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ACT V SCENE IV Country near Burnam wood. 
[ Drum and colours. Enter MALCOLM, SIWARD and YOUNG SIWARD, MACDUFF, MENTEITH, CAITHNESS, ANGUS, LENNOX, ROSS, and Soldiers, marching ]
MALCOLMCousins, I hope the days are near at hand
That chambers will be safe.
MENTEITHWe doubt it nothing.
SIWARDWhat wood is this before us?
MENTEITHThe wood of Birnam.
MALCOLMLet every soldier hew him down a bough
And bear't before him: thereby shall we shadow
The numbers of our host and make discovery
Err in report of us.
SoldiersIt shall be done.
SIWARDWe learn no other but the confident tyrant
Keeps still in Dunsinane, and will endure
Our setting down before 't.
MALCOLM'Tis his main hope:10
For where there is advantage to be given,

Both more and less have given him the revolt,
And none serve with him but constrained things
Whose hearts are absent too.
MACDUFFLet our just censures
Attend the true event, and put we on
Industrious soldiership.
SIWARDThe time approaches
That will with due decision make us know
What we shall say we have and what we owe.
Thoughts speculative their unsure hopes relate,
But certain issue strokes must arbitrate:20
Towards which advance the war.
[Exeunt, marching]

Next: Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

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. < >.

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'If I had three ears I'd hear thee.' Macbeth. From a Henry Irving production, 1897

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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.)


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