Act 5 scenes 3 and 5 show us what Macbeth has lost. How do you feel about him at the end of the play?

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coachingcorner's profile pic

coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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There are two camps really on the subject of MacBeth's responsibilty for his actions. Some critics feel he is an evil character who had plenty of chances to regret his actions, reconsider or even repent. The fact that he does not, means in their opinion, that he is not sorry and that he is therefore culpable for all his heinous and bloody crimes. However, other critics feel that all humans are born frail and flawed and are not responsible totally for their genes and birth circumstances. Traumatic circumstances cause stress-induced madness and psychological illness can be inherent. This could never, of course, excuse evil acts but it can go a long way top explaining it. In today's world we try to get therapy and treatment for these people - I think I fall into the 'understanding and patient' camp of critics!

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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By the end of the play, I do not feel much sympathy for Macbeth at all.  After all, think of all the horrible things that he has done.  It is hard to feel sorry for or good about someone who has killed so many innocent people, including Macduff's wife and children.  He only did it for his own gain, too.

Even in scene 5, he is still acting somewhat brutally even though he is losing confidence.  When the messenger tells him that Great Birnam wood is moving, he threatens to hang the messenger until he dies of hunger if he is lying.  So he has not started to repent or anything.

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Concerning your question about Shakespeare's Macbeth, first of all no one can answer this question for you.  My giving you my answer can't really help you with your answer.

I can, though, give you some of the issues involved.

By the close of the play, sympathy for Macbeth isn't an issue.  He is not a sympathetic character.  But that isn't what matters.  The multifaceted nature of his personality is what is evident by this point.

Macbeth would like to believe the witches, right up to the point at which the witches' equivocations become evident--when Macduff tells him he was not born of woman, but of a body.  Emotionally, he throws himself into the fulfillment of the predictions.  But rationally, he suspects they are too good to be true.  He seems to alternate between belief and despair, even showing us a nihilistic side of his personality in the "Tomorrow" speech after his wife dies. 

Macbeth also feels trapped by the conclusion of the play, like a bear chained to a tree and attacked by a pack of dogs, for sport.  Yet, he refuses to surrender and be humiliated and faces Macduff one-on-one and fights to the death:  a noble gesture. 

Thus, no one is expected to particularly like Macbeth.  It's not about that.  But to understand him, that is the point. 

mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The end of Macbeth is like the beginning: Macbeth fighting.  In both scenes, Macbeth battles valiantly.  However, in Act I Macbeth kills the traitor Macdonwald.  In Act V, Madcuff kills the traitor Macbeth.  In this way, the play comes full circle.  Yes, I do like Macbeth here in Act V: he is a fighter, and he defends himself rather than committing suicide (like his wife).  In this way, he desperately tries to take back control of his life.

Macbeth has lost everything by the end: his life, head, tomorrow, wife, a battle, the crown, castle, and all his thanes.  Most importantly, he loses his advantages against time, nature, and the supernatural.  He had manipulated each to gain control earlier, but now all three betray him.  Birnam Wood (nature) attacks his castle.  The supernatural hero Macduff (not born of woman) beheads him.  And time has sped up, ending his life short ("Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow"...) so he will never have to face another day.

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