What does the following quote from Macbeth, "look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under't" mean?  

Expert Answers info

Baby Gorczany eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

bookB.A. from University of the Western Cape, South Africa


calendarEducator since 2014

write1,244 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

This quote is from Act 1, scene 5 and is spoken by Lady Macbeth after her husband's arrival. He had previously notified her by letter of his encounter with the witches and that they had predicted that he would be thane of Cawdor and "king hereafter." He also stated that their prediction had come true and that he had been awarded the treasonous Cawdor's title since he would be assassinated for his betrayal.

Lady Macbeth was overjoyed on receiving such good tidings and was ambitious that her husband should become king. She was afraid, however, that he did not have the nerve to claim the crown by foul means. She awaits his arrival so that she can encourage him to do a most horrible deed—murder the king. On his entry, she immediately gets to work. She tells Macbeth that she feels "the future in the instant." In other words, she can sense their glorious future at that exact moment. It is obvious that she has already decided that they should murder Duncan so that Macbeth can ascend to the throne in the shortest time possible.

When Macbeth tells her that Duncan is to spend the night at their castle and that he was to leave the next day as he planned, Lady Macbeth comments:

O, never
Shall sun that morrow see!

This is an explicit indication of her intent—Duncan shall never see the sun the next day, for he would be dead. She then informs her husband that his countenance is too easily read and others may read strange messages in his expression. She urges him to put on a show of friendship and conviviality;  he must "look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't." She means that Macbeth must appear benign, kind and friendly, but that this must only be an act, for he must deceive...

(The entire section contains 600 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now






check Approved by eNotes Editorial