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What does the quote "Two truths are told, as happy prologues to the swelling act of imperial theme. I thank you, gentlemen" from Act 1, Scene 3 of Macbeth mean?

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Macbeth metaphorically compares the favorable prophecies to elements of a drama. The "two truths" are his thaneships of Glamis and Cawdor, which he likens to "happy prologues" or introductions to plays. These metaphorical prologues lead to the "swelling act of imperial theme," which represents his ascension to the throne. In Macbeth's metaphor, attaining the Scottish throne and becoming king is the final act of the play.

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The two truths Macbeth refers to in the quote above allude to the way the witches greeted him. They called him Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor. He already was Thane of Glamis, but he was startled to be called Thane of Cawdor, as that was not his title. However, Ross and Angus have just informed him the king has named him Thane of Cawdor. This excites Macbeth greatly, as it lends credence to the idea he could become King of Scotland, the other prophecy of the witches.

Because King of Scotland is the grand finale to the prophecy, Macbeth sees becoming another thane as just part of the "prelude" to the "swelling imperial theme." In other words, his titles and powers seem to be swelling and growing toward his becoming king—as monarch, he would be imperial or royal. He is at this moment excited by what seem a clear trajectory to the top spot in Scotland, something he badly desires.

Although he will go to say that what he contemplates doing—killing Duncan—makes his hair stand on end with horror, at the moment he speaks this aside about swelling, he is filled with eager happiness at what seem to be happening.

We know the aside is over for a moment when he thanks the gentlemen, Ross and Angus, who brought him the news of his new title, but he soon returns to his musing and thinking aloud.

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In act one, scene three, Macbeth and Banquo receive several favorable prophecies from the Three Witches on the heath. After Macbeth is told he will become the Thane of Cawdor and future King of Scotland, Ross and Angus arrive and confirm one of the prophecies by informing him that King Duncan has recently rewarded him the title Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth and Banquo are both astonished by the news but react differently to the prophecies. While Banquo exercises caution, Macbeth immediately entertains the idea of assassinating King Duncan to attain the throne.

In an aside, Macbeth uses a metaphor to represent his favorable situation. He compares the "two truths" to "happy prologues" leading up to the "imperial theme," which is the moment he becomes king. The "two truths" reference Macbeth's thaneships of Cawdor and Glamis. His new title of Thane of Cawdor was correctly predicted by the witches. Macbeth metaphorically compares these esteemed positions to a prologue in a play, which is a preface or introduction in a drama. In the metaphor, the "imperial theme" or final act of the drama represents Macbeth's ascension to the throne. Overall, Macbeth metaphorically compares the favorable prophecies to elements of a drama. He likens his thaneships to "prologues" and his future title of king to the "theme" or final act of a play.

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Macbeth is here talking to himself in an aside, but it is also audible to the audience. He is pondering what it means that two of the things the witches prophesied to him have now come true—he has, indeed, been made Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor. His language casts his life as a play in which the main part, the "swelling act," is the part in which he becomes king. This is the "imperial theme." Prior to this, however, there are smaller steps, defined by his accession to the thaneships of Cawdor and Glamis, which Macbeth calls "prologues." What he is saying is that because these first two smaller promises have come true, he is more inclined to believe that the bigger prophecy—that Macbeth will ultimately become king—could also come true. Macbeth is weighing up what he knows against what he has been told and musing on the witches' potential for truth. Can he really become king? The section following these lines suggests that Macbeth is still unsure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing; we do know, however, that he is now "earnest for success." The idea of becoming king has been planted in his mind, and now he wants this for himself.

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The two truths that are told are the ones where he is heralded as Thanes of Cawdor and Glamis...the "imperial theme" is the ultimate promise of the throne that Duncan currently holds. Macbeth has just come from battle (and from speaking with the weird sisters). If he doubted the word of the witches before, he does not doubt now. In his choice of the words "imperial theme". he reveals his ambition: he wants the throne. The question is...would he have wanted it if the witches hadn't told him it was possible? Would he have even thought of breaking his faith with Duncan had he not seen the "truth" in what the weird sisters said? Unlike Banquo, who mistrusts appearances of truth (Banquo says often the instruments of darkness will seem to be offering something good and true only to win a person to harm), Macbeth sees what he wants to see and doesn't waste any time questioning whether or not the "truth" he sees is right or good.

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