In Macbeth, what metaphors and themes are used in Act 2, Scene 1, during Macbeth's hallucination of a dagger?

Expert Answers
perfectsilence eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are both clear and subtle metaphors presented during Macbeth's hallucination. Lines 48–51 present metaphor:

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling, as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

In this passage, Macbeth is pondering the meaning of the dagger that he thinks he sees. While he does call it a "fatal vision," he debates whether it is a tangible object or just a hallucination stemming from his feverish mental state. This question helps to show the complexity of Macbeth's character. Knowing the treacherous act is wrong but desiring the power that could come from it, Macbeth is both for and against the murder, and the conflict is having a dire effect on his mental state, even at this fairly early point in the play. This conflict suggests the following theme: loss of virtue leads to loss of sanity.

Further, toward the end of this particular speech, the reader is presented with a subtle metaphor in lines 53–55:

Withered murder,
Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace
While the majority of this part of the passage consists of the personification of murder, line 54 does present a metaphor by referring to the wolf as murder's sentinel, thus calling the wolf a soldier or guard whose howl will alarm his master.
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of course this is a highly interesting part of the play as we focus on Macbeth's disintegration as a moral character and a tragic hero just before he goes to commit the grave crime of regicide - the killing of a King. It is well worth examining this complex soliloquy as a whole and analysing it bit by bit, but as "brevity is the soul of wit" (to quote another Shakespeare play), how about considering the following examples of metaphors in this speech and then using them as a basis for re-reading it and analysing it further yourself.

Consider this following example:

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling, as to sight? or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

Here Macbeth uses metaphors to debate the nature of this vision - he calls this dagger a "fatal vision", and then "a dagger of the mind" suggesting that his evil thoughts in contemplating the murder of his King are being somehow expressed psychologically by his "heat-oppressed brain."

Hope this helps get you started. You will want to examine the part of this speech when Macbeth refers to night and "Nature seems dead". Good luck!