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Macbeth Commentary - Act V.

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Act V. Scene I. - Dunsinane. A Room in the Castle

Lady Macbeth: "Out, damned spot! out, I say! One; two: why, then, 'tis time to do't. Hell is murky!"

Lady Macbeth's insanity becomes clear... First her doctor and a nurse discuss Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking and talking to herself and then we, the audience see this for ourselves. Lady Macbeth makes her famous speech that she cannot wipe away the blood on her hands, indicating her battle to suppress her guilty conscience has failed completely...

This scene begins with a Doctor conversing with a Waiting-Gentle-woman (nurse). We learn that Lady Macbeth has been sleepwalking, uttering words the Gentlewomen is reluctant to discuss with the Doctor.

Lady Macbeth enters and we see her sleepwalking for ourselves. She is rubbing her hands and we learn this can go on for a quarter of an hour.

Lady Macbeth is distressed, famously saying: "Out, damned spot! out, I say! One; two: why, then, 'tis [it is] time to do't [do it]. Hell is murky!" (Line 38).

Lady Macbeth refers to her counterpart, Lady Macduff: "The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now? What! Will these hands ne'er [never] be clean? No more o'[of] that, my lord, no more o' that: you mar all with this starting" (Line 46).

She laments the permanency of her disturbance, "Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!" (Line 55). The Doctor explains that "This disease is beyond my practice:" (this disease is beyond my abilities), (Line 64).

Lady Macbeth continues her sleep talking echoing earlier events, "To bed, to bed: there's knocking at the gate. Come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What's done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed" (Line 72).

Act V. Scene II. - The Country near Dunsinane.

Macbeth's enemies gather near his castle at Dunsinane as Macbeth strongly fortifies its defenses. We learn that Macbeth's hold on Scotland is less than absolute...

Menteith, Caithness, Angus, Lennox and Soldiers are all gathered near Macbeth's castle at Dunsinane hill. Menteith explains that "The English power is near, led on by Malcolm, / His uncle Siward, and the good Macduff" (Line 1).

We learn that "Revenges burn in them;" (Line 3). Menteith has little love for Macbeth, asking "What does the tyrant?" We learn from Caithness that "Great Dunsinane he [Macbeth] strongly fortifies. Some say he's mad; others that lesser hate him / Do call it valiant fury; but, for certain, / He cannot buckle his distemper'd cause / Within the belt of rule" (Line 12).

We discover from Angus that Macbeth's title, far from be secure, is said to "Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe / Upon a dwarfish thief" (Line 22). Macbeth is clearly being described metaphorically as a man in borrowed robes too large for him like the rule of Scotland.

Act V. Scene III. - Dunsinane. A Room in the Castle.

Macbeth: "Bring me no more reports; let them fly all: / Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane / I cannot taint with fear."

Macbeth prepares to defiantly fight his enemies armed with the prophecy that he will only be defeated when the nearby "Birnam wood" moves on his castle. Macbeth learns of the ten thousand strong army against him. Seyton confirms this bad news and Macbeth donning his armor, prepares to fight his enemies recalling the "Birnam wood" prophecy once more as a source of comfort...

Macbeth is receiving reports of the English army; he is not concerned and seeks solace in the prophecy, saying "Bring me no more reports; let them fly all: Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane / I cannot taint with fear. What's the boy Malcolm? Was he not born of women?" (Line 1).

A Servant informs Macbeth that the army numbers ten thousand. Macbeth doesn't believe it asking if he means ten thousand "Geese, villain?" (Line 14).

Learning from the Servant that there are ten thousand soldiers against him, Macbeth resigns himself to his fate, "As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, / I must look to have; but, in their stead, / Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath, / Which poor heart would fain deny, and dare not" (Line 25).

Seyton confirms the reports and Macbeth instructs him to "Hang those that talk of fear: Give me mine [my] armour" (Line 36). The Doctor enters and we learn from him that "therein the patient [Lady Macbeth] / Must minister to himself " though strictly speaking the Doctor should have said "herself" (Line 45).

Macbeth appeals to the Doctor to try and help his wife and Macbeth ends this scene exclaiming, "I will not be afraid of death and bane / Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane" (Line 60).

Act V. Scene IV. - Country near Birnam Wood.

With his troops loyally around him, Malcolm orders each man to cut down a branch from the nearby Birnam Wood as his army now camouflaged under an umbrella of "Birnam wood", heads towards Macbeth's castle at Dunsinane.

Again with drum and colours, we see Malcolm, Old Siward and son, Macduff, Menteith, Caithness, Angus, Lennox, Ross and Soldiers marching. Malcolm rallies his troops, "Cousins, I hope the days are near at hand / That chambers will be safe" (Line 1). The men supportive of Malcolm, reply, "We doubt it nothing" (Line 2).

Malcolm instructs every soldier to now "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" (cut down some wood or leafy branches and carry it so we will hide our true numbers from the enemy and when discovered cause them to make mistakes in reporting us), (Line 5).

The scene ends with troops marching toward Dunsinane where Siward announces "We learn no other but the confident tyrant / Keeps still in Dunsinane," (we have heard nothing but that the tyrant Macbeth remains still in his castle at Dunsinane), (Line 9).

We also learn from Malcolm that those still fighting on Macbeth's side are merely "constrained things [people] / Whose hearts are absent too" or whose hearts are not in defending Macbeth but rather defend the tyrant under pressure, not devotion (Line 14).

 Act V. Scene V. - Dunsinane. Within the Castle.

Macbeth: "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 laughs off his enemies' numbers, certain of the "Birnam wood" prophecy and equally certain that his fortifications should laugh off any attack. We hear a women's cry later learning that Lady Macbeth is dead. Macbeth coldly shrugs off the news that his once "dearest chuck," is dead with complete apathy. Macbeth learns that Birnam Wood or rather Malcolm's forces are moving on his castle. Realizing what this means, Macbeth nonetheless defiantly sets off to meet his destiny...

Macbeth and Seyton enter with colours or flags flying. Macbeth instructs Seyton to hang banners on the outside walls, confident that he can outlast any siege since, "Our castle's strength / Will laugh a siege to scorn; here let them lie / Till famine and the ague eat them up;" (Line 2).

We hear a cry of a woman. Macbeth asks what it is to which Seyton replies, "It is the cry of women, my good lord" (Line 8).

Macbeth answers that he has "almost forgot the taste of fears", adding "I have supp'd full [eaten full / I am full ] with horrors; / Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts, / Cannot once start me" (Lines 9-14).

Seyton returns, telling Macbeth "The queen, my lord, is dead" (Line 16).

Macbeth coldly replies that "She should have died hereafter; / There would have been a time for such a word" (Line 18).

Macbeth famously bids his wife farewell and likening life to an actor on stage, describes life as a fleeting experience signifying nothing:

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. (Line 23)

A Messenger reports that he saw the wood begin to move. Macbeth, enraged at this apparent impossibility replies, "If thou speak'st false, / Upon the next tree shalt thou hang alive, / Till famine cling thee;" (if you are lying, upon the next tree will you hang alive until famine kills you), (Line 40).

Macbeth repeats the Birnam wood prophecy; sees this very fact and panics, "Arm, arm, and out!" (Line 46), "Ring the alarum-bell! Blow, wind! come, wrack! At least we'll die with harness on our back" (Line 52).

Act V. Scene VI. - The Same. A Plain before the Castle.

Malcolm's men drop their leafy camouflage and the battle begins...

Malcolm and company are near Macbeth's castle. Malcolm instructs his men to drop their "leavy screens... And show like those you are [reveal yourselves for the soldiers you are]" (Line 1).

Malcolm tells his men where they shall attack, "You worthy uncle, / Shall, with my cousin, your right-noble son, / Lead our first battle;" (Line 2).

Macduff ends the scene on a note of optimism: "Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath, / Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death" (Line 9).

Act V. Scene VII. - The Same. Another Part of the Plain.

Macduff: "Turn, hell-hound, turn!"

Macbeth fights, Siward killing him. Macbeth is now confronted by Macduff, a man he has consciously avoided and one he refuses to fight. Macbeth famously exclaims that he has lived a charmed life and is unable to be killed by a man, naturally born. Macduff now explains that he has born by Caesarian section and the two men fight, Macbeth dying and order being restored when Malcolm is hailed as the new King of Scotland...

Macbeth can no longer run, "They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly [escape / run], / But bear-like I must fight the course. What's he / That was not born of women? Such a one / Am I to fear, or none" (Malcolm and his troops have surrounded me or tied me to a stake. I cannot escape but like a bear must fight my enemies. But who is not born by a woman. Only such a person should I fear), (Line 1).

Siward enters and asks who Macbeth is. Upon learning the fact he replies, "The devil himself could not pronounce [say] a title / More hateful to mine [my] ear" (Line 8).

Macbeth responds "No, nor more fearful" (Line 9).

Macbeth kills Young Siward. Encouraged by his triumph, Macbeth gloats: "Thou wast born of women: / But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn, / Brandish'd by man that's of a women born" (you were born from a woman. But swords I smile at, weapons I laugh at in scorn carried by men who are woman born), (Line 11).

Macduff enters, exclaiming that "My wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still" (Line 16). Malcolm and Old Siward begin to enter the Macbeth's castle (Line 24).

Macbeth reenters and finally as prophecy warned, Macduff and Macbeth meet. "Turn, hell-hound, turn!" Macduff shouts at Macbeth (Line 32).

Macbeth and Macduff exchange threats; Macbeth explaining that "I bear a charmed life, which must not yield / To one of women born" (I live a lucky or charmed life which cannot yield or fall to one born from a woman), (Line 41).

Macduff explains to Macbeth that he may "Despair thy charm;" (despair at his charm), (Line 42) since Macduff was "from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd" (born of Caesarian section or untimely ripped from his mother thus not being naturally born), (Line 44).

Macbeth, worried says that "I'll not fight with thee" (I will not fight with you), (Line 51). Macduff argues otherwise telling him to surrender so that he may be placed on a pole as an illustration of a tyrant.

Macduff explains that Macbeth's near future will involve his head being "Painted [planted] upon a pole, and underwrit," or written underneath will be the lines, "'Here may you see the tyrant [Macbeth].'" The two men fight.

With colours, Malcolm, Old Siward, Ross and Thanes and Soldiers reenter and we learn "Macduff is missing," (Line 67). Old Siward learns that he lost his son proudly exclaiming though sad, "God's soldier be he!" (Line 76). Macduff returns with Macbeth's head. All hail Malcolm as the new King of Scotland.

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