Literature Study GuidesMacbethAct 5 Scene 8 Summary

Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 5, Scene 8

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 5, Scene 8 of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

Macbeth | Act 5, Scene 8 | Summary

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Summary

Macduff catches up with Macbeth on another part of the battlefield. Macbeth still thinks there is a way out, so when Macduff appears, Macbeth tells him that he has already killed Macduff's family and that Macduff is next. Macbeth brags about his charmed life, saying none born of woman can hurt him. Macduff tells Macbeth that he was not "of woman born" in the usual way; instead, he was cut from his mother's womb. At this news, Macbeth doesn't want to fight, but he will not yield when Macduff tells him to do so. They fight, and Macduff kills Macbeth.

There is a retreat, and then Malcolm, Ross, Siward, and the rest of the thanes and soldiers enter the scene with colors flying. Malcolm regrets the losses of the day. Siward learns his son was killed but that he died honorably, which makes Siward happy. Macduff arrives with Macbeth's head on a pike—the standard treatment for traitors of the time. Macbeth's head is treated as a trophy and as a caution to other would-be traitors. Macduff and the others hail Malcolm as king. Malcolm assumes his title and awards the thanes by naming them all as earls, the first time this title has been used in Scotland. He decides to send word to the exiles still abroad, such as Donalbain and Fleance, that they may come home. It is now safe to return, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are both dead. Malcolm believes that Lady Macbeth took her own life.

The new king extends thanks to one and all and invites everyone to his upcoming coronation at Scone.

Analysis

It turns out the "none of woman born" prophecy was extremely technical about the mechanics of childbirth. The prophecy, in the end, seems more like an empty taunt than a promise of a special destiny, as Macbeth turns out to be as mortal as anyone. Having based crucial decisions on the witches' predictions, he finds that all their prophesies were misleading and that he might have been better off had he never encountered the "weird sisters."

Even when Macbeth has run out of protective prophecies and knows he is likely beaten, he refuses to yield to Macduff. He is, in some senses, the same relentless opponent he showed himself to be in the reports from Act I, but now his efforts are in the service of nothing, as his "fruitless crown" is on the point of being torn from him.

Triumph and sadness mingle as Malcolm and his thanes capture the castle. Malcolm has matured through battle, evolving from a green prince to a seasoned monarch. He is upset that not all their friends have survived. But, observing the heroic code, they all put a brave face on the situation.

The men find comfort in Macduff's war trophy, the gory head of their former friend Macbeth—this dead butcher and cursed usurper. Macduff and the others are heartened as they hail Malcolm, the new and rightful king of Scotland.

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