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Free Barron's Booknotes-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes
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Shakespeare begins the build up to the final battle. Like modern movies do, he will "cut" from scene to scene-back and forth between scenes showing the English forces that are approaching Macbeth's castle and scenes showing Macbeth preparing for their attack.

This short scene among the Scottish thanes gets across several plot points: 1. the English army is near, led by Malcolm, Macduff, and Siward; 2. the invaders will meet the Scottish forces near Birnam Wood (remember the prophesy); 3. Malcolm's brother, Donalbain, is not with them. (You can consider him a loose thread in the plot: he never reappears.)

The second half of the scene touches on several important points.

Menteith picks up the theme of "unnatural deeds" when he says of Macbeth "all that is within him does condemn / Itself for being there" (lines 24-25). That statement is based on the idea that human nature is fundamentally good. Therefore, the evil deeds Macbeth has committed have made him fight with his own nature.

Now that the trust that Macbeth destroyed for a time has been repaired by Macduff and Malcolm, a theme of loyalty begins to emerge. Malcolm and Macduff lead an army that is fueled by a strong cause: to revenge the wrongs committed by Macbeth. Macbeth's army, on the other hand, moves "only in command, / Nothing in love" (lines 19-20).


Seeing Macbeth back at his castle, we can understand why even those followers who have stuck with him do not love him, as subjects should love a king. He raves like a madman, talking about how invincible and unafraid he is. His boasts sound empty: "the heart I bear / Shall never sag with doubt nor shake with fear" (lines 9-10).

Macbeth has not lost touch with reality completely, though. In a quieter moment, he reflects on all he has given up. He seems to sense that his life is nearly over. What he says to the Doctor (or to himself, depending on how you read it) is touching:

And that which should accompany old age, As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have; but, in their stead, Curses not loud but deep. Act V, Scene iii, lines 24-27

Do you feel sorry for him, or do you see him as a monster who is getting what he deserves?

Seyton actually seems to be making fun of Macbeth when he enters and asks, "What's your gracious pleasure?" (line 29). Seyton confirms a report that ten thousand soldiers are approaching.

Macbeth is terrified but determined not to admit it. He commands Seyton to help him put on his armor, even though it is not really needed yet, but ten lines later he is snapping at Seyton to help him take it off.

Macbeth sounds very different when he asks the doctor about his wife. She is sick, with "thick-coming fantasies." Macbeth asks the Doctor if he can cure her: "Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?" (line 40). But he knows the Doctor's answer before he hears it. She is beyond all help.

Macbeth demonstrates that even he doesn't realize the extent of his evil and the destruction it has caused. He wishes the Doctor could cure Scotland of its disease. He is talking about the invading army from England.


Actually, Macbeth himself is the cause of Scotland's disease. The image of Macbeth as a bringer of disease is made even sharper by our memory of the English king's ability to heal disease. Appropriately, the English troops are coming to heal Scotland's disease by overthrowing Macbeth.

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