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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 IV

The scene shifts to Malcolm, Macduff, and the English troops, now united with the Scottish thanes. In a short scene, one important plot point and several thematic points are brought out.

Malcolm gives an order that makes one of the witches' prophesies come true. He orders each soldier to cut a branch from a tree in Birnam Wood and carry it in front of him, to disguise their movements.

Something Malcolm says to his troops points up the theme of loyalty. Referring to Macbeth, he says, "none serve with him but constrained things / Whose hearts are absent too" (lines 13-14).

Malcolm also promises that confusion will soon come to an end:

The time approaches, That will with due decision make us know What we shall say we have and what we owe. Act V, Scene iv, lines 16-18

In other words, the battle will decide whether Malcolm's claim to the throne is still all words or whether he will really be king.

ACT V, SCENE V

LINES 1-28

Macbeth, in Dunsinane, is puffing himself up with thoughts about how impregnable the castle is. If so many Scottish soldiers had not gone over to Malcolm, he says, he could have met the invaders openly. As it is, he plans to stay put-and let them try to come and get him.


Then offstage, some women scream. Alone while Seyton goes to investigate, Macbeth reflects grimly how unstartled he was at that sound: he has trained himself to horrors so completely. Seyton returns and announces, "The Queen, my lord, is dead." Macbeth's first words are "She should have died hereafter / There would have been a time for such a word."

What is he saying? Readers disagree. You can argue that Macbeth means, "She should have waited to die. I'm busy now"; that he has lost feeling now even for her. Or you can read the lines as "She would have died inevitably, as we all do. But there would have been time for grief another day." Whether inspired by grief or by total indifference, what follows is an eloquent rush of despair. Day after day after interminable day, our lives creep along to our dusty deaths, he says. And then: "Out, out, brief candle!"- enough of life! He calls life a pathetic, strutting actor briefly on a stage, and then says:

It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury Signifying nothing. Act V, Scene v, lines 26-28

A messenger enters with news Macbeth never imagined he would hear: it looks as if the wood is on the move.

Macbeth rages at the man, but sees he is lost. He calls his troops out, and says, bitterly, "I 'gin to be a weary of the sun" (line 49)- he is ready to die.

He is a savage, doomed man, but you can see the wreckage of nobility in him. It is chilling to hear his battle cry:

Blow wind, come wrack! At least we'll die with harness on our back. Act V, Scene v, lines 51-52

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