"My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical shakes, so my single state of man that function"--What does the speaker mean?

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The speaker of these words is Macbeth, who utters them in an aside,

....Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings:
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is
But what is not. (1.3.148-153)

Visibly shaken by the events of the day in which paradoxical elements exist--"So fair and foul a day I have seen"--Macbeth is confused by the equation of reality with fantasy.  For, while he wishes to believe in the prophesies of the witches, he is shaken as he considers the fantastic idea that he may become king because in order for this to occur, the present king, Duncan, must die.  If he does indeed become king, Macbeth realizes that something that is not at present true must take place. Therefore, what exists now will become "what is not."

In another aside, the exigent Macbeth hopes that chance will take care of accomplishing his becoming king and he will not have to do anything.  But, he is "smother'd in surmise" as he deliberates, and is disturbed by his "fantastical" contemplation of regicide as a means of hurrying what is apparently destined to happen.


We’ve answered 318,960 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question