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Allusions

Main ideas Allusions

Act 1, scene 2

Mythological

And fortune, on his damnèd quarrel smiling, Showed like a rebel’s whore. (1.2.14–15)

This is an allusion to Lady Fortuna, the Roman goddess of fortune, who the Captain references as behaving like Madonwald’s “whore” on the battlefield.

Religious

Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds, Or memorize another Golgotha, I cannot tell— But I am faint, my gashes cry for help. (1.2.39–42)

This is an allusion to Golgotha, the place where Christ was crucified.

Mythological

Assisted by that most disloyal traitor, The thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict, Till that Bellona’s bridegroom, lapped in proof, Confronted him with self-comparisons[.] (1.2.52–55)

This is an allusion to Bellona, the Roman goddess of war.

Act 1, scene 7

Religious

Besides, this Duncan Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office, that his virtues Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against The deep damnation of his taking-off; And pity, like a naked newborn babe, Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed[.] (1.7.16–22)

The term “heaven’s cherubim” is an allusion to an angel of heaven.

Literary

Wouldst thou have that Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem, Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,” Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage? (1.7.41–45)

This is an allusion to an adage about a cat that likes fish but not wetting her paws.

Act 2, scene 1

Mythological

Witchcraft celebrates Pale Hecate’s offerings[.] (2.1.51–52)

This is an allusion to Hecate, the Greek goddess of magic, witchcraft, ghosts, necromancy, and the night and moon.

Historical

[A]nd withered murder, Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf, Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design Moves like a ghost. (2.1.52–56)

This is an allusion to Tarquin, a Roman prince who raped Lucretia, a Roman wife, in her bed at night.

Act 2, scene 2

Mythological

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? (2.2.60–61)

This is an allusion to Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

Religious

A little water clears us of this deed. (2.2.68)

This is a biblical allusion to Pontius Pilate publicly washing his hands to absolve himself of any guilt for Christ’s crucifixion.

Act 2, scene 3

Religious

Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub? (2.3.2)

This is an allusion to Satan, also called Beelzebub, or one of the seven princes of Hell.

Historical/Political

Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale[.] (2.3.3–4)

This is an allusion to the Gunpowder Plot against King James I.

Mythological

Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight With a new Gorgon. (2.3.45–46)

This is an allusion to Medusa, a Greek monster with snakes for hair who could turn men to stone.

Religious

Up, up, and see The great doom’s image! Malcolm! Banquo! (2.3.52–53)

The phrase “[t]he great doom” is an allusion to doomsday, or the end of times as described in Abrahamic religions.

Act 3, scene 1

Historical/Political/Literary

There is none but he Whose being I do fear, and under him My genius is rebuked, as it is said Mark Antony’s was by Caesar. (3.1.56–59)

This is an allusion to Mark Antony and Julius Caesar, two famous Roman politicians and leaders of the Roman Republic, as well as a reference to Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra, in which a soothsayer predicts Antony’s fortunes would be lesser than Caesar’s.

Religious

[A]nd mine eternal jewel Given to the common enemy of man[.] (3.1.70–71)

This is an allusion to Macbeth giving his soul, or “mine eternal jewel,” to Satan, the “common enemy of man.”

Act 3, scene 2

Mythological

Ere the bat hath flown His cloistered flight, ere to black Hecate’s summons[.] (3.2.42–43)

This is an allusion to Hecate, the Greek goddess of magic, witchcraft, ghosts, necromancy, and the night and moon.

Act 3, scene 5

Mythological

Get you gone, And at the pit of Acheron Meet me i’ th’ morning. (3.5.14–16)

This is an allusion to Acheron, a river in Hades in Greek and Roman mythology.

Act 4, scene 1

Mythological

Thou hast harped my fear aright. (4.1.76)

This is an allusion to the harpies, the half-human, half-bird monsters in Greek mythology who tormented people.

Religious

What, will the line stretch out to th’ crack of doom? (4.1.122)

This is an allusion to doomsday, or the end of times as described in Abrahamic religions.

Act 4, scene 3

Religious

To offer up a weak, poor, innocent lamb T’ appease an angry god. (4.3.16–17)

This an allusion to Christ, the “lamb of God.”

Religious

Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell. (4.2.23)

This is an allusion to Satan, heaven’s “brightest” angel who was banished and “fell” to Hell.

Act 5, scene 8

Literary

Why should I play the Roman fool and die On mine own sword? (5.8.1–2)

This is an allusion to an old folktale about a Roman soldier on the losing side of a battle who kills himself to avoid being killed by his enemies.

Mythological

Turn, hellhound, turn! (5.8.3)

This is an allusion to Cerberus, a three-headed hound from Hell in Greek mythology.