Detailed Summary of Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 8:

Page Index:
Enter Macbeth:
The last time we saw Macbeth, he was leaving the scene after killing Young Siward. Then Macduff entered and followed a noise that he thought indicated that Macbeth was in the midst of another fight. What we need to remember, then, as Macbeth comes into view, is that he knows he is being hunted down. He has been thinking of the possibility of committing suicide, but he quickly rejects that, saying, "Why should I play the Roman fool, and die / On mine own sword?" (5.8.1-2). The Romans that Macbeth refers to considered suicide to be an honorable way out of an impossible situation. Macbeth is in an impossible situation, but he is determined to do as much damage as possible before he dies. He says, "Whiles I see lives [living men], the gashes / Do better upon them" (5.8.2-3). In other words, he just likes to see the blood flow.

Now Macduff catches up with Macbeth and challenges him, calling out, "Turn, hell-hound, turn!" (5.8.3). Macbeth answers, "Of all men else I have avoided thee: / But get thee back; my soul is too much charged / With blood of thine" (5.8.5-7). He is giving Macduff a chance to back away without doing battle, but why? He says that his "soul is too much charged / With blood of thine." "Charged" means full, overburdened, and the "blood" to which Macbeth refers is the blood that was shed in the slaughter of Macduff's wife and children. In short, Macbeth is saying that those murders are on his conscience, so he doesn't want to shed Macduff's blood. Could it be that he really feels remorse? Or is he just making an excuse for backing out of a fight with Macduff?

Macduff is not impressed and says that he will let his sword do his talking. They fight, and it should be an exciting and suspenseful fight. When Macbeth fought Young Siward, he finished him off quickly, and we saw the boy die in front of our eyes, so we know that a sword can be as deadly as a bullet. After they have fought for a while, Macbeth seems to think that he has the advantage, and he boasts, telling Macduff that it would be easier to make a wound upon the air than to make him bleed. Macduff, Macbeth says, should go fight someone who can be beaten, but as for himself: "I bear a charmed life, which must not yield, / To one of woman born" (5.8.12-13)

Destroying Macbeth's last hope, Macduff replies, "Despair thy charm / And let the angel whom thou still hast served / Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd" (5.8.16-19). Hearing this, Macbeth curses Macduff, because what he has said has "cow'd my better part of man" (5.8.18). His "better part of man" is his courage, and he feels it fading. After this confession of fear--his first in the play--Macbeth curses the fiends who have lied to him and tells Macduff that he won't fight him.

It's somewhat surprising that Macbeth thinks he has a choice about whether or not to fight, but Macduff makes it clear that it's not much of a choice. If Macbeth won't fight, he'll be taken prisoner and paraded about for people to jeer at. This is too much for Macbeth to take, and he regains his courage. Knowing that Birnam wood has come to Dunsinane, knowing that Macduff is not of woman born, knowing that he has no chance, Macbeth determines to fight on, saying "Lay on, Macduff, / And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'" (5.8.33-34).

Again they fight, and they fight so hard that they disappear from view for a moment. Trumpets sound, letting us know that others are about to arrive, then Macbeth and Macduff come back into view just as Macduff is delivering the death-blow to Macbeth.

Retreat. Flourish. Enter, with drum and colours, Malcolm, Siward, Ross, the other Thanes, and Soldiers:
As Macduff is dragging out Macbeth's body, we hear trumpets sounding a retreat, indicating that the battle is over, and then a flourish, announcing the arrival of the victors, led by Malcolm. Malcolm, like a good prince, thinks first of his brothers in arms, and says, "I would the friends we miss were safe arrived" (5.8.35). The "friends we miss" are all those missing in action, and among them are Macduff and Young Siward. We know the fate of both, but their stories are yet to be told to the company of soldiers.

Ross tells Siward that his son is dead, and that he died like a man. Siward, all soldier, asks, "Had he his hurts before?" (5.8.46). Siward is asking if his son was wounded on the front of his body, which would show that he died fighting. (Siward doesn't want to hear that the wounds were on his son's back, which would mean that he died while trying to run away.) Ross assures Siward that the wounds were indeed on his son's front, and Siward expresses his pride in his son, saying "Why then, God's soldier be he! / Had I as many sons as I have hairs, / I would not wish them to a fairer death" (5.8.47-49). Malcolm, more tender-hearted than the old soldier, says "He's worth more sorrow, / And that I'll spend for him" (5.8.50-51). Siward replies, "He's worth no more / They say he parted well, and paid his score: / And so, God be with him!" (5.8.51-53). By saying "He's worth no more," Siward doesn't mean to belittle his son; he only means that the sorrow of Malcolm, who is now king, is the best reward that his son could have here on earth.

After this passage of stern grief for one of Macbeth's victims comes the most shocking moment of the play: Macduff suddenly appears, carrying a pole, on the top of which is Macbeth's head.

Macduff hails Malcolm as king of Scotland and says, "Behold, where stands / The usurper's cursed head: the time is free" (5.8.54-55). The "time is free" because they are all now free of Macbeth's reign of terror over Scotland. Macduff then leads the men in a shout of victory and loyalty. He says, "I see thee compass'd with thy kingdom's pearl, / That speak my salutation in their minds; / Whose voices I desire aloud with mine: / Hail, King of Scotland!" (5.8.56-59). "Compassed" means "encircled" and Malcolm's "kingdom's pearl" is Malcolm's circle of loyal thanes, who encircle him like a string of pearls encircles a crown. Macduff knows that these thanes already think of Malcolm as their king, and now he asks them to join him in shouting out loud, "Hail, King of Scotland!" And so they do, honoring Malcolm, above whose head looms the severed head of Macbeth.

The final speech of the play is Malcolm's. He thanks everyone and promises rewards, the first of which is that all of his thanes will henceforth be earls, Scotland's first. He also promises to call home all those who fled from Macbeth's tyranny and punish those who assisted Macbeth and "his fiend-like queen -- / Who, as 'tis thought, by self and violent hands / Took off her life" (5.8.70-72). Again, he expresses his thanks to all, and invites all to Scone for his coronation.

As they exit, there is a smile on every face -- except Macbeth's.