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|William Shakespeare: Macbeth
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1999
John Singer Sargent: Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889
Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using The Complete Works of Shakespeare Updated Fourth Ed., Longman Addison-Wesley, ed. David Bevington, 1997. Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of his commentary.
Overall Impression: I was deeply moved by this profound play, its language of unsurpassed beauty despite the morbid subject matter--one of my Shakespeare favorites.
Per Bevington: Source is R. Holinshed's "Chronicles" (1587 Ed.), which utilized Boece's "Scotorum Historiae", which drew on the 14C priest John of Fordun and 15C chronicler Andrew of Wyntoun. It had become a legend more fiction than fact. The historical Macbeth ruled 1040-1057, had taken the throne from Duncan in a civil conflict between two clans, and was defeated by the Earl of Northumbria (Siward in the play) at Birnam Woods, but ruled 3 more years until slain by Duncan's son Malcolm. Duncan was a soft and gentle king, and Macbeth and Banquo were needed to defend Scotland against her enemies: Macdowald (i.e., WS's Macdonwald) and later Sueno, the King of Norway. WS has made Duncan more than the historically ineffective king, Banquo is no longer his partner in the conspiracy (he was reputed to be ancestor to James I), etc.
This is the last of the 4 great tragedies dealing with spiritual evil. It has a terse gloomy view of humanity's encounter with the powers of darkness. Macbeth faces temptation knowing what he contemplates is a monstrous crime. It is an account of human failure, in which he has sold his soul for gain, so committed to evil that he cannot turn back. It is an intensely human study of the psychological effects of evil. His perverse inborn ambition is abetted by the dark forces in the universe...
An open place, presumably in Scotland. The three witches speak in paradoxes of their plans to meet with Macbeth after the battle in progress ends.
Camp near Forres [11 miles SW of Elgin in NE Scotland]. King Duncan of Scotland speaks to his son Malcolm of the progress of the battle with the rebellious Macdonwald. They praise Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, who has fought valiantly and triumphantly, slaying Macdonwald and impaling his head on the battlements. [A Thane is equivalent to an earl.] After Macdonwald was defeated, a captain relates, Sweno the King of Norway launched a fresh attack, but Macbeth and Banquo repelled it heroically.
Thanes (or noblemen) Ross and Angus enter and say the Thane of Cawdor had traitorously joined with Norway [apparently surreptitiously], but the Norwegians were defeated by Macbeth [and Macbeth does not know of Cawdor's participation]. Duncan orders Cawdor to be executed and for Ross to tell Macbeth that he is to receive the title instead.
Heath near Forres. The three witches again meet. The First tells of her plans for causing evil mischief against a captain sailing to Aleppo, and his wife who offended her [her words carry sexual content]. The others join in the planning of the cruelty.
Banquo and Macbeth enter. Banquo addresses the witches--they do not look like normal inhabitants of the earth and have beards. They in turn hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, then Thane of Cawdor, finally as future king. Banquo wonders why Macbeth starts at their words, and asks what they would prophecy for him, though he is less concerned than Macbeth with what they have to say: "If you can look into the seeds of time / And say which grain will grow and which will not, / Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear / Your favors nor your hate." They reply: "Lesser than Macbeth, and greater. . . . Not so happy, yet much happier. . . . Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none."
Macbeth asks them to explain their prediction, thinking Cawdor to be alive and well [not knowing of his treason]. He acquired his title of Glamis upon his father Sinel's death. But the witches say no more and vanish "into the air; and what seemed corporal melted, / As breath into the wind." Banquo wonders if they were merely visions or hallucinations and they ponder the predictions they have been told.
Ross and Angus enter and tells of Duncan's praise for their heroism, and Ross tells Macbeth he is made Thane of Cawdor. To himself, Macbeth ponders "Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor! The greatest is behind" and asks Banquo if he does not feel hope for his own children to become kings. But Banquo is cautious: "But 'tis strange; / And oftentimes to win us to our harm / The instruments of darkness tell us truths, / Win us with honest trifles, to betray's / In deepest consequence."
To himself, Macbeth swells with anticipation of becoming king and rationalizes that the supernatural forces at work cannot mean him ill, yet still worries. He is already thinking about murder: "If good, why do I yield to that suggestion / Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair / And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, / Against the use of nature? Present fears / Are less than horrible imaginings. / My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, / Shakes so my single state of man / That function is smother'd in surmise, / and nothing is but what is not." Banquo comments how enraptured and distracted with thought Macbeth appears, and Macbeth replies "My dull brain was wrought / With things forgotten." He wants to talk more to Banquo about the events the prophecies later.
Forres, King Duncan's Palace. Malcolm tells Duncan that Cawdor has been executed after confessing his treason. He describes his stoical death: "Nothing in his life / Became him like the leaving it. He died / As one that had been studied in his death / To throw away the dearest thing he owed [owned] / As 'twere a careless trifle." Duncan reflects on how much trust he had in Cawdor.
Macbeth arrives and Duncan heaps praise on him--Macbeth responds modestly. Duncan speaks as if he is cultivating Macbeth: "I have begun to plant thee, and will labor / To make thee full of growing." He offers equal praise to Banquo. He says radiantly "My plenteous joys, / Wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves / In drops of sorrow" and announces that he is naming Malcolm as the Prince of Cumberland and therefore next in succession to the crown. He wants to visit at Macbeth's castle in Inverness, "Dunsinane" [this is also the name of a hill where the castle is located.]
To himself, Macbeth ponders this new obstacle in his path to the crown and his increasingly murderous thoughts: "The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step / On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, / For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires. / The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be / Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see."
Inverness, Macbeth's castle Dunsinane. Lady Macbeth reads the letter from her husband announcing the prophecies and his new appointment. He calls her "my dearest partner of greatness". But she fears his lack of iron will and wants to goad him on: "Yet do I fear thy nature; / It is too full o' the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great, / Art not without ambition, but without / The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly, / That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false, / And yet wouldst wrongly win. / . . . / Hie thee hither, / That I may pour my spirits in thine ear / And chastise with the valor of my tongue / All that impedes thee from the golden round / Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem / To have thee crowned withal."
A messenger arrives saying the king will soon arrive. To herself, she feels her rising and decidedly unfeminine lust for murder: "The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements. Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty!"
Macbeth arrives, and she is ecstatic with anticipation: "Thy letters have transported me beyond / This ignorant present, and I feel now / The future in the instant." She cautions him to be less transparent in his thoughts to others: "Your face, my thane, is as a book where men / May read strange matters. To beguile the time, / Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye, / Your hand, your tongue. Look like th' innocent flower, / But be the serpent under 't." She assures him she will manage the murder, which must be performed tonight: "Leave all the rest to me."
Before Macbeth's castle. Duncan admires the pleasant ambiance of the countryside around the castle, and Banquo poetically agrees that the presence of the nesting house martins confirms "that the heaven's breath / Smells wooingly here". Lady Macbeth arrives to greet them with effusive hospitality, and Duncan again speaks of his love for Macbeth.
In Macbeth's castle, in a courtyard. Macbeth is conscience-stricken, indecisive, and wants it to be over with: "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly. If the assassination / Could trammel up the consequence, and catch / With his surcease success--that but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all!-- here, / But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, / We'd jump the life to come. / . . . / He's here in double trust: / First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, / Strong both against the deed; then, as his host, / Who should against his murderer shut the door, / Not bear the knife myself. / . . . / I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself / And falls on th' other."
Lady Macbeth wants to know why he has left the guests. He tells her he has changed his mind and that they will not proceed with the murder--he wishes instead to bask in his newly acquired honors for a while. But she rebukes his cowardice: "Art thou afeard / To be the same in thine own act and valor / As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that / Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life, / And live a coward in thine own esteem, / Letting "I dare not" wait upon "I would," / Like the poor cat i' the adage?" She demands to know why he ever suggested the enterprise in the first place and ruthlessly states "I have given suck, and know / How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me; / I would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you / Have done to this." She tells him to "screw your courage to the sticking-place, / And we'll not fail." She tells her plan to get Duncan's chamberlains (grooms) drunk and for them to murder Duncan as the men sleep, making it appear they are responsible. Macbeth marvels at her ruthlessly masculine aggression and comments "Bring forth men-children only; / For thy undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males." Macbeth is now resolved to go through with it after all.
Same. Banquo speaks to his son Fleance. It is past midnight and he is sleepy, yet troubled. Macbeth enters with a servant. Banquo presents to Macbeth a diamond, a gift from Duncan to Lady Macbeth. Macbeth asks Banquo to support him when the time comes. He asks his servant to have Lady Macbeth prepare his bedtime drink (a posset) and ring the bell when it is ready [i.e., when the chamberlains have been drugged.]
Left alone, he hallucinates a dagger before him: "Is this a dagger which I see before me . . .", then draws his real dagger. "It is the bloody business which informs / Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one half world / Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse / The curtained sleep. Witchcraft celebrates / Pale Hecate's offerings, and withered murder, / Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf, / Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, / With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design / Moves like a ghost." [Hecate is a Greek goddess of witchcraft and the underworld.] He hears the bell and says, "The bell invites me. / Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell / That summons thee to heaven or to hell."
Same. Lady Macbeth enters, bold from drugging the grooms. She has laid their daggers out for Macbeth. She even considered killing Duncan herself, but was inhibited because he resembled her father.
Macbeth arrives, carrying the bloody daggers--he has done the murder, and worries if there was too much noise. She has heard the owl and the crickets. He worries at the sight of blood on his hand. He speaks of Duncan's children, Donalbain and Malcolm and is deeply troubled, fearing he will never be able to sleep: "Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep," the innocent sleep, / Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, / The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath, / Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, / Chief nourisher in life's feast."
She thinks he is becoming brainsickly and tells him to clean up his hands and to plant the bloody daggers on the grooms (he should have left them there in the first place). He refuses and she takes them up, without remorse, to complete the task. Left alone, Macbeth fears the monstrosity of his deed: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas in incarnadine, / Making the green one red."
Lady M returns also now with bloody hands and chastises him for his cowardice, saying a little water will clear them of the deed. They hear knocking at the south entry and Macbeth is lost in remorse.
Same. A Porter grumblingly and humorously responds at the south entry to the knocking of Macduff, Thane of Fife, and Lennox. He alludes to the trial of the Jesuit Henry Garnet in 1606 which dealt with the doctrine of equivocation.
They ask him about the drinking of the night before. He says they were up to 3 AM and comments on the effects of drink: "It provokes the desire but it takes away the performance" etc. They ask for Macbeth, who enters and shows him to the door leading to Duncan's quarters.
Lennox comments on the bad portents during the night: "The night has been unruly. Where we lay, / Our chimneys were blown down, and, as they say, / Lamentings heard i' the air, strange screams of death, / And prophesying with accents terrible / Of dire combustion and confused events / New hatched to the woeful time. The obscure bird / Clamoured the livelong night. Some say the earth / Was feverous and did shake."
Macduff returns horrified at the sight of the murdered Duncan: "O horror, horror, horror!" While Macbeth and Lennox go to look for themselves, Macduff sounds the alarm to awaken the castle, calling to the sleeping inhabitants as if it were the Last Judgment. Lady M arrives and Macduff fears the effect of the news on her tender ears : "O gentle lady, / 'Tis not for you to hear what I can speak. / The repetition, in a woman's ear / Would murder as it fell."
Macbeth is melancholy about this abrupt and irrevocable change in his life: "Had I but died an hour before this chance / I had lived a blessed time; for from this instant / There's nothing serious in mortality. / All is but toys. Renown and grace is dead; / The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees / Is left this vault to brag of."
Duncan's sons arrive, and Lennox tells them he was murdered by the grooms of Duncan's chamber. Macbeth says he killed the grooms in a fit of rage at the sight of the murdered Duncan.
Donalbain and Malcolm fear for their own lives ("There's daggers in men's smiles; the nea'er in blood, / The nearer bloody") and plot together to sneak away and flee, D. to Ireland and Malcolm to England.
Outside Macbeth's castle at Inverness. An old man comments to Ross on the "hours dreadful and things strange" of the preceding night and they discuss other ominous perturbations in the natural order: "A falcon, towering in her pride of place, / Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and killed"; and Duncan's horses ate each other.
Macduff arrives. Ross and the old man ask who did the deed, and Macduff attributes it to the grooms that Macbeth has since slain. Macduff thinks they were bribed by Duncan's sons to do the murder, since the son's flight appears suspicious. Ross condemns their alleged action: "Thriftless ambition, that wilt ravin up [devour] / Thine own life's means!" Ross states the crown will probably go to Macbeth, and Macduff says he is already named and gone to Scone [royal city near Perth] for the ceremony. Macduff has resolved to return to Fife rather than attend the ceremony. [Does he already suspect Macbeth?]
Forres, palace formerly of Duncan's, now Macbeth's. Banquo to himself ponders Macbeth's attaining the crown, and fears that he won it with foul play. He wonders if his own offspring will indeed be kings as prophesied.
Macbeth and Lady M arrive and praise their honored guest, Banquo. They inquire about his plans to go riding with Fleance to pass the afternoon. Macbeth comments on rumors he has heard of stories Malcolm and Donalbain are telling [i.e., of foul deeds]. Banquo and son depart, and Macbeth tells the others that he will have time alone until supper at 7 PM. He has his servant call in some men at the gate.
Alone, he expresses his fears of Banquo and his royal nature and the prophecies about him and his issue.
The two murderers are admitted. Macbeth tells them not to be moved by pleas of sympathy from Banquo and works to convince them that Banquo was their enemy [?why]. He will tell them where to plant themselves--the murder of Banquo and his son must be done tonight.
Palace at Forres. Lady M darkly ponders her lack of satisfaction: "Nought's had, all's spent, / Where our desire is got without content. / 'Tis safer to be that which we destroy / Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." Macbeth enters and she tries to get him to be philosophical and resigned: "Things without all remedy / Should be without regard. What's done is done." But Macbeth is afraid: "We have scorched the snake, not killed it. / She'll close and be herself, whilst our poor malice / Remains in danger of her former tooth." She wants him to cheer up and compose himself for his guests, to which agrees though "O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!" He alludes poetically to the planned murder of Banquo (of which she has no knowledge): "Then be thou jocund. Ere the bat hath flown / His cloistered flight, ere to black Hecate's summons / The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums / Hath rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done / A deed of dreadful note." He looks forward to the black agents of night.
Park near the Forres palace. A third murderer joins the first two. It is dusk near dark. Banquo and Fleance arrive and are attacked--Banquo dies but Fleance escapes.
In the Forres palace. Macbeth dines with his guests. First Murderer comes to the door and informs Macbeth of the murder and the escape, the latter causing Macbeth distress: "There the grown serpent [Banquo] lies; the worm that's fled / Hath nature that in time will venom breed, / No teeth for th' present."
Lady Macbeth calls him back to his guests. The ghost of Banquo enters and sits in Macbeth's chair. Macbeth refers to the absent Banquo. He then sees the ghost and speaks to it with fear, causing confusion and uncertainty in the guests. Lady M smoothes over his seemingly mad behavior, calling it a fit to ignore, and talks to him in private. She berates him for his overactive imagination--she cannot herself see the ghost, though he insists it is there. He laments that, "The time has been / That, when the brains were out, the man would die, / And there an end; but now they rise again, / With twenty mortal murders on their crowns, / And push us from our stools: this is more strange / Than such a murder is." He sits down again at the table, but the ghost returns and he is terrified at the sight. Lady Macbeth asks her guests not to speak to him further and they leave.
Together alone, Macbeth tells his wife "It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood." He is also worried that Macduff has chosen to be absent. He has spies planted in every nobleman's house. He plans to go again to see the 3 Weird Sisters [witches]. She tells him he needs sleep.
Heath. [This scene is probably by another author]. The Three Witches meet Hecate. First Witch asks Hecate why she is angry--the latter complains they have traded and trafficked with Macbeth but did not call her to play her role. She wants them to meet her and Macbeth at the pit of Acheron in the morning, where he comes to learn his destiny.
Somewhere in Scotland. Lennox speaks ironically with another lord about the strange deaths of Duncan and Banquo and obliquely conveys his suspicions about the tyrant Macbeth. The lord tells of Malcolm's efforts in England with King Edward ["the Confessor"], and Macduff's appeal to the king to rouse the people of Northumberland and Siward Earl of Northumberland to action. This has exasperated Macbeth, and he is preparing for war. Lennox says Macduff should be warned to keep a safe distance from Macbeth.
A cavern. The Three Witches enter and make up their witches brew in a cauldron: "Double, double toil and trouble..." Hecate enters and commends their efforts, and they sing about the cauldron. She leaves.
Macbeth arrives. He conjures them to answer his questions, to which they agree. He agrees for them to conjure their masters.
First Apparition appears, an armed Head [perhaps that of Macbeth or Macduff], which says "Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware Macduff, / Beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough." Macbeth tries to learn more but the witches caution him their masters cannot be commanded.
Second Apparition is a bloody child [Macduff untimely ripped from his mother's womb]. It says "Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn / The power of man, for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth." Macbeth takes reassurance from this.
Third Apparition is a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand [Malcolm with the branches at Birnam Wood]. It says "Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him."
Macbeth is very relieved, but seeks to know what will happen to Banquo's issue. The witches warn him to seek no more, but he insists. They conjure a vision of 8 kings and Banquo [the 8th king is apparently King James I of England and VI of Scotland, king when the play was written]. These are the future kings of Banquo. Banquo is bloody but smiles on Macbeth. The witches make music, dance, then vanish.
Lennox arrives, and Macbeth is disturbed that they did not see the witches as they departed. Lennox informs Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth decides to attack Macduff's castle at Fife and to kill his wife all of Macduff's descendents.
Fife, Macduff's castle. Lady Macduff asks Ross why Macduff has fled. Ross comforts her and assures her of her husband's wisdom and nobility, unable to say all he knows and suspects about Macbeth, regretting that they have become marked as traitors.
Lady Macduff asks her young son what he will do. He is self-confident and assures her Macduff is not dead as she has stated. They speak about treason and lying. A messenger arrives to warn them to flee. Murderers arrive and, when her son defends his father's reputation against their accusations, they kill him. Lady Macduff flees crying Murder.
England, before King Edward's palace. Malcolm and Macduff lament the terrible state of affairs in Scotland. Malcolm says Macbeth has not yet affected Macduff directly, and wonders why he left his wife and children behind under vulnerable circumstances. Malcolm has succeeded in having the king grant an army. Malcolm is concerned about his own lust and vices and expresses self-doubts: "But there's no bottom, none, / In my voluptuousness. Your wives, your daughters, / Your matrons and your maids, could not fill up / The cistern of my lust, and my desire / All continent impediments would o'erbear / That did oppose my will. Better Macbeth / Than such an one to reign." But Macduff reassures him. Malcolm continues to express his feelings of inadequacy to be king. Macduff laments again the fate of Scotland under the tyrant and the noble slain Duncan. Malcolm takes inspiration from Macduff and swears off the vices he has mentioned with new resolve.
A doctor comes and describes the king's miraculous and seemingly heaven-sent gifts to heal the ill.
Ross arrives and laments the plight of Scotland "where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air / Are made". He evasively says Macduff's family were at peace when he left, finally confesses that Macduff's wife and children and servants have all been slaughtered.
Malcolm comforts him and counsels him to join in taking revenge against Macbeth. Macduff is filled with remorse that they died as a result of his acts. Macduff agrees to go with Malcolm to King Edward, to "cut short all intermission", and to focus on attacking and deposing Macbeth.
Dunsinane, Macbeth's castle. A doctor has been called in to consult on Lady Macbeth--he has watched the past 2 nights but has not seen her yet sleepwalking. He asks a gentlewoman to describe what she has seen and says sleepwalking is "A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of watching!" The woman refuses to say what she has heard Lady Macbeth say. Lady Macbeth enters sleep walking, continually washing her hands, saying "Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One--two--why then, 'tis time to do 't. Hell is murky.--Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" and "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." and "Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so pale! I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried. He cannot come out on's grave."
The doctor, privy now to the dark secrets of the house, concludes "Foul whisperings are abroad. Unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds / To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets. / More needs she the divine than the physician. / God, God forgive us all!"
Country near Dunsinane. Menteith, Caithness, Lennox, and Angus meet. Malcolm, his uncle Siward, and Macduff lead the approaching English forces. They will meet and join up with them near Birnam Wood. Macbeth is holed up in Dunsinane, said to be mad by some and admired by others. Caithness looks forward to meeting the "Med'cine of the sickly weal" [Malcolm et al]. They march off.
Dunsinane, Macbeth's castle. Macbeth wants no more news of the opposing forces, choosing to put his faith in the prophecies he has been given. A servant tries to tell him of the approaching 10,000 troops but he will not listen. He is despondent and feels alone and dishonored: "This push / Will cheer me ever, or disseat me now. / I have lived long enough. My way of life / Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf, / And that which should accompany old age, / As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends, / I must not look to have, but in their stead / Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath, / Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not."
He calls for his officer Seyton for more news, receives confirmation of the advancing army, and asks for his armor. He tells the doctor "Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, / Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, / Raze out the written troubles of the brain, / And with some sweet oblivious antidote / Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff / Which weighs upon the heart?" But the doctor says only "Therein the patient / Must minister to himself." He rails against the doctor and again asks for his armor. He asks the doctor to diagnose the causes of the illness in his land and purge it back to health. The doctor wishes he were elsewhere.
Country near Birnam Wood. Malcolm enters with his men. He orders each man to take up a bough from the woods, in order to conceal their actual numbers.
Dunsinane, Macbeth's castle. Macbeth is defiant. A cry of women is heard within. Macbeth muses on how impervious to fear and horrors he has become: "I have almost forgot the taste of fears" and "I have supped full with horrors; / Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts / Cannot once start me." But Seyton informs him that the queen is dead. Macbeth despairs: "She should have died hereafter; / There would have been a time for such a word. / Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time, / And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! / Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing."
A messenger arrives and reluctantly announces that the Birnam Wood has begun to move toward them. Macbeth senses now he is doomed and says "There is nor flying hence nor tarrying here. / I 'gin to be aweary of the sun, / And wish th' estate o' the world were now undone. / Ring the alarum bell! Blow, wind! come wrack, / At least we'll die with harness on our back."
Before Macbeth's castle. Malcolm tells his men to put down the boughs and asks Siward and Macduff to lead the battle, to which they valiantly agree.
Same. Macbeth compares himself to a bear tied to a stake, forced to fight as in bearbaiting.
Young Siward enters, calls Macbeth a tyrant, and is slain by him. Macbeth laughingly scorns him as one born of woman, then leaves.
Macduff enters, looking for Macbeth, and leaves.
Siward tells Malcolm that the castle inhabitants have peacefully surrendered, and prepare to enter the castle.
Same. Macbeth tells himself he refuses to play the Roman fool and fall on his own sword. Macduff enters. Macbeth tells him he has already enough Macduff blood on his hands, that he cannot lose to one of woman born. But Macduff informs him, "Despair thy charm, / And let the angel whom thou still hast served / Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripped." [i.e., by Caesarian section] Macbeth curses the witches that have deceived him and "palter with us in a double sense". He refuses to fight at first, but Macduff tells him he will be subjected to humiliation and public ridicule. Macbeth's resolve returns and he says "I will not yield, / To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet / And to be baited with the rabble's curse. / Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, / And thou opposed, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body / I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff, / And damned be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'" They fight and Macbeth is slain.
[Now perhaps in the castle.] Malcolm and Siward anxiously await the return of Macduff and Young Siward. Ross informs Siward of his young son's manly death--"he has paid a soldier's debt". Siward is philosophical, saying "Why then, God's soldier be he! / Had I as many sons as I have hairs / I would not wish them to a fairer death. / And so, his knell is knolled."
Macduff enters with Macbeth's head on a pole. All hail the new king of Scotland, Malcolm. Malcolm tells the thanes they will henceforth be called earls. He will call home the exiles who have been driven away. He believes the "fiendlike queen" Lady Macbeth has taken her own life. He invites them all to see him crowned at Scone.