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Free Study Guide-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Booknotes Summary
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Act V, Scene 2

Summary

This brief scene takes place in the open country near Dunsinane and is a picture of impending battle. Drums are beating, flags are flying, and the Scottish soldiers have gathered to prepare for their attack against Macbeth. The English army, led by Malcolm, Macduff, and Siward is nearby. Angus, one of the Scottish lords, says, "Near Birnam Wood shall we meet them," recalling the last prophecy of the three witches. From the conversation amongst the gentlemen in this scene, the audience learns that Donaldbain has not yet jointed his brother Malcolm. The lords also discuss Macbeth. Although the king has fortified his castle, he has no real supporters. Everyone knows he has lost self-control, and most think he has gone mad. Talk then turns to the battle and purging Scotland of its sickness. They are all eager to fight, "to give obedience where 'tis truly owed." As the scene closes, they are off to Birnam Wood for the fulfillment of the prophecy.

Notes

This very short scene is tightly written to accomplish several purposes. It gives information about the attitude of the Scottish toward the battle, reveals Macbeth's current state of mind and isolation, shows the proximity of the English army (suggesting the battle will soon begin), pinpoints Birnam Wood as the place where the Scottish and English soldiers will join and reveals how the witches' final prophecy for Macbeth will come to pass. Despite its brevity, the scene is filled with irony. Macbeth, who has been so concerned throughout the play with his manliness, is soon to be defeated by English soldiers who are "unrough youths, that even now protest their first of manhood."


It is also ironic that Angus says of Macbeth, "Now he does feel his secret murders sticking on his hands." (Remember that Macbeth, immediately after Duncan's murder, knew the whole of the ocean could not wash his blood off his hands, and in the last scene Lady Macbeth has realized her hands will also never come clean.) Angus' words are again ironic when he says Macbeth's title (the only part of being a king that he ever had) now "hangs loose about him, like a giant's robe upon a dwarfish thief." Macbeth was a thief (he stole lives from people and peace from his country) who become dwarfish (small) when he stole the giant's robe (Duncan's crown). It is also ironic that Malcolm is referred to by these gentlemen as the healer of Scotland, when, in fact, Malcolm feels he has been healed by the holy King Edward. But in this healing image, hope for Scotland is foreshadowed.

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