Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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How do Macbeth's imagination and conscience both seem overly active in Act 2 Scene 1?

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The soliloquy with which Macbeth ends this scene provides evidence of both his overactive imagination and his overactive -- and guilty -- conscience.  On stage alone, he hallucinates a dagger which he says appears before him, the "handle toward [his] hand" (2.1.45).  He tries to grab it and cannot, so both he and we know it to be fantastic only.

Macbeth says that what he sees is "A dagger of the mind, a false creation / Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain" (2.1.50-51).  He is so tense and edgy because of he and his wife's plan to murder Duncan that night, and his imagination has thus produced a hallucination that conveys Macbeth's jitters as well as the reason for them (they plan to use daggers to kill the king).  Suddenly, the dagger appears to be covered in "gouts of blood" (2.1.58), further connecting it to Macbeth's jumpiness and guilt for the act he is...

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