I Am In Blood Stepp'd In So Far

What does the following quote mean in Macbeth?

I am in bloodStepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,Returning were as tedious as go o'er. (act 3, scene 4)

This quote from act 3, scene 4, presents Macbeth's emotional state following the murders of Banquo and King Duncan. His quote reveals that he does not know what to do, but he does realize that to attempt to find salvation for his crimes will prove just as tedious as the murderous path he has chosen for himself. 

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Macbeth utters these lines at the end of a long and emotionally charged scene. The scene begins with Macbeth welcoming his guests to "a great feast," as Lady Macbeth calls it, to celebrate Macbeth becoming king.

Macbeth sent murderers to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance, while they were riding in a park near Macbeth's castle. One of the murderers appears at the beginning of the feast to tell Macbeth that, although Banquo has been killed, Fleance escaped. Macbeth is happy to know that Banquo is dead, and although he's still concerned about Fleance, he thinks Fleance is too young to challenge his throne:

MACBETH: . . . the worm that's fled
Hath nature that in time will venom breed,
No teeth for the present. (3.4.32–34)

Macbeth rejoins the feast, gives praise to Banquo, and is then appalled to see the ghost of Banquo sitting in his chair at the banquet table. Lady Macbeth tries to carry on as if nothing is amiss while Macbeth accuses his guests of playing a trick on him. He then talks to the ghost while his guests watch him in amazement.

Just when Lady Macbeth gets Macbeth settled down and the feast returns somewhat to normal—Macbeth even gives a toast to Banquo—the ghost appears again, and Lady Macbeth is forced by Macbeth's disturbed behavior to ask everyone to leave the banquet.

Left alone with Lady Macbeth, Macbeth begins to ramble, almost incoherently.

MACBETH: It will have blood: they say blood will have blood.
Stones have been known to move and trees to speak;
Augures and understood relations have
By maggot pies and choughs and rooks brought forth
The secret'st man of blood. (3.4.149–153)

For no reason, Macbeth asks Lady Macbeth what time it is. Then he wants to know why Macduff didn't come to the feast. He talks about having a spy in Macduff's household and tells Lady Macbeth that he's going to visit the witches to find out what is going to happen to him.

MACBETH: And betimes I will, to the weird sisters.
More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know,
By the worst means, the worst. (3.4.162–164)

Macbeth then says the lines which contain the referenced quote. It's important to look at this quote (as with any other quote) in context. Macbeth first says that from now on, he's only going to do what's in his own interest and for his own good, and nothing is going to stand in his way.

MACBETH: For mine own good
All causes shall give way.

Then he rationalizes, as other Educators have discussed, that he's gone so far down this road of murder in order to acquire and keep his throne—he's killed Duncan and Duncan's two guards, and had Banquo killed, so far—that he can't turn back now, even if he wanted to stop all the killing.

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

Then he tells Lady Macbeth (and us) that he has other ideas, "strange things," in mind along this same murderous road, but he can't talk about them until they've been carried out.

MACBETH: Strange things I have in head that will to hand,
Which must be acted ere they may be scann'd. (4.3.163–169)

Macbeth adds one more line that is even more ominous and disturbing than anything else he's said in the scene:

MACBETH: We are yet but young in deed. (4.3.173)

In other words, Macbeth is just getting started.

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Towards the end of Act Three, Scene 4, Macbeth tells his wife that he plans on visiting the Three Witches for a second time to learn more about his future. Macbeth then says,

"I am in blood Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er" (Shakespeare, 3.4.142-144).

Essentially, Macbeth believes that he has committed too many crimes to turn his life around and possibly find salvation. The image of Macbeth standing in the middle of a river of blood metaphorically represents the innocent lives he has taken. Macbeth has already killed King Duncan and Banquo, and he feels that changing his murderous ways would be "tedious." Macbeth believes that it would be just as easy to continue killing people as it would be to stop and repent for his sins. All hope of finding salvation is lost, and Macbeth accepts his bloody future. Later on in the play, Macbeth orders assassins to kill Macduff's entire family and continues to reign as a bloodthirsty tyrant before he dies in the final battle.

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Macbeth is realizing that after he has committed murder, there is no going back. He immediately regrets killing Duncan, but there is nothing he can do to change what has already happened. 

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Macbeth is saying that he is stuck, and can neither go back nor forward.  He is forced to stand his ground, since he has made his decision to kill Duncan.

At this point in the play, Macbeth has made his bed.  He has already killed Duncan, so there is no turning back.  Yet he struggles a little.  He is not sure what to do, and needs some time to think things through. 

I will tomorrow,

And betimes I will, to the weird sisters.

More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know,

By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good

All causes shall give way. (Act 3, Scene 4)

Ironically, as Macbeth is trying to figure things out to make sure he’s not in over his head, Hecate is scolding the Weird Sisters for messing with him—and deciding to make things even worse by showing him more visions.  He thinks he is going to solve something by visiting the witches again to seek their advice, when they are really going to twist him up further and get him into more of a mess.

Lady Macbeth is disturbed by this kind of talk.  She tells Macbeth he just needs some sleep. He is acting strangely, and she feels like she is losing control of him.

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