To Be Thus Is Nothing But To Be Safely Thus

I need an explanation of this quote

To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be feared. 'Tis much he dares,
And to that dauntless temper of his mind
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor
To act in safety. There is none but he
Whose being I do fear, and under him
My genius is rebuked, as it is said
Mark Antony’s was by Caesar.
Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The following excerpt is from Shakespeare's play "Antony and Cleopatra." It shows what Macbeth is referring to when he compares himself and Banquo to Antony and Octavius Caesar, saying, ". . . and under him / My genius is rebuked, as it is said / Mark Antony's was by Caesar."

Antony                                          Say to me,
Whose fortunes shall rise higher, Caesar's or mine?

Soothsayer   Caesar's.
Therefore, O Antony! Stay not by his side;
Thy demon--that's thy spirit which keeps thee,--is
Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,
Where Caesar's is not; but near him thy angel
Becomes a fear, a being o'erpower'd; therefore
Make space enough between you.

Antony   Speak this no more.

Soothsayer   To none but thee; no more but when to thee.
If thou dost play with him at any game
Thou art sure to lose, and, of that natural luck,
He beats thee 'gainst the odds; thy lustre thickens
When he shines by. I say again, thy spirit
Is all afraid to govern thee near him,
But he away, 'tis noble.

Antony    Get thee gone;
Say to Ventidius I would speak with him.
[Exit Soothsayer]
He shall to Parthia. Be it art or hap
He hath spoken true; the very dice obey him.
And in our sports my better cunning faints
Under his chance; if we draw lots he speeds,
His cocks do win the battle still of mine
When it is all to nought, and his quails ever
Beat mine, inhoop'd, at odds.

Shakespeare derived his invaluable words of practical worldly wisdom from Plutarch. We will all find in our own lives that there are some individuals who seem to have the same effect on us that Octavius has on Antony. They make us feel awkward and inferior, although we are well aware that they are often actually inferior to us in many ways. As the Soothsayer tells Antony:

Thy demon--that's thy spirit which keeps thee,--is
Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,
Where Caesar's is not . . .

The Soothsayer advises Antony to listen to his own feelings and be warned by them to stay as far away from Octavius as possible. We all meet lots of people in our lifetimes, and some of them are helpful while others are "takers" and "users" and can be dangerous. We need to become aware of our feelings and intuitions and to avoid the people who leave us with unpleasant feelings or who leave us feeling somehow drained. Sometimes our first impressions of others are the best evidence we will ever have to judge them.

Here is another pertinent quote:

In the presence of some people we inevitably depart from ourselves: we are inaccurate, say things we do not feel, and talk nonsense. When we get home we are conscious that we have made fools of ourselves. Never go near these people.             -Mark Rutherford


gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote (from Act 3, Scene 1, lines 47-56) is a brief soliloquy by Macbeth in which he reveals his fundamental sense of insecurity. He has managed to achieve his lifelong ambition in becoming king but even this is 'nothing' unless he can be sure of remaining in this position. He feels particularly alarmed over Banquo. This is because the witches have prophesied that Banquo's sons will eventually become king, but, as is clear in this quote, he also feels threatened by Banquo personally. Banquo, he notes, has the makings of a fine leader ('his royalty of nature'), being brave, wise and disciplined. Macbeth is worried that Banquo is destined to triumph over him just as in Ancient Rome, the great political and military leader Mark Antony was eventually upstaged by Octavius Caesar who went on to become the first Roman emperor. In the lines immediately following this quote, therefore, Macbeth arranges for the murder of Banquo and his son Fleance.