(Web extra: view entire text of "Macbeth")
The play begins with Macbeth as one of King Duncan's leading generals. Against all odds, Macbeth and his friend Banquo are able to put down a dangerous revolt. In reward for his valiant service, Duncan bestows upon Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor.
But before news of his promotion reaches him, Macbeth runs into three witches. They tell him he will soon be Thane of Cawdor and eventually king. They also tell Banquo that a member of his line will one day become king. The witches then vanish into the mists.
When Macbeth learns that he is Thane of Cawdor, he tells himself, "If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, without my stir." But the seed of ambition has been planted and will take root after he speaks with Lady Macbeth.
His wife fears that he is "too full o' the milk of human kindness" to take full advantage of his situation. With a little prompting, she is able to convince Macbeth to murder Duncan and usurp the throne.
But Macbeth learns that one murder begets more murders in an effort to consolidate his hold on power. He has his friend Banquo murdered - though Banquo's son Fleance manages to escape - and has the family of rival Macduff brutally murdered.
Macbeth's paranoia leads him to consult the witches again for guidance. They tell him he should fear "no man of woman born."
Meanwhile, the sons of Duncan, allied with Macduff and the king of England, amass an army against Macbeth. Before the final battle, Lady Macbeth sinks into madness, haunted by her part in Duncan's murder. She dies on the eve of battle.
In the final battle, Macbeth stumbles upon Macduff, who reveals to the king that he was a cesarean birth, thus technically not of "woman born." Macduff slays Macbeth, and Duncan's son, Malcolm, is crowned king.