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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.
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