Macbeth Quotes

Thunder and Lightning. Enter three Witches. What happens each time the witches enter?
Quotation Who says it/context of quotation Commentary
Thunder and Lightning. Enter three Witches. Stage directions Notice how every time the witches enter, the stage directions refer to the tempestuous weather suggesting that the witches bring with them chaos and disorder
Fair is foul, and foul is fair; All three witches say this together as they plot to meet up with Macbeth The witches suggest what is good is bad and what is bad is good – they introduce one of the key themes of the play – the conflict between good and evil and the movement from order to disorder
brave Macbeth
The captain reporting to Duncan on Macbeth’s bravery on the battle field We do not see Macbeth at the beginning of the play. Shakespeare presents him through the perspective of other characters. Here he is being presented as someone who is courageous
valiant cousin, worthy gentleman
Noble Macbeth Duncan says this on hearing of Macbeth’s great bravery on the battlefield Notice the adjectives used by Duncan, valiant, worthy and noble – all qualities which suggest that Macbeth is a character of integrity, someone who stands up for what is right, someone worthy of praise
So foul and fair a day I have not seen. Macbeth speaking to Banquo as they return from battle and just before they meet the witches for the first time These are Macbeth’s very first words he speaks in the play. Notice how the words echo the words of the witches in scene 1. Shakespeare might be suggesting a connection between Macbeth and the withes – it introduces a more sinister side to Macbeth’s character
Why do you dress me
In borrowed robes? Macbeth speaking to Ross and Angus after they tell him that he is the new Thane of Cawdor Macbeth asks the question because he does not realise that the old Thane of Cawdor was a traitor and is about to be executed for treason against the king. This is ironic as Macbeth becomes the new Thane of Cawdor and also betrays the king. This metaphor suggests that Macbeth is taking on a role that does not belong to him – later when he takes the crown from Duncan, the repeated motif of wearing an ill-fitting costume is repeated to suggest that Macbeth is playing a part that does not belong to him.
why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs Macbeth thinking to himself The first of the witches’ predictions have come true – Macbeth is now the Thane of Cawdor. The second prediction is that he will be King. Thoughts go through his mind of how he might become the new king. Macbeth uses euphemisms like “suggestion” and “horrid image” to talk about killing the king. Is he so horrified with the thought that he can’t bring himself to say the word murder?
There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face. Duncan says this about the old thane of Cawdor who has just been executed This metaphor introduces the motif of masks – hiding your true identity, something that Macbeth later does. The face you show to the world is a façade, not your true identity.
Let not light see my black and deep desires. Macbeth says this to himself. He has just learnt that Duncan’s son Malcolm is going to be the next King of Scotland Macbeth is further away than ever from being the next King – he not only has Duncan in his way, now Malcolm stands in his way too. He is clearly frustrated. He needs to hide this frustration from the world reminding us that Macbeth realises he needs to wear a mask to cover up how he is feeling. The ‘desire’ he refers to is to become the next king. He knows this desire is evil and refers to it as, ‘black’ reinforcing the suggestion that what he desires is evil.
I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness Lady Macbeth having read the letter from her husband about meeting the witches thinks aloud This is a strange metaphor to describe a man. Milk is associated with a woman’s nurturing of baby and is a symbol of their maternal love. Lady Macbeth suggests that her husband is full of this nurturing quality, too soft to be able to kill a king. This contrasts with the knowledge we have of him that he is a blood thirsty soldier.
unsex me
take my milk for gall
Lady Macbeth speaks to imaginary evil spirits Lady Macbeth does not believe that Macbeth has it in him to kill the king so she prays to dark forces to give her the power to be able to carry out the task herself. She asks the spirts to “unsex” her. This might mean get rid of her femininity, ie become more like a man; or it can mean she does not want to have any gender, she does not want to be a man or a woman – she wants to be inhuman. Again, the image of milk is used as something which reflects goodness and she want this removed from her breasts and replaced by a foul, bitter substance instead
Look like th’ innocent
But be the serpent under ‘t. Lady Macbeth gives Macbeth advice Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth to hide his evil intentions from the world. Again, we have the motif of hiding behind a mask. The image the serpent also recalls the way Satan deceived Adam and Eve in the garden – Lady Macbeth is like the serpent, tempting Macbeth into evil – like Adam and Eve, both will lose their peace of mind and their paradise later in the play.
When you durst do it, then you were a man Lady Macbeth speaks to Macbeth after he tells her that he cannot bring himself to killing Duncan Lady Macbeth in this speech, manipulates Macbeth through a number of strategies including attacking his masculinity – she accuses him of not being a man if he does not kill the king
False face must hide what the false heart doth
know. Macbeth says this after Lady Macbeth has persuaded him to go through with the murder Once again, mask imagery is used. Macbeth’s repetition of the adjective, “false” suggests that he accepts that he will need to be dishonest and deceptive. This image of a ‘false heart’ also contrasts sharply with the previous images of ‘noble’ and ‘worthy’ Macbeth. The alliteration of the fricative sounds evokes his own self-loathing and disgust with what he is becoming.
Is this a dagger which I see before me
Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation
Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?
Macbeth is waiting t=for Lady Macbeth to ring the bell which will tell him to go and kill the king. He is thinking out loud – no one else is present. The night is very dark, there are not stars or moon in the sky Macbeth first asks a question – he sees a dagger but he is not sure if it is real. He asks a follow up question, if the dagger is real or a symptom of his over worked mind. The number of questions in this soliloquy suggest his rising anxiety – after all, he is just about to kill the king – not only is this a crime of treason against his King and country but it is a sin against God himself. It was accepted that the king was chosen by God to represent him on earth – this is called The Divine Rights of Kings. Macbeth is about to commit the greatest sin of all so he is understandably nervous.
Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done ‘t. Lady Macbeth is waiting for Macbeth to come from killing the king – she is speaking to herself This suggests despite Lady Macbeth wanting to be unsexed, she is still very human and very vulnerable to feelings of remorse and guilt. She tells us that she would have killed Duncan herself but he looked too like her own father – which shows a more vulnerable, human side to her which later turns into madness driven by guilt later in the play
These deeds must not be thought
After these ways; so, it will make us mad. Lady Macbeth tries to calm Macbeth down after killing King Duncan This is ironic because it is Lady Macbeth who finally goes mad and kills herself
“Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep” Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth what he thought he heard when he killed the king Sleep symbolically represents peace – Macbeth by killing the sleeping King Duncan has metaphorically murdered his own peace of mind – he fears that he will never be able to sleep again because only the innocent can rest peacefully
“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore
Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.” Lady Macbeth again tells Lady Macbeth what he thought he heard Macbeth imagines he heard voices saying these things – notice how Macbeth speaks of himself in the third person – he refers to himself as ‘Glamis’, ‘Cawdor’ and ‘Macbeth’ as if he is a stranger to himself. The Macbeth he knew as being noble would never have done what he has done tonight. The repetition of the symbol of sleep reinforces the idea that Macbeth will be mentally tormented – he will never again be at peace
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No Macbeth is on his own – he looks down at his bloody hands and asks himself the question Macbeth is horrified by the King’s blood on his hands – here the blood is a symbol of his guilt. He asks if all the waters of the world will wash away his guilt and the answer comes quickly – ‘no’ Macbeth does not feel he will ever rid himself of his guilt – it is clear here that he feels a deep sense of remorse for his actions
A little water clears us of this deed. Lady Macbeth says this to Macbeth – she now has blood on her hands too This is ironic for three reasons. Firstly, this calm reaction contrasts sharply with Macbeth’s frantic reaction. Secondly, the words ‘a little’ contrasts with Macbeth’s reference to ‘all great Neptune’s oceans’ – for her the act of murdering a king is not of great consequence. Secondly, it is Lady Macbeth who is finally driven mad when she continually imagines the blood on her hand when sleep walking. Notice that she uses the verb ‘clears’ not ‘cleans’ – clears suggests to be cleared of a crime.
To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep, Macbeth says this to himself – he is waiting for the murderers to be summoned What he means is to be king is nothing but to remain on the throne safely without fear of being assassinated or overthrown is what he craves. He is becoming paranoid and begins to fear Banquo suspects (he has a point – because Banquo does believe that Macbeth ‘played’st most foully’ for the throne.
make our faces vizards to our hearts,
Disguising what they are. Macbeth give lady Macbeth advice Notice how now Macbeth is giving advice to lady Macbeth about concealing their true natures and putting on a façade. A vizard is a soldier’s metal helmet – he suggests that they must mask who they truly are, disguising their evil true natures.
O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife! Macbeth speaks to lady Macbeth Macbeth has just arranged for the murder of his very best friend Banquo. He is suggesting here in this metaphor that his mind is full of poisonous, evil thoughts
What’s to be done?
Be innocent of the knowledge Lady Macbeth asks Macbeth Note how Macbeth has now started taking control and is hiding things from his wife, whereas before she was his “partner of greatness” as he said in his letter to her.
Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake
Thy gory locks at me. Macbeth has had Banquo murdered and now sees his ghost at the banquet Is the ghost real or the symptom of his guilt? Unlike King Duncan, Macbeth does not see the dead body of Banquo so his guilty mind conjures up an image of a bloody ghost. Note how in the play blood is a repeated symbol (motif) for guilt.
Are you a man?
What, quite unmanned in folly? Lady Macbeth speaks to Macbeth at the banquet Lady Macbeth sees that Macbeth has lost control and for the last time in the play challenges his manhood. This is the last time we her in control and the last time we see Macbeth not in control.
What man dare, I dare.
Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear,
The armed rhinoceros, or th’ Hyrcan tiger; Macbeth to Lady Macbeth Macbeth suggests that he is a man who can fight any tangible enemy like wild animals – but he cannot deal with apparitions – things he cannot tackle head on in battle.
I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er. Macbeth says this at the end of the banquet to his wife Macbeth realises that he can no longer return to being the man he was once. He imagines in this metaphor that he is walking through a river of blood (the blood of all his victims) and he has gone too far to return to the other side – in other words, he must carry on killing anyone who stands in his way – he must keep going forward. Notice that he sees his life either way as “tedious” – he has gained nothing from killing Duncan.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes. The witches say this on sensing Macbeth’s approach Macbeth is ironically seen as nothing but evil – compare this with the image of the noble solider at the start of the play.
Not in the legions
Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned
In evils to top Macbeth. Macduff to Malcolm describing Macbeth At the beginning of the play, all reports of Macbeth are of a hero, brave and noble. Compare these accounts with what is being said of him now.
Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name. Malcom to MacDuff describing Macbeth The listing seems overly long emphasising how evil Macbeth has become
Devilish Macbeth Malcolm to Macduff Macbeth is associated with the devil – he has lost all honour and nobility in the eyes of his peers
Out, damned spot, out, I say Lady Macbeth to herself while sleep walking This is ironic as before she believed that “a little water clears us of this deed” – now she cannot rid herself of the image of blood on her hands – note that blood again is being used as a symbol of guilt
who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him? Lady Macbeth to herself while sleep walking The blood in Duncan represents the blood of the whole of Scotland seeing as he was the figure head of the country. The amount of blood can also reflect her overwhelming sense of guilt. It is also ironic as previously when Macbeth had killed the king she says, “If he do bleed,
I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal”
will these hands ne’er be clean? Lady Macbeth to herself while sleep walking
Here’s the smell of the blood still. All
the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. O, O, O! Lady Macbeth to herself while sleep walking
What’s done cannot be undone Lady Macbeth to herself while sleep walking Ironic as she had said earlier on to Macbeth that “what’s done is done” – she now realises that we cannot be rid so easily of our actions – they always return to haunt us and drive us mad
a giant’s robe
Upon a dwarfish thief. Angus to other thanes about Macbeth The image of robes comes up again – this time Angus suggests that Macbeth is like a thief who has taken robes of the king which are too big for him. Macbeth is not great enough to fill the role of the King of Scotland
I have almost forgot the taste of fears. Macbeth hears a cry and speaks to himself Women are cry out because Lady Macbeth has just killed herself. The noise makes Macbeth feel a tinge of fear. The adverb, “almost” reminds us that he has not quite lost all human feelings
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day Macbeth speaks to himself on hearing that lady Macbeth is dead The slow pace of this line and the repetition of “tomorrow” conveys Macbeth’s feelings that life has become meaningless.
It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. Macbeth speaks to himself on hearing that lady Macbeth is dead Macbeth realises that all his plans have been for nothing – he has just been like an actor on stage and the play is coming to an end and it as all been for nothing. There is a real sense of hopelessness in this speech. The frustration in the voice is reflected in the fricative sounds (s, f, th)
I ‘gin to be aweary of the sun Macbeth speaks to himself on hearing that lady Macbeth is dead Macbeth feels the burden of life and existing from day to day.
At least we’ll die with harness on our back. Macbeth hears that Malcom’s army is approaching The courageous solider that we say at the beginning of the play once again returns – Macbeth has cast off the speeches which suggest a self-indulgence and now he is going to fight for his life and honour.
Why should I play the Roman fool and die
On mine own sword? Macbeth hears that Malcom’s army is approaching Macbeth uses this metaphor to suggest he is not going to commit suicide – Romans who were captured used to kill themselves; they saw suicide as honourable. Macbeth however, sees this as dishonourable. He will die fighting with a sword in his hand. At the end of the play, Shakespeare allows Macbeth to redeem himself through his noble death on the battlefield – he is a true tragic hero rather than simply the ‘devilish’ character portrayed by his enemies.

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