says that “no man born of woman” will harm Macbeth. The third declares that Macbeth will reign until he sees Birnam Wood come marching against him. Macbeth is relieved by these prophecies - but then the ghost of Banco reappears, along with a whole row of future kings.

Macbeth does not want to give up the throne, and decides together with Lady Macbeth to order his soldiers to kill all possible enemies, especially Macduff and his family.

Scottish refugees close to the Birnam Wood are mourning over their oppressed homeland. They are joined by Macduff, who learns that his wife and all his children have been murdered by the soldiers of Macbeth. Duncan’s son Malcolm arrives together with English soldiers and calls for war against the tyrant. He orders them to take branches from the Birnam wood and march in hiding behind them.

Inside the castle, Lady Macbeth is close to madness. In the famous sleepwalking scene, she wanders, deranged, trying to wash her hands clean of imaginary blood. But the misdeeds and her black conscience are impossible to remove.

Later, when the news reaches Macbeth that his Lady is dead, he declares the renowned words by Shakespeare:

Life … What does it matter?
It is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

La vita … che importa?
È il racconto d’un povero idiota;
Vento e suono che nulla dinota!

Macbeth´s men arrive, shouting that the Birnam wood is marching forward: The English soldiers are on their way to fight him. When Macduff finally confronts Macbeth in the battle, Macbeth sneers and quotes that "no man born of woman" can hurt him, but then Macduff triumphantly tells him that he “was plucked from my mother’s womb” - before he kills Macbeth.

Malcolm is celebrated by the people as the new and rightful king.

Written by Møyfrid Engeset
Bergen National Opera (2020)

Latest news

FLAGGERMUSEN stor detektiv 1500x1000

What happens in Die Fledermaus?

In our new production the story is moved from Vienna in the 19th century to the Norwegian cities of Bergen and Oslo in our own time.

Albert Domen as Wotan in Bayreuth Foto Enrico Nawrath WEB

WANTED: Wotan, Sarastro & Fafner

Do you wish to be the greatest god of all at our Summer Academy? Or the high priest and also a giant? We are now searching for two male singers in the roles as Wotan – and Sarastro & Fafner. Application deadline: March 8. // The application forms are now closed. //

OVF24 plakat 1500x1000 web

Summer Academy 2024

You are now welcome to apply for the Summer Academy Opera by the Fjord 2024! Application deadline January 31st. NEW announcement for the roles as Wotan and Satrasto & Fafner. Application deadline March 8. //All application forms are now closed.//

Katja bordet MS 1

What happens in Katya Kabanova?

Katya dreams of freedom, but she is trapped in an unhappy marriage, with a cruel, controlling mother-in-law. Then, the charming Boris arrives ... Here's the synopsis of Janáček's opera, Katya Kabanova.