William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 4, 5, 6, and 7

— 5.4 —

Malcolm, Old Siward and Young Siward, Macduff, Menteith, Caithness, Angus, Lennox, and Ross rode horses near Birnam Forest. Many soldiers marched near them.

“Kinsmen,” Malcolm said, “I hope the time is near at hand when Scots can again be safe in their own homes.”

Menteith said, “All of us believe that will happen soon.”

Old Siward asked, “What forest is this ahead of us?”

“Birnam Forest,” Menteith said.

Malcolm ordered the soldiers, “Let every soldier cut down a branch and carry it in front of him. That way, we can hide the number of soldiers in our army and Macbeth’s scouts will make false reports of our army’s strength.”

The soldiers replied, “We shall do it.”

Old Siward said, “According to our own scouts, the impudent Macbeth is fortifying Dunsinane and will not attack us in open battle. He is willing to endure our setting siege to the castle.”

“Dunsinane is his main fortress,” Malcolm said. “He is forced to stay there. Whoever is able to desert him does so, whether they are nobility or common people. The soldiers who stay with him are forced to stay. They do not respect Macbeth and do not want to die for him. If Macbeth were to take the field, his soldiers would desert him.”

Macduff said, “Let us do our judging of soldiers after the battle is over. For now, let us fight.”

Old Siward said, “Soon we will find out whether we win or lose the war. We can talk and we can hope, but it will be fighting that wins the war.”

— 5.5 —

In a room in the castle at Dunsinane stood Macbeth, Seyton, and some soldiers.

Macbeth ordered, “Hang our banners on the walls of the castle that face the enemy. The news is still, ‘They come!’ But the strength of our castle will laugh a siege to scorn. Let the enemy soldiers lay siege until famine and fever eat them up. If they were not reinforced with deserters from my army, we might have boldly met them in open battle, beard to beard, and beat them back to England.”

Some women in the castle screamed.

“What is that noise?” Macbeth asked.

“It is the cry of women, my good lord,” Seyton said. He left to investigate the cause of the screams.

I have almost forgot what fear tastes like, Macbeth thought. At one time, my senses would have cooled if I had heard a scream at night and my hair would have risen and stood on end when I heard a scary story. But I have experienced so many murderous horrors that they are so familiar to me that a new horror cannot startle me.

Seyton entered the room.

“What is the cause of that screaming?” Macbeth asked.

“The Queen, my lord, is dead,” Seyton replied.

“She should have died at a later time,” Macbeth said. “Then I would have had time to mourn her. But she would inevitably die sometime, so now is as good a time as any.”

He thought, Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creep along from day to day until the end of time. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle of life! Life is only a walking shadow that passes quickly away. Life is only a poor actor who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. Life is meaningless: It is a tale told by an idiot, it is full of sound and fury, and it means nothing.

A messenger entered the room.

“You came here to tell me something,” Macbeth said. “Tell me quickly what you have to say.”

“My gracious lord,” the messenger said, “I need to report to you what I saw, but I do not know how to do it.”

“Just tell me,” Macbeth ordered.

“As I was doing guard duty on the hill, I looked toward Birnam Forest, and it seemed to me that the forest began to move.”

“Liar and slave!” Macbeth raged.

“If I am lying, punish me,” the messenger said. “Look for yourself and you will see the forest is now only three miles away and moving toward us.”

Macbeth said, “If you are lying, I will hang you alive from the nearest tree and let you die of hunger. If you are telling the truth, I will not mind if you do that to me.”

Macbeth thought, My confidence is disappearing, and I suspect that the apparition the three Weird Sisters showed me was equivocating and deliberately misleading me, making me think that one thing is true when actually something different is true. The apparition told me, “Fear not, until Birnam Forest comes to Dunsinane.”

Macbeth said, “Let us not wait to be besieged! Instead, let us arm for battle and go forth from the castle! If this messenger is telling the truth, it is no use for me either to try to run away or to stay here and endure a siege.”

Macbeth thought, I begin to grow weary of the Sun and of life itself. I wish that the universe were plunged into chaos.

Macbeth said, “Ring the alarm bell! Blow, storm! Come, vengeance!”

Macbeth thought, At least I’ll die with armor on my back.

He had decided that if he should die, so be it. Still, he had some confidence in the third apparition’s prophecy: “No man born of woman shall harm Macbeth.”

— 5.6 —

Malcolm, Old Siward, and Macduff, along with many soldiers holding tree branches in front of them, stood outside Macbeth’s castle at Dunsinane.

Malcolm ordered, “We are close enough to the castle. Throw down the leafy tree branches and show yourselves to the enemy. Old Siward, you and your noble son, Young Siward, shall lead our first battalion. Macduff and I will do whatever else is needed to be done.”

Old Siward replied, “Fare you well. We go to find the tyrant’s army. If we cannot conquer the tyrant, we deserve to be beaten.”

“Make all our trumpets speak,” Malcolm said. “Blow all of them. Give them all breath, those noisy announcers of blood and death.”

— 5.7 —

Macbeth had led his few forces out of the castle and onto the battlefield, where they were badly losing.

Macbeth thought, I am like a bear that is tied to a stake for the night’s bloody entertainment of a bear fighting dogs. I cannot run away, but I must fight the dogs that attack me. Who is the man, if anyone, who was not born of woman? I must fear that man, or no man.

Young Siward saw Macbeth and asked him, “What is your name?”

“If I tell you my name, I will frighten you,” Macbeth said.

“No, you won’t,” Young Siward said. “Not even if you have a name that is hotter than any name in Hell.”

“My name is Macbeth.”

“Satan himself could not pronounce a name that is more hateful to my ear.”

“Or one that makes you more afraid.”

“You lie, hated tyrant! With my sword I will show you that your name causes no fear in me!”

Macbeth and Young Siward fought, and Macbeth killed Young Siward.

Macbeth said over the corpse, “You were born of woman, but I smile at the swords and laugh at the other weapons of all men who were born of woman.”

Macduff, who was seeking Macbeth elsewhere on the battlefield, shouted, “I seek the place where the most fighting is because that is where Macbeth will be. Tyrant, show your face! If you are already slain by no stroke of mine, my wife’s and my children’s ghosts will continue to haunt me. I will not strike at wretched foot soldiers, mercenaries who bear arms for money. Either I kill you, Macbeth, or I sheathe my sword with an unbloodied and unbattered edge. The great clamor I hear must be announcing your presence. Let me find Macbeth, god of Fortune! I ask for nothing more.”

Elsewhere, Old Siward and Malcolm met and talked about the battle.

“This way, my lord,” Old Siward said to Malcolm. “The castle surrendered to us without a fight. Most of the tyrant’s soldiers have turned against him and are now on our side. The battle is almost won. Little is left to do.”

Malcolm said, “We have met with ‘enemy’ soldiers who join our cause and fight by our sides against a common enemy: Macbeth.”

“Sir, enter the castle,” Old Siward said.

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