Dramatic structure of Macbeth

The play can be analysed according to what is called Freytag's pyramid. This diagram divides a plot into five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.


Fig. 1. Freytag's pyramid of plot structure.

Act 1: Exposition

Macbeth starts in medias res in Act 1, Scene 1 when we meet the three witches who are in the middle of a conversation about a battle. The strange words and appearance of the witches, combined with the violent storm which accompanies them, catch our attention from the start and create a sense of suspense. What are these creatures up to? What is the battle they talk of? And who is Macbeth?

As we move into the following scenes of Act 1, we are introduced to the central characters, time, place, and key conflicts of Macbeth. We learn that Macbeth is a brave warrior and Duncan a gracious king. We also hear the witches’ prophecies for Macbeth and Banquo and realise that Macbeth and his encouraging wife are plotting to kill the King, despite Macbe…


How do we interpret the ending?

Order in Scotland is restored as Macduff kills Macbeth and Malcolm heads for Scone to be crowned as king. Traditionally, this has been read as a closed and relatively happy ending. However, you might argue that we leave the play with an ominous feeling that we have been here before and that history may repeat itself. Part of the reason is that the ending has many parallels to the beginning: Malcolm relies on Macduff to kill the treacherous Macbeth, just as Duncan relied on Macbeth to kill Cawdor. Macduff kills a properly crowned king when he kills Macbeth, just as Macbeth did when he killed Duncan. Macbeth’s head is fixed on a pike, just as Cawdor’s was fixed on the battlements. Also, when the thanes hail Malcolm’s future reign as king (Act 5, Scene 9), it remin…

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