Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

The Story of Macbeth

Most boys and girls have heard, at some time or another, of Shakespeare. He was a famous writer of plays, that is, stories which are acted on the stage.

One of Shakespeare's best plays is Macbeth. Macbeth lived in Scotland, about the time that king Canute was reigning in England. In the play, we are told that king Duncan of Scotland sent Macbeth with an army against the Danes. He beat them, and was returning home, when a strange thing happened to him.

He was crossing a lonely moor when, suddenly, he was met by three weird-looking creatures, who were said to be witches. The first one said, "Hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!" The second said "Hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!" while the third said, "Hail, Macbeth, that shall be king hereafter!"

Before Macbeth could ask them any questions, the weird sisters had vanŽished from his sight. While he was still thinking of what they had said, a mesŽsenger came and told him that his father was dead, and that he was now thane of Glamis. Soon after, a second messenger met him and told him that the king had made him thane of Cawdor. This was a reward for beating the Danes.

"Now," thought Macbeth, "I wonder whether the saying of the third witch will come to pass." This was, you will remember, that he should be king of Scotland. When he reached home, he told his wife, lady Macbeth, all that had happened to him.

She said to her husband, "You cannot be king while Duncan is alive. So we must ask him to come and see us, and then you must kill him while he is asleep." At first Macbeth would not hear of such a wicked thing, but, in the end, he agreed to do as his wife wished.

So the king came to their castle, and, while he was fast asleep, was murdered by Macbeth. Then Macbeth and his wife became king and queen of Scotland.

Now all this is part of the story which Shakespeare has written; but most people think that it is not quite true, and that Macbeth was far from being a bad king. We believe that there was a battle between king Duncan and his under-king, Macbeth, and that Duncan was beaten, and had to flee for his life. We believe, too, that he was killed in some way or another. Indeed, a stone hut is still pointed out as marking the spot where he was killed.

His two sons fled to England, where they were kindly treated. After a time, Malcolm, the elder son, asked the English king to help him to get back his father's throne. The English king, Edward, did not love fighting, but he allowed earl Siward, a brave old warrior, to lead an army into Scotland.

Birnam wood


King Macbeth was in a strong castle, called Dunsinane, when the English army, under Malcolm and earl Siward, drew near. A few miles away, there was a wood known as Birnam wood.

Shakespeare says that the witches had told Macbeth that he would be quite safe "till Birnam wood came to DunŽsinane." The king did not very well see how a wood could move, and so he felt he had nothing to fear.

Now Malcolm did not wish Macbeth to know how many men he had: so he told each man in his army to cut a large branch off a tree, and carry it in front of him. Thus it seemed as though Birnam wood came to Dunsinane.

In the fight which took place, earl Siward and his men fought so well that Macbeth was beaten. Malcolm then became king of Scotland. He was a big, rough man, but we are pleased to know that he married an English princess, who, as the "Good queen Margaret," became one of the best queens that Scotland ever had.

Before this story closes, you will like to hear a little more about brave old Siward. He died about a year after he had been fighting in Scotland. When he knew that his end was near, he said to those around him, "Lift me up, that I may die standing, and not lying down, like a cow." So, girt with helmet and sword, he died, like a soldier in battle.