Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 2
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
2. His uncle Siward. In Holinshed, Siward appears as the
father-in-law of Duncan, and so as the grandfather of Malcolm.
3. Revenges. This use of an abstract noun in the plural is frequent in Shakespeare when more than one person is affected by
the quality or feeling denoted by the noun.
3. their dear causes, causes that affect them nearly. The meaning of the whole passage is: "the cause they have for revenge
would rouse even a dead man to the fierce and bloody call to arms."
4. bleeding, bloody.
4. alarm, call to arms.
5. mortified, dead.
10. unrough, beardless.
11. Protest ... manhood, first proclaim themselves men, i.e. by
going on a campaign.
13. lesser, used here as an adverb.
15-16. buckle ... rule, control his discontented party. As the next speaker shows Macbeth's followers are constantly revolting
17. sticking on his hands, clinging to him. He can no longer
attribute his murders to others, as he did that of Duncan to the
princes and that of Banquo to Fleance.
18. minutely, every minute.
18. faith-breach, disloyalty to Duncan.
19. in command, by reason of his command. So "in love" in
the following lines.
23. pester'd, troubled.
23. to recoil and start, for breaking down (cf. iv. 3. 19) and
bursting out in wild fits of passion.
27. medicine, doctor.
27. weal, commonwealth.
28. in our country's purge, in the draught which is to purge our
30. the sovereign flower. Malcolm, who in line 28 has been spoken of as the doctor of the sick country, now becomes the "sovereign flower," which the nobles are ready to bedew with their
blood. Beneath the usual meaning of "sovereign" lies, perhaps,
the meaning, common enough in Shakespeare's day, medicinal,
powerful to heal.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_5_2.html >.
Points to Ponder ... In this short scene, Menteith, Caithness, Angus and Lennox plan their attack against Macbeth and discuss Macbeth's decaying control over his rebellious subjects. Angus reports that even Macbeth's loyal army no longer respects him. Caithness asserts that Macbeth's lack of self-control prevents him from managing his diseased ventures (distemper'd cause), much like a person swollen with a hideous malady cannot buckle his belt.
Note how Shakespeare sustains our sympathy for Macbeth through the insightful observations of Menteith, who understands that Macbeth's tormented mind is consumed with guilt:
Who then shall blame
His pester'd senses to recoil and start,
When all that is within him does condemn
Itself for being there?