Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 4
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
This scene presents the union of the English forces with the Scottish lords near Birnam wood. Malcolm's order to the soldiers
to cut down boughs in order to conceal the numbers of the army, points to the fulfilment of the witches' prophecy.
1. Cousins, kinsmen.
2. chambers, private rooms. Malcolm is thinking of the murder
of Duncan in his bedchamber.
6. discovery, reconnaissance.
7. in report of us, in the report carried back concerning us.
8. but, but that.
9. keeps still, remains.
9, 10. endure ... before, stand a siege there.
11. advantage to be given, where an opportunity, i.e. to desert,
has to be given them. If Macbeth led his army into the field, he
would necessarily give the discontented spirits a better chance to
desert than if he remained in his castle.
12. more and less, great and small.
14, 15. Let ... event, let our true opinion await the actual
event. Macduff is not so sure that all Macbeth's soldiers are
ready to desert. His next words show that he thinks the battle
will demand all their efforts; "put on industrious soldiership" means "play the part of good soldiers." Siward carries on the
idea in the next speech; "whatever we may fancy our hopes to be,
blows alone will settle the matter."
19. relate, utter.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_5_4.html >.
Did You Know? ... For this scene the great Shakespearean actor Henry Irving consulted Holinshed's Chronicles, Shakespeare's primary source for the play. On stage Irving shows the invading army approach Burnam wood by moonlight. He quotes the following passage from Holinshed in his edition of Macbeth:
Malcolme following hastilie after Makbeth, came the night
before the battell vnto Birnane wood, and when his armie had rested
a while there to refresh them, he commanded euerie man to get a
bough of some tree or other of that wood in his hand, as big as he
might beare, and to march foorth therewith in such wise, that on
the nexf morrow they might come closelie and without sight in this
manner within view of his enemies. On the morrow when Makbeth
beheld them comming in this sort, he first maruelled what the matter
ment, but in the end remembred himselfe that the prophesie which
he had heard long before that time, of the comming of Birnane wood
to Dunsinane castell, was likelie to be now fulfilled." (Holinshed,
Historie of Scotland), Vol. v.)