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Act Five

Act Five, Scene One


  • Here we enter the scene of doctors and ladies attending the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth.

  • A 'Doctor' begins by revealing that he hasn't seen any evidence of Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking for two nights, yet if it is true it is a 'great perturbation in nature', a 'slumbery agitation' (restless ecstasy), and a' performance.' This is to some degree ironic, as this is an action from the heart from Lady Macbeth, and yet to some degree she is simply re-enacting an event from the past - the letter from Macbeth.  It is very interesting that she re-enacts the very moment in which she encouraged Macbeth to kill Duncan - as though she now wishes for a different course of events.

  • Lady Macbeth enters symbolically with a candle - showing her looking for goodness within the darkness, and yet Macbeth will later put out all lights.

  • Her eyes being open but not seeing anything may relate to the appearance/reality theme, as well as perhaps the shortsightedness of the Macbeths earlier in the play.

  • Lady Macbeth now begins washing her hands, attempting to wash the blood off them 'Out, damned spot', reminiscent of Pilate - spiritual blood cannot be removed. 'Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him' - seas of blood in the play stem from this one murder, blood spreading linguistically as well as literally.

  • Lady Macbeth speaks almost in a sing-song way, 'The thane of Fife had a wife' - the madness of Lady Macbeth is heightened, as perhaps is a small suggestion of innocence: Lady Macbeth is searching for goodness with the light.

  • Lady Macbeth has a dream conversation with Macbeth where she actually follows her own commands - we might think of this as a ghost/illusion scene where the audience doesn't see the other side. She ends her role here saying 'to bed', she cannot change what has happened and so she must die (sleep being the mimic of death). 'there's knocking at the gate', signalling her own impending judgement, as well as the death knell which has been sounding since the murder.

Act Five, Scene Two


  • Menteith enters with other Scottish soldiers saying that the English army led by Malcolm is near, powered by revenge that would stir the dead. They will meet the Scottish soldiers by Birnam wood - the witches' prophecy that the wood will move.

  • Macbeth is in Dunsinane fortifying it, he can't control his forces. His soldiers are only working because he orders them to.

  • 'Now does he feel his title/ Hang loose about him, like's a giant's robe/ Upon a dwarfish thief' - this relates both to the supernatural and to the idea of Macbeth attempting to wear a costume or disguise that proclaims him King, but he never really fits the outfit.

  • 'When all that is within him does condemn/Itself for being there?' - This shows how Macbeth is at war with himself, unable to accept what he has become, and unable to see himself outside of the costume he disguises him in.


Act Five, Scene Three

  • Lots of short scenes make up Act Five as everything starts to pick up in pace before the end of the play.

  • Macbeth and the Doctor enter, Macbeth telling the attendants to bring him no more reports, he is convinced that he is safe until the prophecy comes to pass. This, again, is a clear example of dramatic irony. We might think Macbeth is overconfident here. We can see from his exclamations his descent into madness. Macbeth insults the Servant using the language that Lady Macbeth used earlier, showing his evolution into a ruthless and manipulative character.

  • This push he thinks will either comfort him or dethrone him. Yet 'I have lived long enough', reveals his sorrow at lacking honour, love, obedience, friends, and implicitly he states that he has lived long enough because without these things life isn't worth living. The paradox of Macbeth's character is that he wants to die, but also feels the need to fight on until the end. This is Macbeth's fight to fool himself that he is not a coward, that he can still triumph.

  • We might think of Macbeth putting on his armour as a metaphor, putting on another costume.


Act Five, Scene Four

  • Near Birnam wood, the soldiers are amassing and marching towards Dunsinane, he tells them to take a branch and camouflage themselves, the witches prophecy becomes clear to the audience.


Act Five, Scene Four

  • Macbeth enters, telling his soldiers that he believes they will outlast any siege, and he will wait until the opposition dies of starvation or illness and so they have to leave. If they weren't partially composed of Macbeth's own army, he would have fought them outright.

  • Hearing a scream, Macbeth notes that he is no longer able to feel afraid, because he has seen so many horrors.

  • In his opening words, Macbeth makes heavy use of caesuras, creating pauses to perhaps reflect disjointed thought. Extremely heavy alliteration, particularly of 'b' sounds towards the end, creating the sound of beating, reflecting the fight (or perhaps the beating of the drums).

  • 'I have almost forgot the taste of fears' - he has become absolutely numb to horror. 'The time has been' - almost reflects the fact that for Macbeth (who at the start of the play was so obsessed with time to come), yet here time has run out for him.

  • 'She should have died hereafter', can be interpreted as 'she would have died anyway', yet also that he wanted her to live longer.  'She should have died hereafter' also shows a surprising lack of attachment from someone who's been so close to his wife during the play. Suggests perhaps that Macbeth seems to have lost all his emotions and all of care towards anything there is, simply saying that if she hadn't died now, she would have died later.

  • 'To-morrow [...]' uses a relentless repetition of syllables, signifying the relentless progression of meaningless time. Time for Macbeth is now both too short and too long. 'To-morrow' begins a repetition which emphasizes the tediousness of the days ahead to Macbeth, like it's dragging on slowly from 'day to day', to the last 'syllable' of time', he's exaggerating the lengths to which he has to go before he can die. 'Petty' establishes the smallness of humanity for Macbeth, showing how he now considers nothing to matter.

  • 'Creeps in this petty pace' - time is personified and alliteration of 'p's is spat out, making it seem even more petty and disgusting.

  • Macbeth goes on to say that 'all our yesterdays' the whole past has only culiminated in lighting the way to death for idiots.

  • All past days have led other people ('fools') to 'dusty death'. 'Our' shows Macbeth including all of humanity in this state of futility. Like LM's candle, past time simply lights the way to death for all human 'fools'. 'Dusty' shows degraded lack of fertility. The smallness of particles of dust may mirror miniscule nature of death. Candle now becomes life itself, which Macbeth wants to extinguish.

  • Macbeth's soliloquy turns to personification of life as a 'player' now, life is meaningless, simply a 'shadow' (the opposite of light) which acts out a role. 'Struts and frets' shows the false arrogance of humans, and 'frets' shows their meaningless anxieties. The sound of these words emphasizes 'st' sounds links to 'dust', showing the brevity of these actions.

  • Culmination of all talk of theatrical language in the play - 'Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage' - whereas Macbeth was once talking about putting on a new costume, he now says that costumes are only cheap trifles which help somebody act out their part before they die. He also seems to suggest that life isn't real to some degree - everything has lost all depth and meaning. Everything is a simply 'tale'.

  • 'And then is heard no more' - this again shows brevity, cut off in the caesura.

  • 'It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.'  Macbeth's ambitions, like his actions in the play, may be summed up in the futility expressed in these lines.  Where once Macbeth thought he had found a course of action which meant everything, now he thinks of it as simply an idiot's tale, full of violence and rage, which means nothing.

  • Messenger then enters, coming to tell Macbeth that the woods are moving, to which Macbeth reacts with scorn. He notes that he has lost all resolution, and has finally has come to doubt the equivocation of the witches - 'that lies like truth.'

  • Rhyming couplets become much more frequent in these last acts, perhaps signifying the spell coming to an end. Macbeth ends the scene saying he wishes 'the estate o' the world were now undone', yet 'At least we'll die with harness on our back' showing that he still wants to die as a soldier, showing his resilience, his stubbornness and to some increases the futility of his character and the sympathy we may feel because of that.

Act Five, Scene Six

  • Malcolm tells the soldiers to reveal themselves and to take up their positions for the battle.

Act Five, Scene Seven

  • Macbeth says 'they have tied me to stake', signifying that he is completely trapped, he compares himself to a bear tied to a stake, being baited until it dies. Yet this also may be a comparison to the witches who were burned at the stake, showing how his relience on the witches is now turning against him.

  • Yet Macbeth, despite having doubted the witches words still seems to at least partially still believe, and he can't quite let go of what was promised to him. This shows again his stubborness and lack of insight.

  • Malcolm enters, and it is revealed that the castle is almost defeated, and Macbeth's soldiers have begun to desert him. We end at the end of fight with Macbeth still battling.


Act Five, Scene Eight

  • On another part of the field, Macbeth enters, asking why he should commit suicide, using again the language of theatre to suggest the 'Roman fool' is not a part he wants to play. Shows his pride and dignity even now. Macduff enters, who Macbeth has been avoiding as he feels guilty that he has split so much of Macduff's already through his family - strange and weird point of empathy. Macbeth's resolution and inhumanity is starting the break down.

  • Whilst fightings, Macduff reveals that he was not born of woman, at which Macbeth is finally 'cow'd'. He finally acknowledges that he witches have promised him things which he did not fully understand, talking to him in a double sense. Appearance vs reality. This is Macbeth's one true moment of insight. Eventually, they leave fighting and Macbeth dies offstage, perhaps anticlimatically because of what he said earlier about everything being meaningless.  Yet it is important to note that the last thing we see of Macbeth is him fighting right until the end, not a coward and not losing.

  • Macbeth's head is brought in, referring to the witches' prophecy and to the previous Thane of Cawdor. To some degree we might parallel Macduff with Macbeth. Cyclical nature of the play opens up the question as to whether this will happen again.

  • Might question whether 'this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen' isn't reductive. Audience is strangely pushed by this statement to sympathise with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

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