Reading Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 5

Scene 1

Summary:  Back at Inverness Castle a Doctor and a Lady attendant watch Lady Macbeth sleepwalk, an act she has been performing nightly since her husband has been out in the field. She walks around the castle with her eyes open but asleep, the whole time rubbing her hands and lamenting un-washable blood.  The Doctor exclaims that she is sick spiritually more than physically.

tomorrowCommentary: In past acts, we have seen Macbeth breaking down mentally now Lady Macbeth is tragically cracking from the guilt of murder. In her sleep, she mentions the murder of Duncan but also feels responsible for the murder of Banquo, and Macduff’s family. So far she’s been the strongest character, steeling herself for the original murder and even controlling Macbeth during the banquet. But now left alone in the castle she is falling apart.

Scene 2

Summary: A bunch of Scottish nobles are riding together and discussing the upcoming battle. They are rising in rebellion and heading towards Birnam Wood to join up with the army led by Malcolm and Macduff. They discuss Macbeths tyranny and how he has fortified himself in the royal castle surrounded by people that obey him only out of fear.

Commentary: All of Macbeth’s enemies are gathering and heading towards the forest mentioned in the second prophecy. The standout line in the scene came from Thane Angus dissing Macbeth, “Those he commands move only in command, noting in love: now does he feel his title hang loose about him like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief.” The basic trait of a tyrant.

Scene 3

Summary:  Back at Macbeth’s castle he is surrounded by his men and the doctor. The men are telling him that 10,000 English are on the way led by Malcolm, Macduff, and all the rebel Thanes. Macbeth is not afraid, tells them about the prophecy how no man born of woman can kill him, and requests his armor. Then he yells at the Doctor commanding him to find a cure for Lady Macbeth’s illness.

Commentary:  The Macbeth portrayed in this scene is manic with madness, raging at his men calling them pasty faced cowards. He truly believes that the prophecy will protect him and even with the rebels marching thousands against him he is ready to go out of the castle and fight.

Scene 4

Summary:  The rebel Scottish meet up with Malcolm, Macduff, and the English soldiers in Birnam Wood. Malcolm orders all the soldiers to cut down pieces of the trees and use them for concealment.

Commentary: Cutting down the trees and marching with them for concealment fulfills the prophecy of Birnam Wood coming to Macbeth’s castle.

Scene 5

Summary: Macbeth is rallying up his troops as the enemy approach, suddenly women scream, and he is told that Lady Macbeth has died. He reflects on her death but is interrupted by a guard that tells him it appears Birnam Wood is marching towards them. Furious, he realizes that this means the end for him. He decides to leave the castle and meet his enemies in battle.ladymacbeth1

Commentary:  This is a critical scene and where Macbeth speaks the famous “and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow..” soliloquy.

She should have died hereafter,

There would have been a time for such a word.

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,

Signifying nothing.

Nihilistic and dark. If Shakespeare was alive in the 1980’s he would be smoking cloves with Andrew Eldridge and writing lyrics for the Sisters of Mercy. But then at the end of the scene, he decides to go out fighting against all odds, ordering his men into the field.

Scene 6

Summary: All of the Thanes and Malcolm prepare to attack Macbeth. The battle begins.

Scene 7

Summary: The battle is raging, Macbeth comes across Young Siward the son of the British commander. They fight and Macbeth kills him while boasting about not being vulnerable to any man born of woman. Meanwhile, Malcolm takes over the castle and most of Macbeth soldiers surrender or switch sides.

Commentary: This is a simple battle scene also used to illustrate that Macbeth still believes that he is invincible due to the prophecy. It’s the scene before the final fight where the villain is surrounded but still extremely dangerous, shown by how easy he kills Siward.

Scene 8

Summary: Macbeth and Macduff finally meet on the field of battle. They fight back and forth and Macbeth taunts his opponent with the prophetic fact that he is invulnerable to any man born of woman. Macduff then lets him know that he was ripped from his mother’s womb thus not technically born of woman. This drains Macbeth of courage as he realizes that it’s over, but he refuses to give up so he fights on until the very end when Macduff kills him.

Off by the castle Malcolm tells Siward(young Siward’s father) about the death of his son and appraise the battlefield. Macduff arrives carrying the head of Macbeth and shouts, “hail the King of Scotland!” Proclaiming Malcolm the rightful king.

Commentary: The final scene and the final battle. It opens up with Macbeth thinking “Why should I play the Roman fool and die on my own sword? While I see lives, the better gashes upon them.” He’s referring to the act of suicide fashionable with the Romans when losing on the battlefield, a direct reference to Brutus in Julius Cesar. Basically saying, why should I kill myself when I can take out a few of these guys with me. He’s not going to go quietly.macbethmovie

The part where Malcolm tells Siward about his son’s death has a few good lines when Siward asks if his son’s wounds were in front or the back. Asking did my son die a man or a coward.

Then the play ends with Macduff holding the severed head of our main character. Always a good way to end a play in my opinion.

The End

Macbeth was an excellent play, masterfully plotted and written. I enjoyed reading it over and over, absorbing the language. I’m going to let it stir in my mind a bit, filling it with scorpions, then write a final review post. Next week, I’m starting A Midsummers Night Dream.



6 thoughts on “Reading Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 5


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