Macbeth Key Quotes

“There to meet Macbeth” (1,1) Dramatic convention to introduce the title character. However creates a sense of tragic inevitability suggesting that Macbeth’s fate is already sealed. Close association between Macbeth and the witches from the outset.
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air” (1,1) Paradox. All is not as it seems. Sentiment is ambiguous – relates to the gothic idea of obscurity
“Til he unseamed him from the nave to th’chaps / And fixed his head upon our battlements” (1,2) Macbeth is valiant and brave on the battlefield. Poses a slight concern to the audience as the image is quite brutal.
“O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman” (1,2) Ironic. Macbeth is well regarded for his bravery on the battlefield conducting ‘moral killing’.
“Go pronounce his present death/And with is noble title greet Macbeth” (1,2) Rhyming couplet. Emphatic words are Macbeth and Death – close association between the two from the outset. Foreshadows the death caused by Macbeth, including Duncan’s own murder.
“Peace! The charms wound up” (1,3) The witches hold a supernatural control over Macbeth.
“So foul and fair a day I have not seen” (1,3) Macbeth’s language echoes that of the witches. Emphasises the close association between the witches and Macbeth – their possible hold over him?
“Look not like th’inhabitants o’th’earth, and yet are on’t?”(1,3) Liminal appearance of the witches. Transgress boundaries in terms of their appearance – Gothic.
“What, can the devil speak true?” (1,3) Banquo, the moral figure of the play, is full of disbelief and immediately associates the witches with evil.
“Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor: The greatest is behind” (1,3) Ambition grips Macbeth as he realises that the possibility of reigning is within his reach.
“This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill, cannot be good” (1,3) Sense of confusion. Both Macbeth and the audience are unsure if these tidings are ill or not. Note; a typical feature of gothic is the promise of good things.
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical” (1,3) Macbeth is afraid of the murderous thoughts he is already having. Causes him to question his state of humanity.
“There’s no art/To find the mind’s construction in the face” (1,4) Theme of appearance vs reality. One can never truly know a person’s true character. Touches on the ideas of obscurity and deceit. Dramatic irony as Macbeth enters as Duncan refers to the ‘traitor’, the previous Thane of Cawdor.
“Stars, hide your fires;/ Let not light see my black and deep desires” (1,4) Gothic image of deceit and obscurity. Macbeth is using ‘dark forces’ to mask his ambition.
“I do fear thy nature: It is too full of the milk of human kindness” (1,5) Lady Macbeth gives the audience an insight into Macbeth’s vulnerability. He is only human, and Lady Macbeth foresees his struggle as he comes to grips with the assassination
“Come, you spirits/ That tend of mortal thoughts, unsex me here/ And fill me crown to the toe, top-full/ Of direst cruelty” (1,5) Lady Macbeth is willing herself to evil spirits. Association with the supernatural – a typical trait of the gothic genre. (Context: play was written at a time of great superstition of the supernatural).
“Look like th’innocent flower but be the serpent under’t”(1,5) Key theme of deception (appearance vs reality). Relates to the story of Adam and Eve: the devil is disguised as a serpent, therefore there is a close association between Macbeth and evil. Note: Lady M’s final speech in (1,5) is ambiguous. Much of what she says has double-meaning – deceiving.
“Leave all the rest to me” (1,5) Reassurance to Macbeth. Monosyllabic and assertive language conveys Lady Macbeth’s control over Macbeth
“Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return/ To plague the i’inventor” (1,7) Macbeth’s soliloquy reveals his concerns of the consequences of actions, if he were to take them. Shows the audience he is susceptible to guilt and is not entirely evil. Uses euphemisms to convey this concerns due to the taboo associated with The Divine Right of Kings.
“His virtues/ Will plead like angels, trumpet tongued” (1,7) Duncan is idealised in Macbeth’s soliloquy. Reference to the Divine Right of Kings.
“Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself and falls on the other” (1,7) Macbeth recognises his ‘fatal flaw’ as ambition that may lead to his downfall.
“What beast was’t then/ That made you break this enterprise to me?” (1,7) Lady Macbeth is manipulative. Emotionally blackmails Macbeth into believing he has promised her to kill Duncan. Her questioning places doubts in Macbeth’s mind
“I would have plucked my nipple from its boneless gums,/ And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you/ Have done to this” (1,7) Unsettling image. Portrays Lady Macbeth as emotionless and evil – a ‘fiend-like queen’? The audience questions if there was a child.
“His two chamberlains/ Will I with wine and wassail so convince” (1,7) Formulates a plan as soon as Macbeth wavers. Poison was a woman’s weapon. Typical of witches; a 17th century audience would closely relate this to the stigma surrounding the supernatural.
“False face must hide what the false heart doth know” (1,7) Theme of appearance vs reality
“My bosom franchised and allegiance clear” (2,1) Banquo, speaking in ‘code’ to Macbeth confirms his allegiance to Macbeth. He is the moral antithesis of Macbeth as he declines Macbeth’s invitation to plot alongside him.
“Or art thou but/ A dagger of the mind, a false creation proceeding from the heat oppressed brain” (2,1) Macbeth questions the appearance of the dagger, is it all in his mind. Is he already being driven to madness. Note: different interpretations of the dagger suggest that it has either been sent by supernatural forces and persuades Macbeth to kill Duncan, or it is a figment of his imagination – a manifestation of his insanity.
“Thou marshall’st me the way I was going,/ And such an instrument I was to use” (2,1) Macbeth had already decided to kill Duncan before the arrival of the dagger.
“I go and it is done” (2,1) Deeply ironic as we as the audience know that though the act may be done, the guilt lives on. Note: The rhyming couplet at the end of the scene provides a sense of finality.
M: “Did you not speak?” LM: “When?” (2,2) Stichomythic exchange between the two character highlight the tension in the atmosphere. Both characters are on edge.
“Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers” (2,2) Lady Macbeth criticises Macbeth. Takes control – the use of imperative “give” emphasises her dominance.
“Glamis has murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor/ Shall sleep no more” (2,2) Highlights the fact Macbeth is already plagued by guilt.
“A little water clears us of this deed./ How easy is is then” (2,2) Ironic. What they have done is so terrible, they will never be forgiven. For a (christian) Jacobean society water was symbolic for purity. In baptism, it is symbolic for washing away one’s sins.
“Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale” (2,3) The porter reminds the audience of the power of equivocation. Reminds the audience of the witches, the three equivocators. Close association with evil and the supernatural. Emphasises what Lady Macbeth and Macbeth have just done is evil.
“lamentings heard i’th’air, strange screams of death” (2,3) Chaotic night reflects the natural world in revolt against the disruption of the Great Chain of Being.
‘Most sacrilegious murther” (2,3) The Divine Right of Kings. The murder of Duncan is an indirect challenge to God.
“There’s daggers in men’s smiles” (2,3) Deceit. All men are false, trust no one.
“Ay, my good lord” (3,1) Sarcastic. Exchange between Banquo and Macbeth is stychamithic. Monosyllabic language conveys Banquo’s suspicions.
“Thou play’dst most foully for’t” (3,1) Banquo’s concerns are made clear about Macbeth.
“He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour” (3,1) Banquo’s moral superiority is highlighted. Underlying compliment to James I.
“And mine eternal jewel given to the common enemy of man” (3,1) Macbeth’s concern that he has sold his soul to the devil. Euphemism. Common Jacobean fear.
“Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men” (3,1) Macbeth is sarcastic. Questions their manhood. Echoes Lady Macbeth is Act1, Scene 7 (are you not a man?) – highlights her influence over him – power shift?
“The affliction of these terrible dreams shake us nightly” (3,2)
“Better be with the dead” (3,2) Indifference to life. Macbeth is plagued by guilt. Suggestion of demonic possession (Jacobean interpretation), or is he merely plagued by guilt? (modern interpretation).
“Gentle my lord, sleek o’er your rugged looks” (3,2) Affectionate language used by Lady Macbeth. Counter argument to “fiend-like queen”.
“Whats done is done” Euphemism. Ironic as it conveys Lady Macbeth’s anxieties. or is it a flippancy towards the scale of the crime committed?

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