Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's most well-known tragedies. The frequency with which it is read in the classroom and performed on stage attests to its popularity and perhaps its accessibility. An unusually short play, it follows the simple plot of Macbeth's rise and fall through a series of murders beginning with that of Duncan, King of Scotland, and ending with Macbeth's. It is a drama charged with energy generated by the intensity of Macbeth's ambition and played out in conflicts at personal, political, and cosmic levels. The main plot follows a pattern typical of Shakespearean tragedy: A figure of great magnitude falls to destruction, but a promise of social order restores harmony in the last scene. Macbeth also deviates from convention, however, for the central character is somehow both hero and villain, a combination that unsettles the tragic tone and that continues to challenge readers, audiences, and performers who are drawn to the play as much for its ambiguity as for its energy and simplicity.
In spite of its enduring appeal in the twentieth century, Macbeth is also one of Shakespeare's most topical plays, including many direct and indirect references to contemporary issues in the early seventeenth century. In 1603 Scotland's King James VI succeeded Elizabeth I as England's new monarch. His ascent to the throne sparked renewed interest in the rights and duties of kingship, as