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Free Barron's Booknotes-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes
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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

ACT V, SCENE I

The scene shifts back to Scotland and Macbeth's castle. Lady Macbeth makes her last appearance in the play.

In this scene, Lady Macbeth is entirely lost in a nightmare world. This is one of the most famous scenes in all Shakespeare. It is usually called "the sleepwalking scene."

LINES 1-20

Lady Macbeth's Gentlewoman-her maid-and the Doctor prepare us for what is coming. The Gentlewoman has seen Lady Macbeth walk in her sleep every night since Macbeth left the castle with his army. Tonight, she has asked the Doctor to watch the strange ritual with her. The Gentlewoman says that she would not dare repeat what she has heard Lady Macbeth say while sleepwalking.

LINES 21-72

Lady Macbeth enters, carrying a candle. Her eyes are open, but, as the Gentlewoman says, "their sense are shut" (line 28).

In her nightmare, Lady Macbeth relives the murders she and her husband have committed. She talks to her husband, repeating assurances she has given him: "What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to accompt?" (lines 40-42), and "I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried" (lines 66-67).


These words take on a horrible irony in this context. Obviously, she is tortured by fear. Have terror and guilt worried away an evil character? Or was the confidence she showed earlier in the play just an act for her husband's sake? Perhaps she even fooled herself, and these nightmares are her subconscious mind making her face the truth.

NOTE:

Shakespeare, of course, would not have known about modern psychological concepts like "subconscious mind." Yet it appears that he instinctively understood what psychologists tell us: that emotions we suppress come back to harm us.

What is even more ironic, as she sleepwalks Lady Macbeth compulsively makes motions as if she were washing her hands. She says, "who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" (lines 42-43), and "Here's the smell of the blood still" (line 53). Remember how she had assured Macbeth that they could easily wash their hands and be "clear[ed] of the deed"?

LINES 73-84

After Lady Macbeth returns to bed, the Doctor and the Gentlewoman talk about what they have seen.

The Doctor says something that sums up one of the major themes of the play: that of evil as a perversion of nature. "Unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles" (lines 75-76). Macbeth and Lady Macbeth got what they wanted by committing deeds that went against God's laws and human nature. For a time, they seemed to get away with it. Now they are paying the price.

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