Macbeth
William Shakespeare
Contributed by Sharon Fleming

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Act 5 Scene 5
Summary

Macbeth begins the scene with a bold speech about war. In an apparent morale-boosting exercise for his soldiers, Macbeth commands them to “hang out [their] banners on the outward walls.” This type of speech has been missing from the castle for a while. Perhaps the thought of going to war has brought back Macbeth’s old excitement. When he says, “Here let them lie / Till famine and the ague [disease] eat them up,” Macbeth appears to be pronouncing a curse on his enemies (3-5). However, it appears that Shakespeare does not believe in the effect of this curse. In another play, Troilus and Cressida, which he wrote a few years before Macbeth, Shakespeare indicates that a man's ambition for power will lead him to eat everything on his path. And when he finishes, he will only have himself to eat. Thus, if the curse is to fall on anyone, it will have to fall on Macbeth.

Analysis

In a short monologue, Macbeth appreciates that noises like the short cry he hears no longer have a frightening effect upon him. Previously, Macbeth had been tormented by the calls of owls, and after he murdered King Duncan, even a knock on the door could render him senseless. When he says, “Supp'd full with horrors,” Macbeth expresses concern that he has had enough. He refuses to let the noises intimidate him.

In response to his wife’s death and his lost purpose in life, Macbeth delivers one of the Shakespeare’s most memorable speeches. Macbeth’s famous “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech portrays a man who has been overtaken by bitterness. Things fall apart for Macbeth, and the audience cannot help but sympathize with his situation. In face of all these events, Macbeth does not show any sign of relenting. However, by using certain strong words such as “petty,” “fools,” “frets,” and “idiot,” Macbeth demonstrates his bitterness, not desperation. He refuses to take intimidation or defeat lying down.

As Macbeth continues with his speech, he is cut short by the news of “moving woods.” When this news hits Macbeth, he remembers the prophecy of the apparitions. Instead of recognizing the prophecy and linking it with the new information, Macbeth retorts that he “begin[s] to doubt the equivocation of the fiend — / That lies like truth” (42-44). Macbeth’s failure to recognize his imminent downfall is indicative of a man who has refused to accept reality, leading to disastrous consequences.

To his servants, Macbeth wants to remain strong and show that he retains power. At the same time, he must inwardly accept that the “moving woods” are part of the prophecy concerning his downfall. Thus, it is easy to recognize that Macbeth is in a very delicate situation.  However, Macbeth appreciates that “there is no flying hence, nor tarrying here,” hence the need to quickly gather his troops and face the enemy (48). As if he is now accepting his fate, Macbeth invites nature to come and do what it does best. He says, “Come wind, blow wrack!” This statement emphasizes his tremendous hopelessness.

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