Summary

Act 5, scenes 1–11

Summary Act 5, scenes 1–11
Read a translation of Act 5, scene 6 →

Summary: Act 5, scene 7

On the battlefield, Macbeth strikes those around him vigorously, insolent because no man born of woman can harm him. He slays Lord Siward’s son and disappears in the fray.

Read a translation of Act 5, scene 7 →

Summary: Act 5, scene 8

Macduff emerges and searches the chaos frantically for Macbeth, whom he longs to cut down personally. He dives again into the battle.

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Summary: Act 5, scene 9

Malcolm and Siward emerge and enter the castle.

Summary: Act 5, scene 10

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Macbeth at last encounters Macduff. They fight, and when Macbeth insists that he is invincible because of the witches’ prophecy, Macduff tells Macbeth that he was not of woman born, but rather “from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped” (5.10.15–16). Macbeth suddenly fears for his life, but he declares that he will not surrender “[t]o kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet, / And to be baited with the rabble’s curse” (5.10.28–29). They exit fighting.

Summary: Act 5, scene 11

Malcolm and Siward walk together in the castle, which they have now effectively captured. Ross tells Siward that his son is dead. Macduff emerges with Macbeth’s head in his hand and proclaims Malcolm King of Scotland. Malcolm declares that all his thanes will be made earls, according to the English system of peerage. They will be the first such lords in Scottish history. Cursing Macbeth and his “fiend-like” queen, Malcolm calls all those around him his friends and invites them all to see him crowned at Scone (5.11.35).

Analysis: Act 5, scenes 1–11

The rapid tempo of the play’s development accelerates into breakneck frenzy in Act 5, as the relatively long scenes of previous acts are replaced by a flurry of short takes, each of which furthers the action toward its violent conclusion on the battlefield outside Dunsinane Castle. We see the army’s and Malcolm’s preparation for battle, the fulfillment of the witches’ prophecies, and the demises of both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. Lady Macbeth, her icy nerves shattered by the weight of guilt and paranoia, gives way to sleepwalking and a delusional belief that her hands are stained with blood. “Out, damned spot,” she cries in one of the play’s most famous lines, and adds, “[W]ho would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (5.1.30, 33–34). Her belief that nothing can wash away the blood is, of course, an ironic and painful reversal of her earlier claim to Macbeth that “[a] little water clears us of this deed” (2.2.65). Macbeth, too, is unable to sleep. His and Lady Macbeth’s sleeplessness was foreshadowed by Macbeth’s hallucination at the moment of the murder, when he believed that a voice cried out “Macbeth does murder sleep” (2.2.34).