At the end of Shakespeare's play Macbeth, when England invaded Scotland, was no one left to fight for Macbeth? I was wondering why? I also can't find good quotes to prove this point.

  • Welcome to the site! I've edited your question a little to make it more clear and to the point. I'm not sure if you were asking if it's true that no-one was left to fight for Macbeth, or only asking why, but it's probably better to ask both: establishing that it's true would involve finding quotes to prove the point, which is what you want. (I'm not sure that it is true, actually - if no-one were willing to fight for Macbeth, then there wouldn't have been a battle, surely? - but it's been a long time since I studied this play.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Sep 29, 2020 at 14:05

1 Answer 1


In act V, scene II, the rebel commanders describe the condition of Macbeth’s support:

Menteith. What does the tyrant?
Caithness. Great Dunsinane he strongly fortifies.
Some say he’s mad; others, that lesser hate him,
Do call it valiant fury; but, for certain,
He cannot buckle his distemper’d cause
Within the belt of rule.
Angus. Now does he feel
His secret murders sticking on his hands;
Now minutely revolts upbraid his faith-breach;
Those he commands move only in command,
Nothing in love: now does he feel his title
Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.

William Shakespeare (c. 1606). Macbeth, act V, scene II. Project Gutenberg.

What they are saying here is that Macbeth’s crimes have caused him to lose his authority as a ruler (“He cannot buckle his distemper’d cause within the belt of rule”), so that his soldiers obey out of fear and discipline rather than out of loyalty (“move only in command, nothing in love”).

Of course these claims might not be true: the Earls of Caithness and Angus might well exaggerate the weakness of Macbeth’s support, in order to legitimize their own position and motivate their own supporters. Shakespeare’s historical source for the play says something similar:

But after that Macbeth perceived his enemies’ power to increase, by such aid as came to them forth of England with his adversary Malcolm, he recoiled back into Fife, there purposing to abide in camp fortified, at the castle of Dunsinane, and to fight with his enemies, if they meant to pursue him; howbeit some of his friends advised him, that it should be best for him, either to make some agreement with Malcolm, or else to flee with all speed into the Isles, and to take his treasure with him, to the end he might wage sundry great princes of the realm to take his part, & retain strangers, in whom he might better trust than in his own subjects, which stole daily from him: but he had such confidence in his prophesies, that he believed he should never be vanquished, till Birnam wood were brought to Dunsinane; nor yet to be slain with any man, that should be or was born of any woman.

Raphael Holinshed (1578). Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, volume V, p. 276. London: J. Johnson, et al. (1808). Spelling modernized.

But chroniclers would have been similarly motivated to retrospectively legitimize the rebellion by portraying Macbeth as a tyrant only capable of ruling through force.

In the play it’s not clear whether Macbeth’s remaining supporters abandoned him. He comes to end fighting alone against Macduff, but single combat is a dramatic convention and it’s not clear if we’re meant to take it literally in this case: after all, just because Macduff fights on his own doesn’t mean that he has been abandoned.

Holinshed, however, says that Macbeth fled from Dunsinane without giving battle, which suggests that he had no confidence in his men:

Nevertheless, he [Macbeth] brought his men in order of battle, and exhorted them to do valiantly, howbeit his enemies had scarcely cast from them their boughs, when Macbeth perceiving their numbers, betook him straight to flight.

Holinshed, p. 277. Spelling modernized.

Holinshed explains the single combat by suggesting that Macduff was the hottest in pursuit:

Macduff pursued [Macbeth] with great hatred even till he came unto Lunfannaine†, where Macbeth perceiving that Macduff was hard at his back, leapt beside his horse, saying, “Thou traitor, what meaneth it that thou shouldst thus in vain follow me that am not appointed to be slain by any creature that is born of a woman, come on therefore, and receive thy reward which thou hast deserved for thy pains,” and therewithall he lifted up his sword thinking to have slain him.

Holinshed, p. 277. Spelling modernized.

Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire.

But again, this is a dramatization and can’t be taken literally.

  • Just what I needed, thank you very much!
    – ENG2D
    Commented Sep 29, 2020 at 17:34

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