More Needs She The Divine Than The Physician, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1

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Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years. — Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 – February 1, 2021 Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Detailed Summary of Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1:Page Index:Enter a Doctor of Physic and a Waiting-Gentlewoman.—Lady Macbeth”s waiting-gentlewoman tells a doctor of the Lady”s sleep-walking.Enter Lady Macbeth, with a taper.—Lady Macbeth walks and talks in her sleep, revealing guilty secrets.Enter a Doctor of Physic and a Waiting-Gentlewoman:As the scene opens, the doctor is complaining “I have two nights watched with you, but can perceive no truth in your report” (5.1.1-2). To “watch” means to stay up at night, which the doctor has done, but without seeing anything. He then asks, “When was it she last walked?” (5.1.2). If we”re seeing the play, rather than reading it, there”s a small mystery, because we have never seen these two people before, and we don”t know whom they”re talking about. The gentlewoman insists that ever “Since his majesty went into the field” (5.1.3), “she” has often risen from her bed, gone through the motions of writing a letter and preparing it to be sent, then returned to bed, all while fast asleep. That Macbeth “went into the field” means that he is with his army, so perhaps Lady Macbeth is dreaming that she is writing to her husband.The doctor comments that there must be something seriously wrong, and that the sleepwalking will only make it worse, then he asks what the lady has said. The gentlewoman refuses to tell. The doctor says that it”s okay to tell him, but the gentlewoman still refuses, “having no witness to confirm my speech” (5.1.17-18). Without a witness to confirm that Lady Macbeth did indeed say what the gentlewoman heard, the danger would be too great. Enter Lady Macbeth, with a taper:At this point Lady Macbeth enters, carrying a candle, and we soon learn why her gentlewoman is afraid to repeat what she has heard. In her sleep, Lady Macbeth relives the crimes that she has helped Macbeth to commit. First she rubs her hands as though washing them. The gentlewoman explains that she has seen the lady do this for as much as fifteen minutes at a time. Now, after rubbing her hands, Lady Macbeth looks at them and says, “Yet here”s a spot” (5.1.31). What she is seeing in her trance-like state is a spot of blood that she cannot wash off her hand.

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We can see the irony, because just after the murder of Duncan, the lady scorned her husband for staring at his own bloody hands, and she told him that a little water would fix everything.She continues to “wash” her hands until she is interrupted by the memory of the bell that she herself rang to summon her husband to the murder of King Duncan:Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,then, “tis time to do”t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, mylord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need wefear who knows it, when none can call our power toaccount?–Yet who would have thought the old manto have had so much blood in him? (5.1.35-40)Lady Macbeth had thought that once her husband was king, it wouldn”t matter who knew that they murdered King Duncan, because no one would be able to challenge Macbeth”s power as king, to “call our power to account.” Yet the old man had a lot of blood, and she can still see it on her hands, reminding her of her guilt. His blood is pursuing her in another way, too, although she may not know it. A man”s “blood” is his family, and Malcolm, who is of King Duncan”s blood, is now marching with ten thousand English soldiers to call Macbeth to account.Lady Macbeth”s mind wanders to other horrors, and back to the blood on her hands. She asks, “The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?” (5.1.42-43), and then she wonders if her hands will ever be clean. She tells her husband to be calm, and then she smells blood on her hands and says, “Here”s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. O, O, O! (5.1.50-52).Meanwhile, the doctor is beginning to understand the implications of Lady Macbeth”s ravings, and it makes him very nervous. He tells the gentlewoman that she shouldn”t know what she does know, but the gentlewoman replies that Lady Macbeth shouldn”t have spoken what she did. Then the gentlewoman adds, “heaven knows what she has known” (5.1.49). God may know just what is in Lady Macbeth”s heart, but her sleep-walking and sleep-talking ramblings aren”t proof of anything. Still, the gentlewoman is sure that Lady Macbeth has a guilty heart. The doctor wants to give the lady the benefit of the doubt, and says that he has “known those which have walked in their sleep who have died holily in their beds.” (5.1.59-61).However, just as the doctor says this, Lady Macbeth tells imagined Macbeth to wash his hands and reminds him that Banquo can”t come out of the grave. Then she leads him away, saying, “What”s done cannot be undone.–To bed, to bed, to bed!” (5.1.67-68). With this, the lady exits. The gentlewoman tells the doctor that Lady Macbeth will now go directly to bed. The doctor realizes that there”s not much doubt about the meaning of what Lady Macbeth has said, but there”s also not much he can do. It”s her soul that is sick, not her body, and “More needs she the divine than the physician” (5.1.74). He can only advise the gentlewoman to keep an eye on the lady, and take away anything that she might use to hurt herself. As for what Lady Macbeth has said, he”s helpless. He says, “I think, but dare not speak” (5.1.79).

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