What does, “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er,” (Macbeth:Act 3) mean?

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robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth's image is of somebody standing in a river of blood. He has stepped into the river so far that, even if he continues no further forward, the distance to the side he faces is just as far as the distance should he turn back to the side he climbed in.

Going forward, in other words, would be as difficult, as "tedious", as going back. The metaphor, of course, represents Macbeth's crimes: and rather than stop committing crimes (presumably, for fear of damnation) Macbeth says that he might as well continue to commit them. One is as pointless ("tedious") as the other.

But - and this is the interesting character point - Macbeth's word "tedious" can also mean "boring", implying that Macbeth is detatched, unsympathetic, and icily cold about the awful crimes and murders that he has committed. It's the start of what Harold Bloom has commented on in the play - that, while Lady Macbeth goes emotionally mad, Macbeth stays horribly, coldly sane.

thenutter | Student

it means that he has killed so many that he has to keep on going to avoid suspicion so he kills one then he has to kill the witness and then the person that witnessed that ect...

msfebnz | Student

I think you can puzzle out the meaning if you try to visualize the image Shakespeare is trying to describe.

"I am in blood stepped in so far" -- if you change the word "am" to "have" it will help you to see what he is saying -- I have in blood stepped in so far.

Now take the "in blood" which seems out of place to our modern ears and put it on the other side of "stepped": I have stepped in blood so far . . .

I know you can visualize yourself stepping in blood. But you're probably picturing a smallish puddle of blood, such as would be on the floor after you cut yourself. Or maybe even a bigger puddle resulting from a bigger injury. That's not exactly the image Shakespeare wants you to see.

Look at the next part: "that should I wade no more."  The word wade changes everything. Imagine an amount of blood so copious that you could wade through it.  That's not a puddle; that a river of blood, deep enough to cover your ankles, maybe even your legs.

Imagine wading through that much blood, trying to get to the other side of it. The next line makes you see Macbeth's dilemma as he sees it:

"Returning were as tedious as go o’er"--He could turn around, go back to the bank of that river of blood, but it's too late. He's half way across, so he keeps going. Seeing Macbeth stepping deep into the river of blood that he has himself created, trudging across, getting tired but realizing he can't go back, is to feel the horror and despair that he must feel.

Merely translating Macbeth's words does not get at the horror of his experience in the same way that Shakespeare's image does. That's why, I believe, it's always worthwhile to try to figure out what Shakespeare's trying to get you to see or hear or feel because that imagery is an important part of what Shakespeare's words mean. (3.4.135-7)

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