In act 2, scene 1, what does Macbeth's soliloquy reveal about his state of mind?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Macbeth's soliloquy he hallucinates and sees a bloody dagger ushering him in the direction of King Duncan's chamber. Initially, Macbeth questions his vision and struggles to comprehend the nature of his hallucination. He asks if the "fatal vision" is sensible to touch, and eventually concludes that it...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In Macbeth's soliloquy he hallucinates and sees a bloody dagger ushering him in the direction of King Duncan's chamber. Initially, Macbeth questions his vision and struggles to comprehend the nature of his hallucination. He asks if the "fatal vision" is sensible to touch, and eventually concludes that it is an image born from his "heat-oppressed brain." Macbeth's hallucination can be interpreted as a reflection of the stress his tortured mind is under surrounding his bloody mission. The unsettling vision also reflects Macbeth's confusion and conflicted feelings regarding the assassination. The fact that the dagger "marshall’st" him in the direction of Duncan's chamber also highlights his ambition and cruelty.

Macbeth proceeds to question his senses. Eventually, he realizes that the hallucination is simply a manifestation of his conscience and complicated feelings. Macbeth's inability to tell whether or not his eyesight is working correctly highlights the confusion he is experiencing at the moment. The audience is aware that there are conflicting aspects to Macbeth's character. Some are motivating him to refrain from committing regicide, but others simultaneously encourage him to murder the king.

Macbeth then comments on the terrible stillness of the night when bloody crimes are committed and witches celebrate evil deeds. He goes on to say that the more he speaks, the more his courage diminishes. Then, he proceeds to travel to Duncan's chamber with his dagger. Macbeth's soliloquy in this scene illustrates his guilty, conflicted conscience and elements of his ambitious nature as he prepares to assassinate the sleeping King Duncan.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This soliloquy reveals Macbeth's increasingly fractured state of mind as he contemplates regicide. At this point, despite the hallucination, Macbeth is still aware enough to recognize that his brain is "heat-oppressed." This fever could indicate a state of high stress or even stress-induced delirium, which might mean that Macbeth is still engaging with his conscience; the internal conflict between his ambition and his guilt is causing the oppression in his head.

Later in the soliloquy, Macbeth says, "Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,/Or else worth all the rest," and this line can be analyzed within the context of the fives senses all humans rely on. Here, Macbeth's confused state means that he doesn't know what parts of himself to trust, as even his eyes are confusing him with this vision of the dagger. To make matters even more confusing, he wonders if his eyes are his only trustworthy sense, which also leaves him feeling rather disoriented.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this soliloquy, Macbeth has a vision in which he sees a dagger. The appearance of this dagger mirrors Macbeth's uncertainty about committing the murder. He tries to reach out for the handle and misses, just as his mind mulls over the killing of the innocent king.

Macbeth's suggestibility is also made clear through this soliloquy. When the dagger begins to point in the direction of King Duncan, Macbeth accepts that he will indeed commit the murder. The use of the word "marshal" to describe the dagger's movement suggests that it has some power over his body and his mind.

In the next few lines, however, Macbeth's state of mind changes. He becomes more rational as he dismisses the dagger as a hallucination. Instead, he blames the "bloody business" for making him see the imaginary dagger.

Finally, Macbeth urges the ground to not hear his steps as he goes to King Duncan's chamber. He does not want to get caught because he knows that if he does, his plan to become king is over.  He is both ambitious and cunning here, but the final line suggests some last-minute nerves that Macbeth can barely control:

Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth's soliloquy is occasioned by the sight of an imaginary dagger hovering before him. Macbeth interprets this vision as a sign that he is to carry out the murder of Duncan, saying that it "marshall'st me the way I was going." He is resolved to carry out the murder of Duncan even though he has already acknowledged that it is wrong, and he seems to believe, based on the vision and his encounter with the witches earlier in the play, that he is destined to commit the murder, driven by forces over which he has no control. In short, Macbeth is determined to commit the murder, but is still aware that it is a "bloody business" filled with "horror." In this soliloquy we see Macbeth grappling with several of the major themes and conflicts that we see throughout the play. He doesn't seem to know whether he is fated to commit the murder, or if he is doing it totally of his own volition. He knows, as we have seen already, that it is an evil deed, but his ambition (as well, perhaps, as the machinations of evil inhuman forces) drives him to do it. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team