Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Macbeth | Act 5, Scene 3 | Summary



In the castle at Dunsinane, Macbeth runs through the predictions from the visions the witches showed him. The forest cannot move, and Malcolm was born of a woman, so Macbeth believes the prophecies protect him from harm. When a servant enters to announce the English army has arrived in the country, he responds with anger and sends the servant away. Left alone, he ruminates that he has moved nearly into old age without the love, honor, and friends that should surround him now. Calling out for his servant, Seyton, he resigns himself to an early death. When Seyton confirms the arrival of the English army, Macbeth asks him to bring his armor. While Seyton fetches the armor, Macbeth talks to the doctor about Lady Macbeth's condition. The doctor says she is not sick in body but in mind, and Macbeth commands him to cure her. The doctor says she has to cure herself, and Macbeth decides that all medicine is nonsense. He puts his armor on and prepares for battle, reciting the prophecy about Birnam Wood and Dunsinane. The doctor decides to get as far from Dunsinane as possible.


Even as Macbeth runs through the prophecies, his belief in their protective power blinds him to the instability of his actual situation; the thanes have defected, his troops are loyal in name only, and enemy armies are gathering nearby. He believes so strongly that the witches have given him a complete and true vision of his future that he takes no preventive action when he learns 10,000 troops have arrived in Scotland. Nonetheless, though he seems assured of his safety, he is less so in his happiness. He reflects that he has nothing he would expect to have as he ages—not honor or love or obedience or friends. His ruminations on his lack of love or friendship, on his having only "mouth-honor," are the culmination of his own unwitting prophecy in Act I—having murdered his king, nothing but "the lees," the dregs, of life are left to him. He thinks that, though he's still breathing, his heart would not care if he simply stopped and died. Here, Shakespeare inserts some verbal irony as Macbeth desperately calls again for a servant named Seyton—a wordplay on Satan.

Macbeth's concern for his wife's condition appears detached in his conversation with the doctor. He still does not interact with her directly. She does not appear in this scene, and Macbeth's talk with the doctor gives no indication that Macbeth has seen her or has plans to do so. There is some emotion evident in his orders to the doctor to make her well, but this urgency speaks to Macbeth's inability to deal with her as she is. He becomes angry when the doctor suggests Lady Macbeth must cure herself, possibly because that course might also require her husband's support, and Macbeth has no time for that.

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