What are some of the most important quotes from William Shakespeare's Macbeth, including those that are less well known?
The way I can be most helpful to you is to highlight the meaningful or significant quotes which promote some of the key themes from Macbeth by William Shakespeare. I will not waste a lot of space with long quotes but will let you know where to find those for yourself.
The first set of recognizable and significant quotes have something to do with false appearances. The witches says this first:
Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
Macbeth follows soon after with two separate comments:
So foul and fair a day I have not seen....
False face must hide what the false heart doth know.
Any quotes demonstrating this kind of reversal are significant, as many things in this play are not what they seem to be.
Another set of quotes have to do with guilt. Macbeth's famous dagger soliloquy (II i) is one example of Macbeth's early struggles with guilt; and when he says that oceans of water would not get rid of the blood on his hands, his wife cavalierly dismisses his concerns (II ii):
A little water clears us of this deed...How easy it is then!
In the last act of the play (V i), these roles are reversed, and Lady Macbeth is the one who is trying desperately to get rid of the figurative blood on her hands, saying, "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!" Macbeth's heart is hard and he says she should have "died hereafter." In between these two are some famous moments at the banquet (III iv) when the brave soldier Macbeth tells the bloody ghost of Banquo that he is brave enough to face a "rugged Russian bear / The arm'd rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger" without fear, but the guilt from his acts against Banquo have him trembling like a girl.
The idea of free will and fate is significant, and one of the great questions of the play is whether Macbeth is responsible for his own actions (free will) or if he is simply living out his preordained destiny (fate). If it is purely a matter of fate, we can feel sorry for Macbeth's tragic ending. If, however, the witches are simply feeding Macbeth's lofty ambitions, then Macbeth deserves what he gets.
These two quotes happen only one scene apart, and they suggest that the witches have released Macbeth's ambitions
If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, Without my stir. [I iii]
The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires:
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be,
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. [I iv]
This is a pivotal change in thought for Macbeth, moving from "I will do nothing to make this happen" to "I will have to get rid of the stumbling block somehow." A critical quote to consider is this one (I iii):
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths.
Also watch for any quotes regarding ambition or a thirst for power both with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
Another significant aspect of the play is the relationship between Macbeth and his wife in Act I, as she goads him into action and wallows in indecision. He is indecisive ("We will speak further"), he is hesitant ("If we should fail?"), and then he is decided ("I am settled, and bend up / Each corporal agent to this terrible feat")--until he is unsettled again. She is insistent, threatening, and insulting, but in II i when it comes down to it, she cannot put action to her talk.
Find more important quotes on the eNotes "quotes" link, attached below.