Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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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..."

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Macbeth has been playing the gracious host and is about to sit down to enjoy his own feast when the murderers he hired to kill Banquo and Fleance enter, bringing the good news that they have killed Banquo and the bad news that Fleance has escaped. Macbeth responds,

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 cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in
To saucy doubts and fears.

The literal meaning is clear. Macbeth would have felt secure and relieved if the murderers had managed to kill Fleance. As things stand, he is doubtful and fearful. The contrasting images he uses are striking. It is only natural to equate a strong, solid position with rock and marble. Freedom from worry, like other kinds of freedom, is symbolized by the opposing image of the air. However, his "doubts and fears," instead of leaving him vulnerable and exposed, have imprisoned him in a tiny, claustrophobia-inducing space. This unusual...

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