Macbeth Act 5, Scene 4: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Margaret Stone

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

In Act V, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth,' the noblemen and soldiers gather in Birnan wood to lay siege to Macbeth's castle and challenge his claim to Scotland's throne. The army plans to conceal itself with boughs from Birnan wood.

Previous Scenes

In earlier scenes, Macbeth has murdered Duncan, the king of Scotland, in order to seize the power of the throne for himself. Duncan's sons have fled to Ireland and England, fearing that Macbeth will kill them next. Macbeth has met three witches in the forest, and these witches have summoned apparitions to speak of the future. The apparitions lead Macbeth to believe that his political future is secure. They tell Macbeth that 'no one born of woman' can harm him. They also claim that Macbeth is safe until Birnan wood moves to Dunsinane (Macbeth's castle). In addition, the apparitions warn Macbeth to beware of Macduff. Macbeth relies on these predictions; he kills Macduff's wife and children. Macbeth now awaits the coming forces in his castle at Dunsinane.

Forces Gather

As scene 4 opens, several Scottish noblemen and soldiers gather in Birnan wood, a forest near Macbeth's castle at Dunsinane. The men oppose Macbeth and hope to stop him from killing more people in his effort to hold on to the throne.

Malcolm, Duncan's son, orders the soldiers to cut branches from the trees at Birnan wood. 'Let every soldier hew him down a bough,/And bear't before him,' Malcolm commands. The plan is to conceal the forces gathered with the tree branches. That way, Macbeth will underestimate the strength of the troops marching against him.

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