William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 2 and 3

— 5.2 —

The Scottish nobles Menteith, Caithness, Angus, and Lennox, as well as many Scottish soldiers, were in a field. These nobles — rebels against Macbeth — were planning to meet and join the soldiers led by Malcolm.

Menteith said, “The English army is near, led on by Malcolm, his uncle Old Siward and the good Macduff. They burn to get revenge against Macbeth. The causes they have for revenge would rouse even a dead man to the bloody and fierce call to arms against Macbeth.”

Angus said, “We will meet the English army near Birnam Forest. That is the way their soldiers are marching.”

Caithness asked, “Is Donalbain with his brother, Malcolm?”

“No, sir, he is not,” Lennox replied. “I have a list of the gentry who are with Malcolm. Old Siward’s son is with Malcolm, as are many beardless youths who are now declaring themselves to be men by marching against Macbeth.”

“What is the tyrant Macbeth doing?” Menteith asked.

“He is fortifying his castle at Dunsinane,” Caithness replied. “Some people say that he is insane. Other people, who hate him less, call it valiant fury. Either way, he lacks self-control, and he cannot control the soldiers who should be fighting for him. Because he lacks soldiers who are willing to fight for him in open battle, he is preparing for a siege.”

“Now he can no longer blame his murders on other people, the way he blamed King Duncan’s murder on the King’s bodyguards and the King’s sons,” Angus said. “The blood of the people he has murdered now sticks to his hands. His subjects now continually rebel against him because of his many treacheries. He forces his soldiers to obey his orders — none of his soldiers obeys him out of respect. His crown is too large for him — he is not man enough to be King. His wearing the crown is like a dwarfish thief trying to wear a giant’s robe.”

“Everything that is inside Macbeth condemns his murders and other evils,” Menteith said. “No one can blame Macbeth’s tormented senses and awareness of guilt for causing him to act in fits of irrational anger.”

“Let us march forward,” Caithness said. “We will obey the orders of Malcolm, the true King to whom we truly owe allegiance. He will be the doctor of our sickly country, and with our blood we will help him purge the evil that is Macbeth.”

“We will use our blood to water the flower that is our rightful King and make it grow, and we will use our blood to drown the weed that is Macbeth,” Lennox said. “Now let us march to Birnam Forest.”

— 5.3 —

In a room in the castle at Dunsinane, Macbeth raged — the doctor and some servants witnessed his rage.

“Bring me no more reports,” Macbeth ordered. “I know that the Thanes are deserting me and going to support Malcolm, and I don’t care. Until Birnam Forest marches to Dunsinane, I shall fear nothing. What is the boy Malcolm to me? A danger? No! He was born of woman. Supernatural spirits that know the future of mortals have told me, ‘Fear not, Macbeth; no man who is born of woman shall ever have power over you.’ So desert me, disloyal Thanes, and support the effeminate and decadent English. My mind and my heart shall never sag with doubt nor shake with fear.”

A servant, pale with fear, entered the room.

Macbeth yelled at the servant, “May Satan turn you black, you cream-faced fool! Where did you get that foolish look of fear? You look like a frightened goose.”

His voice shaking with fear, the servant said, “There is ten thousand —”

Macbeth finished the sentence for him, “Geese, fool?”

“Soldiers, sir,” the servant said.

“Go prick your face and use the red blood to cover the whiteness of your frightened face, you lily-livered boy! What soldiers, fool? May your soul die! Your linen cheeks are witnesses of your fear. What soldiers, milk-face?”

“The English force, so please you.”

“Take your face away from here,” Macbeth ordered.

The servant left the room.

Macbeth began to call for an officer, whose name was Seyton.

“Seyton!” Macbeth called. “I am sick at heart, when I see such cowards. Seyton, come here!”

Macbeth thought, This battle will either establish me permanently on the throne or take the throne away from me.

He paused, then he thought, I have lived long enough. My life is now like a withered, dry, yellow leaf of autumn, ready to fall and die as winter arrives. All those things that an old man who has lived well should have — honor, love, loyalty, and troops of friends — I will not have. Instead, I will have curses that are not loud but are deep, the signs of honor that I force my subjects to show to me, and flattery — flattery that my subjects will not like to engage in but will be too afraid not to.

He yelled, “Seyton!”

Seyton entered the room and said, “What is your gracious pleasure?”

“Is there any more news?”

“All that was reported to you has been confirmed to be true.”

“I’ll fight until my flesh is hacked from my bones,” Macbeth said, “Give me my armor.”

“It is not needed yet,” Seyton said.

“I’ll put it on anyway,” Macbeth said. “Send out more people on horseback; let them scout the country around the castle and hang anyone who talks of fear. Give me my armor.”

Then Macbeth said, “How is your patient, doctor?”

“She is not so sick, lord,” the doctor said, “as she is troubled with numerous illusions and hallucinations that keep her from sleeping.”

“Cure her of that,” Macbeth ordered, “if you can. Can you treat a diseased mind? Can you remove her sorrows from her memory? Can you give her a drug that will clean away everything that weighs upon her heart?”

“Only the patient can heal that kind of illness,” the doctor said.

“In that case, let medical science go to the dogs,” Macbeth thundered. “I don’t want it.”

He said to Seyton, “Come, put my armor on. Give me my lance.”

He said to the doctor, “The Thanes fly from me.”

He said to Seyton, “Faster.”

He said to the doctor, “If you are able to, analyze the urine of my country, discover what disease it suffers from, and cure it so that Scotland has a sound and pristine health. If you can do that, I will applaud you until the echo of my applause returns to you.”

Having finished putting on his armor, Macbeth said to Seyton, “Pull my armor off, I say.”

Macbeth said to the doctor, “What rhubarb, senna, or purgative drug would purge Scotland of these English soldiers? Have you heard about the soldiers?”

“Yes, my good lord,” the doctor said. “I know that you are preparing for war.”

Macbeth said to Seyton, who was holding the armor he had taken off Macbeth, “Carry the armor behind me. I will not be afraid of death and destruction and bane until Birnam Forest comes to Dunsinane.”

Macbeth and Seyton left, and the doctor thought, Were I from Dunsinane away and clear, a large sum of money would not again draw me here.

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