Explain this quote from Macbeth: "I had else been perfect, / Whole as the marble, founded as the rock . . . / But now I am cabined, cribbed, confined . . ."

Expert Answers
dule05 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this scene, Macbeth is informed by one of the murderers he hired to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance, that Fleance managed to escape. Macbeth is visibly shaken by the news and states:

 Then comes my fit again: I had else been    perfect,
 Whole as the marble, founded as the rock,
 As broad and general as the casing air:
 But now I am cabin'd, cribb'd, confined, bound  in
 To saucy doubts and fears.

The reason Macbeth is "cabin'd, cribb'd, confined, bound in to saucy doubts and fears" is that the witches told him that Banquo's descendants would take the crown one day. So, Macbeth's mind is racked by fear that he might lose his position one day, and he won't find peace until he removes every obstacle which seems threatening to his ambitions and plans. Since the murder of Duncan, Macbeth has been directly or indirectly murdering all those who could potentially overthrow him or destabilize him. He will not stop until he kills all his opponents. What he does not realize until the end of the play is that getting rid of his opponents will never bring back the inner peace he had before he surrendered to the power of evil. In the end, life becomes a meaningless tale, "told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

pirateteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act III scene 4 Macbeth is talking with the Murderers.  Remember, he has hired them to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance because the witches predicted that Banquo's sons would one day be king. The First Murderer has returned to report the murder to Macbeth- he has successfully killed Banquo, but Fleance has escaped.

This concerns Macbeth greatly; if Fleance has escaped, his crown is in danger.

I had else been perfect, whole as marble founded as the rock As broad and general as the casing air. But now I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in to saucy doubts and fears.

 

This means that if Fleance had died, Macbeth would be okay- perfect, strong, and solid as marble, but since he didn't he has returned to a state of fear and doubts which are confining (think paralyzing) him.