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ACT V SCENE V Dunsinane. Within the castle.
[ Enter MACBETH, SEYTON, and Soldiers, with drum and colours ]
MACBETH Hang out our banners on the outward walls;
The cry is still 'They come:' our castle's strength
Will laugh a siege to scorn: here let them lie
Till famine and the ague eat them up:
Were they not forced with those that should be ours,
We might have met them dareful, beard to beard,
And beat them backward home.
[A cry of women within]
What is that noise?
SEYTON It is the cry of women, my good lord.
MACBETH I have almost forgot the taste of fears;
The time has been, my senses would have cool'd 10
To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in't: I have supp'd full with horrors;
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts
Cannot once start me.
Wherefore was that cry?
SEYTON The queen, my lord, is dead.
MACBETH She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day 20
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
[Enter a Messenger]
Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly.
Messenger Gracious my lord, 30
I should report that which I say I saw,
But know not how to do it.
MACBETH Well, say, sir.
Messenger As I did stand my watch upon the hill,
I look'd toward Birnam, and anon, methought,
The wood began to move.
MACBETH Liar and slave!
Messenger Let me endure your wrath, if't be not so:
Within this three mile may you see it coming;
I say, a moving grove.
MACBETH If thou speak'st false,
Upon the next tree shalt thou hang alive,
Till famine cling thee: if thy speech be sooth, 40
I care not if thou dost for me as much.
I pull in resolution, and begin
To doubt the equivocation of the fiend
That lies like truth: 'Fear not, till Birnam wood
Do come to Dunsinane:' and now a wood
Comes toward Dunsinane. Arm, arm, and out!
If this which he avouches does appear,
There is nor flying hence nor tarrying here.
I gin to be aweary of the sun,
And wish the estate o' the world were now undone. 50
Ring the alarum-bell! Blow, wind! come, wrack!
At least we'll die with harness on our back.
Next: Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 6
Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 5
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
In this scene more perhaps than in any other of the play the poet arouses our sympathy for Macbeth. Deserted by his followers, forced to await the attack of his enemies instead of meeting them "dareful, beard to beard," he is plunged into still greater misery by the news of his wife's sudden death. He even seems to contemplate suicide, when the shock of the messenger's report brings him back to himself. He begins at last to realize that the powers of evil have been deceiving him, and with a sudden resolution to trust henceforth to the- strength of his own arm and to die, if needs be, with harness on his back, he sallies out to meet the foe.
It is worth noting how little is said of Lady Macbeth. We hear the cry of her women and the brief report of her death, — nothing more. Shakespeare wishes at this point to concentrate all our interest and sympathy on the hero of the drama. It is not the manner of Lady Macbeth's death, but the way in which it affects her husband that he wishes us to notice.
14. slaughterous thoughts, thoughts of bloodshed.
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17, 18. She should ... word, she must have died sometime; there must have come a time for such an announcement. This speech of Macbeth's does not show callous indifference to his wife's death, as some critics have supposed. It rather shows him so sunk in misery that he thinks life not worth living. He can hardly grieve for his wife's death; sooner or later she must have died, and what does it matter whether early or late? The following lines continue the same train of thought.
22. lighted, guided, as a servant with a torch guides his master.
23. Out ... brief candle. Dr. Liddell suggests that these words show that Macbeth is on the point of killing himself.
24. a walking shadow, a flitting unreality.
31. should report, am bound to report to you.
42. pull in resolution, check my courage. Such, at least, is the meaning of the words as they stand. Various emendations have, however, been proposed, of which "pall" i.e. "languish," "grow weak" is the most plausible.
43. To doubt ... fiend, to fear that the devil (who inspired the witches when they uttered their predictions) has been equivocating with me.
46. arm, and out. In his rage at having been deceived by the "fiend," Macbeth abandons his prudent plan of permitting the enemy to waste their strength in a vain siege, and sallies out to meet them. This act throws away his last chance, for it gives his men a chance to desert him (see v. 7. 25) and brings him face to face with the man who is destined to slay him.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_5_5.html >.
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