Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What is the significance of the scene in which a doctor describes King Edward's power of healing in Act 5, Scene 3?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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King Edward, like King Duncan once was, is a legitimate monarch, appointed by God. This is made manifest by his ability to heal illnesses, a gift which can only come from a holy source. Like Jesus, another healer, Edward is manifestly God's agent on earth.

Edward is used to underscore the difference between a legitimate and illegitimate ruler, such as Macbeth. Unlike Edward, Macbeth has no healing powers. In contrast to Edward's life-giving force, the tyrant Macbeth brings nothing but bloodshed, misery, and death to his people.

Macbeth is an illegitimate ruler, falsely goaded into attaining the throne through the murder of a good and just king. He is baited into killing his monarch through the words of emissaries of the devil, the three witches. His rule only brings disorder and foreign invasion to his country, warning us—and perhaps another Scottish king, James I, who attained the English throne during Shakespeare's life—not to overstep reasonable and moral bounds.

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The conversation between Malcolm, the Doctor and Macduff accomplishes several things. In Act IV, Scene 3, Malcolm and Macduff who have be exiled from Scotland praise King Edward of England, known as "Edward the Confessor".  It was believed he had a gift for healing a disease known as "scrofula" which was a tuberculosis of the lymph glands and usually affected children. Edward would touch people afflicted with the disease and many were supposedly healed. Malcolm refers to this when he says,

"A most miraculous work in this good King,Which often, since my here-remain in England, I have seen him do. How he solicits heaven,Himself best knows; but strangely-visited people, All swol'n and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,The mere despair of surgery, he cures. . ." IV,iii, 164-169

King James, for whom Macbeth was written, revived the practice of the so-called "royal touch." So by complimenting King Edward, Shakespeare is also indirectly complimenting King James. In addition, his words directly condemn Macbeth, who is not a kingly healer, but a kingly killer. Edward cures evil while Macbeth is evil.

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