Macbeth Act 5, Scene 1: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Act V, scene 1 of Shakespeare's tragedy ''Macbeth'' is focused on the effects of Duncan's murder on Lady Macbeth. Previously Lady Macbeth supported her husband when, driven by ambition, he killed Duncan, king of Scotland. Now, apparently guilt-stricken, she is exhibiting some unusual behavior.

Previous Scenes

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, relying to a large extent on a future foretold by witches, have murdered Duncan, the king of Scotland, while he was a guest at their castle. Lady Macbeth is a full participant in both the murder and the ensuing cover-up. Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, fearing that they may be killed next, have fled to England and Ireland. Macduff has gone to England to seek help from English forces in overthrowing Macbeth. Macbeth has deployed murderers to kill Macduff's family, leaving Macduff more determined than ever to rid Scotland of the murderous Macbeth.

A Strange Sight

Act V begins with a doctor and a woman discussing Lady Macbeth. The doctor doubts the woman's report of Lady Macbeth's behavior, saying he has stayed awake two nights observing Lady Macbeth and has seen no evidence of the behavior the woman has described.

The woman says that she has seen Lady Macbeth arise from her bed, fold some paper, write on it, and seal it. All this occurs, the woman says, as Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking. The doctor asks what Lady Macbeth has said during these sleepwalking episodes, but the woman refuses to say. She says that she is afraid to repeat Lady Macbeth's words because no one else can corroborate her story.

At this moment Lady Macbeth walks into the room holding a candle. The woman reports that Lady Macbeth wants a light with her constantly. The two notice that Lady Macbeth's eyes are open and that she is rubbing her hands together. The woman says that Lady Macbeth performs this action continually, as if she is washing her hands.

Lady Macbeth Speaks

When Lady Macbeth begins to speak, the doctor decides it might be prudent to write down what she says. He plans to look at his notes later to refresh his memory.

'Out, damn'd spot! out, I say! One--/two--why then 'tis time to do it. Hell is murky,' Lady Macbeth says. She believes her hands are stained with blood, and attempts to wash it away. Lady Macbeth continues to speak, indicating that she is upset by Duncan's murder: 'Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?'.

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