Macbeth Act 5 Scenes 1 to 9 Summary

Antonia Blankenberg
Note by , created almost 2 years ago

A full analysis of Macbeth Act 5, following all the action as the final battle ensues leading to the death of Macbeth at Macduff's hands. The study note contains plot summary, analysis and key quotes.

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Antonia Blankenberg
Created by Antonia Blankenberg almost 2 years ago
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Page 1

Act 5 - Scene 1

The final act of the play opens with a doctor and gentlewoman discussing Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking. Lady Macbeth is suffering from guilt from the murders of Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff's family.    Lady Macbeth enters, moaning about the deaths and stating that there is blood on her hands that will not wash off. The doctor declares that her illness is beyond their abilities and that she is mentally disturbed.   There is a brief mention of supernatural events before the scene closes.   Analysis: From the beginning of Act 5, the length of the scenes shortens, adding to the quick pace and tension.   Lady Macbeth's attempts to wash her hands clean acts as a contrast to Act 2, wherein she tells Macbeth "A little water clears us of this deed". It is clear that the guilt of her actions arrived much later than with Macbeth, but it has much more of an effect on her than on her husband. Lady Macbeth, who was once the more collected and cunning of the two, is now reduced to illness and guilt.   Important Quotes: "Out, damned spot! Out, I say! . . . Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him." - Lady Macbeth   "Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." - Lady Macbeth   "Foul whisp'rings are abroad. Unnatural deeds Do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets. More needs she the divine than the physician." - The Doctor

Page 2

Act 5 - Scene 2

Four lords of Scotland, Lennox, Menteth, Angus, and Caithness, resolve to join Malcolm and the English forces, who have by now marched into Scotland and are stationed at Birnam Wood.   Macbeth has fortified Dunsinane Castle and is making his military preparations in a mad rage.   Analysis: In this scene, the audience is introduced to Birnam Wood, which the Third Apparition in Act IV, Scene 1 prophesied to be the downfall of Macbeth.   The tone of the rebel Scots is one of uncompromising courage.    Caithness says that Macbeth's royal title "Hang(s) loose about him, like a giant's robe upon a dwarfish thief". In Act I, Banquo talked of Macbeth's honors as "strange garments" which conform to the shape of the body. This metaphor is used to show that Macbeth's title no longer fits him.   Important Quotes: "Now does he feel His secret murders sticking on his hands. Now minutely revolts upbraid his faith-breach. Those he commands move only in command, Nothing in love. Now does he feel his title Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe Upon a dwarfish thief." - Caithness

Page 3

Act 5 - Scene 3

Macbeth enters, boasting his lack of fear regarding the approaching English army. He is positive that the prophecies of the witches will be true; that “none of woman born” can harm him and that he will not be defeated until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane.   When a servant enters to announce the approach of a huge army, Macbeth appears momentarily to lose courage and then angrily spurns his servant and orders his armor to be put on, despite the battle still being a long way off.   When the doctor expresses concern about Lady Macbeth, he is just as quick to wave him off, telling him to cure her of her delusions.   Analysis: In the dialogue with the servant, Macbeth orders him to "prick his cheeks" in order to "put colour" back in his face, an ironic reminder of the earlier color symbolism when Macbeth was accused by his wife of having a white heart, as opposed to her own red hands. Similarly, when the Doctor confesses that he has been unable to cure Lady Macbeth's madness, Macbeth mocks his ability, challenging him to "Throw physic to the dogs."   Important Quotes: "Bring me no more reports. Let them fly all. Till Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane I cannot taint with fear." - Macbeth   "I’ll fight till from my bones my flesh be hacked. Give me my armor." - Macbeth

Page 4

Act 5 - Scene 4

Near Birnam Wood, Malcolm talks with the English Lord Siward and his officers about Macbeth’s plan to defend the fortified castle.   In an attempt to conceal their numbers, Malcolm orders each soldier to cut a branch and carry it in front of him as camouflage.   Analysis: Although he does not realise it, Malcolm has made the third prophecy of the witches come true. Though the trees themselves do not move, the forest appears to move towards Macbeth's castle.   The genuine loyalty of the rebel soldiers acts as a stark contrast to those who are left at Macbeth's side; Macbeth's command over his few remaining followers is said to be based on constraint, not loyalty.   Important Quotes: "Let every soldier hew him down a bough And bear ’t before him. Thereby shall we shadow The numbers of our host and make discovery Err in report of us." - Malcolm

Page 5

Act 5 - Scene 5

Now fully armed, Macbeth confidently turns on the advancing armies, only to find his brave rhetoric interrupted by an offstage shriek. At first Macbeth isn't fearful, but Seyton soon appears to reveal that Lady Macbeth has died, whether by her own hand is not made clear.    Shocked, Macbeth speaks numbly about the passage of time and how every tomorrow is simply "signifying nothing".    Yet another surprise blow comes with the announcement that Birnam Wood appears to have uprooted itself and is even now advancing towards Dunsinane. Enraged and terrified, Macbeth recalls the prophecy that said he could not die till Birnam Wood moved to Dunsinane. Resignedly, he declares that he is tired of the sun and that at least he will die fighting.   Analysis: Macbeth's speech at the beginning of this scene is warlike and defiant, his strength mirrored in that of the castle and men who surround him.   Like Duncan’s death, Lady Macbeth’s suicide does not take place onstage and is just reported. Macbeth seems numb in response to the news of his wife’s death, which seems surprising, given the great love he appears to have for his wife. His indifferent response reflects the despair that has seized him as he realizes that what has come to seem the game of life is almost up. Macbeth’s speech following his wife’s death is one of the most famous expressions of despair in all of literature.    The famous lines "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" have a resigned, almost wistful tone to them, occasioned not only by the death of his wife but also by Macbeth's entire loss of purpose.    Important Quotes: "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! 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 is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing." - Macbeth   "If this which he avouches does appear, There is nor flying hence nor tarrying here. I 'gin to be aweary of the sun, And wish th' estate o' th' world were now undone." - Macbeth

Page 6

Act 5 - Scene 6

In this remarkably short scene, Malcolm and his troops have reached Dunsinane under the "leafy screens" of the branches, thus fulfilling the prophecy of the apparitions: Birnam wood has come to Dunsinane.   Analysis: The quick pace of this scene brings a sense of tension and panic to the audience. This, the briefest of all the scenes, at a mere ten lines in length, enables the audience to follow the advancing forces of Malcolm and England virtually to the walls of Dunsinane castle.   Important Quotes: "Your leafy screens throw down, And show like those you are." - Malcolm

Page 7

Act 5 - Scene 7

On the battlefield, Macbeth strikes those around him vigorously, insolent because no man born of woman can harm him.    Macbeth is challenged by the courageous son of Siward, who he subsequently kills.    Macduff enters is seen eagerly seeking out the man who was responsible for the murder of his family, however, Macbeth has left after killing Young Siward.   It is announced that the castle has been surrendered without a fight.   Analysis:  After killing Young Siward, Macbeth gloats over the corpse of his assailant, with one final mockery: "Thou wast born of woman". Ironically, Macduff, who was not born of a woman, enters and takes Young Siward's place on the battlefield.    Important Quotes: "Thou wast born of woman. But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn, Brandished by man that’s of a woman born." - Macbeth

Page 8

Act 5 - Scene 8

On another part of the battlefield, Macbeth and Macduff finally come face to face.    They fight, and when Macbeth insists that he is invincible because of the witches’ prophecy, Macduff tells Macbeth that he was not of woman born, but rather “from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped”.    Eventually, Macduff defeats Macbeth in battle.    Analysis: Macbeth is defeated because Macduff was, in fact, not born, but taken from his mother by cesarean section. Even in his last moments, Macbeth mistakenly imagines that the words of the witches' apparitions are a protective charm that can keep him from physical injury.   It is now Macduff's turn to mock Macbeth: he calls him "coward" and promises to have him publicly displayed , "baited with the rabble's curse" with a sign painted with the words "Here may you see the tyrant".    Important Quotes: "Thou losest labor. As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed. Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests; I bear a charmèd life, which must not yield To one of woman born." - Macbeth   "Despair thy charm, And let the angel whom thou still hast served Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb Untimely ripped." - Macduff  

Page 9

Act 5 - Scene 9

Malcolm and Siward walk together in the castle, which they have now effectively captured. Ross tells Siward that his son is dead. Macduff emerges with Macbeth’s head in his hand and proclaims Malcolm King of Scotland.   Malcolm declares that all his thanes will be made earls, according to the English system of peerage.   Analysis: Malcolm's opening line concerning those friends who died is not only an acknowledgement of what loyalty means but also an indication of how he will rule in future, with the graciousness and humility that was associated with his father, Duncan.   We are told that Siward's son died with his wounds "on the front", meaning he faced his opponent with bravery. This is mentioned as an acknowledgement of self-sacrifice.    Important Quotes: "My thanes and kinsmen, Henceforth be earls, the first that ever Scotland In such an honor named. What’s more to do, Which would be planted newly with the time, As calling home our exiled friends abroad That fled the snares of watchful tyranny, Producing forth the cruel ministers Of this dead butcher and his fiendlike queen, Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands Took off her life; this, and what needful else That calls upon us, by the grace of Grace, We will perform in measure, time, and place. So, thanks to all at once and to each one, Whom we invite to see us crowned at Scone." - Malcolm