Student Question

Analyze the following passage from Macbeth: "You are, and do not know't: / The spring, the head, the fountain of your blood / Is stopp'd; the very source of it is stopp'd."

Quick answer:

An analysis of these lines would include two main point. First, their literal meaning is that Macbeth is telling Malcolm and Donalbain that their father Duncan, their source of life (of their "blood"), is dead. But the manner in which Macbeth states this ironically suggests his own guilt as the one who committed the murder.

Expert Answers

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Macbeth's language in this passage is somewhat overstated and florid, considering that he's intending to tell Malcolm and Donalbain the tragic news of their father's death. But these words, like his words that precede them, indicate an unconscious attempt both to cover his own guilt and to reveal that by killing Duncan, Macbeth has in effect destroyed his own life as well.

Just prior to this, Macbeth says,

Had I but died an hour before this chance,

I had lived a blessed time. For, from this instant,

There's nothing serious in mortality.

All is but toys, renown and grace is dead.

The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees

Is left this vault to brag of.

The overt meaning is that Macbeth has been so traumatized by the king's death (as if it had been caused by someone else) that he doesn't think his own life is worth continuing. But the underlying meaning, unknown to those to whom he's speaking, is that Macbeth has ruined his own life by having become a murderer. In the passage you have quoted, he makes an overly emphatic display, through exaggerated language, regarding the meaning of what has happened. Instead of simply saying "your father has been killed," he alludes to a fountain and source of blood, the "very source" of the young men's lives, as if they don't know this and have to be told what their father means to them. It symbolizes an inner reaction by Macbeth that causes him to make a show of how important Duncan is in order to deflect any suspicions that he was behind the murder or that he didn't value Duncan or recognize his greatness as king.

Some might say that this analysis amounts to over-interpretation. It's true that Shakespeare's language, even in neutral situations, is florid and ultra-poetic. But Macbeth comes across in this scene as a man already bordering on the hysteria that will claim him later. We know from his conversation with Lady Macbeth that he's been so shaken by the deed he's committed that he's losing control of himself. In this speech before the others, the repetitions (his saying "stopp'd" twice) and the seeming groping for different metaphors ("the spring, the head, the fountain of your blood") convey not just exaggeration but even a kind of awkwardness, as Macbeth is terrified that he'll be found out as the killer—and terrified moreover by his own guilt

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