How are the prophecies proclaimed by the three apparitions in act 4, scene 1 fulfilled in act 5 of Macbeth?

The first two apparitions' prophecies from Act IV, Scene 1 are fulfilled when Macduff kills Macbeth. Macduff was not “born” because he was delivered by Caesarian section. The third prophecy comes true earlier, when soldiers camouflaged with tree branches advance from Birnam Wood to attack Dunsinane Castle.

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In the first prophecy proclaimed by an apparition, Macbeth is warned to beware of Macduff, the Thane of Fife. As the first witch rightly proclaimed, the First Apparition can read Macbeth's mind, and can therefore detect that he is indeed afraid of Macduff and what he might do to him.

The prophecy of the First Apparition comes true in act V, when Macduff kills Macbeth in a duel. For good measure, he cuts his head off and proudly brandishes it aloft so that everyone else can see that the tyrant's bloody reign has finally come to an end.

The Second Apparition, which comes in the guise of a bloody child, appears to contradict the prophecy of the First Apparition. It tells Macbeth that he should be “bloody, bold, and resolute”, and that no one born of a woman will ever be able to harm him. As every man is born of a woman, Macbeth automatically assumes that he's in the clear, that Macduff can do him no harm.

But he's profoundly mistaken. In act V, Macbeth is not just harmed but killed by Macduff, who wasn't in fact born of a woman but “untimely ripped” from his mother's womb by Caesarean section.

Finally, the Third Apparition materializes and tells Macbeth that he will never be vanquished until Birman Wood comes to Dunsinane against him. Once more, Macbeth is lulled into a false sense of security. He's convinced that such a thing cannot happen as the very idea of a forest moving is totally ridiculous.

However, the prophecy will indeed come true in act V, when rebel forces move against Macbeth wearing camouflage made from the branches of Birnam Wood.

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In act IV, scene 1 of Macbeth, the apparitions, who have arrived with Hecate, pronounce three warnings or predictions. The First Apparition warns Macbeth to beware of Macduff, the Thane of Fife. The Second Apparition, in the form of a bloody child, encourages him to be “bold” and scornful of others’ power. It states that “none of woman born” will harm him. It turns out both statements refer to Macduff. The Third Apparition predicts that he will not be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.

After hearing the second statement, Macbeth dismisses the warning, believing the second cancels the first. He interprets the second pronouncement to mean that he cannot be harmed, reasoning every person is born. The third statement is even more encouraging: it seems an undeniable fact that trees cannot be uprooted and made to move.

Act V shows how wrong Macbeth was, as he interprets the statements to mean that he lives “a charmed life” rather than take them as warnings. As scene 6 begins, is set outside. The stage directions read:

Enter Malcolm, Siward, Macduff, and their Army, with boughs.

As they are close to Dunsinane Castle, Malcolm tells the men, “your leavy screens throw down.”

While their forces were sheltering in Birnam Wood, the leaders had ordered them to cut tree branches wear them as camouflage while they snuck up on Dunsinane.

Later, Macduff turns out to be the man who was not “born,” in that he was “untimely ripp’d” from the womb, or delivered by Caesarian section. He also proves not just dangerous but lethal, as he ultimately kills Macbeth in a one-on-one swordfight and then cuts off his head.

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In act 4, scene 1, the Three Witches present Macbeth with three apparitions that enigmatically depict his future and offer misleading prophecies, which make Macbeth overconfident and lead to his downfall. The first apparition tells Macbeth to beware of Macduff. The second apparition tells Macbeth to be bold, courageous, and confident because no man born of a woman will ever harm him. The third apparition encourages Macbeth to be as proud and brave as a lion because he will not be defeated until Birnam Wood marches to fight him at Dunsinane Hill.

Later on in the play, each one of these prophecies proves true, and Macbeth ends up losing in the final battle. In act 5, scene 1, Malcolm tells his army to break off branches from Birnam Wood to conceal themselves as they march towards Macbeth's castle. In the next scene, Macbeth's messenger informs the king that it looks as if Birnam Wood is moving towards the castle. The first and second prophecies are also fulfilled after Macbeth dies at the hands of Macduff after learning that Macduff was not naturally born of a woman. In act 5, scene 8, Macduff tells Macbeth that he was "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb, which means he had a Caesarean birth. 

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"Beware Macduff" shows that Macduff could be the one to kill and overthrow Macbeth.  He does, and this is tied in to the second apparition.

"Man not born of woman" is referring to Macduff.  His mother died before he was born and he was taken from her, but she did not give birth to him.  He is the one to finally defeat Mabeth. When he explains this to Macbeth as they are fighting, Macbeth sees his fate is near.

"Birnam Wood to Dunsinane" occurs when the men carry limbs and branches with them to camoflage so that Macbeth doesn't see them coming.  Macbeth doesn't think that the trees will begin walking, but once they appear to be moving, he realizes his fate.


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What is interesting about these prophecies is that are not fulfilled in the manner Macbeth expects. As such, they provide an example of situational irony.

The first prophecy, for example, is that Macbeth should beware Macduff. While Macbeth knows that Macduff poses a risk to his power, he does not realize that it is Macduff who will kill him in act V. Part of the reason for this is that Macbeth is told in the second prophecy that he cannot be harmed by anyone of "woman born." Because everyone has a mother, Macbeth assumes that this means nobody can kill him. What he fails to realize, however, is that this prophecy alludes to the practice of a Cesarean section. When it is revealed in act V that Macduff was born in this way, it becomes clear to Macbeth (and the reader) that he has finally met his match.

Similarly, Macbeth is lured into a false sense of security by the final prophecy: that he cannot be defeated until "Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him." Again, Macbeth believes that is impossible, since trees cannot grow legs and walk. However, in act V, Malcolm orders his men to cut down branches from the trees of Birnam Wood and wear them as camouflage while they march on Macbeth at Dunsinane. The fulfillment of this final prophecy, though unexpected, spells the end for Macbeth.

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