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The Iliad Concerned for his comrades but still too proud to

help them himself, Achilles agrees to a plan

The Iliad is an Ancient Greek epic poem proposed by Nestor that will allow his beloved friend
by Homer that was first published in 762 BC. Patroclus to take his place in battle, wearing his
armor. Patroclus is a fine warrior, and his presence
on the battlefield helps the Achaeans push the
Plot Overview Trojans away from the ships and back to the city
Nine years after the start of the Trojan War, the walls. But the counterattack soon falters. Apollo
Greek (“Achaean”) army sacks Chryse, a town allied knocks Patroclus’s armor to the ground, and Hector
with Troy. During the battle, the Achaeans capture a slays him. Fighting then breaks out as both sides try
pair of beautiful maidens, Chryseis and Briseis. to lay claim to the body and armor. Hector ends up
Agamemnon, the leader of the Achaean forces, takes with the armor, but the Achaeans, thanks to a
Chryseis as his prize, and Achilles, the Achaeans’ courageous effort by Menelaus and others, manage
greatest warrior, claims Briseis. Chryseis’s father, to bring the body back to their camp. When Achilles
Chryses, who serves as a priest of the god Apollo, discovers that Hector has killed Patroclus, he fills
offers an enormous ransom in return for his with such grief and rage that he agrees to reconcile
daughter, but Agamemnon refuses to give Chryseis with Agamemnon and rejoin the battle. Thetis goes
back. Chryses then prays to Apollo, who sends a to Mount Olympus and persuades the god
plague upon the Achaean camp. Hephaestus to forge Achilles a new suit of armor,
which she presents to him the next morning. Achilles
After many Achaeans die, Agamemnon consults the
then rides out to battle at the head of the Achaean
prophet Calchas to determine the cause of the
plague. When he learns that Chryseis is the cause, he
reluctantly gives her up but then demands Briseis Meanwhile, Hector, not expecting Achilles to rejoin
from Achilles as compensation. Furious at this insult, the battle, has ordered his men to camp outside the
Achilles returns to his tent in the army camp and walls of Troy. But when the Trojan army glimpses
Achilles, it flees in terror back behind the city walls.
refuses to fight in the war any longer. He vengefully
Achilles cuts down every Trojan he sees.
yearns to see the Achaeans destroyed and asks his
Strengthened by his rage, he even fights the god of
mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, to enlist the services
the river Xanthus, who is angered that Achilles has
of Zeus, king of the gods, toward this end. The caused so many corpses to fall into his streams.
Trojan and Achaean sides have declared a cease-fire Finally, Achilles confronts Hector outside the walls
with each other, but now the Trojans breach the of Troy. Ashamed at the poor advice that he gave his
treaty and Zeus comes to their aid. comrades, Hector refuses to flee inside the city with
With Zeus supporting the Trojans and Achilles them. Achilles chases him around the city’s
refusing to fight, the Achaeans suffer great losses. periphery three times, but the goddess Athena finally
tricks Hector into turning around and fighting
Several days of fierce conflict ensue, including duels
Achilles. In a dramatic duel, Achilles kills Hector.
between Paris and Menelaus and between Hector and
He then lashes the body to the back of his chariot
Ajax. The Achaeans make no progress; even the
and drags it across the battlefield to the Achaean
heroism of the great Achaean warrior Diomedes camp. Upon Achilles’ arrival, the triumphant
proves fruitless. The Trojans push the Achaeans Achaeans celebrate Patroclus’s funeral with a long
back, forcing them to take refuge behind the series of athletic games in his honor. Each day for
ramparts that protect their ships. The Achaeans begin the next nine days, Achilles drags Hector’s body in
to nurture some hope for the future when a nighttime circles around Patroclus’s funeral bier.
reconnaissance mission by Diomedes and Odysseus
At last, the gods agree that Hector deserves a
yields information about the Trojans’ plans, but the
proper burial. Zeus sends the god Hermes to escort
next day brings disaster. Several Achaean
King Priam, Hector’s father and the ruler of Troy,
commanders become wounded, and the Trojans
into the Achaean camp. Priam tearfully pleads with
break through the Achaean ramparts. They advance
Achilles to take pity on a father bereft of his son and
all the way up to the boundary of the Achaean camp
return Hector’s body. He invokes the memory of
and set fire to one of the ships. Defeat seems
Achilles’ own father, Peleus. Deeply moved,
imminent, because without the ships, the army will
Achilles finally relents and returns Hector’s corpse
be stranded at Troy and almost certainly destroyed.
to the Trojans. Both sides agree to a temporary truce,
and Hector receives a hero’s funeral.
Character List
The youngest of the Achaean commanders,
The Achaeans (also called the “Argives” or
“Danaans”) Diomedes is bold and sometimes proves impetuous.

 Achilles After Achilles withdraws from combat, Athena

The son of the military man Peleus and the sea- inspires Diomedes with such courage that he

nymph Thetis. The most powerful warrior in The actually wounds two gods, Aphrodite and Ares.

Iliad, Achilles commands the Myrmidons, soldiers  Great Ajax

from his homeland of Phthia in Greece. Proud and An Achaean commander, Great Ajax (sometimes

headstrong, he takes offense easily and reacts with called “Telamonian Ajax” or simply “Ajax”) is the

blistering indignation when he perceives that his second mightiest Achaean warrior after Achilles.

honor has been slighted. Achilles’ wrath at His extraordinary size and strength help him to

Agamemnon for taking his war prize, the maiden wound Hector twice by hitting him with boulders.

Briseis, forms the main subject of The Iliad. He often fights alongside Little Ajax, and the pair is
frequently referred to as the “Aeantes.”
 Agamemnon (also called “Atrides”)
 Little Ajax
King of Mycenae and leader of the Achaean army;
An Achaean commander, Little Ajax is the son of
brother of King Menelaus of Sparta. Arrogant and
Oileus (to be distinguished from Great Ajax, the son
often selfish, Agamemnon provides the Achaeans
of Telamon). He often fights alongside Great Ajax,
with strong but sometimes reckless and self-serving
whose stature and strength complement Little
leadership. Like Achilles, he lacks consideration
Ajax’s small size and swift speed. The two together
and forethought. Most saliently, his tactless
are sometimes called the “Aeantes.”
appropriation of Achilles’ war prize, the maiden
 Nestor
Briseis, creates a crisis for the Achaeans, when
King of Pylos and the oldest Achaean commander.
Achilles, insulted, withdraws from the war.
Although age has taken much of Nestor’s physical
 Patroclus
strength, it has left him with great wisdom. He often
Achilles’ beloved friend, companion, and advisor,
acts as an advisor to the military commanders,
Patroclus grew up alongside the great warrior in
especially Agamemnon. Nestor and Odysseus are
Phthia, under the guardianship of Peleus. Devoted
the Achaeans’ most deft and persuasive orators,
to both Achilles and the Achaean cause, Patroclus
although Nestor’s speeches are sometimes long-
stands by the enraged Achilles but also dons
Achilles’ terrifying armor in an attempt to hold the
 Menelaus
Trojans back.
King of Sparta; the younger brother of
 Odysseus
Agamemnon. While it is the abduction of his wife,
A fine warrior and the cleverest of the Achaean
Helen, by the Trojan prince Paris that sparks the
commanders. Along with Nestor, Odysseus is one
Trojan War, Menelaus proves quieter, less
of the Achaeans’ two best public speakers. He helps
imposing, and less arrogant than Agamemnon.
mediate between Agamemnon and Achilles during
Though he has a stout heart, Menelaus is not among
their quarrel and often prevents them from making
the mightiest Achaean warriors.
rash decisions.
 Diomedes (also called “Tydides”)
 Idomeneus
Paris. Though too old to fight, he has earned the
King of Crete and a respected commander.
respect of both the Trojans and the Achaeans by
Idomeneus leads a charge against the Trojans in
virtue of his level-headed, wise, and benevolent
Book 13.
rule. He treats Helen kindly, though he laments the
 Machaon
war that her beauty has sparked.
A healer. Machaon is wounded by Paris in Book 11.
 Hecuba
 Calchas
Queen of Troy, wife of Priam, and mother of Hector
An important soothsayer. Calchas’s identification of
and Paris.
the cause of the plague ravaging the Achaean army
 Paris (also known as “Alexander”)
in Book 1 leads inadvertently to the rift between
A son of Priam and Hecuba and brother of Hector.
Agamemnon and Achilles that occupies the first
Paris’s abduction of the beautiful Helen, wife of
nineteen books of The Iliad.
Menelaus, sparked the Trojan War. Paris is self-
 Peleus
centered and often unmanly. He fights effectively
Achilles’ father and the grandson of Zeus. Although
with a bow and arrow (never with the more manly
his name often appears in the epic, Peleus never
sword or spear) but often lacks the spirit for battle
appears in person. Priam powerfully invokes the
and prefers to sit in his room making love to Helen
memory of Peleus when he convinces Achilles to
while others fight for him, thus earning both
return Hector’s corpse to the Trojans in Book 24.
Hector’s and Helen’s scorn.
 Phoenix
 Helen
A kindly old warrior, Phoenix helped raise Achilles
Reputed to be the most beautiful woman in the
while he himself was still a young man. Achilles
ancient world, Helen was stolen from her husband,
deeply loves and trusts Phoenix, and Phoenix
Menelaus, and taken to Troy by Paris. She loathes
mediates between him and Agamemnon during their
herself now for the misery that she has caused so
many Trojan and Achaean men. Although her
 The Myrmidons
contempt extends to Paris as well, she continues to
The soldiers under Achilles’ command, hailing
stay with him.
from Achilles’ homeland, Phthia.
 Aeneas
The Trojans
A Trojan nobleman, the son of Aphrodite, and a
 Hector
mighty warrior. The Romans believed that Aeneas
A son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, Hector is
later founded their city (he is the protagonist of
the mightiest warrior in the Trojan army. He mirrors
Virgil’s masterpiece the Aeneid).
Achilles in some of his flaws, but his bloodlust is  Andromache
not so great as that of Achilles. He is devoted to his Hector’s loving wife, Andromache begs Hector to
wife, Andromache, and son, Astyanax, but resents withdraw from the war and save himself before the
his brother Paris for bringing war upon their family Achaeans kill him.
and city.  Astyanax
 Priam Hector and Andromache’s infant son.
King of Troy and husband of Hecuba, Priam is the  Polydamas
father of fifty Trojan warriors, including Hector and
A young Trojan commander, Polydamas sometimes appropriates Briseis as compensation, sparking
figures as a foil for Hector, proving cool-headed Achilles’ great rage.
 Chryses
and prudent when Hector charges ahead. Polydamas
A priest of Apollo in a Trojan-allied town; the
gives the Trojans sound advice, but Hector seldom
father of Chryseis, whom Agamemnon takes as a
acts on it.
war prize.
 Glaucus
The Gods and Immortals
A powerful Trojan warrior, Glaucus nearly fights a
 Zeus
duel with Diomedes. The men’s exchange of armor
King of the gods and husband of Hera, Zeus claims
after they realize that their families are friends
neutrality in the mortals’ conflict and often tries to
illustrates the value that ancients placed on kinship
keep the other gods from participating in it.
and camaraderie.
However, he throws his weight behind the Trojan
 Agenor
side for much of the battle after the sulking Achilles
A Trojan warrior who attempts to fight Achilles in
has his mother, Thetis, ask the god to do so.
Book 21. Agenor delays Achilles long enough for
 Hera
the Trojan army to flee inside Troy’s walls.
Queen of the gods and Zeus’s wife, Hera is a
 Dolon
conniving, headstrong woman. She often goes
A Trojan sent to spy on the Achaean camp in
behind Zeus’s back in matters on which they
Book 10.
disagree, working with Athena to crush the Trojans,
 Pandarus
whom she passionately hates.
A Trojan archer. Pandarus’s shot at Menelaus in
 Athena
Book 4 breaks the temporary truce between the two
The goddess of wisdom, purposeful battle, and the
womanly arts; Zeus’s daughter. Like Hera, Athena
 Antenor
passionately hates the Trojans and often gives the
A Trojan nobleman, advisor to King Priam, and
Achaeans valuable aid.
father of many Trojan warriors. Antenor argues that
 Thetis
Helen should be returned to Menelaus in order to
A sea-nymph and the devoted mother of Achilles,
end the war, but Paris refuses to give her up.
Thetis gets Zeus to help the Trojans and punish the
 Sarpedon
Achaeans at the request of her angry son. When
One of Zeus’s sons. Sarpedon’s fate seems
Achilles finally rejoins the battle, she commissions
intertwined with the gods’ quibbles, calling
Hephaestus to design him a new suit of armor.
attention to the unclear nature of the gods’
 Apollo
relationship to Fate.
A son of Zeus and twin brother of the goddess
 Chryseis
Artemis, Apollo is god of the sun and the arts,
Chryses’ daughter, a priest of Apollo in a Trojan-
particularly music. He supports the Trojans and
allied town.
 Briseis often intervenes in the war on their behalf.
 Aphrodite
A war prize of Achilles. When Agamemnon is
Goddess of love and daughter of Zeus, Aphrodite is
forced to return Chryseis to her father, he
married to Hephaestus but maintains a romantic
relationship with Ares. She supports Paris and the Achaeans by forging a new set of armor for
Trojans throughout the war, though she proves Achilles and by rescuing Achilles during his fight
somewhat ineffectual in battle. with a river god.
 Poseidon  Artemis
The brother of Zeus and god of the sea. Poseidon Goddess of the hunt, daughter of Zeus, and twin
holds a long-standing grudge against the Trojans sister of Apollo. Artemis supports the Trojans in the
because they never paid him for helping them to war.
build their city. He therefore supports the Achaeans  Ares

in the war. God of war and lover of Aphrodite, Ares generally

 Hephaestus supports the Trojans in the war.
 Hermes
God of fire and husband of Aphrodite, Hephaestus
The messenger of the gods. Hermes escorts Priam
is the gods’ metalsmith and is known as the lame or
to Achilles’ tent in Book 24.
crippled god. Although the text doesn’t make clear
 Iris
his sympathies in the mortals’ struggle, he helps the
Zeus’s messenger.

Main Ideas

Key Facts
Main Ideas Key Facts

Full Title  The Iliad

Author  Homer
Type Of Work  Poem
Genre Epic
Language  Ancient Greek
Time And Place Written  Unknown, but probably mainland Greece, around 750 b.c.
Date Of First Publication  Unknown
Publisher  Unknown
Narrator  The poet, who declares himself to be the medium through which one or many of the Muses speak
Point Of View  The narrator speaks in the third person. An omniscient narrator (he has access to every
character’s mind), he frequently gives insight into the thoughts and feelings of even minor characters, gods and
mortals alike.
Tone  Awe-inspired, ironic, lamenting, pitying
Tense  Past
Setting (Time)  Bronze Age (around the twelfth or thirteenth century b.c.); The Iliad begins nine years after the
start of the Trojan War
Setting (Place)  Troy (a city in what is now northwestern Turkey) and its immediate environs
Protagonist  Achilles
Major Conflict  Agamemnon’s demand for Achilles’ war prize, the maiden Briseis, wounds Achilles’ pride;
Achilles’ consequent refusal to fight causes the Achaeans to suffer greatly in their battle against the Trojans.
Rising Action  Hector’s assault on the Achaean ships; the return of Patroclus to combat; the death of Patroclus
Climax  Achilles’ return to combat turns the tide against the Trojans once and for all and ensures the fated fall
of Troy to which the poet has alluded throughout the poem.
Falling Action  The retreat of the Trojan army; Achilles’ revenge on Hector; the Achaeans’ desecration of
Hector’s corpse
Themes  The glory of war; military values over family life; the impermanence of human life and its creations
Motifs  Armor; burial; fire
Symbols  The Achaean ships; the shield of Achilles. The Achaean ships symbolize the future of the Greek
race. The shield of Achilles symbolizes the world beyond the battlefield, and implies that war
constitutes only one aspect of existence. 
Foreshadowing  Foreshadowing is prominent in The Iliad, as the poet constantly refers to events that have yet
to occur and to fated outcomes. Patroclus’s return to battle foreshadows Achilles’ return to battle, for example,
and Hector’s taunting of the dead Patroclus foreshadows the desecration of his own corpse by Achilles. Also,
Achilles and Hector themselves make references to their own fates—about which they have been informed;
technically, only Hector’s references foreshadow any event in the poem itself, however, as Achilles dies after
the close of the epic.
Main Ideas

Key Facts
Main Ideas Key Facts

Full Title  The Canterbury Tales

Author  Geoffrey Chaucer
Type Of Work  Poetry (two tales are in prose: the Tale of Melibee and the Parson’s Tale)
Genres  Narrative collection of poems; character portraits; parody; estates satire; romance; fabliau
Language  Middle English
Time And Place Written  Around 1386–1395, England
Date Of First Publication  Sometime in the early fifteenth century
Publisher  Originally circulated in hand-copied manuscripts
Narrator  The primary narrator is an anonymous, naïve member of the pilgrimage, who is not described. The
other pilgrims narrate most of the tales.
Point Of View  In the General Prologue, the narrator speaks in the first person, describing each of the pilgrims
as they appeared to him. Though narrated by different pilgrims, each of the tales is told from an omniscient
third-person point of view, providing the reader with the thoughts as well as actions of the characters.
Tone  The Canterbury Tales incorporates an impressive range of attitudes toward life and literature. The tales
are by turns satirical, elevated, pious, earthy, bawdy, and comical. The reader should not accept the naïve
narrator’s point of view as Chaucer’s.
Tense  Past
Setting (Time)  The late fourteenth century, after 1381
Setting (Place)  The Tabard Inn; the road to Canterbury
Protagonists  Each individual tale has protagonists, but Chaucer’s plan is to make none of his storytellers
superior to others; it is an equal company. In the Knight’s Tale, the protagonists are Palamon and Arcite; in the
Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Alisoun; in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the errant knight and the loathsome hag; in the
Nun’s Priest’s Tale, the rooster Chanticleer.
Major Conflict  The struggles between characters, manifested in the links between tales, mostly involve
clashes between social classes, differing tastes, and competing professions. There are also clashes between the
sexes, and there is resistance to the Host’s somewhat tyrannical leadership.
Rising Action  As he sets off on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, the narrator encounters a group of other pilgrims
and joins them. That night, the Host of the tavern where the pilgrims are staying presents them with a
storytelling challenge and appoints himself judge of the competition and leader of the company.
Climax Not applicable (collection of tales)
Falling Action  After twenty-three tales have been told, the Parson delivers a long sermon. Chaucer then makes
a retraction, asking to be forgiven for his sins, including having written The Canterbury Tales.
Themes  The pervasiveness of courtly love, the importance of company, the corruption of the church
Motifs  Romance, fabliaux
Symbols  Springtime, clothing, physiognomy
Foreshadowing  Not applicable (collection of tales)
Main Ideas

Key Facts
Main Ideas Key Facts

Full Title The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra

Author  William Shakespeare
Type Of Work  Play
Genre  Tragedy
Language  English
Time And Place Written  1606–1607, London, England
Date Of First Publication  Published in the First Folio of 1623
Publisher  The First Folio was published by a group of printers, publishers, and booksellers: William and Isaac
Jaggard, William Aspey, John Smethwick, and Edward Blount. Isaac Jaggard’s and Edward Blount’s names
appear on the title page of the folio.
Tone  Tragic, poetic, grandiose, decadent, stoic
Setting (Time)  40–30 b.c.
Setting (Place)  The Roman Empire and Egypt
Protagonist  Mark Antony, one of the triumvirs of Rome
Major Conflict  Antony is torn between his duties as a Roman ruler and soldier and his desire to live in Egypt
with his lover, Cleopatra. This inner conflict leads him to become embroiled in a war with Caesar, one of his
fellow triumvirs.
Rising Action  Caesar lures Antony out of Egypt and back to Rome, and marries Antony to his sister, Octavia.
Antony eventually returns to Egypt and Cleopatra, and Caesar prepares to lead an army against Antony.
Climax  Antony disgraces himself by fleeing the battle of Actium to follow Cleopatra, betraying his own image
of himself as a noble Roman.
Falling Action  Cleopatra abandons Antony during the second naval battle, leaving him to suffer an
insurmountable defeat.
Themes  The struggle between reason and emotion; the clash of East and West; the definition of honor
Motifs  Extravagant declarations of love; public displays of affection; female sexuality
Symbols   Cleopatra’s fleeing ships: The ships remind us of Cleopatra’s inconstancy and of the inconstancy of
human character in the play. One cannot be sure of Cleopatra’s allegiance: it is uncertain whether she flees out
of fear or because she realizes it would be politically savvy to align herself with Caesar. Her fleeing ships are an
effective symbol of her wavering and changeability. The Asps:
Foreshadowing  The play’s repeated mentions of snakes—for instance, Lepidus’s drunken ravings about the
creatures of the Nile—foreshadow Cleopatra’s chosen means of suicide
Antony and Cleopatra is a tragic play by William Shakespeare first performed in 1606.

Plot Overview
Mark Antony, one of the three rulers of the Roman Cleopatra. There, he raises a large army to fight
Empire, spends his time in Egypt, living a life of Caesar, and Caesar, incensed over Antony’s treatment
decadence and conducting an affair with the country’s of his sister, responds in kind. Caesar commands his
beautiful queen, Cleopatra. When a message arrives army and navy to Egypt. Ignoring all advice to the
informing him that his wife, Fulvia, is dead and that contrary, Antony elects to fight him at sea, allowing
Pompey is raising an army to rebel against the Cleopatra to command a ship despite Enobarbus’s
triumvirate, Antony decides to return to Rome. In strong objections. Antony’s forces lose the battle
Antony’s absence, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus, his when Cleopatra’s ship flees and Antony’s follows,
fellow triumvirs, worry about Pompey’s increasing leaving the rest of the fleet vulnerable.
strength. Caesar condemns Antony for neglecting his Antony despairs, condemning Cleopatra for leading
duties as a statesman and military officer in order to him into infamy but quickly forgiving her. He and
live a decadent life by Cleopatra’s side. Cleopatra send requests to their conqueror: Antony
The news of his wife’s death and imminent battle asks to be allowed to live in Egypt, while Cleopatra
pricks Antony’s sense of duty, and he feels compelled asks that her kingdom be passed down to her rightful
to return to Rome. Upon his arrival, he and Caesar heirs. Caesar dismisses Antony’s request, but he
quarrel, while Lepidus ineffectually tries to make promises Cleopatra a fair hearing if she betrays her
peace. Realizing that an alliance is necessary to defeat lover. Cleopatra seems to be giving thought to
Pompey, Antony and Caesar agree that Antony will Caesar’s message when Antony barges in, curses her
marry Caesar’s sister, Octavia, who will solidify their for her treachery, and orders the innocent messenger
loyalty to one another. Enobarbus, Antony’s closest whipped. When, moments later, Antony forgives
friend, predicts to Caesar’s men that, despite the Cleopatra, Enobarbus decides that his master is
marriage, Antony will surely return to Cleopatra. finished and defects to Caesar’s camp.
In Egypt, Cleopatra learns of Antony’s marriage and Antony meets Caesar’s troops in battle and scores an
flies into a jealous rage. However, when a messenger unexpected victory. When he learns of Enobarbus’s
delivers word that Octavia is plain and unimpressive, desertion, Antony laments his own bad fortune, which
Cleopatra becomes confident that she will win he believes has corrupted an honorable man. He sends
Antony back. The triumvirs meet Pompey and settle his friend’s possessions to Caesar’s camp and returns
their differences without going to battle. Pompey to Cleopatra to celebrate his victory. Enobarbus,
agrees to keep peace in exchange for rule over Sicily undone by shame at his own disloyalty, bows under
and Sardinia. That evening, the four men drink to the weight of his guilt and dies. Another day brings
celebrate their truce. One of Pompey’s soldiers another battle, and once again Antony meets Caesar at
discloses to him a plan to assassinate the triumvirs, sea. As before, the Egyptian fleet proves treacherous;
thereby delivering world power into Pompey’s hands, it abandons the fight and leaves Antony to suffer
but Pompey dismisses the scheme as an affront to his defeat. Convinced that his lover has betrayed him,
honor. Meanwhile, one of Antony’s -generals wins a Antony vows to kill Cleopatra. In order to protect
victory over the kingdom of Parthia. herself, she quarters herself in her monument and
sends word that she has committed suicide. Antony,
Antony and Octavia depart for Athens. Once they are
racked with grief, determines to join his queen in the
gone, Caesar breaks his truce, wages war against
afterlife. He commands one of his attendants to fulfill
Pompey, and defeats him. After using Lepidus’s army
his promise of unquestioned service and kill him. The
to secure a victory, he accuses Lepidus of treason,
attendant kills himself instead. Antony then falls on
imprisons him, and confiscates his land and
his own sword, but the wound is not immediately
possessions. This news angers Antony, as do the
fatal. He is carried to Cleopatra’s monument, where
rumors that Caesar has been speaking out against him
the lovers are reunited briefly before Antony’s death.
in public. Octavia pleads with Antony to maintain a
Caesar takes the queen prisoner, planning to display
peaceful relationship with her brother. Should Antony
her in Rome as a testament to the might of his empire,
and Caesar fight, she says, her affections would be
but she learns of his plan and kills herself with the
painfully divided. Antony dispatches her to Rome on
help of several poisonous snakes. Caesar has her
a peace mission, and quickly returns to Egypt and
buried beside Antony.
Shakespeare’s play about a Scottish nobleman and his wife who murder their king for his throne charts
the extremes of ambition and guilt. First staged in 1606, Macbeth’s three witches and other dark imagery
have entered our collective imagination. Read a character analysis of Macbeth, plot summary, and important

Main Ideas

Key Facts
Main Ideas Key Facts

Full Title The Tragedy of Macbeth

Author  William Shakespeare
Type Of Work  Play
Genre  Tragedy
Language  English
Time And Place Written  1606, England
Date Of First Publication  First Folio edition, 1623
Publisher  John Heminges and Henry Condell, two senior members of Shakespeare’s theatrical company
Tone  Dark and ominous, suggestive of a world turned topsy-turvy by foul and unnatural crimes
Tense  Not applicable (drama)
Setting (Time)  The Middle Ages, specifically the eleventh century
Setting (Place)  Various locations in Scotland; also England, briefly
Protagonist  Macbeth
Major Conflicts  The struggle within Macbeth between his ambition and his sense of right and wrong; the
struggle between the murderous evil represented by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the best interests of the
nation, represented by Malcolm and Macduff
Rising Action  Macbeth and Banquo’s encounter with the witches initiates both conflicts; Lady Macbeth’s
speeches goad Macbeth into murdering Duncan and seizing the crown.
Climax Macbeth’s murder of Duncan in Act 2 represents the point of no return, after which Macbeth is forced
to continue butchering his subjects to avoid the consequences of his crime.
Falling Action  Macbeth’s increasingly brutal murders (of Duncan’s servants, Banquo, Lady Macduff and her
son); Macbeth’s second meeting with the witches; Macbeth’s final confrontation with Macduff and the
opposing armies
Themes  The corrupting nature of unchecked ambition; the relationship between cruelty and masculinity; the
difference between kingship and tyranny
Motifs  The supernatural, hallucinations, violence, prophecy
Symbols  Blood; the dagger that Macbeth sees just before he kills Duncan in Act 2; the weather
Foreshadowing The bloody battle in Act 1 foreshadows the bloody murders later on; when Macbeth thinks he
hears a voice while killing Duncan, it foreshadows the insomnia that plagues Macbeth and his wife; Macduff’s
suspicions of Macbeth after Duncan’s murder foreshadow his later opposition to Macbeth; all of the witches’
prophecies foreshadow later events.

Plot Overview
Summary  Plot Overview

The play begins with the brief appearance of a trio of Macbeth. When he sees the ghost, Macbeth raves fearfully,
witches and then moves to a military camp, where the startling his guests, who include most of the great Scottish
Scottish King Duncan hears the news that his generals, nobility. Lady Macbeth tries to neutralize the damage, but
Macbeth and Banquo, have defeated two separate invading Macbeth’s kingship incites increasing resistance from his
armies—one from Ireland, led by the rebel Macdonwald, nobles and subjects. Frightened, Macbeth goes to visit the
and one from Norway. Following their pitched battle with witches in their cavern. There, they show him a sequence
these enemy forces, Macbeth and Banquo encounter the of demons and spirits who present him with further
witches as they cross a moor. The witches prophesy that prophecies: he must beware of Macduff, a Scottish
Macbeth will be made thane (a rank of Scottish nobility) of nobleman who opposed Macbeth’s accession to the throne;
Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland. They also he is incapable of being harmed by any man born of
prophesy that Macbeth’s companion, Banquo, will beget a woman; and he will be safe until Birnam Wood comes to
line of Scottish kings, although Banquo will never be king Dunsinane Castle. Macbeth is relieved and feels secure,
himself. The witches vanish, and Macbeth and Banquo because he knows that all men are born of women and that
treat their prophecies skeptically until some of King forests cannot move. When he learns that Macduff has fled
Duncan’s men come to thank the two generals for their to England to join Malcolm, Macbeth orders that
victories in battle and to tell Macbeth that he has indeed Macduff’s castle be seized and, most cruelly, that Lady
been named thane of Cawdor. The previous thane betrayed Macduff and her children be murdered.
Scotland by fighting for the Norwegians and Duncan has
When news of his family’s execution reaches Macduff in
condemned him to death. Macbeth is intrigued by the
England, he is stricken with grief and vows revenge.
possibility that the remainder of the witches’ prophecy—
Prince Malcolm, Duncan’s son, has succeeded in raising
that he will be crowned king—might be true, but he is
an army in England, and Macduff joins him as he rides to
uncertain what to expect. He visits with King Duncan, and
Scotland to challenge Macbeth’s forces. The invasion has
they plan to dine together at Inverness, Macbeth’s castle,
the support of the Scottish nobles, who are appalled and
that night. Macbeth writes ahead to his wife, Lady
frightened by Macbeth’s tyrannical and murderous
Macbeth, telling her all that has happened.
behavior. Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, becomes plagued
Lady Macbeth suffers none of her husband’s uncertainty. with fits of sleepwalking in which she bemoans what she
She desires the kingship for him and wants him to murder believes to be bloodstains on her hands. Before Macbeth’s
Duncan in order to obtain it. When Macbeth arrives at opponents arrive, Macbeth receives news that she has
Inverness, she overrides all of her husband’s objections killed herself, causing him to sink into a deep and
and persuades him to kill the king that very night. He and pessimistic despair. Nevertheless, he awaits the English
Lady Macbeth plan to get Duncan’s two chamberlains and fortifies Dunsinane, to which he seems to have
drunk so they will black out; the next morning they will withdrawn in order to defend himself, certain that the
blame the murder on the chamberlains, who will be witches’ prophecies guarantee his invincibility. He is
defenseless, as they will remember nothing. While Duncan struck numb with fear, however, when he learns that the
is asleep, Macbeth stabs him, despite his doubts and a English army is advancing on Dunsinane shielded with
number of supernatural portents, including a vision of a boughs cut from Birnam Wood. Birnam Wood is indeed
bloody dagger. When Duncan’s death is discovered the coming to Dunsinane, fulfilling half of the witches’
next morning, Macbeth kills the chamberlains—ostensibly prophecy.
out of rage at their crime—and easily assumes the
In the battle, Macbeth hews violently, but the English
kingship. Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain flee to
forces gradually overwhelm his army and castle. On the
England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that whoever
battlefield, Macbeth encounters the vengeful Macduff,
killed Duncan desires their demise as well.
who declares that he was not “of woman born” but was
Fearful of the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s heirs will instead “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb (what
seize the throne, Macbeth hires a group of murderers to we now call birth by cesarean section). Though he realizes
kill Banquo and his son Fleance. They ambush Banquo on that he is doomed, Macbeth continues to fight until
his way to a royal feast, but they fail to kill Fleance, who Macduff kills and beheads him. Malcolm, now the King of
escapes into the night. Macbeth becomes furious: as long Scotland, declares his benevolent intentions for the country
as Fleance is alive, he fears that his power remains and invites all to see him crowned at Scone.
insecure. At the feast that night, Banquo’s ghost visits