This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is but what is not.
Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act I, Scene 3 shows him trying to puzzle out the implications of the Witches’ prophecy. He reasons that since what the Witches predicted turned out to be correct, it cannot be evil (he’s wrong). But Macbeth also admits that because of their prediction, he’s already begun to fantasize about killing King Duncan and taking the throne.
If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well
It were done quickly. If th’ assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague th’inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips. He’s here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. 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
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on th’ other.
In this soliloquy, found in Act 1, Scene 7, Macbeth struggles with whether he should murder Duncan. He knows that Duncan has been a good and wise king. Macbeth also acknowledges that his role as Duncan’s host and subject is to protect his king, not murder him in his sleep. Macbeth senses that the murder will change his life, by making him king, but also by unleashing his dark ambition on the world. By the end of the speech, he seems to have decided against the murder, but his wife will soon talk him back into it.
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
This handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?
Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act 2, Scene 1 is important as it marks the first time he hallucinates. We can assume the Witches he saw earlier were real, because Banquo saw them too. In these lines, however, Macbeth is aware that the floating knife he sees is not really there. The fact that he is troubled enough to hallucinate, yet still sane enough to understand that he is hallucinating, can be contrasted with his later mental state, when he fully believes he sees Banquo’s ghost, even though Lady Macbeth tells him no one is there.
Whence is that knocking? –
How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here! Ha, they pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
Macbeth says these lines in Act 2, Scene 2, immediately after murdering Duncan. He hears a knocking at the gate to the castle, and thinks it must be his doom coming to claim him. This moment, now that the dreadful deed is done, shows Macbeth what the rest of his life will be like: he will become king, but he also will be wracked with guilt and sure that supernatural elements are warning him of his imminent death.
Who can be wise, amazed, temp’rate, and furious,
Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man.
Th’expedition of my violent love
Outrun the pauser, reason. Here lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood,
And his gashed stabs looked like a breach in nature
For ruin’s wasteful entrance; there, the murderers,
Steeped in the colors of their trade, their daggers
Unmannerly breeched with gore. Who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make’s love known?
Macbeth has killed Duncan’s servants after re-entering Duncan’s room. In this speech in Act 2, Scene 3, he explains to Macduff and the others that he couldn’t be both calm and furious at once, and that his emotions overtook him. Macbeth is lying, having killed Duncan himself, so these lines show his ability to think quickly and his growing capacity for evil.
It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood.
Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak.
Augurs and understood relations have
By maggot pies and choughs and rooks brought forth
The secret’st man of blood.
By the time Macbeth says these lines, in Act 3, Scene 4, Banquo has been murdered at Macbeth’s command. Macbeth has been haunted by Banquo’s ghost at what was supposed to be a celebratory dinner. The full horror of what he has done in order to achieve his ambition is now clear to Macbeth, and he warns his wife that the dead will have their revenge.
Bring me no more reports. Let them fly all.
Til Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane
I cannot taint with fear. What’s the boy Malcolm?
Was he not born of woman? The spirits that know
All mortal consequences have pronounced me thus:
“Fear not, Macbeth. No man that’s born of woman
Shall e’er have power upon thee.” Then fly, false thanes,
And mingle with the English epicures.
The mind I sway by and the heart I bear
Shall never sag with doubt nor shake with fear.
In Act 5, Scene 3, Macbeth boldly tells his servants that he’s not worried about the approach of Malcom and Macduff to battle him because of the Witches’ prophecies: first, that he can’t lose until Birnam Wood moves, and second, that he can’t be killed except by a man not born of a woman. He brags that his mind and courage will never falter. However, his boast will soon prove hollo Birnam Wood will move, and he will be killed by Macduff, who was born via Caesarian section.
She should have died hereafter.
There would have been time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
After Macbeth learns of his wife’s death, he utters these words in Act 5, Scene 5. These lines form one of the most famous speeches in the play, revealing Macbeth’s grief as well as his pessimism and despair. He says that life is pointless, meaningless, and that it’s over too quickly. Macbeth’s realization of the great evil he has done, which has brought about his wife’s death, influences this speech as well. He is beginning to realize that the Witches’ second prediction will come true: Banquo’s line will become kings, not his.