What does the following quote from Macbeth mean: "Things bad Begun make strong themselves by ill" (III.ii.55)?

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scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The quote expresses Shakespeare's view of human nature--that mankind is basically evil.  Specifically, in this quote, the playwright suggests that evil reproduces itself.  If someone premeditates any type of crime or "sin," that premeditation causes the crime or sin to spin out of control and to become more than the perpetrator intended. The word "ill" has several interpretations.  It is used in place of "evil," but it is also connected to the phrase "ill will" which means that someone intends to harm another or wishes for someone else to experience difficulties.

In the case of Macbeth, neither he nor Lady Macbeth had any idea at the beginning that their "ill" plot would lead to so many deaths or that it would have such a profound psychological effect upon them.

jseligmann's profile pic

jseligmann | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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madhusudan32's profile pic

madhusudan32 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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The quote "Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill" is obliquely linked up with the earlier quote "We have scotch'd the snake, not kill'd it". It indicates Macbeth's mental perplexity and perturbation. He says to Lady Macbeth "full of scorpions is my mind". Macbeth is guilt conscious. He knows now that crime once committed  does not allow you peace of mind and leads you to the commission of several other crimes for various reasons, it does not spare you but instead compels you to wade through a criminal  career till your death.  

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