What does this passage from Macbeth mean? Out, damned spot! out, I say!--One: two: why,then, 'tis time to do't.--Hell is murky!--Fie, mylord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need wefear who knows...
What does this passage from Macbeth mean?
Out, damned spot! out, I say!--One: two: why,
then, 'tis time to do't.--Hell is murky!--Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?--Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him
This scene, late in the play, casts an ironic light on Lady Macbeth's earlier fearless talk about killing Duncan. Lady Macbeth had pushed her husband, who was wisely having second thoughts about the act, into murdering the king by posing as a ruthless woman without a conscience. She urged her husband on by telling him she would dash her baby's brains out if she had promised to do so. Her violent words and imagery had the desired effect.
Now we learn that Lady Macbeth does have a conscience. She might have stuffed down all her guilt over killing Duncan during her waking hours, but her subconscious has not forgotten. At night, the guilt comes out, repetitively and obsessively. Night after night she sleepwalks and tries to wash the blood off her hands. The "spot" she refers to is the blood she imagines still staining her hands.
Her unconscious babbling reveals too much and shows her struggling still between wanting to do the act ("One: two: why, then, 'tis time to do't") and believing the power she and Macbeth have gained from the murder will keep them safe ("What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?") and guilt. Her guilt is revealed through her handwashing and her words, "who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him."
Lady Macbeth may have achieved her ambition, but the price she has paid is far higher than she imagined.
This passage is from the first scene of Act V in Macbeth. The Doctor and a Gentlewoman are discussing Lady Macbeth's bizarre habit of sleepwalking, and speculating just what might be bothering her. As they are talking, Lady Macbeth enters the scene rubbing her hands as if she is washing them. The Gentlewoman reports that she has witnessed this behavior many times. As she rubs her hands, she speaks, and we learn that she is trying to clean off an imaginary spot of blood. This is what she means when she says "Out, damned spot!" The rest of the passage quoted in the question refers to her plot with Macbeth to murder King Duncan while he slept in their castle. "It is time to do't," she says, meaning the murder itself. Then she recalls (unconsciously, of course) how she challenged her husband's masculinity as he hesitated, saying, in effect, "you're a soldier, and you're afraid?" She claims that after the deed is done, they will become so powerful that nobody will be able to say anything about the way they rose to power: "What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?" But then she says, in effect, "who would have thought the King would bleed so much?" Overall, this speech reveals a woman wracked by guilt, driven to the point of madness by the weight of the evil deeds she has helped her husband carry out.