Act 5 Scene 1
A doctor and Lady Macduff’s gentlewoman watch Lady Macbeth sleepwalk. Her eyes are open but ‘their senses shut’. As she walks in, she rubs her hands and speaks in her sleep. She tries to wash a ‘damned spot’ of blood from her hands. She mentions elements of the murders of Duncan, Banquo and Lady Macduff. The doctor advises that the gentlewoman continues to watch her. He is concerned about her ‘infected mind’.
- The doctor has watched Lady Macbeth for two nights and she has not walked in her sleep.
- She started sleep walking when Macbeth went into the battlefield. The gentlewoman has seen her do it several times.
- Lady Macbeth demands that there is always a light kept by her.
Act 5 Scene 2
The thanes discuss how the English forces are approaching, led by Malcolm, Siward and Macduff. Macbeth is in Dunsinane but his men are rising up against him, some calling him mad. The group begin their march towards Birnam Wood.
- Macbeth is fortifying his castle Dunsinane against an attack.
- The thanes plan to meet the English forces at Birnam Wood.
- The thanes are now loyal to Malcolm who they view as the ‘med’cine’ of the country.
Act 5 Scene 3
Macbeth angrily dismisses those who bring him reports of attack. He reassures himself that he ‘cannot taint with fear’ because of the witches’ prophecies, but calls for his armour to be brought to him by a character called Seyton. The doctor tells Macbeth that he cannot help Lady Macbeth with the ‘thick-coming fancies that keep her from her rest’.
- Malcolm’s army is approaching.
- Seyton tells Macbeth his armour is not yet needed, but he demands it is brought to him. In some productions these lines are delivered by a different character.
- The doctor wishes he could be free from Dunsinane.
Act 5 Scene 4
The Scottish lords gather with Malcolm, Macduff and their army. They cut down boughs of the trees in Birnam Wood to use as camouflage and ‘shadow the numbers of our host’.
- Malcolm’s plan is to use the branches to disguise the number of soldiers in the army.
- Macbeth will not leave the castle and is determined to face the siege.
- Siward advises Macduff against overconfidence. Although they are righteous in their thinking, the battle will determine the result.
Act 5 Scene 5
Macbeth continues to stand his ground against the siege. He has ‘almost forgot the taste of fears’. Seyton reports that Lady Macbeth is dead. Macbeth reflects on the pointless nature of life being only ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. A messenger informs Macbeth that he has seen Birnam Wood moving towards Dunsinane hill. Macbeth is unnerved that the prophecy has come true but vows he will die fighting.
- Macbeth is confident in the castle’s defences.
- Lady Macbeth has died.
- The army have begun their march up the hill with the branches as camouflage.
Act 5 Scene 6
Malcolm’s army have arrived outside the castle. They throw down their camouflaging branches to reveal themselves. Malcolm talks through the battle plan against the ‘tyrant’s power’.
- Malcolm’s plan to reveal their true numbers outside the castle works.
- Siward and Young Siward will lead the first battle.
Act 5 Scene 7
Macbeth declares that he will fight, but remains reassured by the prophecy that he cannot be defeated by anyone born of a woman. Young Siward challenges Macbeth and Macbeth kills him. Macduff enters the castle, seeking vengeance on Macbeth for the murder of his family. Malcolm and Siward enter the castle.
- Macbeth’s soldiers are turning against him and joining with Malcolm’s army.
- Macduff only wants to fight with Macbeth so he can avenge his family.
- The battle is going well for Malcolm, and Macbeth is nearly defeated.
Act 5 Scene 8
Macduff confronts the ‘hell-hound’ Macbeth and they fight. When Macbeth claims he cannot be defeated because he has a ‘charmed life’, Macduff reveals that he was ‘from his mother’s womb untimely ripped’. The witches’ prophecy comes true as Macduff kills Macbeth.
- Macduff was born by Caesarean birth.
- When Macbeth discovers this news, he does not want to fight with Macduff.
- The thought of being forced to submit to Malcolm and being tormented in front of a crowd prompts Macbeth to fight on.
Act 5 Scene 9
Malcolm is concerned about the safety of Macduff and Young Siward. Ross tells Siward that his son has been killed in battle, but died bravely. Macduff arrives with Macbeth’s severed head. He hails Malcolm the new King of Scotland. Malcolm honours those who have fought alongside him against the tyranny of ‘this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen’. He invites them to see him crowned.
- Young Siward dies with wounds on his front, meaning he faced the battle bravely.
- Macduff hails Malcolm as the new king.
- Lady Macbeth committed suicide.
THINGS TO NOTICE IN ACT 5
Consider Lady Macbeth’s language in Act 5 Scene 1. Previously, she has always spoken in verse but now she speaks in prose. How does the language and punctuation tell us she is mentally unwell?
Take note of how many short scenes there are in this act. How does this increase the drama and tension as the play builds to Macbeth’s death?
Macbeth claims to be confident because of the assurance of the witches’ prophecies. Do you think there are moments when he is scared? Look for the moments when you think he acts out of fear.
Act 5 focuses on Macbeth’s defeat by Malcolm’s army and reveals the double meaning of the witches’ prophecies. At what points do the audience know that the prophecies are going to come true? Is it at the same point as Macbeth finds out?