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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 VI

Malcolm's forces arrive outside Macbeth's castle carrying branches from Birnam Wood. The final battle is now only moments away.

Malcolm's order to his troops has a symbolic significance: "Your heavy screens throw down, / And show like those you are." Under Malcolm's reign, things will be what they appear to be. The confusion caused by Macbeth's evil will be banished from the land.

ACT V, SCENE VII

The English forces attack, and the battle begins. Somewhere on the field, Macbeth encounters Old Siward's son. They fight and young Siward is killed.

Young Siward is courageous. Macbeth expects the young soldier to run when he finds out who he is facing. Instead, he bravely attacks Macbeth.

Macbeth seems almost unwilling to fight, but he has no choice. We can almost pity him. He is trapped and despairing. Life has no meaning for him, but pride makes him fight on.

Macbeth leaves, and Macduff passes through. He has only one thought: to find and kill Macbeth.

Next, Malcolm and Old Siward appear. The battle is almost won, they say. What few followers Macbeth has left are fighting halfheartedly.


ACT V, SCENE VIII

LINES 1-34

Malcolm and Old Siward leave, and Macbeth reappears. He knows he has lost, and he remembers the Roman custom of the defeated commander dying on his own sword. But Macbeth refuses to do that. He will fight to the end.

The end arrives in the person of Macduff. He addresses Macbeth as a devil, saying, "Turn, hellhound, turn!"

Oddly enough, Macbeth seems to soften. Is he afraid? He was warned to "beware Macduff." Or does some remaining shred of humanity in his nature hold him back? "My soul is too much charged / With blood of thine already," he tells Macduff. Macbeth's words and behavior suggest that he actually regrets the murder of Macduff's family, but he cannot undo what has been done.

Macbeth must expect Macduff to be frightened when he warns him that he lives a "charmed" life, which must not yield / To one of woman born." Instead, Macduff laughs at him. Macduff was not born of woman in the normal way; he was pulled from his mother's womb before he was due.

Now there can be no doubt in Macbeth's mind that the end has arrived. He knows that by trusting the hags who seemed to be offering him his heart's desire, he has thrown away his honor, his dignity, his life, and his soul.

For a moment, Macbeth seems to want to save his life; he seems scared. He refuses to fight. In response, Macduff says:

We'll have thee, as our rarer monsters are, Painted upon a pole, and underwrit, "Here may you see the tyrant." Act V, Scene viii, lines 25-27

That humiliation Macbeth is too proud to bear, and he chooses to fight for whatever last shred of dignity he can salvage. Reaching deep inside himself, he finds some of the courage for which he was so admired at the beginning of the play:

Lay on, Macduff; And damned be him that first cries "Hold, enough!" Act V, Scene viii, lines 33-34

He and Macduff fight, and Macbeth is killed.

LINES 35-53

With Macbeth dead, the remainder of the play is devoted to establishing new order. Themes of honor and loyalty dominate this section.

Malcolm, Old Siward, the thanes, and the soldiers enter and survey the battleground. The dead and wounded are still being counted. Clearly, however, the day has been a great success for their side.

Old Siward is told that his son has been killed in battle. Shakespeare uses Siward's reaction to his son's death to point up the theme of honor. Siward wants to know if Young Siward was wounded in the front of his body. (That is where he would be wounded if he was fighting. If he were running away, he would have been wounded in the back.) Told that his son's wounds are in the front, he says he is not grieved. He is proud, because his son died a good soldier's death.

Some of us who read the play today might question Old Siward's readiness to accept his son's death. But one thing is clear: he has a code of honor, and he lives by it.

Malcolm's attitude suggests that he will be a good king. He insists that Young Siward is "worth more sorrow."

LINES 53-75

Macduff enters, carrying Macbeth's head. He hails Malcolm as king of Scotland. Macbeth's death brings only joy to his people.

NOTE:

You might wonder at some point what has happened to Fleance and all of Banquo's royal sons that Macbeth saw in the witches' caldron. It is never spelled out in the play, but we're meant to believe that the crown will fall into Banquo's family line sometime later-in another generation. And, needless to say, it will follow naturally and honorably.

Malcolm's speech ends the play on an optimistic note. The rightful king will now assume the throne, and he will be a good and loving ruler.

The first thing Malcolm does is acknowledge how much he owes to the thanes. Remember that his father, who was a good king, went out of his way to show love and gratitude to those who served him well.

To reward the thanes, Malcolm starts by making them earls. That action is significant. Under Macbeth, Scotland became barbaric. Malcolm is saying that under his rule, the land will become more civilized.

We learn from Malcolm that Lady Macbeth is thought to have committed suicide. She has come to the most ignoble end possible.

With Malcolm's crowning the right and natural order of things is restored. Malcolm has God's blessing. He says he will do all that is required of him "by the grace of Grace" and "in measure, time, and place."

The play concludes with Malcolm's invitation to his people to see him crowned at Scone. We can bet that, unlike when Macbeth went to Scone for the same purpose, Macduff will be there to pay honor to his rightful king.

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