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Explain, from Macbeth, Act 2:   "Naught's had, all's spent, Where our desire...

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llamarche | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 7, 2008 at 11:06 AM via web

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Explain, from Macbeth, Act 2:   "Naught's had, all's spent, Where our desire is got without content."

'Tis safer to be that which we destroy / Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy. 

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted April 7, 2008 at 11:28 AM (Answer #1)

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These lines belong to Lady Macbeth (3.2.6-9). Finally, she realizes how futile and hollow her (and her husband's) desire for power has been. "Naught had" equals "nothing had"; "all's spent" means that there is nothing left to bargain with; "Desire without content" means that even though she has gotten what she ostensibly wants (Duncan's death, the queenly crown), the price has been too exorbitant, the purchase dissatisfying.

"Tis safer to be that which we destroy," may mean that it is preferable to hold our baser instincts as possibilities of being rather than actual states of existence, an argument sustained by the end of this line, "than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." Once realized, Lady Macbeth can no longer negotiate multiple interpretations of possible "selves." She sees what has become of letting her baser nature subsume her better instincts. There seems to be no returning to a purer self.

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