Key Quotations

O full of scorpions is my mind!

(Act III, Scene ii - Macbeth)

This reveals through the connotations of ‘scorpion’ (evil, pain, disgust) that Macbeth’s mind is also full of dark, terrible thoughts.  Yet it is also shows his inner turmoil, his mind is full of stinging creatures which plague him. Use of exclamation to show just how troubled he is feeling.

 

Things without remedy should be without regard.

(Act III, scene ii - Lady Macbeth)

In this quote, Lady Macbeth is saying that problems which you can’t solve you shouldn’t think about, contrasting Macbeth’s obsession with threats to his power.   Use of alliteration makes it sound like an epigram or allegory, a short and clever quote which provides an answer to a common problem.  

 

Look like th’innocent flower but be the serpent under’t.

(Act I, Scene v - Lady Macbeth)

When they are planning to kill Duncan, Lady Macbeth uses a simile to show how Macbeth needs to hide his malice underneath a beautiful appearance.   This may relate to ideas of appearance vs reality. Also uses connotations of the Garden of Eden to show how Macbeth (like the serpent) with be a betrayer, and a sinner, despite his superficial appearance as something beautiful and outwardly pleasing.  

 

Fair is foul and foul is fair.

(Act I, scene i - Witches )

This is said by the witches at the end of their first scene.  It presents to the audience an extremely ambiguous and mysterious image, suggesting their confusing equivocation.  At the same time it implies their deep manipulation and understanding of the situation before them, and how they will twist initially ‘fair’ intentions to become ‘foul’, and make Macbeth’s ‘foul’ desires seem fair to him.  By inverting their words, it shows how they will also invert Macbeth’s values during the play. Inverted again by Macbeth in his opening words ‘So fair and foul a day’, showing early on that Macbeth either shares a mentality with or a mindset with the witches - perhaps they have already infected him with their spell.

 

A little water cleans us of this deed.

(Act II, scene ii - Lady Macbeth)

This quotation is Lady Macbeth saying that ‘this deed’ (the murder of Duncan, which is too horrible to say aloud, as Macduff later shows) may be washed away with simply ‘a little water’.  ‘Little’ shows how easily Lady Macbeth thinks she can erase her guilt, yet this foreshadows the revelation later in the play that her spiritual guilt cannot be so easily washed off. Might recall Pontius Pilate, who allowed Jesus to be condemned to death, and then tried to wash his hands of it.



 

Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty

(Act I, scene v - Lady Macbeth)

Here, Lady Macbeth invokes the spirits which linger to tempt humanity (‘mortal thoughts’) and asks them to ‘unsex me here’, ridding her of her femininity.  This emphasizes the inhuman quality of Lady Macbeth, and links her to the misgendered witches. ‘Crown’ perhaps both means top of the head and links to her ambitions.  She asks to be filled with ‘direct cruelty’, showing that she wants to be capable of extreme cold-blooded ambition and cruelty. Crucially, it shows that feminine qualities prevent Lady Macbeth from being the cruel masculine figure she wants to be.  

Alliteration in ‘toe top-full’ creates a sense of something overflowing at the end of the line, and allows us to imagine more vividly her entire body overflowing with cruelty.

 

Come to my woman’s breasts,

and take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers 

(Act I, scene v - Lady Macbeth)

Extending the previous, ‘milk’ is linked to mercy, whereas ‘gall’ is poison and rage, showing how Lady Macbeth wants her life-giving feminine qualities to instead be replaced by substances that bring death.  Repetition of ‘m’ alliterations in these lines perversely uses a soft, rounded sound (mirroring the soft and gentle nature of women) to call for ‘murd’ring ministers’, showing Lady Macbeth’s perversion of femininity. 

Look at repetition of ‘Come’, showing her instruction (not simply a request) for the spirits to heed her words.


 

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas seas incarnadine, 

Making the green one red.

(Act II, scene ii - Macbeth)

 

He's saying that it would be impossible to clean himself of the murder, it would just the entire sea red. He first says this in extremely latinate language (very grand and fashionable), then re-states it in simple English, perhaps shows how he realises that he can't dress up what he's done to make it look impressive.  It also makes it even easier to visualise, emphasizing how much blood he has on his hands.


 

If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well

It were done quickly

(Act I, scene vii - Macbeth)

Here, Macbeth is (within a soliloquy) debating with himself, showing through repetition his troubled state of mind.  Literally, he is stating that if he is going to kill Duncan, then it would best if he does it soon. Repetition of ‘it’ shows that he cannot bear to say the deed which is so foul it is ‘the deed without a name’ as the witches earlier called it.   Repetition of ‘done’ shows his anxiety to actually have done the act, so that he can stop worrying about it. ‘Quickly’ suggests that he wants to avoid the fact that he has done it - he does not want to even think about it. It is also ironic, because though the deed is quickly done, many more deeds will follow and it will never be over for him.  

 

This even-handed justice

Commends th’ingredience of our poisoned chalice

To our own lips

(Act I, scene vii - Macbeth)

In this soliloquy, Macbeth goes on to say that ‘justice’ which is ‘even-handed’ and fair (personification) will eventually return his own ‘poisoned chalice/To our own lips’, making him drink his own poison.  The metaphor shows how Macbeth’s actions will eventually return to destroy him.

 

‘When shall we three meet again/In thunder, lightning or in rain’

(Act I, scene i - The Witches)

From the opening of the play, the Witches immediately show that their appearance is seen in times of natural disruption and conflict.   This shows that something bad is about the happen, the weather (pathetic fallacy) becoming hostile in their presence, just as human actions will defy the natural order of thing.  Trochaic are naturally disconcerting for audience, the opposite of natural speech and of the heartbeat sound. Together with rhyme it signifies the witches as supernatural beings who are constantly casting spells as they speak. 


 

‘For brave Macbeth--well he deserves that name--

Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,

Which smoked with bloody execution,’

(Act I, scene ii - Sergeant)

This is our first description of Macbeth and shows how our initial impressions of him and supposed to be molded.  He is introduced as ‘brave’, suggesting his courage on the battlefield, a bravery which re-emerges at the play’s end, but is forsaken due to paranoia during the play.  Yet it is also an extremely ruthless description, the metaphor ‘smoked with bloody execution’ creating a gruesome image which connotes Macbeth simply hacking down enemy soldiers, already showing his ruthlessness and cruelty.  Irony in ‘disdaining fortune’ because Macbeth will completely turn his initial bravery on its head, resulting in Macbeth’s downfall. Moreover, it is ironic because Macbeth will never be able to escape his fate - he initially accepts his ‘fortune’, and reaps the punishments for that, unable to escape them.

 

‘you should be women,

And yet your beards forbid me to interpret

That you are so.’

(Act I, scene iii - Banquo)

The witches look like women, yet they have beards preventing Banquo from saying that they are definitely so.  This shows the strangeness of the witches - their outer ugliness is reflecting their inner ugliness. Also relates to the idea of corrupted women - the dangers of women who try to act like men.  This relates to Lady Macbeth, who some critics see as the fourth witch. Gender roles in the play when blurred often pose a threat - masculine women being the most obvious yet Macbeth is also threatened by the idea of not being a proper man.  Largely this is due to the cruel and ruthless idea of masculinity held by Lady Macbeth and Macbeth and which is later remedied and disputed by Macduff and Malcolm. The word ‘interpret’ also suggests the difficulty of interpreting the witches’ appearance, as well as their words, which are never clear.  


 

‘Look, how our partner's rapt.’

(Act I, scene iii - Banquo)

This quote conveys how Macbeth is obsessed with what the witches have told him, showing his early ambitious streak.  Also, the word ‘rapt’ comes from ‘enraptured’, which means to have a spell put on you, suggesting that Macbeth’s obsession might be due to the witches; influence.

 

‘Stars, hide your fires;/ Let not light see my black and deep desires:’

(Act I, scene iv - Macbeth)

In this quote, Macbeth recognises his ‘black’ (evil) and ‘deep desires’, using ‘stars’ to suggest that Heaven itself should hide its eyes from what Macbeth wants to do, showing his shame about his ambitions, which he knows would be condemned by God.   Uses alliteration to draw attention to Macbeth’s inner suffering, and rhyme to show his desperation. (personification of the stars).

 

‘I have no spur/ To prick the sides of my intent, but only/

Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself

And falls on th’ other

(Act I, scene vii - Macbeth)

Macbeth is using the metaphor of himself being a horse with nothing to make him go faster - to ‘prick the sides of my intent’ (a spur is something you use on a horse to make it go faster).   Instead, rather than real motivation, all he has is ‘vaulting’ or leaping ‘ambition’, which will try to leap so high that it will fall down on the other side of the obstacle. Thus Macbeth uses extended metaphor to show his apprehension of his future failure and his inability to realise his ambitions. 

 

‘Fail not our feast.’

(Act III, scene i - Macbeth to Banquo)

Macbeth commands Banquo not to fail to attend their feast, showing his treachery as he is about to kill Banquo.  Yet this is deeply ironic, as Banquo does in fact arrive at the feast as a ghost, exacerbating Macbeth’s madness.  


 

‘Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,’

(Act III, scene i - Macbeth to Lady Macbeth)

In this quote, Macbeth refuses to tell Lady Macbeth what he is doing (telling people to murder Banquo) in order to maintain her innocence.  On the one hand we might see this as ironic as Lady Macbeth is no innocent. Secondly, might see it and the endearment ‘dearest chuck’ as showing their affection for one another.  Thirdly, it reveals the role reversal they undergo - Macbeth eventually is the one committing murder while Lady Macbeth feels intense guilt.


 

‘It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood:’

(Act III, scene iv - Macbeth)

This is just after Macbeth has seen Banquo’s ghost.  In this line, Macbeth is showing his anguish that the blood he has spilt will come back to spill his own blood - his actions will have bloody consequences.  ‘Blood’ in the play, like in the line, simply multiplies until death fills the stage.

 

And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,

The instruments of darkness tell us truths,

Win us with honest trifles, to betray ’s

In deepest consequence.

(Act I, scene iii - Banquo)

Repeatedly, in the play, characters encounter warnings about listening to the witches and ignoring the reality of what they say.  ‘The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s/In deepest consequence.’ In this quote Banquo reveals his suspicions that dark forces use ‘honest trifles’, ‘trifles’ expressing the trivial and meaningless nature of the truths they use to lure you in, in order to then betray people when it really matters.  This is what happens to Macbeth, who never seems to be able to recognise the betrayal of the witches, even fighting on once he himself has said ‘I begin to doubt the equivocation of the fiend’ in the final act.  


 

Out, damned spot; out, I say

(Act V, scene i - Lady Macbeth)

Referring back to the spot of blood (Duncan’s) she hallucinates as being on her hand, Lady Macbeth is now revealing that she cannot rid herself of the sin or guilt of killing Duncan.  Repetition of ‘out’ shows her despair, while ‘damned’ has a double meaning - she is damning the ‘spot’ of blood, yet the spot also shows her own damnation for having sinned by killing Duncan.

 

Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?

(Act V, Scene i - Lady Macbeth)

In this line, Lady Macbeth shows how unexpected the disastrous consequences of the murder are, and that the ‘blood’ of Duncan has covered everything - including all that they have gained, like a stain.   

 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time

[...]

Out, out, brief candle

[...]

It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

(Act V, Scene iv - Macbeth)

Macbeth has begun to lose the meaning of life relentless repetition of syllables, signifying the relentless progression of meaningless time. Time for Macbeth is now both too short and too long.  Creeps in this petty pace - time is personified and alliteration of 'p's is spat out, making it seem even more petty and disgusting. ‘Out, out, brief candle’ shows him then using a candle as a metaphor for life which shines only briefly, and which Macbeth wants to be over.  The final lines of this soliloquy show Macbeth contemplating the idiocy and futility of humanity, whose tale is full of ‘sound and fury’, so rage and passion, yet ultimate means ‘nothing’.  


 

There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face

(Act I, Scene iv - Duncan)

In this quote, Duncan ironically says that you cannot see what people are thinking just by looking at them.  This is extremely ironic because he completely misinterprets Macbeth and his character. Shows Duncan’s naivety and his trusting nature


 

Let the frame of things disjoint

(Act III, Scene ii - Macbeth)

Macbeth here says that if everything falls apart then both worlds will suffer - so if the plan doesn’t go well, everything will completely go wrong.  

 

You lack the season of all natures, sleep


 

Macbeth hath murdered sleep!

(Act II, scene ii)

As he murders Duncan, Macbeth hears a voice cry out that he has murdered sleep.  This shows that Macbeth’s guilt and sin will prevent him now from sleeping - thus driving him more and more insane.  Sleep is also compared to the better qualities of death, showing how Macbeth has damned himself. Sleep represents the natural state of repose in which innocents should not fear, showing also that Macbeth has murdered innocence and that he has broken the natural order of things.


 

Is this a dagger that I see before me,

The handle toward my hand?

(Act II, scene i)

As the servant exits, a vision appears of a dagger, the handle 'toward my hand', as though he is ready to grasp it. Calling the dagger a 'fatal vision' (double-edged meaning here), he asks whether it is real, or whether it's a hallucination from his maddened brain. The dagger could be a real apparition sent from the witches/fate to protect Macbeth to kill Duncan. Or it could be a hallucination foreshadowing his death and also suggesting his desire to kill the king, he's leading himself forwards to do it. Desire has overtaken his rational thoughts, showing how Macbeth slowly loses control over himself.  The dagger 'marshall'st me the way that I was going', persuading him to go and kill the King. As he stares at the dagger, blood appears on it, representing dangers to Macbeth of killing Duncan and suggesting that in his own mind Macbeth has already killed Duncan.

 

“When you durst do it, then you were a man;”

Lady Macbeth is telling Macbeth that he can only be a man when he kills Duncan. To emasculate Macbeth acts like a stimulant. The alliteration makes her sounds really cutting and harsh. It means that if Macbeth does not kill Duncan, he admits that he is not manly enough, and in all ways this is definitely an insult. 

 

“yet do I fear thy nature;

It is too full o' the milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way:”

“Milk” connotes maternal emotions and femininity, which also represents the idea of innocence and fragility.  This statement directly opposes Macbeth to Lady Macbeth, who earlier asked to be rid of her feminine qualities, instead asking to be filled with gall and cruelty.  By suggesting Macbeth has too much ‘o’ the milk of human kindness’, she not only emasculates him, but suggests that masculinity is inherently opposed to ‘kindness.’  As he is too full of this he cannot ‘catch the nearest way’, taking advantage of his circumstances to become King.

 

‘Look, how our partner's rapt.’

(Act I, scene iii - Banquo)

This quote conveys how Macbeth is obsessed with what the witches have told him, showing his early ambitious streak.  Also, the word ‘rapt’ comes from ‘enraptured’, which means to have a spell put on you, suggesting that Macbeth’s obsession might be due to the witches; influence.

 

For brave Macbeth--well he deserves that name--

Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,

Which smoked with bloody execution,’

(Act I, scene ii - Sergeant)

This is our first description of Macbeth and shows how our initial impressions of him and supposed to be molded.  He is introduced as ‘brave’, suggesting his courage on the battlefield, a bravery which re-emerges at the play’s end, but is forsaken due to paranoia during the play.  Yet it is also an extremely ruthless description, the metaphor ‘smoked with bloody execution’ creating a gruesome image which connotes Macbeth simply hacking down enemy soldiers, already showing his ruthlessness and cruelty.  Irony in ‘disdaining fortune’ because Macbeth will completely turn his initial bravery on its head, resulting in Macbeth’s downfall. Moreover, it is ironic because Macbeth will never be able to escape his fate - he initially accepts his ‘fortune’, and reaps the punishments for that, unable to escape them.


 

To be thus is nothing;

But to be safely thus.--Our fears in Banquo

Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature

Reigns that which would be fear'd:

 

This suggests for him, to be King is not enough, he also has to make sure that nobody can threaten him in anyway, as well as his progeny will be the King. This is ironic as Macbeth is never safe because what he wears are the “borrowed robes”, he has to eventually return what does not belongs to him. Macbeth also admits “Our fears in Banquo/ Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature/ Reigns that which would be fear'd:”. He uses metaphor to describe his fear as sticking “deep”, as though they themselves are plunging a dagger into him. And this fear is what drives Macbeth more and more insane as he is almost assaulted and attacked by his fear. Macbeth then goes on to describe Banquo’s ‘royalty of nature’, showing his inherent nobility which, in a personified metaphor ‘reigns’ over Macbeth’s fears, just as Banquo’s descendents will one day reign over the Kingdom. This therefore can be considered as Macbeth might be jealous of that important “royalty” nature that he himself is lack of as well as he is so overwhelmed by this righteous nature. 

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