Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 8
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
There is no scene division here in the old text and there is really no need for one. As Malcolm and Siward enter the castle, Macbeth reappears on the field before the walls.
1. the Roman fool. Macbeth is thinking, no doubt, of some old
Roman, such as Brutus or Cassius, who killed himself when he saw
that his cause was lost.
2. the gashes, the wounds my sword can make.
4. Of all men else, more than any other man. Macbeth has
avoided Macduff in the fight, not because he fears him, for he still
believes himself invulnerable, but because he is conscious of his
own great guilt toward him, and does not wish to add the death of
Macduff to that of his wife and children. This is another of the
many little touches by which Shakespeare regains our sympathy
for Macbeth,v so great a criminal, and yet so human.
8. Than terms can give thee out, than words can express.
8. Thou losest labour. We must imagine that Macduff rushes
furiously upon Macbeth, Confident in his supposed charm the
latter repels him. There is a moment's pause in the attack, and
Macbeth, perhaps in the hope of still saving Macduff's life, speaks
9. intrenchant, invulnerable.
10. impress, make a mark on.
12. must not yield:, is fated not to yield.
14. angel, demon.
14. still, continually.
18. my better part of man, the stronger part of my manhood.
24. gaze, gazing-stock.
26. Painted upon a pole, painted on a flag hung from a pole,
like an advertisement before a circus tent.
26. underwrit, written underneath.
31. thou opposed, thou my adversary.
32. the last, the last resource.
There should certainly be another scene indicated between lines 34 and 35. Malcolm has entered the castle, see v. 7. 29. He
is not likely to come out again and wander over the field. Probably in Shakespeare's theatre this scene was played on the raised
platform at the back of the stage which would here represent the
courtyard of Dunsinane. Malcolm is standing in the usurper's
stronghold receiving reports of the victory.
35. Retreat, A technical phrase for a bugle call sounded to stop the pursuit.
36. by these I see, to judge by the number I see present.
36. go off, die.
41. prowess, a monosyllable.
42. In the unshrinking ... fought, in the position where he
44. cause of sorrow, reason for grief.
46. before, in front.
49. wish them ... death, commend them to a fairer death.
52. parted, died.
52. score, debt.
55. time, world.
56. pearl, the word is used collectively, as in our expression,
"the flower of the kingdom."
61. reckon ... loves, settle with, i.e. pay back, the love that
each one of you has shown.
63. earls. See Note on i. 2. 45.
65. Which should be ... time, which demands to be established anew in accordance with the time.
68. ministers, servants.
70. self and violent, her own violent.
71. what needful else, whatever else is necessary.
72. the grace of Grace, the favour of God.
74, 75. "One" and "Scone" rhymed in Shakespeare's day.
This speech of Malcolm is usually omitted upon the stage, but it is a characteristically Shakespearean conclusion. No man ever saw
deeper into the power and mystery of sin than Shakespeare, but no man was ever more confident of the final victory of righteousness,
and he gives evidence of his faith by closing even his darkest tragedies with an outlook upon a better time. So here after the
downfall of the bloody tyranny of Macbeth, he points us forward to the peaceful reign of the gentle, prudent, and devout heir of good
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_8.html >.