(5.iii.19-29) These are the lines spoken by Macbeth in act 5 scene 3. Macbeth addresses Seyton to ventilate the burden of his heart as the English brigade led by Malcolm march towards the castle. These lines betray Macbeth's sense of bitterness and disillusion.
He talks of the battle as a sort of ultimatum for himself. Either his crown would be secured for the rest of his life, or it would be the cause of his fall from the throne.
A sense of tragic desolation seems to have overtaken him. He resorts to the imagery of withering and degeneration (the sear, the yellow leaf) typical of late autumn as Macbeth imagines to have fallen into an autumnal (or later) state of life.
Shakespeare also uses the imagery and metaphor of yellow leaves in his 73rd sonnet “This time of year thou mayst in me behold I When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang I Upon these boughs that shake against the cold.”
I’d also like to point out as like a fun fact, that Shakespeare even in this more serious part of the play, still inserts puns into Macbeth’s speech. “Will cheer me ever or disseat me now”
Since he has chosen to condemn himself, he would not be entitled to those natural things of life (honour, love, obedience, troops of friends) as expected by a man in his old age. On the contrary, Macbeth would be receiving deep curses from others, people only showing him an appearance of honour and respect.
What was interesting about Act 5 Scene 3 was that Macbeth asks for his armour before the battle has even started. This is strange because we know that Macbeth has complete faith in the apparitions’ prophecies. (Shown in 5.iii.1-10). So why the armour? He has no doubts.
I looked up why that was, and found a published essay by Lisa Tomaszewski saying that Macbeth wore it (the armour) for the Doctor with whom he talks to right after he asks for the armour.
So I read further into this essay, and she argues that the Scottish Doctor was created almost as a foil for Macbeth and of the importance of physicians in the play. But to explain this fully, we have to look at the history of Renaissance physicians and Shakespeare’s opinion of them.
Doctors during the Renaissance were highly educated and were well paid, however they had very limited treatments. For example, bleeding people. Health care gained very little advancements from the texts they used.
But the physicians were not thought of very highly by people of the lesser class. A good illustration of this would be the common and popular use of the “quack” physician in many theatrical productions at the time. Shakespeare even does so in The Merry Wives of Windsor with the character of Dr. Caius. In fact, Shakespeare’s criticism of doctors was so extensive that there is a book called Shakespeare’s insults to doctors by Wayne Hill and Cythia Ottchen.
In addition, a doctor’s spirituality was criticized because as clichés go, medicine and atheism go hand in hand. This ideal is summed up in the proverb quoted by La Primaudaye “Of three physicians, one atheist.” This cliché was formed because Elizabethan medicine philosophy concentrated on physical causes rather than God as the cause of illnesses.
We know what Shakespeare’s opinion on doctors was, so why did Shakespeare present them in such a positive light in this play? And why are they so important? They don’t even get proper names! In one instance which we will discuss, Shakespeare really didn’t need to include a doctor at all. And what is incredible as well is that these doctors aren’t atheists. Instead spirituality is one of their common drives.
Act 4 scene 3 lines 141 to 145 are the English Doctor’s only lines throughout the entire play. His sole purpose is to talk about the English King’s healing powers. But why does Shakespeare have a doctor tell Malcolm and Macduff this? Malcolm could just as easily have relayed this information, as he explains the situation in greater detail after the doctor leaves.
When this doctor,