[Aside.] This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings:
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smother’d in surmise, and nothing is
But what is not.
Look, how our partner’s rapt.
[Aside.] If chance will have me king, why, chance
may crown me
Without my stir.
New honors come upon him,
Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould
But with the aid of use.
[Aside.] Come what come may,
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.
Act 1, Scene 3, Lines 141-162
Macbeth, along with Banquo, has been visited by three witches who prophesy that Macbeth, now Thane of Glamis, will become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland. Almost immediately, Ross and Angus, two Scottish nobles, arrive to inform Macbeth that the previous Thane of Cawdor has been captured and has forfeited his position through rebellion against King Duncan. The title thus falls to Macbeth as a reward for his services to the crown. Although Banquo initially has some doubts as to the validity of a prophecy from witches, the fulfillment is convincing. He is concerned, however, that it may be an instance of the powers of evil telling the truth in order to recruit a susceptible person to the side of darkness. Macbeth can see only that the witches speak truth, that the three-part prophecy is two-thirds of the way fulfilled.
As Banquo speaks privately to Ross and Angus, Macbeth in the passage above ponders the meaning of the prophecy. He is unsure about the nature of the words of the witches (“This supernatural soliciting/Cannot be ill, cannot be good”) and is thus in a completely gray area. If it is evil, why is he given assured success, verified by truth? He can see only one way that the remainder of the prophecy (i.e., his succeeding to the throne of Scotland) will come true, and that is through the death of King Duncan. That death, in Macbeth’s mind, can be accomplished by only one manner to assure that Macbeth is his heir: murder. Macbeth trembles at the thought that he must commit this murder. He momentarily sees that, if...
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If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly. If the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
With his surcease, success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught return
To plague the inventor. This even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice
To our own lips. He’s here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off,
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on the other—
Act 1, Scene 7, Lines 1-28
King Duncan has triumphed over the attacks of the Norwegian troops, aided by the rebel Scots who are led by the previous Thane of Cawdor, Macdonwald. In celebration of his victory, as well as of the accession of Macbeth as the new Thane of Cawdor, Duncan proposes to honor Macbeth with a visit to his castle in Glamis. Macbeth goes ahead to prepare a feast, sending a letter to his wife of the coming company. Macbeth also relates to his wife the full extent of the three witches’ prophecy. Immediately she has jumped ahead of her husband and is more than willing to aid in the murder of the king so that Macbeth can take the throne. More corrupt that her husband, Lady Macbeth has completely sold her soul to evil without regret.
The same cannot now be said of Macbeth himself. He begins to have doubts, becoming somewhat shaky in his resolve. In the soliloquy quoted above, Macbeth contemplates the full extent of his actions. He hesitates, but he knows that if the murder is to be done, it would be best to do it quickly and get it over with. He believes that if Duncan’s assassination would result in complete success, without any consequences, he would be satisfied. But Macbeth now fears that to do so will put his eternal soul at risk, and he realizes that there are likely to be earthly consequences to Duncan’s assassination as well. Though Duncan is dead, Macbeth...
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The Queen, my lord, is dead.
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 18-30
Macbeth is battling desperately for his throne and his kingdom. Lady Macbeth, succumbing at last to madness, has committed suicide, the stain of sin having eaten away at her mind. In a sleepwalking episode, she has effectively confessed to her and her husband’s crime. She who had been his strength and prod to seek his evil ambition is gone. Macbeth now is almost completely alone, isolated from all manner of support. He is facing a rebellion, brought on by his own tyranny.
Macbeth at this point is also still clinging to the additional prophecies of the three witches: that none born of woman shall harm him, and that he shall not be conquered until “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” Neither is likely to happen, thinks Macbeth, so he is confident of victory despite the overwhelming odds. Yet his sanity is shaky in the quoted passage, and he numbly accepts the news that his wife is dead.
“She should have died hereafter,” is all he says about his wife, completely emotionless. But with her death, he feels the full weight of the world that he has brought upon himself. The passage of time drags, one day after the other until the end. His past victories and successes have done little but “light the way of fools to dusty death.” He wishes life to be over and makes the allusion that it is a mere fiction, a play, with a lot of noise and emotion, but without eternal meaning.
The end is near for Macbeth. Although the initial prophecy of the three witches has been fulfilled (i.e., that Macbeth would be king), it was clear and straightforward, devoid of any subtle shades of meaning. The later prophecies are not so. In the manner of the Oracle of Delphi, these...
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