Shakespeare's shortest and bloodiest tragedy, MACBETH, is also possibly the most serious. Macbeth is a warrior who has just had his greatest victory, but his own "vaulting ambition," the spectral promises of the three weird sisters, and the spurring on of his wife drive him to a treason and miserable destruction for which he himself is completely responsible. The ominous imagery of the fog that hovers over the first scene of the play symbolizes the entire setting of the play. Shakespeare's repeated contrasts of such concepts as fair and foul, light and darkness, bravery and cowardice, cut us to the quick at every turn. MACBETH forces us to question "what is natural?" "what is honor?" and "Is life really 'a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/ Signifying nothing?'" Few plays have ever illustrated the torments of Guilt (especially how it deprives one of Sleep) so vividly and stirringly.
I have read this play curiously as a child, excitedly as a teenager, passionately as a college student, and lovingly as a graduate student... and adult. Like all of Shakespeare's writing, it is still as fresh, and foreboding, and marvelous as ever. As a play it is first meant to be heard (cf. Hamlet says "we shall hear a play"), secondarily to be seen (which it must be), but, ah, the rich rewards of reading it at one's own pace are hard to surpass. The Arden edition of MACBETH is an excellent scholarly presentation, offering a bounty of helpful notes and information for both the serious and casual reader.