What is the dramatic significance of the soliloquies in Macbeth?

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Lady Macbeth and Macbeth have three soliloquies between them before the murder of Duncan . The dramatic purpose of these is twofold: first, it lets the audience know the main characters' thoughts in the pivotal and suspenseful time before the murder of a monarch. Second, the soliloquies build up a...

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Lady Macbeth and Macbeth have three soliloquies between them before the murder of Duncan. The dramatic purpose of these is twofold: first, it lets the audience know the main characters' thoughts in the pivotal and suspenseful time before the murder of a monarch. Second, the soliloquies build up a mood and atmosphere of chilly and relentless terror, depicting a world taken over by the dark side.

In act I, scene v, Lady Macbeth receives the letter from her husband telling her the witches' prophecies. She is as ambitious as Macbeth is and wants the crown as much as he does but fears he will be too virtuous to do what it takes to realize their joint lust for power. Therefore, she calls on dark spirits while talking herself into a state of pitilessness and hardness so that she can goad her husband into performing the worst of deeds, tyrannicide. In lines such as the following, she build up the mood of foreboding and horror that will continue to grow, asking for a heart:

Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.
Stop up the access and passage to remorse
Meanwhile, in an important soliloquy in Act I scene vii, Macbeth begins to realize the enormity of what they have planned. He realizes that once they commit the murder there is no going back. He understands, too, that Duncan's death will not be the end, but the beginning of a path of endless bloodshed, saying:
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague th' inventor

He begins to think, too, of what a good ruler Duncan has been and how personally generous he has been to Macbeth. Macbeth is talking himself out of an evil deed, one he describes in terms that chill us as an audience.

However, as Lady Macbeth's soliloquy warned, she manages to persuade her husband to act despite his better instincts. In his soliloquy in act II, scene i, on the eve murdering Duncan, Macbeth imagines seeing a bloody dagger and wonders if it is real, then pictures creatures of the night unleashed, such as wolves and witches, and nature upended in supernatural ways, bringing the Gothic horror of the opening scenes of the play to a crescendo with the declaration that this night Duncan will either go to heaven or to hell.

In probably the most famous soliloquy in the play, in Act V, scene v, Macbeth's wife has committed suicide and Macbeth describes a life that is a contrast to what he had hoped to achieve with the murder of Duncan. The soliloquy completes the arc that began with the murder plot: Macbeth has gotten what he wanted, the crown, and yet, it has left him empty and miserable, wishing for nothing more than to get through a dreary existence, stating:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
...
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

This soliloquy makes the moral of the play clear: murdering one's way to power leaves one feeling that life is meaningless and sterile.

Thus, the soliloquies outline the moral (or immoral) trajectory of the play and lay bare its moral lesson.

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Macbeth's soliloquies provide the audience with significant insight into his thoughts, feelings, and emotions, which contribute to his characterization and allow the audience to sympathize with his character as a tragic hero. Macbeth's soliloquies also depict his sensitive nature and conflicting feelings regarding his heinous crimes. During his soliloquies, Macbeth is humanized, and the audience empathizes with his difficult situation. In act one, scene seven, Macbeth's soliloquy portrays him as a rational person who is greatly influenced by his ambition. The audience sympathizes with his situation and can relate to his conflicting feelings. He is depicted as a relatively honorable man who does not have the self-control to overcome his ambition.

Macbeth's soliloquy in act two, scene one, provides the audience with insight into his perspective before murdering the king, as he follows the imaginary dagger into Duncan's chamber. In order to commit the heinous crime, Macbeth must embrace his wicked side. Macbeth's soliloquy in act five, scene three, emphasizes his desperate condition and illustrates his regret for committing numerous crimes. As Macbeth laments about his hopeless future, he is humanized, and the audience sympathizes with his character despite his crimes. Overall, Macbeth's soliloquies contribute to his characterization by allowing the audience to pity and understand his innermost thoughts and feelings. The audience relates to Macbeth, and the audience should learn from his mistakes.

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The soliloquies contribute to Macbeth's characterization as a tragic hero rather than a villain.  Because we are able to know Macbeth's thoughts as verbalized in the soliloquies, we understand his dilemma and temptation as he contemplates killing Duncan.  We realize that this murder is not easy for him and that he is fully conscious of the fact that this murder is wrong on many levels.  But the temptation to be king is so great that it overrides his scruples.

As we see Macbeth succumb more and more to the forces of darkness, we see the accompanying sorrow and pain, and Macbeth's poignant realization of the horrible consequences of his actions.  One of the more powerful soliloquies occurs in Act 5, when Macbeth feels that

My way of life

Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf,

And that which should accompany old age,

As honor love, obedience, troops of friends,

I must not look to have . . .

Tragic heroes, according to Aristotle, in their tragic falls develop a heightened sense of self knowledge so that they understand the justness of their fate.  It is through these soliloquies that we see Macbeth painfully aware of his losses and the fact that his existence now is meaningless.  Through these expressions, pathos for Macbeth is developed.

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Most of the soliloquies in Macbeth are significant because they develop the dramatic irony and characterization in the play.  For example, in Macbeth's soliloquy regarding the dagger in Act 2 Scene 1, the viewer/reader understands that Macbeth does feel guilty about his plans to murder King Duncan.  He cannot reveal this sense of guilt to Lady Macbeth because she wants him to be brave and "manly" in his efforts.  But the reader learns that Macbeth is not quite as cold and calculating as he appears to other characters.

Similarly, at the very beginning of Act 3, Banquo's soliloquy states that he fears that Macbeth has done ill deeds to get his position as the King.  However, Banquo cannot reveal his doubts to anyone else for fear of what Macbeth may do to him if he were to learn of Banquo's feelings.  This develops dramatic irony (and suspense) as we watch Banquo go on to have a civil conversation with Macbeth about the upcoming banquet.

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