Macbeth: Summary & Analysis
Act 5, Scene 1
At the Scottish royal home of Dunsinane, a gentlewoman has summoned a doctor to watch Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking. The doctor reports that he has watched her for 2 nights now and has yet to ascertain anything strange. The gentlewoman describes how she has seen Lady Macbeth rise, dress, leave her room, write something on a bit of paper, read it, seal it, and return to bed—all without awakening. The gentlewoman dares not repeat what Lady Macbeth says while thus sleepwalking.
The two are interrupted by a sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, who enters carrying a candle. The gentlewoman reports that Lady Macbeth asks to possess a light-weight by her all night. The doctor and therefore the gentlewoman watch as Lady Macbeth rubs her hands as if washing them and says ” Yet here’s a spot. . . Out, damned spot; out I say” (27-30). As she continues to “wash” her hands, her words betray her guilt to the 2 onlookers. Lady Macbeth seems to be reliving the events on the night of Duncan’s death. She cannot get the stain or smell of blood off her hand: “What, will these hands ne’er be clean. . . All the perfumes of Arabia won’t sweeten this tiny hand” (37-43). because the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth imagines she hears knocking at the gate and returns to her chamber, the doctor concludes that Lady Macbeth needs a priest’s help and not a physician’s. He takes his leave, asserting that he and therefore the gentlewoman had better not reveal what they need seeing or hearing.
Act 5, Scene 2
The thanes Menteith, Caithness, Angus, and Lennox march with a corporation of soldiers toward Birnam Wood, where they’re going to join Malcolm and therefore the English army. They claim that they’re going to “purge” the country of Macbeth’s sickening influence (28).
Act 5, Scene 3
At Dunsinane, Macbeth tires of hearing reports of nobles who have defected to hitch English forces. He feels consoled, however, by the witches’ prophesy that he has nothing to fear until Birnam Wood involves Dunsinane, or until he counters a person not born of woman. Since both of the events seem impossible, Macbeth feels invincible.
A servant enters with the news that the enemy has rallied a thousand men but Macbeth sends him away, scolding him for cowardice. After calling for his servant Seyton to assist him placed on his armor, Macbeth demands the doctor’s prognosis about Lady Macbeth. The doctor replies that she is “not so sick” but troubled with visions (39). In how or other, she must cure herself of those visions—an answer that displeases Macbeth. As attendants placed on his armor, he declares that he would applaud the doctor if he could analyze the country’s urine and therein derive a drug for woman Macbeth. Abruptly, Macbeth leaves the space, professing once more that he won’t fear “death and bane” until Birnam Wood involves Dunsinane (61). Aside, the doctor confesses that he would like to be as distant from Dunsinane as possible.
Act 5, Scene 4
Malcolm, Siward, Young Siward, Macduff, Menteith, Caithness, and Angus march toward Birnam Wood. As they approach the forest, Malcolm instructs the soldiers to chop off branches and hold them up to disguise their numbers. Siward informs Malcolm that Macbeth confidently holds Dunsinane, expecting their arrival. Malcolm comments that nearly all of Macbeth’s men have deserted him. the military marches on.
Act 5, Scene 5
Macbeth orders his men to hold his banners on the outer walls of the castle, claiming that it’ll hold until the attackers die of famine. If only the opposite side weren’t reinforced with men who deserted him, he claims, he wouldn’t consider rushing bent meet English army head-on. Upon hearing the cry of a lady within, Macbeth comments that he has almost forgotten the taste of fears. Seyton returns and announces the death of Lady Macbeth. Seemingly unfazed, Macbeth comments that she should have died later, at a more appropriate time. He stops to muse on the meaning of life:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. it’s a tale
Told by an idiot, filled with sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (23-27)
A messenger enters and reports that he has seen something unbelievable: as he looked out toward Birnam Wood, it appeared that the forest began to maneuver toward the castle. Macbeth is stunned and begins to fear that the witch’s words may come true in any case. He instructs his men to ring the alarm.
Act 5, Scene 6
Malcolm tells his soldiers that they’re near enough to the castle now to throw down the branches they carry. He announces that Siward and Young Siward will lead the primary battle. He and Macduff will follow behind. The trumpeters sound a charge.
Act 5, Scene 7
Macbeth waits on the battlefield to defend his castle. He seems like a bear that has been tied to a stake for dogs to attack. Young Siward enters and demands his name. Macbeth responds that he is going to be afraid to listen to it. Macbeth kills Young Siward within the ensuing duel, commenting that Young Siward must are “born of woman” (12).
Act 5, Scene 8
Macduff enters alone and shouts a challenge to Macbeth, swearing to avenge the death of his wife and youngsters. As he exists, he asks Fortune to assist him to find Macbeth.
Act 5, Scene 9
Malcolm and Siward enter and charge the castle.
Act 5, Scene 10
Macbeth enters, asserting that he shouldn’t “play the Roman fool” and kill (2). Macduff finds him and challenges him. Macbeth replies that he has so far avoided Macduff but that he’s now able to fight. As they fight, Macbeth tells him that he “bears a charmed life”: he will only fall to a person who isn’t born of woman (12). Macduff replies that the time has come for Macbeth to despair: “let the angel whom thou still hast served / Tell thee Macduff was from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped”—Macduff was born through the equivalent of a caesarian section (13-16). Hearing this, Macbeth quails and says that he won’t fight. Macduff replies by commanding him to yield and become the laughing stock of Scotland under Malcolm’s rule. This enrages Macbeth, who swears he will never yield to swear allegiance to Malcolm. They fight on and thus exit.
Act 5, Scene 11
Malcolm, Siward, and therefore the other thanes enter. Although they need to win the battle, Malcolm notes that Macduff and Young Siward are missing. Ross reports that Young Siward is dead and eulogizes him by stating that “he only lived but till he was a person, / The which no sooner had his prowess confirmed / within the unshrinking station where he fought, / But sort of a man he died” (6-9). After confirming that his son’s wounds were on his front—in other words, that the Young Siward died bravely in battle—Siward declares that he does not wish for a far better death for his son.
Macduff enters, carrying Macbeth’s severed head and shouting “Hail, King of Scotland!” the lads echo this shout and therefore the trumpets flourish as Malcolm accepts the kingship. Malcolm announces that he will rename the present thanes as earls. He will call back all the lads whom Macbeth has exiled and can plan to heal the scarred country. All exit towards Scone, where Malcolm is going to be crowned as King of Scotland.
Until Act 5, Macbeth has been tormented with visions and nightmares while Lady Macbeth has derided him for his weakness. Now the audience witnesses the way during which the murders have also preyed on Lady Macbeth. In her sleepwalking, Lady Macbeth plays out the theme of washing and cleansing that runs throughout the play. After killing Duncan, she flippantly tells Macbeth that “a little water clears us of this deed” (II ii 65). But the deed now returns to haunt Lady Macbeth in her sleep. Lady Macbeth’s stained hands are like the biblical mark of Cain—the mark that God placed on Cain for murdering his brother Abel (Genesis 4:15). But Cain’s mark may be a sign from God that protects Cain from the revenge of others. Lady Macbeth’s mark doesn’t protect her from death, as she dies only a couple of scenes later.
The doctor’s behavior in Act 5 Scene 3 resembles that of a psychoanalyst. sort of a Freudian psychoanalyst, the doctor observes Lady Macbeth’s dreams and uses her words to infer the explanation for her distress. Lady Macbeth’s language during this scene betrays her troubled mind in some ways. Her speech in previous acts has been eloquent and smooth. In Act 1 Scene 4, for instance, she declares to Duncan:
All our service,
In every point twice done than done double,
Were poor and single business to contend
Against those honors deep and broad wherewith
Your Majesty loads our house. For those of old,
And the late dignities heaped upon them,
We rest your hermits. (I vi 14-19)
In this speech, Lady Macbeth makes use of metaphor (Duncan’s honor is “deep and broad”), metonymy (he honors “our house,” meaning the Macbeths themselves), and hyperbole (“in every point twice done than done double”). Her syntax is complex but the rhythm of her speech remains smooth and flowing, within the iambic pentameter employed by noble characters in Shakespearean plays. What a contrast it’s, therefore, when she talks in her sleep in Act 5:
Out, damned spot, out, I say! One. Two. Why then, ‘tis time to do. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier and afeard? What need do we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to possess had such a lot blood in him. . . The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? What, will these hands ne’er be clean? No more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that. You mar all with this starting. (V I 30-48)
In this speech, Lady Macbeth’s language is choppy, jumping from idea to idea as her state of mind changes. Her sentences are short and unpolished, reflecting a mind too disturbed to talk eloquently. Although she spoke in iambic pentameter before, she now speaks in prose—thus falling from the noble to the prosaic.
Lady Macbeth’s dissolution is swift. As Macbeth’s power grows, indeed, Lady Macbeth’s has decreased. She began the play as a remorseless, influential voice capable of sweet-talking Duncan and of creating Macbeth do her bidding. within the third act Macbeth leaves her out of his plans to kill Banquo, refusing to reveal his intentions to her. Now within the last act, she has dwindled to a mumbling sleepwalker, capable only of a mad and rambling speech. Whereas even the relatively unimportant Lady Macduff features a stirring death scene, Lady Macbeth dies offstage. When her death is reported to Macbeth, his response is shocking in its cold apathy. (Here again, Macbeth stands in relief to Macduff, whose emotional reaction to his wife’s death almost “unmans” him.)
As the play nears its bloody conclusion, Macbeth’s hamartia involves the forefront: like Duncan before him, his character is just too trusting. He takes the witches’ prophesies at face value, never realizing that things are seldom what they seem—an ironic flaw, given his treachery. He thus foolishly fortifies his castle with the few men who remain, banking on the very fact that the events that the apparitions foretold couldn’t come true. But the English army does bring Birnam Wood to Dunsinane. And Macduff, who has indeed been “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb, advances to kill Macbeth. The witches have equivocated; they told him a double truth, concealing the complex reality within a framework that seems simple. (As a side note, it’s going to even be worthwhile to think about the dramatic “weight” of such a conclusion: does it appear strange that such a tragic play should be resolved through a more or less frivolous play on words?)
The play should end because it began—with a victorious battle during which a valiant hero kills a traitor and holds high the severed head. the primary we hear of Macbeth in Act 1 is that the story of his bravery in battle, wherein he decapitated Macdonwald’s and displayed it on the castle battlements. At the top of the tragedy, Macbeth—himself a traitor to Duncan and his family—is treated in just an equivalent manner. After killing Macbeth, Macduff enters with Macbeth’s severed head and exclaims “behold where stands / Th’usurper’s cursed head” (V xi 20-21) The play thus ends with the completion of a parallel structure.
One moral of the story is that the course of fate can’t be changed. The events that the Fates predicted and set in motion at the start of the play happen exactly as predicted, regardless of what the characters do to vary them. Macbeth tries his hardest to force fate to figure to his bidding, but no avail. Banquo still becomes the daddy of kings and Macbeth still falls to a person not born of woman. the person who triumphs within the end is that the one who did nothing to vary the fate prescribed for him. The prophecy is self-fulfilling.
The river of your time thus flows on, despite the struggles of man. Although Macbeth’s reign of terror has made “the frame of things disjoint,” by the top of the play the tide of your time has smoothed over Scotland (III ii 18). The unnatural uprising of Macbeth now within the past, Macduff comments that “the time is free” (V xi 21). And Macbeth’s life proves to be indeed a “tale / Told by an idiot, filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing” (V v 27-29). Time washes over his meaningless, bloody history: Banquo’s family will produce to the road of Stuart kings and Malcolm will regain the throne his father left him—all exactly as if Macbeth had never dared to kill Duncan.