What is the literal meaning of the following passage in Act V, Scene 1 of "Macbeth"? LADY MACBETH    Out, damned spot! out, I say!--One: two: why,    then, 'tis time to do't.--Hell is...

What is the literal meaning of the following passage in Act V, Scene 1 of "Macbeth"?

    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.

    Do you mark that?

    The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?--
    What, will these hands ne'er be clean?--No more o'
    that, my lord, no more o' that: you mar all with
    this starting.

    Go to, go to; you have known what you should not.

    She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of
    that: heaven knows what she has known.

    Here's the smell of the blood still: all the
    perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
    hand. Oh, oh, oh!

Expert Answers
sagesource eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lady Macbeth's words reflect the workings of her conscience, which is driving her to madness. She can no longer hide her guilt and, in her sleepwalking hallucinations, cannot help revealing her crime to those observing her.

The references to blood hark back to the murder of Duncan. She had said (Act II.2) "A little water clears us of this deed," but now no quantity of water is enough. Significantly, she had used blood to incriminate the innocent grooms,...

...If he do bleed,
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal;
For it must seem their guilt. (Act II.2)

...and now it follows her, impossible to remove.

Remarks that scold Macbeth for his timidness in Act V.1, such as "A soldier, and afeared?" and "No more o' that," again evoke the earlier scenes before and after Duncan's murder when Lady Macbeth treated all of Macbeth's doubts with contempt:

Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy thane,
You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brainsickly of things. Go get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
Why did you bring these daggers from the place? (Act II.2)

The memory now haunts her since, as she probably realizes, without her urging Macbeth may well have shrunk away from committing the murder.

"The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now?" (Act V.1) shows that Lady Macbeth is also haunted by indirect consequences of her actions. Macduff was Thane of Fife, and Macbeth had his wife and family murdered in his rage at the witches' second set of predictions (Act IV.1, 2).

Finally, "Hell is murky" (Act V.1) indicates Lady Macbeth feels she is damned, something that had also occurred to her husband, though he had set it aside (Act I.7).

...[Duncan's] virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;... (Act I.7)

brandih eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote is also discussed at our free Shakespeare Quotes section.