I need to write an essay about the advantages and disadvantages of reading the dagger soliloquy in Shakespeare's Macbeth in Shakespeare's original blank verse vs. modern prose. I can't figure out...

I need to write an essay about the advantages and disadvantages of reading the dagger soliloquy in Shakespeare's Macbeth in Shakespeare's original blank verse vs. modern prose. I can't figure out what's good and what's bad about reading it how Shakespeare originally wrote it vs. a modern interpretation. Any suggestions about how I can approach this?

1 Answer | Add Yours

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Macbeth imagines a dagger. He sees it but cannot hold it. He says "Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible / To feeling as to sight?" (II.i.42-45) The uses of "thou" and "thee" are similar to the modern "you," so there is no dramatically different meaning implied there. But using "thou" and "thee" does help the reader conceive of an earlier historical time when these poetic words were used. So, this might be useful in imagining the Shakespearean culture and era.

The word "sensible" might be translated as "perceptible" in a modern version. Sensible and perceptible both mean "able to be perceived or sensed." But sensible also implies that the dagger is able to sense. Macbeth wonders if he can feel as well as see the dagger. That is, he wonders if he can sense it in both ways. But, at times, Macbeth does feel at the mercy of witches' prophecies and fate. So, he may also be implying that the dagger is part of this supernatural influence over him. And therefore, the dagger is also able to sense and encourage Macbeth to murder Duncan. The dagger, personified, is sensible as well.

Later he sees blood on the dagger. He says "It is the bloody business which informs / Thus to mine eyes." (II.i.56-57) A modern version would say something like "My murderous thoughts are making me see blood." Clearly, the original version is more poetic. But the original version also still plays on the senses. The bloody business "informs" (teaches, makes manifest) the blood to his eyes.

Macbeth is plagued by thoughts of death by this point. He says "Nature seems dead." This means that the portion of the world that is asleep seems dead. But using a broader word like "Nature" implies that every sleeping thing seems dead. This also plays on the themes of what is natural and supernatural.

Near the end of the speech, he says "Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives." (II.i.69) He could have said "I am talking myself into doing what I am too scared to do." But he uses "heat" to imply action. The inverted word order (anastrophe) is tricky in Shakespeare. A more clear translation is "Words give heat to deeds that are too cold. It is simply a more poetic way of description. In saying "words to the heat of deeds," it's as if he is casting a spell, using words to create deeds.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,929 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question