Duncan, King of ScotlandA kindly and trusting older man, Duncan's unsuspecting nature leaves him open to Macbeth's betrayal. Both before and after the regicide, it is Duncan's particularly virtuous nature that enhances Macbeth's sense of guilt. The historic Duncan, incidentally, was a young man when he was betrayed by his general Macbeth.
Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan's sonsAlthough Malcolm and Donalbain seem to have inherited Duncan's fairness, both display a cunning that far surpasses their father. After Duncan's death, they fear for their lives rightly and both flee Scotland. Malcolm also tests Macduff's loyalty whilst abroad by putting on dishonorable and corrupt airs. Such cunning, or shrewdness, allows for their successful return to the crown of Scotland.
Macbeth, Thane of Glamis
Macbeth is a general in the king's army and originally the Thane of Glamis. As a reward for his valiant fighting, described in the opening scene, Macbeth is also named the Thane of Cawdor. Appropriately, the former Thane of Cawdor was a traitor to the crown who appeared loyal. At heart, Macbeth does not deserve the adjective "evil." To be sure, he commits regicide and eventually orders the death of women and children alike. But unlike Iago of Othello or Edmund of King Lear, Macbeth is not an explicitly malicious villain. His initial crime is a product of opportunistic prophecies, a weakness of character, his "vaulting ambition," and certainly the influence of Lady Macbeth. Thereafter, he is compelled to commit further crimes in an attempt to cover his tracks and defy the three witches' prophecy. After Duncan's death and the flight of Malcolm and Donalbain, Macbeth reigns as king of Scotland until his death.
Lady Macbeth, Macbeth's wifeWhat Macbeth lacks in decisiveness, Lady Macbeth makes up for in bloodthirsty lust for power and wealth. Swearing off her femininity at the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband powerfully to follow through with his plans to kill Duncan. After the act of regicide, it is Lady Macbeth who has the soundness of mind to plant the incriminating evidence on Duncan's guards. And yet, her firmness disintegrates gradually as the play progresses, leading to nightmares that haunt her and ultimately drive her to suicide. In this regard, Lady Macbeth appears to switch characters with Macbeth midway through the play. Although most famous for her cruelty and lines such as "unsex me here," the decline of Lady Macbeth is also of great interest and certainly a mysterious aspect of Macbeth.
Three MurderersHired by Macbeth to kill Banquo, Fleance, Lady Macduff, and Macduff's son. Since only two murderers are explicitly hired by Macbeth, commentators speculate on the identity of the third murderer. A popular candidate is Macbeth himself.
A Porter, in Macbeth's serviceProvides comic relief with his account of "hell-portering".
Banquo, Thane of Lochaber
A general in Duncan's army along with Macbeth, Banquo is also the subject of one of the witches' prophesies. Unlike Macbeth, however, Banquo does not act to fulfill these prophecies. He instead relies on his better judgement and morals. And true to the witches' words, his son Fleance escapes Macbeth's murderers to become a future king. Banquo is also important in that his ghost returns to haunt Macbeth, thus instilling a strong sense of uneasiness among Macbeth's servants.
FleanceBanquo's son. He alone escapes from the ambush set by Macbeth for him and his father.
Macduff, Thane of FifeA Scottish nobleman who questions Macbeth's tyrannical rule and refuses to recognize him as king. Macduff follows Malcolm to England, where he demonstrates his true faithfulness to Scotland. When the English army marches on Dunsinane, it is Macduff who slays Macbeth in a duel. For even though Macbeth is said to be invincible against any man born of a woman, Macduff was born by the equivalent of a Caesarean section.
Lady Macduff, Macduff's wifeA kind and motherly foil for Lady Macbeth's lack of feminine sympathies, she is killed along with her children after Macduff flees Scotland.
Macduff's sonThe precociousness of Macduff's son makes his death ever the more lamentable.
LennoxA Scottish noble who gradually questions Macbeth's tyrannical rule.
RossMacbeth's cousin, Ross is a Scottish noble who eventually turns on Macbeth, choosing to side with Malcolm and the English forces.
Angus, Menteith, and CaithnessScottish nobles who join with Malcolm and the English forces in opposing Macbeth.
Siward, Earl of NorthumberlandAs Duncan's brother, he leads the English army against Macbeth. His army disguises itself with branches from Birnam Wood, thereby fulfilling the witches' prophesy that Macbeth will fall only when "Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane." Siward is also a proud father, declaring his approval when his son dies bravely in battle.
Young SiwardSiward's son, slain by Macbeth in combat.
Hecate, queen of the witchesSome critics believe that her character was added to the play by a later playwright.
Three Witches, The Weird SistersThe witches foresee Macbeth's ascent to power and his defeat, as well as the succession of Banquo's line. Apparently without any real motive, their speech is full of paradox and equivocation. Although the witches do not have much character per se, they are in many ways central to the plot and themes of the play (for preliminary analysis, see that of Act 1 Scene 1).
Three Messengers, Three Servants, a Lord, a Soldier, a Captain in Duncan's army, an Old Man, an English Doctor, a Scottish Doctor, A Scottish GentlewomanIncidental characters.
Macbeth Essays and Related Content
- Macbeth: Major Themes
- Macbeth: Essays
- Macbeth: E-Text
- Macbeth: Lesson Plan
- Macbeth: Questions
- Macbeth: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- William Shakespeare: Biography
- Macbeth Summary
- About Macbeth
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Act 1
- Summary and Analysis of Act 2
- Summary and Analysis of Act 3
- Summary and Analysis of Act 4
- Summary and Analysis of Act 5
- On Shakespearean Theater
- Shakespearean Adaptations
- Related Links on Macbeth
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources