What is Macbeth's soliloquy in act 2, scene 1 about?

Macbeth's soliloquy in act 2, scene 1 is about his vision of a ghostly and bloody dagger that seems to beckon him toward the king's chamber. This scene helps the audience visualize a murder that will transpire off stage and helps demonstrate Macbeth's conflicted feelings about murdering King Duncan.

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In this soliloquy, Macbeth is headed toward King Duncan's chamber to commit regicide when a vision of a bloody dagger suddenly appears before him. A bit confused, Macbeth reaches for the floating dagger, but his hand only passes through empty air. The dagger points him toward Duncan's chamber,...

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In this soliloquy, Macbeth is headed toward King Duncan's chamber to commit regicide when a vision of a bloody dagger suddenly appears before him. A bit confused, Macbeth reaches for the floating dagger, but his hand only passes through empty air. The dagger points him toward Duncan's chamber, seeming to bid him to take action while the king and the rest of the world are sleeping. Macbeth decides that the dagger is a hallucination brought about by his knowledge of the wicked deed he is about to commit. He hears a bell tolling, a signal that it is time for him to proceed, and heads to Duncan's chamber.

At the end of this soliloquy, we are reminded that Macbeth has fears of his own. The longer he contemplates aloud the significance of this ghostly and bloody dagger, the more he hesitates and risks losing his conviction ("Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives"). It's not apparent that he is necessarily a wholly evil man—as demonstrated by the mental torment and fear he expresses in the moments preceding the king's murder. Rather, Macbeth seems inclined to follow the prompting of others, from his wife to this ghostly dagger that urges him forward. This hesitation will vanish after the murder of the king, which marks a distinct turning point in Macbeth's character development. Soon afterward, Macbeth devolves into a bloodthirsty tyrant who is willing to kill—seemingly without conscience—to keep the throne.

This soliloquy offers the audience a glimpse of Macbeth's bloody act, yet like much of the violence of the play, the actual murder takes place off stage and out of the audience's view. Earlier in the play, Macbeth rhetorically asks his eyes to blind themselves to the bloody acts his hands want to commit ("The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, / Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see"). Duncan's offstage death seems to echo this sentiment, shielding the audience to the brutal reality of Macbeth's actions. This perhaps allows the audience sympathize with Macbeth for a bit longer, yet it also leaves room for them to imagine the worst, which highlights the ambiguity and tension in how Macbeth is presented to the audience. There is the hesitant, contemplative Macbeth, who acts only at the urging of others, like the witches and his wife. Then there is the ambitious and wicked Macbeth, whose inherent corruption leads him to form a murderous plot from the instant he hears the witches' prophecy. It's left up to the audience to decide which side of Macbeth is the real one.

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