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These apparently cheerful predictions do not satisfy Macbeth, who wants to pry into the former prophecy to Banquo, and the witches show his eye and grieve his heart by a vision of eight Stuart kings, with Banquo following, and in a glass the last king shows him a long line of future Stuarts, who two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry.
The witches then disappear, and Macbeth learns of Macduff's flight. From that moment he determines to waste no more time in deliberation, but to let the act fly quick-footed with the thought.
Act IV. SJENE II. He at once therefore proceeds to attack Macduff's castle, and Lady Macduff and her children are slain.
Act IV. SCENE III. Macduff has now reached Malcolm, and tries to persuade him to advance to Scotland's aid. Malcolm, in order to test the sincerity of Macduff, at first excuses himself as unfit, declaring himself voluptuous and avaricious; but Macduff says that these vices can be palliated in a king, if balanced by other graces. Malcolm, however, declares himself to have no redeeming virtues, and deprives Macduff of all hope. Malcolm, satisfied of the truth of Macduff, then declares that he has been accusing himself of faults he does not possess, and the two unite for Scotland's help.
Ross now enters as the bearer of news from Scotland, describing the horrors under which it groans, and informing Macduff of the cruel murder of his wife and children, thus determining him the more keenly to seek revenge.
Act V. SCENE I. The scene now returns to Scotland, and Lady Macbeth in her sleep-walking shows how the murder of Duncan haunts her mind. The blood upon her hands, her speech to Macbeth, the knocking at the gate, all are told, and the doctor and her waiting woman are lost in wonder at their meaning
Act V. SCENE II. Malcolm and Macduff, with warlike
Siward, have by this time reached the neighbourhood of Dunsinane, which Macbeth has strongly fortified, but within which his following is described as not being too faithful.
Act V. SCENE III. Macbeth is informed of their approach, and determines to fight to the death. He receives the news of Lady Macbeth's condition from the doctor, upbraids him for being unable to give alleviation to the diseased mind, and then prepares himself for battle.
Act V. SCENE IV. The soldiers of Malcolm, on reaching Birnam Wood, are ordered by Malcolm to take down branches of the trees, and hold them over their heads so as to hide their numbers.
ACT V. SCENE V. Macbeth is informed of the death of his wife, but has supped too full of horrors to feel the loss greatly. The news of the approach of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, the fulfilment of one prophecy he had thought impossible, rouses him again to fight.
Act V. SCENES VI., VII., VIII. A battle takes place in which young Siward is first killed by Macbeth, who afterwards meets Macduff. Boastingly he repeats the prophecy that none of woman born can harm Macbeth, only to learn that Macduff himself was not of woman born, and to be slain in the fight. Victory for Malcolm is proclaimed, and he is hailed as King of Scotland, while the head of Macbeth is brought in by Macduff.
Date of the Play.
In discussing the date at which any of Shakespeare's plays was written evidence is sought from two sources, internal evidence drawn from the style in which the play is written, or from allusions to current events, and external evidence, obtained from references to the play in contemporary works. Shakespeare himself was too careless of the fate of his offspring to leave us any absolute evidence upon the point, and with this play seems to have been more careless than usual, the first printed copy appearing in the folio of 1623.
1603 or after. Shakespeare was not entirely free from the custom of flattering the powers that be, and when the
• imperial votaress” of the Midsummer Night's Dream had passed away, did not disdain to flatter the new Stuart dynasty. Thus the references to the Standard of the adherents of Darnley, in I. vii. 21; to the origin and success of the Stuart line, in IV. i. 114 et seq.; to the touching for the king's evil, a virtue on which James I. especially prided himself, in IV. iii. 152; the evident desire to relieve Banquo (James' presumed ancestor) from any share in the murder; and the important part which witchcraft takes in the play, all show a desire to interest and flatter that monarch, and all prove that the play must have been written after the death of Elizabeth in 1603.
1610 or before. The external evidence contained in the diary of Dr. Forman gives 1610 as the latest possible date at which the play could have been written. He writes: “In Macbeth at the Globe,' 1610, the 20th of April, Saturday, there was to be observed, first, how Macbeth and Banquo, two noblemen of Scotland, riding through a wood, there stood before them three women, fairies or nymphs, and saluted Macbeth, saying three times unto him, “ Hail, Macbeth, thane of Coudor, for thou shalt be a king,' etc.” The play described here is evidently Shakespeare's Macbeth, although one can hardly understand how anyone who had seen the play could describe the witches as fairies, or nymphs, a description of the three weird women more in accord with Holinshed than with Shakespeare.
1606 or 1608? Between these two dates of 1603 and 1610 discussion generally favours 1606 or 1608, with the balance of evidence in favour of the former year. Thus in the porter's speech there are apparently two references to current events, both favouring the year 1606.
The year 1606 gave an extremely good harvest, when the crops were so abundant that the price of corn would naturally be expected to fall. It was possible, therefore, that a farmer might have looked forward despondently to low prices for his crops, and might thus have “hanged himself on the expectation of plenty,” II. iii. 4.
Early in 1606 Dr. Garnet, the Superior of the Order of Jesuits in England, was put on trial, in connection with the Gunpowder Plot, for equivocation, and there seems great probability that this trial accounts for the porter's references to equivocation in II. iii. 8.
It is, of course, evident that these references will be most important in fixing the date, as the play must have been written when the excitement of this trial was still agitating the public mind.
One or two references in contemporary plays tend rather to confirm what seems a clear settlement in favour of 1606. Thus Malone quotes from a play called Cæsar and Pompey, published in 1607, the lines :
“What think you, lords, that 'tis ambition's spur
That pricketh Cæsar to these high intents;”
and these are evidently related to the lines of the play :
"I have no spur
Halliwell also quotes from the Puritan, published in 1607, the nes :
“We'll ha' the ghost in the white sheet sit at upper end o' the
as a reference to the appearance of Banquo's ghost (III. iv. 39).
It is significant, also, that when King James I. visited Oxford in 1605 he was addressed by three students on entering the city, and these recited to him some Latin verses founded on the witches' prediction to Macbeth and Banquo. This may have suggested the subject to Shakespeare, just as the popularity of the new play may have caused the addition of the Historie of Makbeth to the 1606 edition of Warner's “ Albion's England.”
The most important point in favour of 1608 is the fact that Dr. Forman's account, which appears under the date 1610, seems to describe a comparatively new play, or, at any rate, one which he had never seen before.
The reference to Antony and Cleopatra in III. i. 54-56:
“And, under him My Genius is rebuked ; as, it is said Mark Antony's was by Cæsar,”