Macduff defeats Macbeth

Act 5 Scene 8 – Key Scene

In this scene, Macduff confronts Macbeth inside the castle. Macbeth taunts Macduff but Macduff just wants to fight. Macbeth claims that he cannot be defeated because of the witches’ prophecy but Macduff then reveals that he was born by Caesarean birth. Macbeth vows to fight on and the two men battle.

You can take a look at the whole scene here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look

    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.

    Turn, hell-hound, turn.

    An evil dog from the depths of hell. Macduff is comparing Macbeth to something inhuman and devilish.

    Of all men else I have avoided thee:
    But get thee back; my soul is too much charged
    With blood of thine already.
    I have no words:
    My voice is in my sword: thou bloodier villain
    Than terms can give thee out.

    I can’t say anything: everything I want to say I’ll say with my sword. Your evilness is beyond description.

    They fight.
    Thou losest labour:
    As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air
    With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed:

    Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
    I bear a charmed life, which must not yield,
    To one of woman born.

    You’re failing. You will be as successful at cutting the air as you will be at making me bleed.

    Heads that are able to be harmed.

    Despair thy charm;
    And let the angel whom thou still hast served
    Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb
    Untimely ripped.

    Who is Macduff talking about when he mentions the ‘angel’ Macbeth serves?

    Macduff was born prematurely by a Caesarian delivery.

    Accursed be that tongue that tells me so,
    For it hath cowed my better part of man.

    And be these juggling fiends no more believed,
    That palter with us in a double sense;
    That keep the word of promise to our ear,
    And break it to our hope. I’ll not fight with thee.

    How do you think Macbeth feels when he discovers the news about Macduff’s birth?

    Macbeth describes the witches as ‘juggling fiends’. How does he feel about the prophecies now?

    Then yield thee, coward,
    And live to be the show and gaze o’ the time:
    We’ll have thee, as our rarer monsters are,
    Painted on a pole, and underwrit,
    ‘Here may you see the tyrant’.

    We’ll have your picture drawn and put up on a sign like an advertisement for an exotic animal, with the words underneath: ’Come, see the Tyrant!’

    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!’

    Be mocked and tormented by the public

    I will fight on. Attack, Macduff - and a curse on either of us if we give in.

    (Text edited for rehearsals by Polly Findlay and Zoe Svendsen)
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out? What do you think are the key lines in this scene? How does Shakespeare create tension and build up to Macbeth's death?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of Macbeth at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the scene feel right to you?