Last Updated on February 23, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 932
Act 5, Scene 5
With enemies bearing down upon him, Macbeth remains confident of his castle’s strength as well as his own. He thinks back to the time when he used to be more easily frightened but says that he has now “supp’d full with horrors” and has “almost forgot the taste of fears.” His steward then breaks in upon his reflections to tell him that Lady Macbeth is dead. Shocked by this news, Macbeth reflects on the futility of life, calling it “a tale told by an idiot.” Immediately, however, a messenger enters to tell him the strange news that Birnam Wood appears to be moving and advancing toward the castle. Macbeth’s confidence is severely damaged by the news, which seems to confirm the witches’ impossible prophecy, but he prepares to do battle in any case.
Act 5, Scene 6
Malcolm and his forces are in front of the castle and now discard the branches they have been carrying. Macduff commands that the trumpets be sounded, signalling the beginning of the battle.
Act 5, Scene 7
Macbeth has entered the battlefield. He quickly kills the son of Siward, one of the generals who has joined forces with Malcolm, confidently remarking that he fears no men who are born of woman. As Macbeth leaves this part of the field, Macduff enters, seeking Macbeth. Macduff says that he has no interest in fighting anyone else and that he will always be haunted by the ghosts of his family unless he himself is responsible for the tyrant’s death. He goes off in pursuit of Macbeth, and Malcolm enters with Siward. Siward claims that their forces are on the point of victory and invites Malcolm to enter the castle.
Act 5, Scene 8
Macbeth has been easily dispatching all his opponents until Macduff finally finds him, accosting him with the words “Turn, hell-hound, turn!” Macbeth says that he has already killed too many of Macduff’s family and does not want to do battle with him, but Macduff falls upon him and they fight. As they do so, Macbeth tells his opponent that he cannot win, since he has a “charmèd life” and cannot be killed by a man born of a woman. Macduff replies that he was not born, he was “from his mother’s womb/Untimely ripp’d.”
Upon hearing this, and understanding that the witches have deceived him, Macbeth refuses to fight. Macduff replies that if he yields, he will be kept captive like an animal for the crowds to jeer. On hearing this, Macbeth resolves to fight, though he no longer believes he has a chance of winning. The two exit, locked in combat.
Malcolm enters with Siward, Ross, and other thanes. They remark that both young Siward and Macduff are missing. Ross breaks the news to Siward that his son is dead, but Siward says that he is proud to hear that he died valiantly. Macduff then enters, holding Macbeth’s head. He hails Malcolm as King of Scotland and all those present echo his words. Malcolm proclaims that he will do all that needs to be done, bringing home those in exile and punishing those who aided Macbeth in his crimes. He bestows earldoms, an English title, on the thanes, and invites them all to Scone Palace to see him crowned as the rightful king.
The news of Lady Macbeth’s sudden death (which Malcolm later says is thought to have been a suicide) prompts the best-known speech in the play:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Once again, Macbeth veers between nihilism and defiance. In these lines, as in the ones he speaks in act 5, scene 3, Macbeth appears ready for death, musing on the futility of his life and all lives. A moment later, however, he is enraged by the prospect of the moving forest coming to destroy him. Though he has little time to mourn his wife, it is fitting that he does so in one of Shakespeare’s most eloquent speeches. With all their evil, folly and destructiveness, the Macbeths are undoubtedly one of the most memorable couples in world literature.
When confronted by Macduff, Macbeth seems suddenly to care again about preserving his life, even though he has lost his kingdom. Once he realizes the trickery of the witches prophecy, however, Macbeth loses all hope, and it is only the promise of an ignominious life as a circus freak that motivates him to keep fighting to the death. After Macbeth’s offstage demise, Malcolm makes the unexpected announcement that the thanes are now to be earls. Within the play, the bestowal of these English titles is presumably connected to the help Malcolm has received from the King of England. For Shakespeare’s original audience, however, it would have signified the closer ties between the two countries at the beginning of the seventeenth century, now that both were ruled by the same king. Malcolm’s final speech is characteristic of those made to restore order at the end of Shakespearean tragedies. With Malcolm restored to his rightful place as king, the corruption, terror, and bloodshed that tainted Scotland under Macbeth’s unnatural rule have finally come to an end.
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