Macbeth Act I Quotes

Fair is foul, and foul is fair.Hover through the fog and filthy air. [Exit] These lines, from the very first scene of the play, establish the ambiguous tone that permeates throughout the entire production. It says the audience should be wary of what’s going on. Looks can be deceiving, and what seems good may turn out to be bad. On the flip side, what seems terrible may very well be for the best in the long run.
Like valor’s minion carved out his passageTill he faced the slave;Which ne’r shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops, The captain explains that not only did Macbeth win the battle, but he also did it in dominating fashion. He literally made minced-meat of the enemy. This also demonstrates for the audience that Macbeth has experience dealing bloody blows. It may be difficult to imagine him murdering Duncan, but not so difficult for him to actually do the deed. After all, he’s quite handy with a blade.
Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds,Or memorize another Golgotha, By using an allusion that compares the battlefield to the place where Christ was crucified, the captain uses an image that Shakespearean audiences would easily recognize, thus giving the audience a visual image of what Macbeth and Banquo must have gone through. The horrific, bloodstained imagery helps the audience understand the harsh realities of war that the two brave thanes have just endured. Wow, they must really love their king to go through such hardship for him.
No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceiveOur bosom interest: go pronounce his present death,And with his former title greet Macbeth. Upon hearing that he’s been double-crossed by the Thane of Cawdor, Duncan orders his immediate execution, and adding insult to injury, gives his former title to Macbeth. Much like the memorable Don Corleone, from The Godfather, Duncan makes it clear that you never go against the family.
So foul and fair a day I have not seen. The first words spoken by Macbeth on stage. His words mirror the ambiguity established by the witches’ words that, “fair is foul and foul is fair.”
Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.Not so happy, yet much happier.Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!Banquo and Macbeth, all hail! Again with the witchy double-speak! The three hags tell Banquo he’s both better than, and worse than, Macbeth. They say he won’t get to sit on the throne like his buddy, but that’s ok because his kids could turn out to be better kings than Macbeth ever thought about being. You don’t get to be king, but being the father of great kings is almost as good.
[Aside] Two truths are told,As happy prologues to the swelling actOf the imperial theme, -I thank you, gentlemen.- [Aside] 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 suggestionWhose horrid image doth unfix my hairAnd make my seated heart knock at my ribs,Against the use of nature? Present fearsAre less than horrible imaginings.My thought, whose murder yet is but fantasticalShakes so my single state of man that functionIs smothered in sunrise, and nothing isBut what is not. What a moral dilemma! Macbeth struggles with whether or not he should act on his ambition and desire to become king. If he acts, he meets the challenge like a man and controls his own destiny, but at the cost of betraying every good and decent thing he’s sworn to protect. If he doesn’t act, no guilt of being a traitor, but he also has to wait for fate to step in and move Duncan and Malcolm out of the way so he can become king. This could take a lifetime.
There’s no artTo find the mind’s construction in the face:He was a gentleman on whom I builtAn absolute trust. Oh, the irony! In fact, it’s dramatic irony…because the audience understands what the characters on stage don’t. Even though the king says it’s easy to know what someone is thinking by reading their face, he has no clue that Macbeth and his wife are plotting to murder him when he arrives at their home. Ironically, they hide their true intentions by putting on a happy face and pretending he’s their most welcome guest.
[Aside] The Prince of Cumberland! That is a stepOn which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,For in my way it lies. Stars, hid your fires; Macbeth’s first indication that he has considered the possibility of murdering his own king to make the prophecy come true, this is a revelation that he may not be the loyal subject Duncan thinks he is. Before, Macbeth decided to wait and see if fate might make it come true, but now that Duncan has named his son next in line for the throne, Macbeth realizes more drastic measures may be necessary.
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt beWhat thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;It is too full o’ the milk of human kindnessTo catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,Art not without ambition, but withoutThe illness should attend it. Lady Macbeth thinks her husband may be too kind to actually reach out and grab the prize dangling in front of him. Since the prize requires him to do a little dirty work, she’s afraid he may not want to get dirty at all, and will not reach out for his dream.
Come, you spiritsThat tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-fullOf direst cruelty! Make thick my blood,Stop up th’ access and passage to remorseThat no compunctious visitings of natureShake my fell purpose, nor keep peace betweenTh’ effect and it! Behind every great man, there’s a great woman. Lady Macbeth demonstrates the extreme measures to which she’ll go to help her husband climb the corporate ladder. She invites the very essence of evil to dull her sense of right and wrong, so she’ll have the power to go through with the evil deeds that must be done without any chance of fear giving her cold feet. Be careful what you wish for, lady!
. . . To beguile the time,Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,Your hand, your tongue; look like th’ innocent flower,But be the serpent under ‘t. . Lady Macbeth tells her husband how to suppress his guilt, so as not to give away their murderous intentions when the king arrives. Of course Macbeth, who doesn’t find it so easy to hide his feelings, feels this is easier said than done.
The thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me in borrow’d robes? Macbeth doesn’t know he’s been given a new title yet, so he wonders (metaphorically) about why Ross (the messenger) calls him by a title he knows to belong to another person.
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,The instruments of darkness tell us truths,Win us with honest trifles, to betray’sIn deepest consequence. The saying, “if it’s too good to be true it probably is” would be applicable here. Proving more cautious than his friend, Banquo remarks that sometimes people (or witches) will tell people what they want to hear in order to trick them into believing something.
If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly Macbeth contemplates murdering his king. If only, he says, he could do the deed and be done with it. Problem is, there is a lot of baggage that comes along with murdering one’s own king. He (at this point) still has reservations about how he, or anyone else for that matter, could commit such a terrible act.
I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent,but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itselfand falls on the other. Brilliant use of metaphor! Shakespeare describes Macbeth’s inability to go through with the murder as if Macbeth were riding a horse, but has no riding crop or spurs to coax the horse into moving forward.
I am settled, and bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat.Away, and mock the time with fairest showFalse face must hide what the false heart doth know. Using rhyme to bring added attention to the lines, Shakespeare ends Act I with Macbeth’s decision. Macbeth acknowledges that even though he is uncertain about the outcome, he must hide his true intentions by putting on a happy face and pretending to be a loyal friend to Duncan.

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