What does "I am in blood / Stepped in so far that should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er" in act 3 of Macbeth mean?

The quote "I am in blood / Stepped in so far that should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er" means that for Macbeth, it would be equally difficult to try to reform his ways as to continue in tyranny. He has reached a halfway point in all his slaughter and tyranny, so it will make little difference if he retreats from it or just keeps pushing through.

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Macbeth is saying here that he has walked so far into a river of blood that even if he turned around in an attempt to alter the trajectory of his murderous path, it would be just as difficult to live a good life as it would be to continue slaughtering innocent people. Macbeth's decision to obey his ambition and assassinate King Duncan has irrevocably changed his life and led him down a bloody, destructive path. In this quote, Macbeth is acknowledging that he has transformed into a bloodthirsty tyrant and concedes that there is little use in turning back.

At this point in the play, Macbeth has murdered King Duncan, slaughtered his chamberlains, and paid assassins to kill Banquo. He is also extremely paranoid, has spies in the home of every thane, and has begun to see hallucinations of Banquo. Macbeth is waist-deep in blood, and he understands that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to simply change his ways and suddenly transform into a benevolent, gracious king.

Before committing regicide, Macbeth pondered the consequences of his actions and realized that assassinating the king would not be the "be-all and the end-all." He is not surprised by his dramatic transformation and demonstrates remarkable self-awareness by acknowledging his debased spirit and pragmatically recognizing the difficulty of purifying his soul. Macbeth has made his bed and chosen a life of murder, destruction, and chaos. As the play progresses, Macbeth continues to regress into a savage, heartless tyrant who commissions the slaughter of Macduff's family and dismisses his wife's suicide as something that was bound to happen.

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Literally, what Macbeth is saying here might be transliterated into modern English as "I have stepped so far into this lake of blood, that even if I didn't wade any further into it, it would be just as difficult (and take me just as long) to turn around and wade back out of it than it would to just keep going."

Essentially, Macbeth means that he has reached the halfway point of his journey through all this blood and death, so it now makes no difference whether he turns around and retreats from it or just keeps pushing through it: both will be equally "tedious."

There is an element of resignation here. Macbeth is not necessarily saying that he can't step away from the course he's taken. He is indicating, rather, that actually, if he keeps going, he will come to the end eventually. He can get himself out of this bloody situation either by retreating or by pushing on, and the outcome will be the same: he will eventually emerge from the period of time which is characterized by murder, savagery, and bloodiness.

Viewed this way, the commentary is interesting. Macbeth seems to be thinking about the situation from all sides and considering it not in a moral sense, but rather in terms of pure pragmatism. He suggests that he has gone so far along his course that it would be logistically just as difficult to turn around as it would be to keep going—so he may as well keep going.

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Macbeth's reached the stage where he's so steeped in blood that it's impossible for him to turn back, even if he wanted to. Since murdering his way to the Scottish throne, Macbeth has become an increasingly bloody tyrant, wiping out anyone who might conceivably present a threat to his rule. Being such a tyrant creates a momentum all of its own, to the extent that Macbeth has become a victim of his own savagery.

That being the case, Macbeth cannot go back to how he used to be. He can't just turn off the tap of repression and start being a nice, benevolent king as if nothing had happened. Now that he's a tyrant, he must remain as one or face the prospect of losing his throne.

Besides, Macbeth is still in thrall to the witches' prophecies, which he is keen to see fulfilled. To turn back now, to change his barbaric ways, would not just be "tedious," it would potentially be fatal. And so there's nothing left for Macbeth to do other than to continue wading through a deep river of blood. This is the path that he's chosen for himself, and he must live or die by the choice he's made.

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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.

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To set the stage for act 3, scene 4 of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth has murdered King Duncan and taken the throne. Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, have fled the country, which lessens Macbeth's concerns that they'll challenge his position as King.

Macbeth has ordered the murder of Banquo and Banquo's son, Fleance, in order to thwart the Witches' prophecy that although Banquo wouldn't be King himself, he "shalt get kings" (1.3.70), meaning that he will beget kings, and Banquo already has one son who could replace Macbeth.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth organize what Lady Macbeth calls a "great feast" (3.1.13), but which Macbeth says is "a solemn supper" (3.1.15), to which they invite Banquo, and Banquo agrees to attend.

Before the banquet begins, Banquo is murdered, but true to his word, Banquo's ghost attends the banquet. This completely unsettles Macbeth. Macbeth already has serious regrets about killing Duncan, and the murder of Banquo compounds his self-recriminations, and nearly drives him mad.

Lady Macbeth does her best to cover for Macbeth's strange behavior at the banquet, but it's clear to all of the guests that Macbeth is not well, and Lady Macbeth insists that everyone leave the banquet as soon as possible.

When Macbeth calms down, he talks with Lady Macbeth, and he tells her that he's going to visit the Witches to find out what's going to happen to him.

MACBETH: I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er. (3.4.165–167)

Macbeth has decided, though, that no matter what the Witches tell him—and he expects to hear the worst—that he's going to keep moving forward, and do whatever is necessary to secure the throne for himself. He's caused so many deaths, and he's standing so deep in blood already, that there's no way he can make amends, even if he tried.

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It is always important when you are trying to work out the meaning of quotations to read them in the context of the entire work of literature. Often this will help reveal the meaning of the quotation. This quote, uttered by Macbeth, is said in Act III scene 4 at the end of the famous banquet scene, after Macbeth has been greatly disturbed by the sight of the ghost of Banquo, whom he has just had killed. The quote you have identified reveals Macbeth's own perceptions of where he is morally. Having committed so many nefarious acts, such as the murder of Duncan and now the murder of Banquo, he considers himself to be beyond the pale of redemption. He is so deep in the blood of the innocents that he has killed, that even if he were to not "wade" any further, it would be too much work to go back and right the wrongs he has committed. Therefore, he might as well continue on his path to damnation, adding evil to evil. This quote is therefore very important when we think of Macbeth's state as a character. It represents his own abandonment to evil and to the damnation he will receive.

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Macbeth has already killed Duncan, God's holy vessel, and his best friend, Banquo.  He tells his wife, after the banquet scene in which Banquo's revenge ghost appears, that "blood will have blood."  Bloodshed requires more bloodshed.

He then tells Lady Macbeth that he intends to visit the witches, "for now I am bent to know / By the worst means, the worst."  He's already heard the good news from the witches (Thane of Cawdor & King); now, he wants to hear the worst news from the worst sources.

In this quote, "I am in blood / Stepped in so far that..." Macbeth means that he has already spilled so much blood (Duncan, Banquo) that it's "too late to turn back now."  The witches and Lady Macbeth helped propel him down this murderous course, and he wants to see where it's going.  Maybe he's even acquired a taste for it.

A major theme in the play regards time--the bells chiming, the knocking, clocks, "When shall we three meet again."  Macbeth doesn't want time catching up with him, so the best course is to "go o'er," to continue the same course.  It does not make sense to "double-back" his course, especially since Macbeth has the Witches' knowledge of the future.  Not to mention that doubling-back is just plain boring ("tedious").

Macbeth also means that he's in the middle of the bloodshed.  Since we are in Act III, and he's yet to kill Macduff's family and Young Siward, he's wading across a river of blood, and now that he's in the middle, it's easier to continue killing ("go o'er") than to wade back the way he came ("Returning").

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