Why is the following comment by Macbeth in Act V, Scene 5 important? The time has been my senses would have cooledTo hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hairWould at a dismal treatise rouse and...

Why is the following comment by Macbeth in Act V, Scene 5 important? 

The time has been my senses would have cooledTo hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hairWould at a dismal treatise rouse and stirAs life were in ’t. I have supped full with horrors.Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts cannot once start me.

 

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Macbeth seems to be saying that, having seen (and caused) so much horror, that he is now immune to its effects. When he says "Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts, cannot once start me," he means that he is now unmoved by suffering. The first part of this excerpt recalls what we have already seen, namely that Macbeth was not always this way. It was his wife who had to steel him to commit the initial murder of Duncan early in the play. By the end of the play, however, he seems bereft of human feelings. He confirms this with his jaded response to the news of his wife's death:

She should have died hereafter; 
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow 
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day 
To the last syllable of recorded time; 
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools 
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! 
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player 
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage 
And then is heard no more. It is a tale 
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, 
Signifying nothing.

Through this moment of self-reflection and the one immediately before news of his wife's death arrives, Shakespeare demonstrates just how far Macbeth has slipped.

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