Macbeth Act 5 Discussion Questions

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

This lesson will include some important questions that arise from Act 5 of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, which will be divided into sections by theme. Some of the more complex question will also include a brief expansion of their discussion points.


It all comes to an end in Act 5 of Macbeth. Guilt eats away at Lady Macbeth, the three witches' prophecies come true in the strangest ways, and Macbeth only realizes the folly of his ways when it is too late. All these events make for some riveting and meaningful discussions, which we will cover.

A Guilty Conscience

  • In Scene 1 of Act 5, how does Lady Macbeth act? Why?

Lady Macbeth's lady in waiting and the doctor she has called observe her sleepwalking in the middle of the night. These days, we know that Lady Macbeth's subconscious restlessness is probably due to her uneasy mind, running at full speed. Discuss some other reasons people sleepwalk.

  • Why does Lady Macbeth repeatedly wash her hands?

Lady Macbeth's heavy guilt surfaces symbolically, making her believe that her perfectly clean hands are covered in blood, which never washes away, leading to the famous desperate quote ''Out, damned spot! Out, I say!''

Discuss this quote with your students. What other ways can guilt manifest itself in people?

  • What three things does Lady Macbeth recall out loud? How do the doctor and her lady in waiting react to her recollection?
  • What does Macbeth ask the doctor to do for Lady Macbeth?

The English Are Coming

  • What are the conditions in Scotland under Macbeth's reign?
  • How does Macbeth feel about his future? Why?
  • Why does Malcolm trust Macduff is not Macbeth's agent?

Malcolm, having learned a lot from his wise and brilliant father, the slain Duncan, puts Macduff through some tests to learn of his loyalty. Unlike Macbeth, he does not jump to conclusions based on thin evidence.

This is important because by showing wisdom and loyalty, Malcolm proves himself worthy of ruling Scotland.

  • What do Menteith and Lennox reveal about the English forces coming to depose Macbeth? Why is this important?
  • How does Malcolm hide the true number of his army?

Malcolm has arrived with a army of 10,000 men, provided by King James of England. He tells everyone in his army to cut a branch from the trees and hide behind it as they close in on Macbeth's castle in Dunsinane.

Suddenly, it looks like Birnam Wood is moving to Dunsinane, proving the first of the three witches' prophecies true. This is important because it signals the beginning of the end for Macbeth. Also, for the first time, we find the witches' prophecies to be literal, rather than figurative, as Macbeth had chosen to take them.

This also shows Malcolm to be a brilliant war strategist, further cementing his worth as the rightful king of Scotland. In a more general way, it shows us a clever military use of camouflage, which can be a point of discussion about military history.

  • What is Macbeth's reaction when he is told Birnam Wood is moving to Dunsinane? How does it make him feel about his actions to this point?
  • What do Caithness and Angus say about the way the people of Scotland and Macbeth's troops think of Macbeth?
  • What does Malcolm say about Macbeth's troops?
  • Why is Malcolm's speech to his troops as they approach Dunsinane important? What does he say?

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