How Does the Extract From the Act 5 Scene 8 Reflect the Themes of “Macbeth” and Relate it to the Rest of the Play
This scene shows the tragedy of a man who destroyed himself by making the choice of evil over good. He allowed his greed and ambition, belief in supernatural, false prophecies, and an evil wife to drive him to this point in his life. The scene sums up the ideas that tyranny and bloodshed always lead to a bad end, and that possibly, if the right order was restored, goodness might return, an idea that is left in doubt. Macbeth acted with cruelty and ruthless ambition; he destroyed the natural order in the kingdom, killing all who got in his way, including innocent children, and finally he received the same cruel treatment that he gave to others.
The murder of Duncan, the king of Scotland served several purposes. It allowed Macbeth and his wife to realize their ambitions for power and control, which corrupted him and made him a cruel tyrant, splitting the kingdom. Lady Macbeth encouraged him to commit the first murder, suggesting he was a coward not to do it:
“But screw your courage to the sticking place
And we’ll not fail.” (l. 60-61, Act 1, Sc. 7)
The themes of the supernatural, appearance versus reality and evil over good, were expressed in Macbeth’s speech as he prepared to murder Duncan, :
“Is this a dagger I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee –
I have thee not and yet I see thee still…” (l. 33-35, Act 2 Sc.1)
“Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtained sleep. Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecat’s offerings;….” (l.50-52, Act 2 Sc. 1)
The rightful heirs, Malcolm and Donalbain were made to appear guilty, by fleeing after their father’s murder. They did not trust this man, who was family, their cousin, yet destroyed a blood relation and the natural order of succession, sacrificing two innocent servants to cover his guilt. As Donalbain told Malcolm:
“……Where we are,
There’s daggers in men’s smiles. The near’r in blood
The nearer bloody. (l.135-137, Act 2 Sc. 3)
Macbeth slaughtered more innocents, the family of Macduff, merely because Macduff supported Malcolm, the rightful king. He killed Banquo, but was haunted by his ghost, the supernatural signifying how guilt was affecting him. Macbeth, fearing loss of power, saw him as a threat, for Macbeth believed the Weird Sisters’ prophecy: In reality, he was a friend, but he had children, and Macbeth did not.
“Thou shall get kings, though thou be none
So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo.” ((l. 66-67, Act 1 Sc. 3)
Lady Macbeth’s guilt eventually drove her to madness, and suicide, referred to in Malcolm’s closing speech. The evil path she and Macbeth had chosen could be said to have corrupted her mind and his whole life, as he realized, when news of her death came to him:
“……It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nother.” (l. 26-28, Act 5 Sc. 5)
As forces massed against him, led by Malcolm and Macduff, with Birnan Wood moving, the prophecies were coming true. But the final scene showed them to have been riddles and lies; how Macbeth choose to interpret them, letting evil triumph over good, led to bloodshed and tragedy. The prophecies also showed that everything is not always as it appears. Macbeth’s guilt at killing of innocents was stated when he told Macduff, as they fought:
“But get thee back; my soul is too much charged
With blood of thine already.” (l. 45-46, Act 5 Sc. 8)
He clung to his belief in the supernatural, as shown in the words:
“I bear a charmed life, which must not yield
To one of woman born.” (l. 51-51, Act 5 Sc. 8)
But Macduff overturned this when he told how he was ‘torn’ from his mother’s womb, and not born. That image reflects how Macbeth tore the country apart, and also that he was not born to be king, he stole the power by violent means. Macduff might appear to be justified in killing Macbeth, in revenge for the slaughter of his family, as Malcolm too was entitled to avenge his father’s murder. But there is a feeling at the end of the play, that wickedness and bloodshed are not over, and this reflects Macbeth’s reign of bloody tyranny. Siward’s son’s death was yet one more evil deed, a slaughter of an innocent, but the father’s response seemed to reflect Macbeth’s belief. Death was acceptable, if it established Malcolm as king and restored the rightful order to the kingdom.
He sounded callous when he said:
“They say he parted well and paid his score.
And so, God be with him! Here comes newer comfort.” (l. 92-93 Act 5 Sc. 8)
The ‘comfort’ was Macbeth’s severed head, a gory symbol of the whole play.
At the end, though Malcolm was promising rewards, these too were in gratitude for murder and killing, and in fulfilling his own ambitions. The words, “And make us even with you.” (l. 101, Act 5 Sc. 8) seemed to have two meanings, for Malcolm was both rewarding and warning. There was no doubt that he too was ambitious and as capable of destruction to achieve his goals as Macbeth had been. So the final scene reflects all the themes, but suggests it is not over yet, there is more evil and its results to come.
Shakespeare, William (1606) Macbeth London: Penguin Shakespeare: Edited by G. Hunter, Published 2005.