Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Explain Macbeth's soliloquy in act 1, scene 7.

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In act 1, scene 7, Macbeth reveals his feelings of apprehension while he contemplates committing regicide. Macbeth opens his soliloquy by saying that the terrible deed should be done quickly and expresses his willingness to risk his soul if assassinating King Duncan will be the "be-all and the end-all" of the affair. However, Macbeth recognizes that his violent crime will influence others to also engage in violence, which will come back to "To plague th' inventor" or haunt him. He also acknowledges that justice will require him to drink from the "poisoned chalice" as retribution for his bloody deeds.

After exercising perspective regarding the consequences to his actions and recognizing that murdering King Duncan will more than likely threaten his life and damn his soul, Macbeth begins to list reasons why he should not commit regicide. Macbeth states that he is Duncan's kinsman, subject, and host. He then contemplates Duncan's benevolent, gracious character and mentions that angels would play...

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In this final scene of Act 1, Macbeth is ruminating about whether to assassinate Duncan. He is not sure he has the will or nerve to carry out the murder, or that he can succeed in eluding detection and retribution if he does. If it is to happen, it must be done quickly, efficiently, he thinks, in a way that will allow him to escape cleanly. In that case, he'd leap to do the deed, as quickly as you might jump from a creek bank over a stream—and trade the life he is now living for a new existence as king:

"It were done quickly. If the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come."

But then he remembers that violence may incite others to violence, too, and boomerang back upon the first instigator; those who offer a poisoned drink to someone may find that same drink returned to them. He then considers how trusting and unaware Duncan is of the danger posed by Macbeth. Macbeth is Duncan's host, his kinsman, and a subject to Duncan.
This leads Macbeth to reflect on Duncan's humility and decency as king, and to consider how the memory of his virtues will occasion greater shock, mourning and outrage:
"Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off."
And, further, it will not be a death quickly forgotten and passed over; the indignation and grief at it, "shall blow the horrid deed in every eye, that tears shall drown the wind."
Finally, Macbeth finds that he lacks a strong internal impetus to kill Duncan; the one thing that might motivate him to the deed is his own oversized ambition. Yet the very extremity of his ambition, though it might impel him to carry out the murder, could also result in his downfall.
Further Reading: Macbeth, William Shakespeare; Fully annotated, with an Introduction, by Burton Raffel; With an essay by Harold Bloom (Yale University Press)