Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: John Gonzales

John has 20+ years experience teaching at the college level in areas that include English and American literature, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Get a glimpse into Act 5, Scene 3 of the play 'Macbeth.' Find out how dark comedy shakes things up in one of Shakespeare's bleakest and most dismal tragedies.


Few characters in the Batman franchise offer the opportunity to ham it up that the Joker does. There is something about the dark humor of the character that makes him particularly compelling. It seems villainy is more interesting with a manic, comic edge. The Joker would have been right at home in Act 5, Scene 3 (V.iii) of Macbeth.

Those new to Shakespeare are often surprised by just how much humor runs throughout his dramatic writing, including his tragedies. Even in the most dismal and haunting of his plays is Macbeth, there is room for pronounced instances of humor. The clownish drunken porter in Act 2 provides one such moment. In V.iii, however, Macbeth himself carries much of the comedy with Joker-like flamboyance and unpredictability. Key plot points are emphasized for the audience, but the scene belongs to Macbeth and to the dark humor of his declining mental stability.

Macbeth and the Servant

As V.iii opens, Macbeth enters with an entourage of attendants and the doctor who has been caring for his wife. The attendants evidently have been updating him on the movements of the military alliance that has formed to challenge his right to the Scottish throne. He refuses to accept any more reports and apparently dismisses all but the doctor. He bellows his defiance of the English and the thanes, or fellow nobles, who have banded against him and boasts that the prophecies of the witches from Act 4 protect him and make him fearless.

At this point, an unfortunate servant enters. The servant tries to make a report but is continuously cut off by Macbeth, who blasts him with elaborate insults regarding his pale complexion. Macbeth's reality has unraveled to the point that a reader doesn't know whether Shakespeare actually envisions a fair-complected servant or whether it's another example of his distorted perceptions. Regardless, the servant bears the brunt of Macbeth's mood in the following lines:

Macbeth: The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!

Where got'st thou that goose look?

Servant: There is ten thousand--

Macbeth: Geese, villain!

Servant: Soldiers, sir.

Eventually, Macbeth allows him to reveal that the 'geese' are actually English forces. Then Macbeth dismisses the Servant with one last comically cruel insult and yells for Seyton.

Macbeth and Seyton

Seyton seems to be a combination between a butler and the seneschal in a medieval castle, an attendant who monitors the household and acts as lieutenant in military matters. The style of the humor changes while Macbeth waits--none too patiently, hollering for Seyton every few moments--and shifts from insult comic and bully to a sort of nostalgic, rambling senior citizen want-to-be. When Seyton does appear, Macbeth comically transforms again. Now he wants a military update, and Seyton reports that the situation is just as it has been previously reported.

Macbeth next calls for his armor. When Seyton reminds him that the situation doesn't require him to be battle-ready yet, he demands it anyway, now contradicting every report: 'Send out more horses; skirr the country round;/Hang those that talk of fear. Give me mine armour.' Macbeth then turns his attention to the doctor.

Macbeth and the Doctor

As though only then remembering the doctor's presence, Macbeth abruptly asks: 'How does your patient, doctor?' Upon being told that her problems are in her mind and cannot be cured by a doctor Remember that this was before the field of psychology existed and mental illness was understood as a potentially treatable condition. Macbeth curses medical practice--'throw it to the dogs'--and in between yet more demands for his armor, he directs the doctor to cure his lands of the English invasion: 'Would scour these English hence? Hear'st thou of them?'

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