Macbeth's Speech in Act 1, Scene 3
Hey guys, I need some help analysing the speech by Macbeth in Act 1, Scene 3 between lines 137 and 150 (starting with "[Aside] Two truths are told" and ending with "But what is not").
If you could help me with what the speech actually means (I have a rough idea) but also what each line means.
I would break down the text line by line for clear understanding. First, "two truths are told" means that Macbeth is Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor. That is how the witches addressed Macbeth when they met with him. They also added the title of king. This is the unclear part of the prophecy. How can Macbeth be king when Scotland already has a king? King Duncan is alive and well:
[Aside.] Those creatures told two truths
As happy prologues to my ascending
The throne. I thank you, gentlemen.
Macbeth thanks Ross and Angus for bringing him the news that he is declared Thane of Cawdor. Then in an aside, he begins pondering (thinking deeply) about the meeting with the witches:
[Aside.] This supernatural meeting
Can’t be bad, only it can’t be good either. If it’s bad,
Why has it given me promise of success,
That began with a truth? I am Baron of Cawdor
Now Macbeth realizes he is Thane of Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor, but what about the king part of the prophecy? Will he be king? If so, how? King Duncan is King. How can Macbeth be king if Duncan is King? There is only one solution. Duncan will have to die, but how will he die? Murder is one solution, but that thought causes Macbeth to fear until his hair stands up and his heart knocks at his ribs. Macbeth is having horrible thoughts, thoughts he should not be having.
This is where Macbeth's "horrible imaginings" come into play. He is contemplating murder of King Duncan, and it makes his hair stand up and his heart is knocking at his ribs. Clearly, Macbeth is aware that for him to become king, Duncan will have to die. The thought frightens Macbeth, but he is thinking about it. Macbeth is contemplating murder. As frightening as it sounds, he is thinking about the murder of King Duncan:
I am Baron of Cawdor.
If it’s good, why do I give in to that suggestion
Whose horrid image makes my hair stand on end,
And makes my heart pound so hard they knock at my ribs,
Against my will to stay calm? My current fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.
My thought, whose murder is still only a fantastic idea,
So shakes my manhood, that functioning like a man
Is smothered in unfounded allegations; and nothing is
Only what is not.
"Nothing is only what it is not" could be translated to mean that to be king is only to not be king because King Duncan is still alive.