Philip Weller caricature
Philip and Weller hugging

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 2:

Drum and colours. Enter Menteith, Caithness, Angus, Lennox, and Soldiers:
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.

Lennox and Angus are the two Scotsmen we have seen before. Angus (with Ross) brought Macbeth the news that he had been given the title of Thane of Cawdor. Lennox was at Macbeth's banquet and at the door the witches' cave when Macbeth visited them. The other two who speak are Menteith and Caithness, whom we have never seen before. Also, their names are given only in the speech headings. If we were seeing the play, rather than reading it, all we would know about them is that they are Scotsmen. None of these men have any marked individuality, and our general impression is that these men in beards and kilts are representatives of all the Scots who hate Macbeth and can't wait for his defeat.

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 -- Macbeth's murder of Malcolm's father and of Macduff's wife and children. An "alarm" is a battle, a "mortified man" is one who is half-dead, and "excite" was used the way "incite" is used now. Menteith is saying even a man who was half-dead would rush into the most bloody battle if that man had the reasons to fight that Malcolm and Macduff have.

Shortly after this, the conversation turns to how things look from Macbeth's point of view. Menteith asks what the tyrant is doing, and Caithness replies, "Great Dunsinane he strongly fortifies: / Some say he's mad; others that lesser hate him / Do call it valiant fury" (5.2.12-14). Then he adds, "He cannot buckle his distemper'd cause / Within the belt of rule" (5.2.15-16). Macbeth's cause is sick, "distemper'd," because he is defending himself against the consequences of his own criminal actions. Furthermore, Menteith's metaphor portrays Macbeth as being so sick that he is grossly swollen, unable to put a belt around himself, unable to rule himself. Call it madness or valiant fury, Macbeth is out of control and in no shape to fight.

Angus comments that every minute Macbeth faces a new revolt, all reminding him that he has breached his faith as King Duncan's subject and Banquo's friend and king: "Now minutely revolts upbraid his faith-breach; / Those he commands move only in command, / Nothing in love" (5.2.18-20). In fact, he is not even in command of his own senses. Because of his guilt, he must think that everyone and everything is out to get him, as Menteith says: "Who then shall blame / His pester'd senses to recoil and start [jump, jerk], / When all that is within him does condemn / Itself for being there?" (5.2.22-25). In the next scene, we will see that what these men think about Macbeth is all true.

All of this said, they march on to Birnam wood to meet Malcolm, who is "the medicine of the sickly weal" (5.2.27), the cure for sick Scotland.