Character Analysis in Macbeth
Macbeth: When we first hear of Macbeth, he is described as a brave, courageous soldier loyal to the king. However, as events unfold, we discover that he is easily manipulated and morally weak because his desire for power overrides all sense of moral order. Unlike Shakespeare’s other villains, such as Iago or Richard III, Macbeth cannot be defined as blatantly amoral or immoral: he regrets his violent, bloodthirsty actions. Macbeth is plagued by guilt that manifests in hallucinations and paranoia after he deceives and murders others. Ultimately, Macbeth serves as an embodiment of the tragic hero because his ambition and pride lead to his inevitable downfall.
Lady Macbeth: Macbeth’s wife is deeply ambitious and longs for higher power and status. She goads Macbeth into murdering King Duncan so that he can seize the crown. As the play descends into bloodshed, Lady Macbeth becomes tormented by guilt and madness. Lady Macbeth’s suicide causes Macbeth to ponder the nature of mortality, as expressed in his famous soliloquy “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.”
Character Analysis Examples in Macbeth:
Act I - Scene II 3
"As cannons overcharged with double cracks, So they Doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe...." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
The sergeant tells Duncan that Macbeth and Banquo attacked with no fear as they redoubled their efforts against the enemy. His simile compares the ferocity of their attack to cannons that have been loaded with extra explosive charges, and he states that he is not sure what motivated them to fight so hard.
"And with his former title greet Macbeth...." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
Duncan declares that the Thane of Cawdor must be executed for treason and that the title must be given to Macbeth as a reward for his valor, leadership, and loyalty. This promotion demonstrates how essential Macbeth was for the Scottish forces to achieve victory. Notice how Macbeth reacts to this news, as it will greatly influence his future actions and decisions.
"O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
Shakespeare portrays Macbeth in the early scenes of the play at the height of his power and glory. The honors and praise Macbeth receives might seem excessive at times, but Shakespeare uses them for a purpose. Notice how this portrayal of Macbeth shifts throughout the play in order to establish the overall tragedy of Macbeth and the story.
Act I - Scene III 10
"let us speak Our free hearts each to other...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Macbeth starts this dialogue by addressing Banquo, Ross, and Angus. However, after "Let us toward the king," he speaks only to Banquo. Macbeth has no desire or intention to discuss "what has chanced" with anyone else. These two are connected because of their supernatural experience and what the witches have promised them.
"Come what come may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Macbeth decides to dismiss the thought of Duncan's murder and do nothing to force the crown to fall to him, preferring to let events run their natural course and allow fate to fall as it will. However, notice how his mind changes later on when he compares his current situation and future to the witches' prophesy.
"The instruments of darkness tell us truths,..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Although Banquo initially has some doubts as to the validity of a prophecy from witches, the fulfillment is convincing. Banquo warns Macbeth 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. Banquo's belief in "the instruments of darkness" contains a profound truth: Unexpected good fortune can sometimes influence us to make decisions that will prove harmful.
"those that gave the Thane of Cawdor to me..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Macbeth credits the witches for receiving the title of Thane of Cawdor rather than Duncan, and he asks Banquo if he hopes that the witches are also right about Banquo's children becoming kings. Macbeth's initial belief in the power of the witches here has repercussions later on.
"His wonders and his praises do contend Which should be thine or his..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Ross states that King Duncan is so pleased with Macbeth's success in battle that Duncan wonders whether he should give himself or Macbeth the most praise and credit for the victory.
"Went it not so?..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Despite their disbelief, both Macbeth and Bunquo acknowledge what the witches told them to one another. This action serves to somewhat validate the witches words and presence instead of disregarding them and their information.
"Speak, I charge you..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Macbeth is interested and perplexed with the information the witches have presented him with. He attempts to rationalize their information with what he knows: the Thane is Cawdor is loyal to the King, and there is no prospect for him to be King of Scotland. However, he doesn't yet know about the Thane of Cawdor and demands that the witches tell him how they know such things.
"Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Banquo asks for the witches to speak to him, and their responses at first appear paradoxical. However, greatness and happiness are subjective measures, suggesting that Banquo might be lesser in a physical way but greater than Macbeth in terms of something moral or abstract.
"That he seems rapt withal..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Banquo points out that Macbeth is enraptured by the words of the witches. They have greeted Macbeth with his current title, Thane of Glamis, and predicted his title of noble having, Thane of Cawdor, and even of royal hope, King of Scotland. Their predictions have a strong effect on Macbeth and how he reacts to soon learning that he has in fact become Thane of Cawdor.
"So foul and fair a day I have not seen...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Macbeth's first words in the play echo the words of the witches at the end of scene one. While Macbeth doesn't know of this connection, the audience sees how he and the witches are connected together.
Act I - Scene IV 4
"Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
Macbeth asks the stars to not shine light on his black (evil) desires, because he does not want the world to know of the terrible things that he is planning. Notice how the witches' prophesy has affected events: Duncan confirms Macbeth's new title, but Macbeth is denied the throne despite Duncan saying how he can never repay Macbeth for his service. Macbeth is now considering the crime he would have to commit to realize his ambition to become king.
"That is a step(55) On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
Macbeth has realized that with Malcolm next in line to the throne, he can either "fall down" by doing nothing and let Malcolm become king, or he can "o'erleap" and take matters into his own hands to become king himself.
"The Prince of Cumberland..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
Duncan has named his son Malcolm as the Prince of Cumberland. This makes Malcolm next in line to the throne after Duncan, which is important because in medieval Scotland, the firstborn son did not automatically become heir to the throne. Notice how Macbeth reacts to this news in an aside to himself momentarily.
"Would thou hadst less deserved,..." See in text (Act I - Scene IV)
In other words, Duncan is saying that he wishes Macbeth had done something less heroic and deserving. This is not meant as an insult; rather, Duncan wishes that had this happened, his inadequate payment would have been better matched to Macbeth's deeds. Duncan feels as if he can't ever repay Macbeth for what he's done.
Act I - Scene V 4
"you shall put This night's great business into my dispatch,..." See in text (Act I - Scene V)
With this line, Lady Macbeth reveals her intention to murder Duncan herself. The word dispatch could suggest that she might be merely overseeing the plan; however, another meaning is to kill quickly and efficiently. While Macbeth plays the role of a kind and gentle host, Lady Macbeth gets herself ready to kill Duncan.
"To beguile the time, Look like the time..." See in text (Act I - Scene V)
Lady Macbeth worries that her husband's face will reveal their murderous intentions. She tells her husband that if they are to carry out their plan, Macbeth must act appropriately in order to deceive the king by showing himself as a gracious and welcoming host.
"Tomorrow, as he purposes...." See in text (Act I - Scene V)
This dialogue contains a lot of subtext. Shakespeare wanted the audience to understand that time was of the essence for Macbeth and his wife to carry out their plan. Macbeth’s statement implies that Duncan will be at their mercy that evening, and his wife’s question really asks whether they have enough time for their plan. They both understand that if they are going to murder Duncan, it will have to be done that night.
"That my keen knife..." See in text (Act I - Scene V)
The word keen can mean something that is very sharp, and it can also mean something or someone that is very eager to do something. In this passage, Lady Macbeth declares that she wants to kill Duncan herself.
Act I - Scene VI 1
"This castle hath a pleasant seat..." See in text (Act I - Scene VI)
Duncan has never been to or seen Macbeth's castle before. He finds it very pleasant, which is ironic considering the fate that awaits him within. This deception of appearance is a good example of the theme the witches' established early on: Fair is foul and foul is fair. What looks so pretty and pleasant to the King is actually a death trap.
Act I - Scene VII 9
"Away, and mock the time with fairest show: False face must hide what the false heart doth know...." See in text (Act I - Scene VII)
Having been persuaded by Lady Macbeth, Macbeth finally agrees to carry out the plan to murder Duncan. He tells her to go and entertain the guests ("mock the time with fairest show") and hide her true intentions as if everything is as it should be.
"We fail?..." See in text (Act I - Scene VII)
Lady Macbeth's reply to Macbeth has many interpretations: It could be a scornful reproach, or if the accent is on “we,” the response can be viewed as a contemptuous exclamation. Another interpretation is a response to his question, suggesting that if they fail, that will be the end of them. This last response portrays Lady Macbeth in a more characteristic light as a person of strong determination who can coolly consider the possibility of failure. Note how she doesn’t dwell on this, and immediately assures him of their success.
"When you durst do it, then you were a man..." See in text (Act I - Scene VII)
These lines heavily suggest that Macbeth initially had the idea of killing Duncan to become king and shared that plan with his wife. She tells him that when he dared (durst) to make the plan at the time, he was truly a man then.
"I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none...." See in text (Act I - Scene VII)
Macbeth's reaction shows how much he resents being called a coward. He states that he does all of the necessary things that make him a man--which we can read as an honorable man. He considers those who do more than these things, such as wicked or evil actions, as dishonorable, or unmanly, men. Macbeth's defense gives us some insight into the values that he has regarding proper behavior and why he does not want to carry out the plan.
"From this time Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard To be the same in thine own act and valor As thou art in desire?..." See in text (Act I - Scene VII)
Lady Macbeth states that Macbeth's love for her is no stronger than his lack of ambition for the throne, and then she proceeds to accuse him of cowardice--a very strong insult to make against a soldier. Notice how she targets all of her taunts as specific points to make Macbeth reveal what he truly fears about killing Duncan and how she convinces him to come around to her way of thinking.
"Know you not he has?..." See in text (Act I - Scene VII)
This brief exchange reveals how much Macbeth loves Duncan: he cannot sit in the same room with the man he is planning to murder. Lady Macbeth's reply indicates that Duncan obviously loves Macbeth because he has always been an honest and honorable man. Macbeth is in an unfamiliar role that he is uncomfortable playing. Shakespeare uses moments like this to maintain a degree of sympathy for Macbeth, since the tragedy of the play is his downfall.
"trammel up..." See in text (Act I - Scene VII)
In Shakespeare's day, a "trammel" meant a net with three layers used for catching birds or fish. Macbeth uses this expression to voice his doubt that assassinating Duncan can be done in a way that will "net up" all the consequences of that action and "catch" success.
"Besides, this Duncan Hath borne his faculties so meek..." See in text (Act I - Scene VII)
Macbeth admits that Duncan has been a worthy king, which adds to the difficulties Macbeth has with plotting Duncan's murder: Duncan has not been a tyrant whose death will bring relief to the land, and because he is so honorable, his death will bring grief to the land.
"this blow Might be the be-all and the end-all here..." See in text (Act I - Scene VII)
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Shakespeare coined this phrase and all other uses since then are borrowed from him. Generally, be-all means something which is or constitutes the whole, and the end-all refers to something that ends all or finishes something. Macbeth wishes that this blow, killing Duncan, could be self-contained and without consequences.
Act II - Scene I 5
"Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives. A bell rings. I go, and it is done: the bell invites me...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
These last words before the ringing of the bell suggest that Macbeth was close to talking himself out of killing Duncan, as his courage was fading as he continued to obsess over the phantom dagger. The intense illusion is shattered by Lady Macbeth's signal that Duncan's guards are asleep, and Macbeth immediately leaves.
"Good repose the while...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Seeing that nothing is to be gained from Banquo, Macbeth ends the conversation. However, even these innocent words are full of innuendo as Banquo and Macbeth both have an idea of whose side they are on, making them very suspicious of one another.
"If you shall cleave to my consent, when ’tis, It shall make honor for you...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Macbeth's underlying intent here (in fact, this dialogue is full of subtext) is to discretely offer Banquo an opportunity to join Macbeth's side. Since Banquo brought up the witches, Macbeth is using this opportunity to see if he has an ally or an enemy in Banquo.
"when we can..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Notice here how Macbeth somewhat uses the royal "we" in this passage and refers to himself in the plural. In doing so, he speaks as if he were already crowned king.
"Give me my sword. Who's there?..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Banquo's immediate reaction upon seeing Macbeth's torch is to prepare himself for a fight. Even though he is a guest in Macbeth's castle, the lateness of the hour and the agitated state of Banquo's mind are likely explanations for this behavior. His response also helps to build up the tense atmosphere in the castle before Duncan's murder.
Act II - Scene II 10
"This is a sorry sight...." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
By "sorry sight" Macbeth means two senses of the word: both something painful and distressing and something that induces feelings of remorse or sorrow. Macbeth's comment on his bloody hands reveals his immediately guilty conscious over King Duncan's murder. Lady Macbeth's unsympathetic response that he is foolish also reveals a lot about their relationship. She lacks empathy and respect for Macbeth's feelings or mental state.
"I would thou couldst!..." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
This line is significant in that Macbeth wishes the knocking could wake up Duncan. This is the first mention of actual remorse that he has expressed in this scene.
"A little water clears us of this deed..." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
The contrast between how Lady Macbeth and her husband react to the blood is significant. While Macbeth sees it as a symbol of his crime that will not go away, Lady Macbeth considers it evidence that can be removed and appears to have no remorse for playing her role in Duncan's murder. However, notice how Lady Macbeth's perception and attitude toward the crime changes later in the story
"I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal..." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
Shakespeare wants both husband and wife smeared with blood. Naturally Lady Macbeth will return with bloody hands and some blood on her garment after smearing the faces of two men with Duncan's blood. In doing this, Shakespeare creates the illusion that the audience has witnessed a horrible murder without showing it on stage.
"Go, get some water And wash this filthy witness from your hand...." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
In an effort to get her husband to stop raving, Lady Macbeth tries to remind him of the necessity for action to avoid getting caught. She tells him to wash the bloody evidence ("filthy witness") of his crime from his hands. As far as she is concerned, the blood is only physical and washing it away will destroy the evidence of Macbeth's crime. Notice how she continually tries to calm Macbeth and remain the voice of reason.
"Me thought I heard a voice cry..." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
Notice how before murdering Duncan, Macbeth imagined seeing a floating dagger before him. Now, after committing the crime, he has imagined hearing voices. These illusions will continue to plague him as he struggles with his guilty conscience.
"so, it will make us mad...." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
These words are filled with dreadful irony and foreshadowing. Considering how Macbeth has already imagined a floating dagger prior to killing Duncan and his current agitated state, the likelihood that one or both of them will mentally suffer as a consequence of this action is a distinct possibility.
"There are two lodged together...." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
Notice the shortness of Lady Macbeth's replies. She is attempting to quiet her husband, and here she calmly states that Donalbain and an attendant are sleeping in the second chamber.
"Hark!..." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
This exclamation is an example of Macbeth's overwrought nerves: He imagines he hears a sound while speaking with his wife. The continuing dialogue shows that he imagines that he has heard a voice as well.
"Had he not resembled(15) My father as he slept, I had done't...." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
Shakespeare often made his characters, even villains, more complex and sympathetic. Lady Macbeth's reference to her father is an example of how Shakespeare "humanizes" her, and it is also one of the few moments when she reveals herself as a very human character and not simply wicked and hungry for power.
Act II - Scene III 11
"There's daggers in men's smiles: the near in blood, The nearer bloody...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Donalbain recalls how his father was welcomed into the castle with false smiles and reaffirms his suspicion of Macbeth as the culprit by saying that the closer someone is to you in a blood relationship, the more likely he or she is to kill you. Since Macbeth is the nearest relative of the two princes, Donalbain considers him their greatest threat.
"Nor our strong sorrow Upon the foot of motion...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Malcolm agrees with his brother and says that their sorrow can wait until they have fled somewhere safe. Their lack of tears or strong emotions show how fear has a stronger hold over them instead of grief and help to create a sense of fearful urgency on the stage surrounding the two princes.
"Help me hence, ho!..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Lady Macbeth's fainting spell in this moment signifies one of two possible interpretations: First, her husband's description of the murdered king possibly makes her recall the image of the dead man so vividly that she faints, revealing herself to be physically weaker than others. Second, Lady Macbeth may be pretending to faint in order to draw attention from her husband, who is running the risk of talking too much and arousing suspicion.
"the pauser reason...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
In other words, the reason that tells us to wait for a moment and not act too hastily. Macbeth says his love for Duncan was so strong that he killed the grooms in a moment of passion. Consider how this explanation of why he killed the grooms compares to Macduff's nonviolent reaction to seeing Duncan's body.
"Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious,(120) Loyal and neutral, in a moment?..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Compare this short speech with Macbeth's earlier one in lines 99-104. Whereas earlier he appeared genuine, here the word choice and poor imagery help to illustrate Macbeth's hypocrisy.
"Wherefore did you so?..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
While readers know that Macbeth killed the grooms to cover his own tracks, note how Macduff assumes an oppositional attitude with this question. This challenge demonstrates how Macduff might be considering the possibility that Macbeth is guilty of the crime.
"Had I but died an hour before this chance,..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Macbeth's beautiful speech shouldn't be regarded as hypocrisy or as a lie. Recall how he did express his remorse after killing Duncan, and in this moment he takes an opportunity to vocalize his feelings, knowing that his full meaning will not be understood by those around him.
"The repetition in a woman's ear(90) Would murder as it fell...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Macduff momentarily restrains himself from sharing the news with Lady Macbeth because he considers the news so horrible that it would kill her. However, this moment of consideration for his hostess is quickly abandoned with the arrival of Banquo, to whom Macduff quickly tells the news.
"What is't you say? the life?..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Notice how awkward and stilted Macbeth's questions are. This is not only further evidence of how unprepared Macbeth was to be in this situation, but it is also evidence that Macduff will recall later.
"I'll bring you to him...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Notice how short Macbeth's replies are to Macduff's questions. Considering his lack of sleep and the guilt weighing on his conscious, this manner of speaking comes across as a little too brief and inappropriate for speaking with a fellow Thane. Macduff will remember this behavior later in the play.
"MACDUFF..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Macduff is the Thane of Fife, a nobleman of Scotland. Interestingly, his knocking at Macbeth's gate indicates that he was spending the night camped outside the castle walls. This implies that Duncan was traveling with a much larger contingent of troops and nobleman.
Act II - Scene IV 1
"Why, see you not?..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
Macduff's quick and impolite reply to Ross likely reveals how dissatisfied Macduff is with what has been done and decided since Duncan's murder. Note how Macduff continues to speak through the rest of the scene and how his answers and choices reveal his attitude towards Macbeth.
Act III - Scene I 10
"And bid my will avouch it..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Macbeth tells the murderers that even though he could openly ("barefaced") execute Banquo for no other reason than for his royal pleasure, there are other connections and relationships that would suffer. This restraint for the sake of image and other relationships is worth noting, particularly considering the kind of tyrant Macbeth later becomes.
"According to the gift which bounteous nature..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Macbeth continues his extended metaphor to provide more meaning for his comparison: Some dogs have special qualities given to them by nature, and Macbeth hopes that these murderers also have gifts that will allow them to best carry out the murder.
"All by the name of dogs...." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Macbeth uses an extended metaphor to show his cautious appraisal of the murderers and to fully gauge the kind of men they are. His comparison of men and dogs reveals his belief that men, like dogs, are not created equally and have very different attributes.
"Our innocent self?..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Macbeth is using the royal "we" in this passage, referring to himself in the third passage. Now that he is king, the use is appropriate, but notice how he doesn't consistently use it. By "innocent self," Macbeth lies to the murders, saying that even though they thought that he had offended them, the real person to blame is Banquo.
"That it was he..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Macbeth tells the murderers that it was Banquo who offended them in the past. However, given the readers knowledge that Macbeth wishes Banquo dead, it is more than likely that Macbeth is truly to blame for the murderers being offended for not receiving promotions. Regardless, he has convinced them that Banquo is to blame and uses their anger to achieve his own goals.
"a fruitless crown..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Macbeth bitterly states that even though he is king, the witches have given him a "fruitless crown" and an "barren sceptre." Both of these phrases are metaphors for Macbeth's inability to produce children to be his heirs, represent his feelings of inadequacy, and demonstrate why Macbeth fears Banquo and Banquo's children.
"To be thus is nothing, But to be safely thus...." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Macbeth's soliloquy gives us an excellent characterization of Banquo and the reasons Macbeth has to fear him. We learn that Macbeth is not content with the crown while Banquo lives, and how Macbeth's character has deteriorated with power and fear. Recall how earlier in the play Macbeth hesitated and faltered over committing Duncan's murder. Now, despite their old friendship, nothing holds him back from plotting against Banquo.
" Goes Fleance with you?..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Notice that this is the last of Macbeth's questions regarding Banquo's ride, and that each has become more specific until this last and most important point. Macbeth has plans for Banquo and his son, and wants to see whether he can act against them at the same time.
"Ride you this afternoon?..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Considering what happens later in this scene, this question is asked under false pretenses. Macbeth pretends to inquire as a friend, but his ulterior motive is to inform himself of Banquo's plan, so that he may know Banquo's whereabouts to set the ambush.
"BANQUO:..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Banquo earlier declared that he stood opposed to all signs of treason; however, in this short soliloquy, he appears to have a different attitude. Even though he suspects Macbeth of murdering Duncan, he makes no effort for vengeance. Instead, he contemplates the prophecy that his descendants shall be kings, hoping that this prophecy shall also come true. While he isn't trying to make this happen, he is serving Macbeth with the hope that his house will benefit.
Act III - Scene II 9
"copy's..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
The word "copy" in this instance has a technical meaning associated with law ("copyhold"), and refers to a kind of lease for land or property. Lady Macbeth is essentially saying that they do not have an eternal lease on life; that is, they will die eventually. Notice, however, that Lady Macbeth's suggestion here reveals just how little she knows of her husband's plans, hinting at committing a crime that he has already planned out.
"Let your remembrance apply to Banquo..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
The reasons for why Macbeth tells his wife to heavily praise and favor Banquo are unclear. He has not told her about his plans to have Banquo murdered, so these words are possibly designed to deceive her. Another reason, although less likely, is that he knows there is a chance the plot would fail, and he wants her to act naturally.
"Gentle my lord..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
Despite her own worries, Lady Macbeth rallies to support her husband. She addresses him in tender tones to try and ease his mind. While he initially responds well to this, he resumes brooding shortly after.
"terrible dreams..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
Recall how on the night he murdered Duncan, Macbeth claimed to hear a voice proclaiming that he would sleep no more. It appears as if he is realizing the prophetic meaning or that imaginary voice, as his worries prevent him from sleeping.
"Better be with the dead..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
Notice how these lines parallel Lady Macbeth's earlier in the scene. It is clear that the both of them constantly worry about their security and almost envy the peace of the dead. Nowhere else does Macbeth give us a clearer vision of his own "restless ecstasy," by which he means "madness," than here where he envies the peaceful sleep of Duncan.
"’Tis safer to be that which we destroy Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy...." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
In the second rhyming couplet of these four lines, Lady Macbeth continues to express her discontent with their situation. She states that sharing the same fate as those they have destroyed (killed) would be better than endlessly worrying about their future and never being truly happy.
"Nought's had, all's spent, Where our desire is got without content...." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
This scene gives us an important look at Lady Macbeth. She reveals herself as less confident when not around her husband, wondering why she is not content even though they have achieved their goal. They have invested everything to get the throne, but it has no meaning unless they are happy and satisfied.
"Why do you keep alone..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
This line indicates that Lady Macbeth has no knowledge of Macbeth's plans to have the murderers kill Banquo. She likely believed that he dismissed the court in order to have time alone to think about the murder of Duncan. She shortly chastises him for doing so, saying that nothing can be changed about it, so it is not worth thinking about. ("What's done is done.")
"Is Banquo gone..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
Notice how Banquo is on Lady Macbeth's mind. Since she knows his part of the witches' prophesy, it's possible that she also fears for the security of Macbeth's throne and is thinking of ways to prevent the prophesy from coming true.
Act III - Scene III 4
"O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
Banquo, who has shown himself to be brave, self-possessed and a better man than Macbeth, thinks only of his son in this moment and takes actions that result in his death but that likely ensure Fleance gets to safety.
"They assault Banquo...." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
Shakespeare has the murder of Banquo shown onstage as opposed to not showing Macbeth murder Duncan earlier in the play. The choice to show this death likely revolves around how this scene represents a turning point, and Shakespeare also wanted the audience to know that Banquo is truly dead--especially considering the visions that Macbeth has after he learns what happened.
"Macbeth..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
Another reason for the inclusion of the Third Murderer is that Macbeth did not trust that the two murderers would be enough to carry out the deed. If we consider that the "perfect spy" he mentioned earlier referred to an actual person, it is possible that this is that man sent as a last minute reinforcement for the ambush.
"Exeunt...." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
As short as it is, this scene is the climax, or turning-point, in the drama. Macbeth has been fortunate thus far with his plans, and by all appearances he has had a successful career without any setbacks. Fleance's escape is Macbeth's first sign of bad luck. Notice how after this moment, other events will contribute to Macbeth's downfall until the end.
Act III - Scene IV 17
"We are yet but young in deed...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
The deed that Macbeth refers to is bloodshed and he says that they are not experienced enough with it. With this line, he fully indicates his intent to continue to kill others for the sake of his own security.
"Almost at odds with morning, which is which...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Notice how Lady Macbeth is not attempting to insult or comfort her husband now that the guests are gone. She likely realizes that the influence she once had over her husband no longer exists, and so the main course of action left to her is to get him to sleep so he forgets his thoughts.
"And keep the natural ruby of your cheeks When mine is blanch'd with fear...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Macbeth addresses his wife directly, apparently no longer noticing the assembled guests. He can't believe that his wife didn't also see the ghost and states that the quality of his manhood must be so poor if he blanches with fear and she is unaffected by such sights. Notice how different this hallucination is from when he saw the phantom dagger.
"I pray you, speak not..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Lady Macbeth quickly interrupts Ross's question to prevent Macbeth from telling them exactly what he saw. While she didn't see the ghost, it is likely that she has an idea of what Macbeth saw based on her knowledge of his hatred of Banquo and the hints Macbeth suggested to her earlier. She is also likely feeling distraught since her efforts to calm her husband have largely failed.
"Avaunt, and quit my sight!..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Upon seeing the ghost again, Macbeth's tone changes drastically as he is roused by anger, yelling at the ghost to go away and leave him be. The effect of this violent tone of voice would have a significant impact on the guests in attendance.
"And to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Notice here how, in an effort to be the gracious host, Macbeth goes too far and toasts to the health of Banquo, wishing that he were present. Macbeth is promptly punished for this brash action by the return of the ghost.
"Your noble friends do lack you...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Having failed at shaming Macbeth back to his senses, Lady Macbeth tries a new tactic by calling his attention to the fact that he's neglecting his guests. This is initially successful, and he excuses his behavior and proposes a toast.
"You shall offend him..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
By suggesting that her husband is suffering from a long-term condition, she further encourages the assembled lords to sit and be patient by stating that acknowledging Macbeth's behavior will only make it worse and do him more harm than good.
"Are you a man?..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
On the stage, before saying this line Lady Macbeth would have moved across the room to her husband and drawn him aside. This question is an attempt to shame him back into the proper frame of mind by accusing him of cowardice.
"my lord is often thus,(65) And hath been from his youth...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Lady Macbeth quickly and tactfully responds to her husband's "fit" and blames his sudden emotion and words on a disorder that he has had since he was young. This tactic encourages the lords to take their seats once again. However, notice how her attempts to control the situation falter as the Ghost maintains its presence in the room.
"Which of you have done this?..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Macbeth loses his self-command upon seeing Banquo's ghost. This question represents a futile attempt to rid himself of the overwhelming guilt he likely feels by shifting the burden onto someone else in the company. However, since no one can see the Ghost besides Macbeth, this strategy fails and he completely fails to maintain control of himself.
"The table's full...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Macbeth has now turned his attention back to the table and hasn't quite realized what he's seeing. At first glance, he simply sees that all the seats are full; only when Lennox points out the seat reserved for him does Macbeth recognize the Ghost of Banquo.
"Who may I rather challenge for unkindness..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
After getting the news that Banquo is dead, Macbeth makes a shamelessly hypocritical speech in which he states that he might have to call Banquo an unkind friend for not joining them for dinner--all the while secretly rejoicing that Banquo is dead. This speech makes the effect of seeing the ghost all the more overwhelming.
"Thanks for that...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
At the very least, Macbeth is relieved of his present fears regarding Banquo. He acknowledges that Fleance is but a boy and will take time to grow and gather forces before ever attempting to take action against Macbeth.
"Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Macbeth had hoped that his anxiety and discontent would go away with the death of Banquo and Fleance. He refers to these problems as a "fit" and speaks of them as if he had an intermittent fever that is coming on again. If Fleance had also been killed, Macbeth believes he would have been "cured" of this fit and been completely well.
"Enter Ghost of Banquo, and sits in Macbeth's place...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
The Ghost of Banquo sits in Macbeth's place in a symbolic action that represents what Macbeth feared: that Banquo's heirs will replace him. This vision and Macbeth's interactions with it reveal much of his mental instability to the audience and the lords gathered in the hall. Compare the coming interaction with the Ghost to how Macbeth was earlier able to maintain his composure even after killing Duncan.
"here I'll sit i’ the midst..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
After inviting all the assembled lords to sit, Macbeth makes his way around the room to play the part of host and king, but he is anxious for news of Banquo and he doesn't sit down. Here, he catches sight of the murderer, declares that they will have a formal toast in a moment, and then speaks with the murderer.
Act III - Scene VI 3
"tyrant..." See in text (Act III - Scene VI)
Both Lennox and the Lord have now directly referred to Macbeth as a tyrant. Shakespeare had them use this specific word to help establish context for their words and to help the audience understand what the play does not directly show: Macbeth is a cruel, unfair, and oppressive ruler.
"Exeunt...." See in text (Act III - Scene VI)
This scene serves as a counterpart to Act II Scene iv by having relatively minor characters converse about the current state of affairs in Scotland and public attitude towards Macbeth. Whereas in the earlier scene, public opinion mourned the loss of Duncan and did not suspect Macbeth, here we see how the nobility has recognized Macbeth as a tyrant and efforts are being made to raise an army to overthrow him.
"LENNOX:..." See in text (Act III - Scene VI)
Notice the change in Lennox. Earlier in the play, he came across as young and naive. However, in this scene, we see a striking change his behavior that is likely attributed to what he has experienced since Duncan's death and Macbeth's rule: he appears more capable, opinionated, and careful with his speech. The change in Lennox likely represents Shakespeare's attempt to show how much has changed in Scotland since Macbeth's rule.
Act IV - Scene I 7
"And damn'd all those that trust them!..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
Even though the last vision upset him, Macbeth still trusts the rest of the information the three witches gave him. Therefore, by making this statement, Macbeth doesn't realize that he is actually damning himself, foreshadowing what happens to him as a result of his belief in the witches' prophesies.
"Enter Lennox...." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
Since he enters this scene, Lennox must have accompanied Macbeth to the cave. His presence is significant because the audience knows that Lennox thinks Macbeth is a tyrant, and yet Macbeth has Lennox accompany him as a confidential companion. This shows that Macbeth, despite all of his spies, does not know truly how much his nobles despise him.
"our high-placed Macbeth..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
While saying his own name here might be a little awkward, the presence of "our" indicates that this phrase is another use of the "royal we," and Macbeth freely resorts to this egotistical language having heard what he considers to be good news from the apparitions.
"And sleep in spite of thunder...." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
We know that Macbeth has been having extreme difficulty sleeping because of his fears that someone will kill or overthrow him. He thinks that he can rid himself of this fear once Macduff is killed because then he can rule in safety and security.
"take a bond of fate..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
Even though Macbeth learned that no naturally born man may harm him, he decides to "take a bond of fate" by killing Macduff. "Fate" in this context likely means "death" and the "bond" refers to a pledge or promise. This is what Macbeth means by being "double sure": No man may harm him and he'll kill Macduff just to be certain.
"answer me To what I ask you...." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
This speech characterizes how desperate and reckless Macbeth has become. He wants answers from the witches and cares not for the consequences that their enchantments might have on other lives and property. We learn much in this scene about how different Macbeth is now compared to when he first met the witches.
"Something wicked..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
The witches refer to Macbeth as "something wicked" rather than "someone." Considering how much he has given himself to evil, even stating that he has given his own soul to the devil, even the witches now regard him as simply a thing of evil.
Act IV - Scene III 14
"they were well at peace when I did leave ’em...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Notice here that Ross is reluctant to tell Macduff the news of his wife and delays giving him a truthful answer by providing an evasive one. While it is likely difficult for Ross to tell Macduff this news, it is also likely that he wants to know whether or not Malcolm and Macduff will invade Scotland before he tells Macduff.
"Such welcome and unwelcome things at once ’Tis hard to reconcile...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Macduff was glad to hear that Malcolm actually disavowed any of the crimes he had charged himself with. However, he is not pleased with learning how suspicious the prince was and the motivations for this behavior. Recall that Macduff is a stalwart, loyal soldier and that such tricks are not natural to him, making the brave, honest warrior quite puzzled.
"My first false speaking(145) Was this upon myself...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
At this point, Malcolm confesses he has lied to Macduff about his vices. Malcolm was testing Macduff's loyalty to see how he would react to such information. If Macduff were fine with Malcolm becoming king even though he was as bad (or worse) for Scotland than Macbeth, Malcolm would know that Macduff did not truly love Scotland. Since Macduff cried out about the loss of his country and how he would leave forever, he passed Malcolm's loyalty test.
"Why are you silent?..." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Macduff's silence shows how baffled he is by the sudden change in the prince. It's possible that Shakespeare wanted the audience to think that Macduff would have reacted poorly to Malcolm's testing and abandoned him because of this; however, Ross's arrival ensures that Macduff stays regardless of any other possible action.
"Scotland hath foisons to fill up your will(100) Of your mere own...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Macduff continues to try and reassure Malcolm that his vices will not prohibit him from being king. Here, he says that the King of Scotland has more than enough possessions ("foisons") to satisfy even the boundless cravings that Malcolm claims to have.
"But fear not yet To take upon you what is yours...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Despite the depravity that Malcolm claims to have, Macduff continues to try and persuade him that the throne rightfully belongs to Malcolm and that the country is better off with him on the throne instead of Macbeth. Notice how Shakespeare maintains conflict throughout this scene to keep the dialogue engaging: first, Malcolm questioned Macduff's loyalty, and now Macduff encourages Malcolm to take what is rightfully his.
"a devil more damn'd In evils to top Macbeth...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Notice how Macduff and Malcolm both refer to Macbeth as black, evil, and a devil. Shakespeare likely used these particular words for the express purpose of giving the rebellion against Macbeth a moral and religious component. Macbeth is not just a bad king; he is an agent of the devil. This means that Malcolm and Macduff have God and righteousness on their side.
"The cistern of my lust..." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
A cistern is a large tank or underground reservoir for storing water. Malcolm depicts himself as a licentious and promiscuous man whose depravity knows no bounds. It's possible that these reasons for why he's unfit to rule represent deeper doubts about his ability to rule and may shed light on why he fled Macbeth's castle that night.
"I would not be the villain that thou think'st..." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
In a blunt and honest retort to Malcolm's suspicions, Macduff proclaims his loyalty to Malcolm and how he would never be a traitor even if all of Macbeth's lands and the riches of the "East" were offered to him. This statement fully characterizes Macduff as the stalwart and loyal soldier.
"Let not my jealousies be your dishonors..." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Malcolm does not wish to dishonor or offend Macduff; rather, he states that he is only being suspicious as a way of protecting himself. Notice how Malcolm soon reveals his insecurities about confronting Macbeth and how Macduff will bolster his courage.
"Why in that rawness left you wife and child..." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Malcolm brings up a valid reason for not immediately trusting Macduff: He had difficulty believing that Macduff would leave his family defenseless if he really intended to join Malcolm and fight Macbeth. Again the audience experiences the dramatic irony of this situation, because Macduff has yet to learn that his brash decision to leave without taking care of his family has cost him their lives.
"my hopes...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Macduff had hoped to be perceived as an ally against Macbeth and received in a more welcoming fashion. This line illustrates how deeply hurt he is by Malcolm's suspicions, and he soon speaks out in a frank and candid way to assure Malcolm of his good intentions.
"A good and virtuous nature may recoil In an imperial charge...." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Still suspicious of Macduff, Malcolm continues to test him and see whether or not Macduff is honest. Malcolm plainly suggests that Macduff's character may have been compromised, saying that even a virtuous man may fall from grace and give in to the will of a royal, "imperial," authority.
"MALCOLM..." See in text (Act IV - Scene III)
Notice how Malcolm behaves around Macduff at the start of this scene. Since he is suspicious that Macduff has been sent by Macbeth with ulterior motives, Malcolm pretends to be weak and not want to try and reclaim Scotland from Macbeth.
Act V - Scene I 5
"More needs she the divine than the physician...." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
In this instance, "divine" refers to a priest rather than a god, and the doctor believes this might help Lady Macbeth more than any physical cure or remedy. However, both Lady Macbeth and her husband have forfeited the comforts of religion because they sold their souls to the devil when they killed Duncan.
"The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now?..." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
Based on Macbeth keeping his plans to himself, we can reasonably believe that Lady Macbeth had not been a party of the murder of Macduff's wife and family. However, when news reached her, it is likely that she assumed Macbeth was responsible, and she has now burdened her own conscience with his crime.
"’tis her command...." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
Notice how Lady Macbeth's fear of darkness contrasts with her earlier invocation that night cover the bloody deeds surrounding Duncan's murder. Where once she welcomed the darkness for what it offered, now she can't be left alone in it. Considering that light and dark often coincide with good and evil, Lady Macbeth's actions further emphasize her fear and guilt of past sins.
"Out, damned spot!..." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
This phrase reveals one of the themes in Macbeth: The difficulty of washing away a sin from the soul, of redemption. After killing Duncan, Macbeth was told by his wife to simply wash away the blood (a visual metaphor for his sin). However, this line suggests that subconsciously she knows that cleansing oneself of sin is not possible by any physical means.
"What's done cannot be undone...." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
Recall how in Act III Scene ii, Lady Macbeth chides her husband for still brooding over Duncan's murder and tells him that "What's done is done." However, here her speech reveals her feelings of guilt are even stronger than she realizes. Subconsciously, she knows that such crimes cannot be so easily forgotten or moved past.
Act V - Scene II 1
"uncle Siward,..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
In Holinshed's Chronicles, which Shakespeare used for many characters in this and other plays, Siward is described as Duncan's father-in-law, which would make Siward Malcolm's grandfather. The choice of "uncle" here could represent a more familial term of endearment.
Act V - Scene III 3
"reports..." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
Since he follows this word with "let them fly all," Macbeth's reports detail the revolt of his subjects. Notice how different his attitude is in this scene: no longer does he worry about threats or troubled sleep; his stubborn belief in the witches' prophesies have reinforced his will to fight to the end.
"Profit(70) again..." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
The Doctor is completely terrified. Based on what he knows about Lady Macbeth's secrets and the treatment he's received from Macbeth, his simply wants to get away from Dunsinane, and nothing will induce him to come back again, not even a large profit.
"Must minister to himself...." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
This is very subtle. When the Doctor says that the patient must minister to himself or herself, he obviously does not mean by prescribing his own medications, but rather the patient must minister themselves by confession, prayer, and repentance. And when Macbeth says he won't take physic, he really means that he won't repent or confess or pray.
Act V - Scene IV 1
"Industrious soldiership...." See in text (Act V - Scene IV)
Pragmatic as ever, Macduff enters the conversation by expressing his belief that not all Macbeth's soldiers are likely going to desert, and that the battle will demand all of their effort. By "industrious soldiership," Macduff means that they must perform their roles as competent soldiers first and foremost.
Act V - Scene V 4
"Arm, arm, and out!..." See in text (Act V - Scene V)
Macbeth, enraged at learning how the "fiend" deceived him, abandons his plan on letting the enemy waste their strength on trying to take his castle. Instead of this prudent plan, he decides to meet them on the field of battle in a desperate (and suicidal) effort. Notice what happens to many of his men when they are given the chance to desert once in the open field.
"the equivocation of the fiend..." See in text (Act V - Scene V)
Here, Macbeth realizes that the witches and the fiend, or devil, who inspired them to raise the apparitions for Macbeth, have deceived him. "Equivocation" refers to language that is ambiguous in order to conceal the truth, and while Macbeth considered the Woods of Birnam moving against him an impossibility, he sees now that it was merely symbolic and that Malcolm's army "moves" the forest with their covering branches.
"Out, out, brief candle!..." See in text (Act V - Scene V)
Macbeth is considering the meaning of life and thinks back on all of his "yesterdays" and what they have led to. In a moment where he is possibly contemplating suicide, Macbeth compares his life to that of a candle--a brief amount of time that is now spent.
"She should have died hereafter..." See in text (Act V - Scene V)
Many critics have contended the meaning of this line, whether Macbeth is callously indifferent to his wife's death or whether he is so sunk in misery by the news that he finds life not worth living. Perhaps the most plausible reading of this is connected to the latter and that Macbeth wishes that she had died after the battle, when there would have been time to mourn her properly.
Act V - Scene VII 2
"kerns..." See in text (Act V - Scene VII)
As mentioned in the first act of the play, Kerns were lightly armed Irish or Scottish mercenaries who fought with swords, bows, and carried wooden shields. Macduff considers them wretched because they are mercenaries; that is, their honor and loyalty can be bought. This sentiment further reinforces Macduff as an honorable man, sparing his own wrath for Macbeth instead of others.
"They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly, But bear-like I must fight the course...." See in text (Act V - Scene VII)
Bear-baiting was an Elizabethan "sport" or pastime in which a bear was tied to a stake and harassed by dogs. Macbeth uses this metaphor to describe his own condition: he finds it impossible to escape from the superior number of enemies and compares himself to the baited bear. Despite this, he continues to fight against all odds, holding faith in the witches' other prophesy that said no man born of woman may harm Macbeth.
Act V - Scene VIII 3
"Macduff was from his mother's womb Untimely ripp'd...." See in text (Act V - Scene VIII)
Macbeth despairs to learn that Macduff was born of a cesarean section--surgically removed from his mother's womb instead of being born "naturally." This news completes the equivocal prophesies that the apparitions gave to Macbeth and he realizes that he has no more protection.
"Thou losest labor...." See in text (Act V - Scene VIII)
Since Macduff furiously attacks Macbeth, this continuation of dialogue represents a lull or brief pause in the combat. Macbeth, still confident in his supposed protection, rebuffs the attack and takes this moment to perhaps try to save Macduff's life by speaking these words.
"Of all men else I have avoided thee...." See in text (Act V - Scene VIII)
Shakespeare adds a small but noticeable touch here to help the audience recover some sympathy for Macbeth. Knowing what he did to Macduff's family, Macbeth has avoided him in the fight and doesn't want to harm him--because he believes he has already harmed Macduff enough.