Until Act 5, Macbeth has been tormented with visions and nightmares while Lady Macbeth has derided him for his weakness. Now the audience witnesses the way in which the murders have also preyed on Lady Macbeth. In her sleepwalking, Lady Macbeth plays out the theme of washing and cleansing that runs throughout the play. After killing Duncan in act 2, she ignorantly tells Macbeth that "a little water clears us of this deed" (II ii 65). But the deed now returns to haunt Lady Macbeth in her sleep. Lady Macbeth's stained hands are reminiscent of the biblical mark of Cain—the mark that God placed on Cain for murdering his brother Abel (Genesis 4:15). But Cain's mark is a sign from God that protects Cain from the revenge of others. Lady Macbeth's mark does not protect her from death, as she dies only a few scenes later. The doctor's behavior in Act 5 Scene 3 resembles that of a psychiatrist. The doctor observes Lady Macbeth's dreams and uses her words to infer the cause of her stress. Lady Macbeth's language in this scene betrays her troubled mind in many ways. Her speech in previous acts has been eloquent and smooth. In Act 1 Scene 4, for example, she declares to Duncan: All our service,
In every point twice done and then done double,
Were poor and single business to contend
Against those honors deep and broad wherewith
Your Majesty loads our house. For those of old,
And the late dignities heaped upon them,
We rest your hermits. (1.6.14-19)
In this speech, Lady Macbeth makes use of metaphor (Duncan's honor is "deep and broad"), metonymy (he honors "our house," meaning the Macbeths themselves), and hyperbole ("in every point twice done and then done double"). Her syntax is complex but the rhythm of her speech remains smooth and flowing, in the iambic pentameter used by noble characters in Shakespearean plays. There is a significant difference in the way she talks in her sleep in Act 5: Out, damned spot, out, I say! One. Two. Why then, ‘tis time to do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him. . . The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? What, will these hands ne'er be clean? No more o' that, my lord, no more o' that. You mar all with this starting. (5.1.30-48) In this speech, Lady Macbeth's is constantly trying to wash her hands of the blood of others, and in turn trying to wash away her guilt but it is apparent that it is a stain that no amount of water can wash away. Also lady Macbeths language is choppy, jumping from idea to idea as her state of mind changes. Her sentences are short and unpolished, reflecting a mind too disturbed to speak eloquently. Although she spoke in iambic pentameter before, she now speaks in prose—thus falling from the noble to the prosaic. Lady Macbeth's dissolution is swift. As Macbeth's power grows Lady Macbeth's power decreases. She began the play as a remorseless, influential voice that is capable of sweet-talking Duncan and of making Macbeth do her bidding. In the third act Macbeth leaves her out of his plans to kill Banquo, refusing to reveal his intentions to her. Now in the last act, she has dwindled to a mumbling sleepwalker, capable only of a mad and rambling speech. Whereas even the relatively unimportant Lady Macduff has a stirring death scene.
The sense of Macbeth's certain doom dominates this short scene. First we hear and see "Drum and colours " (5.2.1, s.d.), then the leaders of the Scottish forces and their soldiers following. We learn that they are to join with the much larger English force in Birnam wood, which fronts Macbeth's castle. Menteith says of Malcolm and Macduff, "Revenges burn in them; for their dear causes / Would to the bleeding and the grim alarm / Excite the mortified man" (5.2.3-5). Their "dear causes" are their motivations which are Macbeth's murder of...