In act 5 scene 3 what is revealed about Macbeth as a person and as a ruler?

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oppositions within Macbeth himself are revealed in Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act 5.3.

Emotionally, Macbeth is figuratively charging full ahead in accordance with the predictions made by the spirits--that he cannot be harmed by man born of woman and that he cannot be harmed until Birnam Wood moves toward his castle.  The scene opens with Macbeth frantically refusing any more reports about the English army preparing for attack:

...What's the boy Malcolm:

Was he not born of woman?  The spirits that know

All mortal consequences have pronounced me thus:...

Then fly, false thanes,

And mingle with the English epicures!

The mind I sway by and the heart I bear

Shall never sag with doubt nor shake with fear.

Macbeth is allowing himself to believe in the predictions, hoping it might be so.  Notice, too, that although in the beginning of the play Macbeth at least somewhat questions the predictions made by the witches, at this point he has fully conceded their abilities and knowledge:  the spirits "know/All mortal consequences...."  In a sense, Macbeth believes what he wants to believe.

Rationally, however, Macbeth knows better.  One minute he is pronouncing that his mind and heart will never be swayed by the forces coming against him.  Literally seconds later, when he is told there are 10,000 English soldiers massed against him, he completely changes his mind:

...This push

Will cheer me ever or disseat me now.

I have lived long enough.  My way of life

Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf,

And that which should accompany old age,

As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,

I must not look to have, but in their stead


In a matter of seconds, Macbeth moves from emotionally believing he is virtually invincible, to rationally knowing that he will soon die:  those things that come with old age, will not come for him.

Two opposite sides of Macbeth's personality are revealed in this scene, contributing to other oppositions in the play, such as fair is foul and foul is fair and the reversal of gender roles.

kc4u | Student

Act 5 sc.3 is laid in a room in the castle of Dunsinane. Macbeth is seen with the Doctor and Attendants. Macbeth sounds quite bold and desperate as he doesn't seem to bother about the reported desertions of his men. He still banks upon the assurances of the apparitions that he must be invincible and proof against all mortal attacks:

.................................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 woman? The spirits that know

All mortal consequences have pronounc'd me thus........

As a servant enters to report that the English force approaches, Macbeth remonstrates him in harsh, abusive terms. But the servant disappearing, Macbeth sounds a different man, full of self-reflexive melancholy:

I have liv'd long enough: my way of life

Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf;

And that which should accompany old age,

As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,

I must not look to have; but, in their stead,

Curses, not lod but deep, mouth-honour, breath,

Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.

This is another person--regretful, self-crtical, futuristic.

Further on, when Seyton confirms the servant's report, Macbeth again reverts to his hard and bold exterior:

I'll fight, till from my bones my flesh be hack'd.

Give me my armour.

Macbeth then asks the Doctor about Lady Macbeth's state of sickness, and ventilates his desperation in the matter of her treatment:

                             Cure her of that:

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas'd,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles of the brain,

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?

At the close of the scene, Macbeth sounds rather aggressively cynical, doubting the credentials of the system of medcal cure, and himself suggesting alternative treatment. He goes out for the battle defying the fear and destructiveness of impending death.