Act I
Scene 1: Prelude with witches, "Fair is foul and foul is fair".
Scene 2: News of the battles, of the victory of Macbeth, Duncan names him Thane of Cawdor in place of the traitor.
Scene 3: The Three Sisters meet Macbeth with Banquo, greeting him as Glamis, Cawdor, and soon-to-be king; as they vanish, messengers greet him as "Cawdor": he shows signs of further ambition.
Scene 4: Duncan hears of the "noble death" of the former Thane of Cawdor; Macbeth arrives, hears of the naming of Malcolm as Cumberland (= heir). Ambitious aside.
Scene 5: Lady Macbeth reads Macbeth's letter, foresees his ambition and weakness and calls on the Spirits to "unsex" her.
Scene 6: Duncan arrives, welcomed by Lady Macbeth.
Scene 7: Macbeth's troubled soliloquy, Lady Macbeth encourages him.

Act II
Scene 1: Macbeth sees a dagger in the air, soliloquizes, goes to kill Duncan.
Scene 2: Macbeth returns, describes the deed; Lady Macbeth goes to bring back the daggers to the sleeping guards.
Scene 3: The drunken Porter admits Macduff. The murder is discovered. Malcolm decides to escape to England. Scene 4: The night's storm described, the flight of Malcolm etc.

Scene 1: Macbeth plots the murder of Banquo, out of jealousy and insecurity.
Scene 2: Macbeth refuses to tell Lady Macbeth what he is planning.
Scene 3: The murderers kill Banquo, but Fleance, his son, escapes.
Scene 4: The ghost of Banquo appears to Macbeth during the banquet.
(Scene 5: Hecate scene, surely not by Shakespeare)
Scene 6: Lenox and a Lord discuss the dangers of life under Macbeth.

Act IV
Scene 1: Macbeth returns to consult the Three Witches about the future, his security; he is shown all Banquo's descendants as kings, and given assurances that he has nothing to worry about until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, that he can be harmed by no man "of woman born." News of Macduff's flight to England makes Macbeth decide to kill his family.
Scene 2: Lady Macduff and her son in touching dialogue, before they are murdered by thugs.
Scene 3: In England, at the court of holy Edward the Confessor; the testing of Macduff by Malcolm; the power of the King to heal. News of the murder of Macduff's family. Plans for invasion.

Act V
Scene 1: Lady Macbeth's sleep-walking scene.
Scene 2: The armies arrive near Birnam wood.
Scene 3: Macbeth rejects all news of danger, secure in Dunsinane. News of Lady Macbeth's sickness does not affect him.
Scene 4: Near Dunsinane, Malcolm orders army to take branches for disguise.
Scene 5: In Dunsinane, a cry announces Lady Macbeth's death (suicide?). Macbeth's soliloquy "Tomorrow" is followed by news that Birnam wood is moving towards the castle.
Scene 6: Battle preparations.
Scene 7: Macbeth fights, kills Siward. Alarums.
Scene 8: Macduff "from his mother's womb untimely ripped" kills Macbeth off stage.
Scene 9: Macduff brings in Macbeth's head, Malcolm is acclaimed King of Scotland.

The play is a chronicle tragedy based mainly on Holinshed's account of the reign of King Makbeth of Scotland, although the murder of Duncan is modelled on that of an earlier king, Duff, also found in Holinshed (see the Appendix to the Arden edition). Shakespeare makes King Duncan a holy old man, while in the chronicle he was a weak king and not so old. In various ways Shakespeare stresses the personal responsibility of Macbeth and his wife, so that the play's Banquo is not involved in the murder, as he is in Holinshed, and Macbeth has no concrete grievance against the king as he did in the source, where he had a very strong right to the throne until Duncan made his own son the heir instead.

Shakespeare stresses the moral polarities in the play, and uses more of the heaven-hell imagery of the morality plays than in his other tragedies. The historical king Makbeth ruled wisely and well for many years; this is eliminated. The result is a tragic protagonist unique in Shakespeare, since Macbeth is directly responsible for the deaths of Duncan, his bodyguards, Banquo, Lady Macduff, her children and servants, and countless others, becoming at last "the tyrant;" yet he is no melodramatic monster, and the audience is invited to sympathize with his step-by-step descent into hell.

The use of supernatural elements, suggested by Holinshed, the mysterious three "sisters" (who seem to be spirits of fate, rather than mere "witches"), gives an added dimension of dread and mystery to a morality play showing that ill-gotten goods bring no delight. The sisters' messages do not diminish Macbeth's responsibility for his actions, they are promptings that kindle a fire in his mind, not more. Lady Macbeth, too, though she strengthens his resolve in the early stages, retires more and more from the action as Macbeth advances in increasing solitude towards his inevitable death, a death he insists he is not exposed to.

Macbeth searches for and then clings on to an assurance of invulnerability based on his second encounter with the sisters until the final moments of the play. This version of the classical theme of the "ambiguous oracle" heightens the tension surrounding Macbeth's last moments, bestowing on him a kind of charmed life that is at last stripped from him as Birnham Wood moves towards Dunsinane Hill and then Macduff reveals that he was not "born of woman" in the normal way.