Macbeth Summary

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MACBETH SUMMARY

MACBETH
by William Shakespeare

Act 4

Act 4, scene 1

The witches circle their cauldron, throwing into it the elements of their magic spell while chanting "double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." Hecate appears, and they all sing together, then Hecate leaves again. Macbeth enters, demanding answers. The witches complete their magic spell and summon forth a series of apparitions. The first is an Armed Head (a head wearing a helmet), that warns Macbeth to beware the Thane of Fife (Macduff). The second apparition is a bloody child, who tells him that "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth." Hearing this, Macbeth is bolstered, and states that he no longer needs to fear Macduff then. The third apparition is a child wearing a crown, with a tree in its hand, who says that "Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill [Macbeth's castle] / Shall come against him." This cheers Macbeth even more, since he knows that nothing can move a forest. Macbeth now asks his last question: will Banquo's children ever rule Scotland ?

The cauldron sinks, and a strange sound is heard. The witches now show Macbeth the "show of kings": a procession of eight kings, the eighth of whom holds a mirror in his hand, followed by Banquo. As Banquo points at this line of kings, Macbeth realizes that they are indeed his family line, and that the witches' words were true. The witches dance and disappear, and Lennox enters, with the news that Macduff has fled to England . Macbeth resolves that from now on he will act immediately on his ambitions, and the first step he will take will be to seize Fife and kill Macduff's wife and children.

Act 4, scene 2

At Fife , Ross visits Lady Macduff, who is frightened for her own safety now that her husband has fled. He reassures her by telling her that her husband did what he had to do, and takes his leave, telling her that he will return soon. After he leaves, Lady Macduff engages her son in a conversation about his missing father. The little boy shows wisdom beyond his years in his side of the discussion. A messenger interrupts them with a warning to flee the house immediately. But before Lady Macduff can go anywhere, Macbeth's hired murderers attack the house and kill everyone in it.

Act 4, scene 3

Macduff has arrived at the English court and meets with Malcolm. Malcolm, remembering his father's mistaken trust in Macbeth, tests Macduff by confessing that he is a greedy, lustful and sinful man, who makes Macbeth look like an angel in comparison. Macduff despairs and says that he will leave Scotland forever if this is the case, since there seems to be no man fit to rule it. Hearing this, Malcolm is convinced of Macduff's goodness and reveals that he was merely testing him; he has none of these faults to which he has just confessed. In fact, he claims, the first lie he has ever told was this false confession to Macduff. He then announces that Siward has assembled an army of ten thousand men and is prepared to march on Scotland .

A messenger appears and tells the men that the king of England is approaching, attended by a crowd of sick and despairing people who wish the king to cure them. The king, according to Malcolm, has a gift for healing people with the laying on of hands.

Ross enters, just come from Scotland , and reports that the country is in a shambles. When Macduff asks how his wife is, Ross replies "Ay, well," meaning that they are now beyond Macbeth's grasp. Pressed further, he relates the story of her death. Macduff is stunned speechless, and Malcolm urges him to cure his grief by acting, and getting revenge on Macbeth. Macduff replies "he has no children," meaning perhaps that Malcolm does not know what it feels like to lose a child, or that Macbeth could never have killed another man's children if he had children of his own. He is overcome with guilt that he was gone from his house when it happened. Again Malcolm urges him to put his grief to good use and seek revenge, and all three men leave to prepare for battle.

Act 5

Act 5, scene 1

Back at Dunsinane, the Scottish royal home, a gentlewoman who waits on Lady Macbeth has summoned a doctor because Lady Macbeth has been walking in her sleep. The doctor reports that he has watched her for two nights already and has not seen anything strange. The gentlewoman describes how she has seen Lady Macbeth rise, dress, leave her room, write something on a piece of paper, read it and seal it, and return to bed, all without waking up. When the doctor asks if the Lady said anything while sleepwalking, the gentlewoman says that what the Lady said she does not dare to repeat. They are interrupted by the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, who enters carrying a candle. The gentlewoman reports that Lady Macbeth asks to have light by her all through the night. The doctor and the gentlewoman watch as Lady Macbeth rubs her hands as if washing them and says " yet here's a spot . . . . Out, damned spot, out I say!" As she continues to "wash" her hands, her words betray her guilt to the watchers. She seems to be reliving the events of the nights of Duncan and Banquo's deaths. She cannot get the stain or smell of blood off her hand: "will these hands ne'er be clean? . . . . All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." The doctor is shocked and understands that Lady Macbeth's words have heavy implications. The sleepwalking lady imagines she hears knocking at the gate and returns to her chamber. The doctor concludes that Lady Macbeth needs a priest's help, not a physician's, and takes his leave, warning that he and the gentlewoman had better not reveal what they have seen and heard.

Act 5, scene 2

Menteith, Caithness, Angus, and Lennox march with a company of soldiers toward Birnam Wood, where they will meet up with Malcolm and the English army. They claim that they will "purge" the country of Macbeth's sickening influence.

Act 5, scene 3

At Dunsinane, Macbeth tires of hearing reports of nobles who have fled from him to join the English forces. He recalls the witches' prophesy that he has nothing to fear until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane or until he meets up with a man not born of woman, and since these events seem impossible, he feels unstoppable. A servant enters with the news that then thousand men have gathered to fight against them, and Macbeth sends him away, scolding him for cowardice. He calls for his servant Seyton to help him put on his armor, and asks the doctor who has been treating Lady Macbeth how she is. The doctor replies that she is not sick but troubled with visions, and that she must cure herself of these visions (presumably by confessing the crimes she has committed). Macbeth is not pleased with this answer. As his attendants begin to arm him, he facetiously asks the doctor if it he could test the country's urine to find out what disease ails it, and give it a purgative medicine to cure it. Fully armed, Macbeth begins to leave the room. As he goes, he professes that he will not be afraid of anything until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Aside, the doctor confesses that he would like to be as far away from Dunsinane as possible.

Act 5, scene 4

Malcolm, Siward, Young Siward, Macduff, Mentieth, Caithness , and Angus march toward Birnam Wood. When they approach the forest, Malcolm instructs each soldier to cut a branch from the trees and carry it in front of him as the group marches on Dunsinane, in order to disguise their numbers. Siward informs Malcolm that Macbeth confidently holds Dunsinane, waiting for their approach. Malcolm comments that Macbeth must be incredibly optimistic, since almost all of his men have deserted him. The army marches on toward Dunsinane.

Act 5, scene 5

Macbeth confidently orders his men to hang his banners on the outer walls of the castle, claiming that his castle will hold until the men who attack it starve of famine. If only the other side was not reinforced with men who have deserted him, he claims, he would not think twice about rushing out to attack the English army head-on. He is interrupted by the sound of women screaming within, and Seyton leaves to see what the trouble is. Macbeth comments that he had almost forgotten what fear felt and tasted like. Seyton returns and announces that Lady Macbeth is dead. Seemingly unfazed, Macbeth comments that she should have died later. He stops to muse on the meaning of life, which he says is "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, / Signifying nothing."

A messenger enters and reports that he has seen something unbelievable: as he looked out toward Birnam Wood, it looked like the forest began to move toward the castle. Macbeth is stunned and begins to fear that the witch's words may come true after all. He instructs his men to ring the alarm.

Act 5, scene 6

Malcolm tells his soldiers that they are near enough to the castle now to throw down the branches they carry. He announces that Siward and Young Siward will lead the first battle, and that he and Macduff will follow behind. He tells his trumpeters to sound a charge.

Act 5, scene 7

Macbeth waits on the battlefield to defend his castle. He feels like a bear that has been "baited": tied to a stake for dogs to attack. Young Siward enters and demands his name. Macbeth responds that he will be afraid to hear it: it is Macbeth. The two fight, and Macbeth kills Young Siward, commenting, as he does, that Young Siward must have been born "of woman." He exits. Macduff enters and shouts a challenge to Macbeth, swearing to avenge his wife and children's deaths. He asks Fortune to let him find Macbeth, and exits. Malcolm and Siward enter, looking for the enemy, and exit.

Act 5, scene 8

Macbeth enters, contemplating whether or not he should kill himself, and resolving that he is too brave to do so. Macduff finds him and challenges him. Macbeth replies that he has avoided Macduff until his point, but now he will fight. Macduff unsheathes his sword, saying that his sword will speak for him. The men fight. As they fight, Macbeth tells him that he leads a charmed life; he will only fall to a man who is not born of woman. Macduff replies that the time has come for Macbeth to despair: "let the angel whom thou still hast served / Tell thee Macduff was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripped" (Macduff was born through the medieval equivalent of a caesarian section)! Hearing this, Macbeth quails and says that he will not fight. Macduff replies by commanding him to yield, and allow himself to be the laughing stock of Scotland under Malcolm's rule. This enrages Macbeth, who swears he will never yield to swear allegiance to Malcolm. They fight on, and exit fighting.

Malcolm, Siward, and the other Thanes enter. They have won the battle, but Malcolm states that Macduff and Young Siward are missing. Ross reports that Young Siward is dead, and eulogizes him by stating that "he only lived but till he was a man, / The which no sooner had his prowess confirmed / In the unshrinking station where he fought, / But like a man he died." Siward asks if his son's wounds were in his front (in other words, did he fight until the end, instead of running away), and when he learns that they were, he declares that he will mourn no more for him then, because he died a hero's death, and Siward could not wish for a better death for any of his sons.

Macduff enters, carrying Macbeth's severed head, and shouts "Hail, King of Scotland!" All the men return this shout and the trumpets flourish as Malcolm accepts the throne. He then announces that he will make the thanes earls now - up until then they had only been called thanes. He will call back all the men whom Macbeth has exiled, and will attempt to heal the scars Macbeth has made in the country. All exit, headed toward Scone to crown Malcolm King of Scotland.

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