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Literature Study GuidesMacbethAct 5 Scene 5 Summary

Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 5, Scene 5

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 5, Scene 5 of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

Macbeth | Act 5, Scene 5 | Summary



Still in the castle at Dunsinane, Macbeth has convinced himself that he and his men have a good chance in battle. From another room, he and Seyton hear women crying. Seyton leaves to see what is going on and returns to announce that the queen is dead. Macbeth is stunned and says that she "should have died hereafter," a statement that could mean she would have died later anyway or that she shouldn't have died now but later. He reflects on how short life really is and how it seems meaningless. Then a messenger arrives to announce Birnam Wood appears to be approaching the castle. Macbeth threatens to hang the messenger if he is lying, but now Macbeth feels fear about the upcoming battle.


Based on the evidence available, Macbeth has not seen his wife since her madness began, and he is not with her when she dies. When he receives word of her death, he appears saddened by the shortness of her life and seems to despair about the worth and meaning of life in general. Depending on its performance, the speech can show Macbeth as callous toward his wife's death (she would have died anyway) or he may be seen as wishing Lady Macbeth had held on longer because, with battle looming, he has no chance to mourn for her. Contemplating his future without his wife, he sees the years ahead of him as a series of ephemeral and meaningless days trailing to a dusty death. It is unclear how much of this existential crisis is caused by Lady Macbeth's passing and how much is motivated by Macbeth's own dwindling fortunes. Although the soliloquy is moving, he almost immediately moves on when the message arrives about Birnam Wood traveling toward Dunsinane; self-interest trumps grief.

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