Macbeth receives news in Act 5, scene 2.  What is the effect of each of the items of news he receives?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The audience doesn't actually see Macbeth in Act 5, scene 2; it is just the nobles who fight on Malcolm's side discussing the battle.  I think you probably mean scene 3, because Macbeth receives news in that scene, so I'm going to address it.  Seyton tells Macbeth that there are "ten thousand" English soldiers marching on the castle, and all the while Macbeth insults him (5.3.14).  Macbeth calls him a "lily-livered boy" and "whey-face," implying that Seyton is cowardly and fearful in the face of such a force (and that Macbeth is not)  (5.3.18, 3.5.20).  Knowing that all his nobles are turning on him, however, Macbeth seems to lament the fact that he has none of the things which he has come to expect of old age.  He says,

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
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath
Which the poor heart would fain deny and dare
not. (5.3.26-33)

He means that his life has become dry and withered, like a yellow leaf in the fall, and he has nothing that an old man should have: no one honors or loves or feels loyalty toward him.  He has no friends but only people who pretend to be his friends (because they are afraid of him), people who secretly curse him.  Thus, this news -- that there are so many who have come together to fight him -- seems to make him quite sad and, perhaps, regretful, because he is almost completely alone, and that condition is the result of the choices he's made.  Eventually, however, he determines to "fight till from [his] bones [his] flesh be hacked" (5.3.38).  He is saddened, but it only seems to increase his resolve to win this war.

Further, the doctor arrives to tell Macbeth that Lady Macbeth is "troubled with thick-coming fancies" that are making her very ill (5.3.47).  Macbeth immediately demands that the doctor cure her, seeming not to realize or accept that physical medicine cannot relieve one whose conscience is overburdened with guilt.  The doctor tells him that, in such cases, the patient must minister to herself, and Macbeth scoffs at medicine.  He wonders, then, if that doctor could examine Scotland and "find her disease, / And purge it to a sound and pristine health, / [Macbeth] would applaud [him] [...]" (5.4.62-64).  This line of thought makes it seem as though Macbeth is somewhat more concerned about the country (and his position in it) than he is about his wife's health, and he seems not to understand that he is directly responsible for his country's decline.  His response indicates that he thinks Scotland suffers from a disease, but he doesn't realize that he is that disease.