The New Macbeths

The final act of this play reveals a lot about the main characters in this play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. In Act 5 there is a huge reversal of these characters behaviors.

Act 5 opens with a doctor and gentlewoman discussing the state of a patient. As it turns out the patient is none other than Lady Macbeth. After learning about her condition, Lady Macbeth wanders into the scene rubbing her hands together in a subconscious attempt to remove her hands of the proverbial blood in which they are covered. What is so interesting about this is that in every other scene with Lady Macbeth, not only has she been awake, but she has been strong, cunning, and steadfast in her conviction to kill Duncan and take the crown. Here though in act 5, she has gone through a change. We now get a glimpse of the guilt that had been secretly racking Lady Macbeth’s mind. It’s interesting to see this other side of Lady Macbeth. This is the first sense of humanity and guilt that we see Lady Macbeth convey which contradicts her outward toughness. Personally, I welcome this scene as a revelation of Lady Macbeth’s inner workings. Rather than having her be hyperbolically cruel and heartless, we see the effects that the dramatic series of events that has unfolded in this play has had on her.

Conversely, Macbeth seems to have gone in the other direction. In the beginning, when conspiring with Lady Macbeth, Macbeth was unsure and nervous, so much so that he was having hysterical fits in a hall full of people which Lady Macbeth had to control. Now, in act 5, Macbeth seems to have given up on the guilt and uncertainty of everything and has taken the prophecies to heart. Either that or he has submitted himself to fate and has decided to go full stop into the future, fighting whomever and not worrying himself over being defeated due to the prophecies told to him. He does have a moment of reflection in 5.3 where he realizes the futility of battling time and fate but from then on, he is lion-hearted and single-minded, nearly pounding his chest and laughing in the face of his challengers. This is a stark contrast to the Macbeth from earlier in the play.

Act 5 is probably the most important scene in this play. It is the culmination of every event and prophecy and it shows us the effects that the dramatic series of events has on the Macbeths.

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One thought on “The New Macbeths

  1. Brittany M

    I think the reversals in the play truly are significant. As you mention, Lady Macbeth, whose strength and cunningness seemed to surpass her husband in the beginning of the play as she not only plotted Duncan’s murder, but also helped to execute it, has seemed to dwindle down to nothing. Her mind is racked by guilt and her sleepwalking reveals the inner tumult of her mind, which is tortured by the acts of violence she committed with her husband. Her ultimate moment of weakness is her suicide, as she finds herself unable to cope with the guilt any longer. Also, as you point out, Macbeth seems to be less clouded by guilt than he was in the beginning. In fact, he seems more assured of himself and merciless, if anything. He arranges the murdering of Banquo, his friend and fellow comrade, as well as Lady Macduff and her children. The two Macbeths take on a role reversal in the end of the play, but both succumb to the darkness of death.

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