Mass Market Paperback | July 1, 2003

byWilliam ShakespeareEditorDr. Barbara A. Mowat, Paul Werstine

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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.

The authoritative edition of Macbeth from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:

-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Newly revised explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An up-to-date annotated guide to further reading

Essay by Susan Snyder

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit

From the Publisher

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 betwee...

William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616 Although there are many myths and mysteries surrounding William Shakespeare, a great deal is actually known about his life. He was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, son of John Shakespeare, a prosperous merchant and local politician and Mary Arden, who had the wealth to send their oldest son to Stratford Gra...

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Format:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 6.75 × 4.19 × 0.9 inPublished:July 1, 2003Publisher:Simon & SchusterLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0743477103

ISBN - 13:9780743477109

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classic I needed this for school, and it wasn't just helpful but it was a great read!
Date published: 2013-11-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" I must confess that there was a time when I despised this book. I hated everything about it primarily because I was required to read this about two years ago in Grade 12. Now that I am in college, I enjoyed reading this play on my own. I have come to realise that I didn't hated this book. I hated the fact that I was required to read this book. I hated the fact that my damn English teacher clinged onto every damn sentence and we had to analyze every single verse. The true beauty of this book doesn't lie in its analyzation but just reading it and enjoying a beautiful Elizabethan prose. Recommended to those who enjoy English language and fiction, in general. A great short play! "Come what come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day."
Date published: 2011-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really Like it! By far my second favourite of the pieces written by Shakespeare that I have read. Good way to show corruption and madness
Date published: 2011-05-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good I'm not going to lie, I hated STUDYING it. But on it's own it was very good. I'm always going to remember crazy Lady Macbeth.
Date published: 2010-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The lust for illegitimate power This is one of Shakespeare's plays I have liked best so far (I still have several ones left to read), along with Hamlet, King Lear and Julius Caesar. It is the tragedy of ambition and delusion, and the fatal results of those two vices combined. It is also one of Shakespeare's plays in which the supernatural has a greater participation. Just as Hamlet is driven to revenge by a ghost -his father's- Macbeth is driven to desperate ambition for power by three witches who tell him he is destined to occupy the throne of Scotland (way back in the Middle Ages). Though Macbeth is not a very resolute man and so has many doubts, his inescrupulous wife jumps in on the prophecy and pushes him all along. She must be one of the dreariest women to have appeared in fiction ever. You can imagine her truly as the mother in law from hell. Together, the Macbeths perpetrate a series of treasons and horrible murders, and even start up a war, all for the throne they will, of course, never enjoy. As always with Ol' Billy, the dialogues are incredibly strong and magnificent, full of passion and energy. The scene where the ghost of Banquo appears in the middle of a dinner is more than spooky, horrifying. This play is pure evil, violence, disaster and remorse, and the final transformation of Macbeth is necessarily too late, but worth contemplating.
Date published: 2009-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Historical Context I like to come at Macbeth from an historical perspective, a perspective where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are not anti-heroes, but heroes of the highest order. How is that possible you ask? Because Macbeth is taking what is rightfully his. Modern audiences, and perhaps even audiences in Shakespeare's day (although that seems unlikely since they would have had a greater everyday knowledge of the power structures of Scottish clans), look at Macbeth as the story of power corrupting absolutely. We see it as a story where a man's ambition overrides his goodness, and his callous regicide justly destroys himself, his Lady and everything they have built. It is a comfortable reading for us. It supports our current belief in good and evil as absolutes, and it allows us to see Duncan as a benevolent leader, Banquo as a victim and Malcolm and Macduff as righteous avengers. It fits our view of the world. But this reading hurts the complexity that is Macbeth, and it dissolves what makes Macbeth my favourite Shakespearean tragedy -- the tragedy itself. There is little tragic in the fall of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth if we follow the ill-informed modern reading. They get what they deserve. They commit murder, they make a grab for power, they pay the price. We cannot pity them. And it is difficult to care for them. But consider the historical context and this reading is tipped on its side like a sacred cow in a dusty field of moonlight. Macbeth, as the next most powerful Thane, is next in line for Duncan's crown. It is his right. It is the way of Scottish accession. Duncan simply has no right to declare Malcolm the heir, and to do so immediately following Macbeth's greatest victory is both an insult and a challenge. Moreover, once all others back Malcolm and place themselves against Macbeth they are committing high treason. Should Macbeth have assassinated King Duncan? Probably not (although the alternative would have been civil war and is killing one King more criminal than being responsible for the death of thousands?), but therein lies the strength of Shakespeare's play. Macbeth and his Lady feel overwhelming guilt, and their killing of Duncan tears them apart. Not because it is what they deserve, but because they are fundamentally virtuous people who made a decision that, even righteous, wounded them as deeply as it wounded those around them. Taken within the context of Scottish accession, the play becomes much deeper and more meaningful. The conflicts of all the characters are muddied, the right and wrong becomes a worrisome mess, the tragedy deepens, and Macbeth and his Lady become honorable people who make a difficult choice that ultimately undermines their own values. This also suggests that the Witches and the supernatural are not some crazed deus ex machina that makes Macbeth's fate inevitable, but a form of chorus that plants seeds of understanding in the minds of the audience and Macbeth. It's a great play even if the historical context is ignored, but how much greater is it when the historical context is restored? I feel it becomes a match for Lear and Hamlet. Re-read it and see what you think.
Date published: 2008-10-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Best Play Macbeth is an honored man, but when he meets three witches, his life turns upside down. He is told that he will one day be king, yet he can only achieve it by murder. The witches warn Macbeth what would happen, but he ignores the advice. One murder quickly turns into another, and eventually he higher’s hit men to do the work for him. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, are going crazy. They begin to hear voices and see ghosts. This is the best play by William Shakespeare, and the greatest tragedy in the English language.
Date published: 2006-08-02

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Shakespeare's Life Surviving documents that give us glimpses into the life of William Shakespeare show us a playwright, poet, and actor who grew up in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon, spent his professional life in London, and returned to Stratford a wealthy landowner. He was born in April 1564, died in April 1616, and is buried inside the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. We wish we could know more about the life of the world's greatest dramatist. His plays and poems are testaments to his wide reading -- especially to his knowledge of Virgil, Ovid, Plutarch, Holinshed's Chronicles, and the Bible -- and to his mastery of the English language, but we can only speculate about his education. We know that the King's New School in Stratford-upon-Avon was considered excellent. The school was one of the English "grammar schools" established to educate young men, primarily in Latin grammar and literature. As in other schools of the time, students began their studies at the age of four or five in the attached "petty school," and there learned to read and write in English, studying primarily the catechism from the Book of Common Prayer. After two years in the petty school, students entered the lower form (grade) of the grammar school, where they began the serious study of Latin grammar and Latin texts that would occupy most of the remainder of their school days. (Several Latin texts that Shakespeare used repeatedly in writing his plays and poems were texts that schoolboys memorized and recited.) Latin comedies were introduced early in the lower form; in the upper form, which the boys entered at age ten or eleven, students wrote their own Latin orations and declamations, studied Latin historians and rhetoricians, and began the study of Greek using the Greek New Testament. Since the records of the Stratford "grammar school" do not survive, we cannot prove that William Shakespeare attended the school; however, every indication (his father's position as an alderman and bailiff of Stratford, the playwright's own knowledge of the Latin classics, scenes in the plays that recall grammar-school experiences -- for example, The Merry Wives of Windsor, 4.1) suggests that he did. We also lack generally accepted documentation about Shakespeare's life after his schooling ended and his professional life in London began. His marriage in 1582 (at age eighteen) to Anne Hathaway and the subsequent births of his daughter Susanna (1583) and the twins Judith and Hamnet (1585) are recorded, but how he supported himself and where he lived are not known. Nor do we know when and why he left Stratford for the London theatrical world, nor how he rose to be the important figure in that world that he had become by the early 1590s. We do know that by 1592 he had achieved some prominence in London as both an actor and a playwright. In that year was published a book by the playwright Robert Greene attacking an actor who had the audacity to write blank-verse drama and who was "in his own conceit [i.e., opinion] the only Shake-scene in a country." Since Greene's attack includes a parody of a line from one of Shakespeare's early plays, there is little doubt that it is Shakespeare to whom he refers, a "Shake-scene" who had aroused Greene's fury by successfully competing with university-educated dramatists like Greene himself. It was in 1593 that Shakespeare became a published poet. In that year he published his long narrative poem Venus and Adonis; in 1594, he followed it with The Rape of Lucrece. Both poems were dedicated to the young earl of Southampton (Henry Wriothesley), who may have become Shakespeare's patron. It seems no coincidence that Shakespeare wrote these narrative poems at a time when the theaters were closed because of the plague, a contagious epidemic disease that devastated the population of London. When the theaters reopened in 1594, Shakespeare apparently resumed his double career of actor and playwright and began his long (and seemingly profitable) service as an acting-company shareholder. Records for December of 1594 show him to be a leading member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. It was this company of actors, later named the King's Men, for whom he would be a principal actor, dramatist, and shareholder for the rest of his career. So far as we can tell, that career spanned about twenty years. In the 1590s, he wrote his plays on English history as well as several comedies and at least two tragedies (Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet). These histories, comedies, and tragedies are the plays credited to him in 1598 in a work, Palladis Tamia, that in one chapter compares English writers with "Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets." There the author, Francis Meres, claims that Shakespeare is comparable to the Latin dramatists Seneca for tragedy and Plautus for comedy, and calls him "the most excellent in both kinds for the stage." He also names him "Mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare": "I say," writes Meres, "that the Muses would speak with Shakespeare's fine filed phrase, if they would speak English." Since Meres also mentions Shakespeare's "sugared sonnets among his private friends," it is assumed that many of Shakespeare's sonnets (not published until 1609) were also written in the 1590s. In 1599, Shakespeare's company built a theater for themselves across the river from London, naming it the Globe. The plays that are considered by many to be Shakespeare's major tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth) were written while the company was resident in this theater, as were such comedies as Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure. Many of Shakespeare's plays were performed at court (both for Queen Elizabeth I and, after her death in 1603, for King James I), some were presented at the Inns of Court (the residences of London's legal societies), and some were doubtless performed in other towns, at the universities, and at great houses when the King's Men went on tour; otherwise, his plays from 1599 to 1608 were, so far as we know, performed only at the Globe. Between 1608 and 1612, Shakespeare wrote several plays -- among them The Winter's Tale and The Tempest -- presumably for the company's new indoor Blackfriars theater, though the plays seem to have been performed also at the Globe and at court. Surviving documents describe a performance of The Winter's Tale in 1611 at the Globe, for example, and performances of The Tempest in 1611 and 1613 at the royal palace of Whitehall. Shakespeare wrote very little after 1612, the year in which he probably wrote King Henry VIII. (It was at a performance of Henry VIII in 1613 that the Globe caught fire and burned to the ground.) Sometime between 1610 and 1613 he seems to have returned to live in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he owned a large house and considerable property, and where his wife and his two daughters and their husbands lived. (His son Hamnet had died in 1596.) During his professional years in London, Shakespeare had presumably derived income from the acting company's profits as well as from his own career as an actor, from the sale of his play manuscripts to the acting company, and, after 1599, from his shares as an owner of the Globe. It was presumably that income, carefully invested in land and other property, which made him the wealthy man that surviving documents show him to have become. It is also assumed that William Shakespeare's growing wealth and reputation played some part in inclining the crown, in 1596, to grant John Shakespeare, William's father, the coat of arms that he had so long sought. William Shakespeare died in Stratford on April 23, 1616 (according to the epitaph carved under his bust in Holy Trinity Church) and was buried on April 25. Seven years after his death, his collected plays were published as Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (the work now known as the First Folio). The years in which Shakespeare wrote were among the most exciting in English history. Intellectually, the discovery, translation, and printing of Greek and Roman classics were making available a set of works and worldviews that interacted complexly with Christian texts and beliefs. The result was a questioning, a vital intellectual ferment, that provided energy for the period's amazing dramatic and literary output and that fed directly into Shakespeare's plays. The Ghost in Hamlet, for example, is wonderfully complicated in part because he is a figure from Roman tragedy -- the spirit of the dead returning to seek revenge -- who at the same time inhabits a Christian hell (or purgatory); Hamlet's description of humankind reflects at one moment the Neoplatonic wonderment at mankind ("What a piece of work is a man!") and, at the next, the Christian disparagement of human sinners ("And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?"). As intellectual horizons expanded, so also did geographical and cosmological horizons. New worlds -- both North and South America -- were explored, and in them were found human beings who lived and worshiped in ways radically different from those of Renaissance Europeans and Englishmen. The universe during these years also seemed to shift and expand. Copernicus had earlier theorized that the earth was not the center of the cosmos but revolved as a planet around the sun. Galileo's telescope, created in 1609, allowed scientists to see that Copernicus had been correct; the universe was not organized with the earth at the center, nor was it so nicely circumscribed as people had, until that time, thought. In terms of expanding horizons, the impact of these discoveries on people's beliefs -- religious, scientific, and philosophical -- cannot be overstated. London, too, rapidly expanded and changed during the years (from the early 1590s to around 1610) that Shakespeare lived there. London -- the center of England's government, its economy, its royal court, its overseas trade -- was, during these years, becoming an exciting metropolis, drawing to it thousands of new citizens every year. Troubled by overcrowding, by poverty, by recurring epidemics of the plague, London was also a mecca for the wealthy and the aristocratic, and for those who sought advancement at court, or power in government or finance or trade. One hears in Shakespeare's plays the voices of London -- the struggles for power, the fear of venereal disease, the language of buying and selling. One hears as well the voices of Stratford-upon-Avon -- references to the nearby Forest of Arden, to sheepherding, to small-town gossip, to village fairs and markets. Part of the richness of Shakespeare's work is the influence felt there of the various worlds in which he lived: the world of metropolitan London, the world of small-town and rural England, the world of the theater, and the worlds of craftsmen and shepherds. That Shakespeare inhabited such worlds we know from surviving London and Stratford documents, as well as from the evidence of the plays and poems themselves. From such records we can sketch the dramatist's life. We know from his works that he was a voracious reader. We know from legal and business documents that he was a multifaceted theater man who became a wealthy landowner. We know a bit about his family life and a fair amount about his legal and financial dealings. Most scholars today depend upon such evidence as they draw their picture of the world's greatest playwright. Such, however, has not always been the case. Until the late eighteenth century, the William Shakespeare who lived in most biographies was the creation of legend and tradition. This was the Shakespeare who was supposedly caught poaching deer at Charlecote, the estate of Sir Thomas Lucy close by Stratford; this was the Shakespeare who fled from Sir Thomas's vengeance and made his way in London by taking care of horses outside a playhouse; this was the Shakespeare who reportedly could barely read but whose natural gifts were extraordinary, whose father was a butcher who allowed his gifted son sometimes to help in the butcher shop, where William supposedly killed calves "in a high style," making a speech for the occasion. It was this legendary William Shakespeare whose Falstaff (in 1 and 2 Henry IV) so pleased Queen Elizabeth that she demanded a play about Falstaff in love, and demanded that it be written in fourteen days (hence the existence of The Merry Wives of Windsor). It was this legendary Shakespeare who reached the top of his acting career in the roles of the Ghost in Hamlet and old Adam in As You Like It -- and who died of a fever contracted by drinking too hard at "a merry meeting" with the poets Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson. This legendary Shakespeare is a rambunctious, undisciplined man, as attractively "wild" as his plays were seen by earlier generations to be. Unfortunately, there is no trace of evidence to support these wonderful stories. Perhaps in response to the disreputable Shakespeare of legend -- or perhaps in response to the fragmentary and, for some, all-too-ordinary Shakespeare documented by surviving records -- some people since the mid-nineteenth century have argued that William Shakespeare could not have written the plays that bear his name. These persons have put forward some dozen names as more likely authors, among them Queen Elizabeth, Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere (earl of Oxford), and Christopher Marlowe. Such attempts to find what for these people is a more believable author of the plays is a tribute to the regard in which the plays are held. Unfortunately for their claims, the documents that exist that provide evidence for the facts of Shakespeare's life tie him inextricably to the body of plays and poems that bear his name. Unlikely as it seems to those who want the works to have been written by an aristocrat, a university graduate, or an "important" person, the plays and poems seem clearly to have been produced by a man from Stratford-upon-Avon with a very good "grammar-school" education and a life of experience in London and in the world of the London theater. How this particular man produced the works that dominate the cultures of much of the world almost four hundred years after his death is one of life's mysteries -- and one that will continue to tease our imaginations as we continue to delight in his plays and poems. Copyright © 2003 by The Folger Shakespeare Library

Editorial Reviews

"The explosive and overwhelming effect of a truck bomb...this horrific, riveting Macbeth ought to be seen by as many people as possible." -- Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal