Summary and Analysis
Act V: Scene 8
On another part of the battlefield, Macbeth and Macduff finally come face to face. Words, then sword thrusts are exchanged, and Macbeth, the bloody and tyrannical usurper of the throne of Scotland, meets his predestined end.
As Macbeth ponders whether suicide, at this point, would be his better option, the avenging Macduff enters the scene with the bold challenge: "Turn, hell-hound, turn." Macduff's choice of the epithet "Hell-hound," recalling his earlier description of Macbeth as a "Hell-kite" (Act IV, Scene 3), confirms the true nature of the tyrant king. But in an equally bold rhetorical flourish, Macbeth warns Macduff that he is invulnerable, as "intrenchant" (uncuttable) as the air itself. Here, he mistakenly imagines that the words of the apparitions are a protective charm, which can keep him from physical injury.
Macduff takes an opposite view. Words alone, whether those of a ghostly prophecy or those of Macbeth himself, are nothing compared to his own wordless anger: The true voice of revenge lies in action, not language. Furthermore, Macbeth should consider the circumstances of Macduff's birth. Macduff now reveals to Macbeth that he entered the world by being "untimely ripp'd" from his mother's womb: He was not, therefore, in the strict sense, "born" of woman. With the short but powerful sentence "Despair thy charm," Macbeth must know that his struggle for survival is over. The penultimate prophecy has come true.
Throughout the play, Macbeth has wondered about the veracity of the Witches' words: In Act I, Scene 3, he called them "imperfect speakers" because they had not told him all he desired to know; now he realizes that they spoke to him of his own imperfection. In the same scene, he admitted that their supernatural prophecy "Cannot be ill; cannot be good"; now he knows which was which. In Act IV, Scene 1, his opinion was that men were "damned . . . that trust them"; now he is damned by his own words. And in Act V, Scene 5, Macbeth spoke of his doubt concerning the predictions of "the Fiend / that lies like truth." Now he has no such doubt: "Be these juggling fiends no more believed / That palter with us in a double sense."
It is now Macduff's turn to mock Macbeth: He calls him "coward" and promises to have him publicly displayed — "baited with the rabble's curse" with a sign painted with the words "Here may you see the tyrant."
intrenchant (9) uncuttable
the Angel . . . served (14) i.e. the Devil
cow'd (18) caused me to cower
juggling fiends (19) deceiving devils (or Fates)
palter (20) toy with