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Quotes in Macbeth

Quotes Examples in Macbeth:

Act I - Scene I

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"When shall we three meet again..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Some scholars argue that the witches have nothing important to communicate in this scene and that Shakespeare was instead using them as an attention-grabber. Theater audiences in his time were notoriously rowdy, especially among those who stood in the pit. This short scene is intended to attract attention, interest, and curiosity and evoke silence so that the dialogue can be heard.

"My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,(150) Shakes so my single state of man that function Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is But what is not...."   (Act I - Scene III)

Macbeth's imagination turns immediately to murderous plots after the witches reveal their prophecy. Macbeth is frightened by his imagination as his ambitious fantasies begin to take over his reality. "Nothing is but what is not" touches on the major theme in Macbeth of inversion: that which is real becomes unreal when the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred. As he considers usurping the King, Macbeth converts the real world into his fantasy space and loses the ability to act as he should, as the Thane of Cawdor and a loyal subject to Duncan.

"That very frankly he confess'd his treasons, Implored your highness’ pardon, and set forth A deep repentance. Nothing in his life Became him like the leaving it;..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

Malcolm, Duncan's son, reports on the execution. At the time Macbeth was written, prisoners who confessed to their crimes and pledged loyalty to the king at the last minute were sometimes rewarded with pardon. The Thane of Cawdor, however, does not survive, in spite of confessing his treasons, imploring the King's pardon, and showing a deep repentance. This demonstrates the seriousness of the crime of treason against the King in the story.

"unsex me here..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Lady Macbeth wishes, figuratively, to be made into a man. Men were the ones powerful and cruel enough to murder. Women, on the other hand, were believed to be nurturing and loving. Lady Macbeth believes that her husband lacks the ambition to kill Duncan for the throne, and she would rather do it herself.

"Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Lady Macbeth openly states her belief that Macbeth is far too weak and/or kind to do what must be done to take the throne. She is suggesting that Macbeth's nature doe not permit him to do wrong. The reference to milk invokes her later accusation of Macbeth as being infantile and unmanly, something she challenges him with numerous times.

"I have no spur(25) To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself And falls on the other—..."   (Act I - Scene VII)

Macbeth uses this metaphor to compare his ambition to a horse rider who falls when he jumps higher than he is able. In these lines Macbeth recognizes that he has no other reason to kill Duncan than his own ambition. This blatant recognition of his dangerous ambition makes Macbeth's eventual murder of Duncan ironic.

"But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we'll not fail...."   (Act I - Scene VII)

Lady Macbeth tells her husband to shore up his courage and hold it to him by using a metaphor that refers to the notch on a cross-bow that holds the taut string before firing. Lady Macbeth's metaphor is ironic because it draws a connection between Macbeth's act of selfish ambition and a soldier stringing a bow. Soldiers act on behalf of the king and country, while Macbeth acts on his own accord. In this way, Lady Macbeth not only tells him to "tighten" his courage so that they don't fail, she metaphorically elevates the purpose for his courage and justifies their actions.

"this blow Might be the be-all and the end-all here..."   (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.

"Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives. A bell rings. I go, and it is done: the bell invites me...."   (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.

"Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand..."   (Act II - Scene I)

This quote illustrates foreshadowing (a clue as to what may come). Macbeth "seeing" the dagger foreshadows the manner by which Duncan will die and Macbeth's coming hallucinations. The bloody dagger becomes a symbol for Macbeth's rampant ambition.

"Infirm of purpose!..."   (Act II - Scene II)

By "infirm" Lady Macbeth uses the antiquated understanding of the word: not firm, or unstable. In a previous scene, Lady Macbeth told Macbeth that they could not fail if he shored up his courage. However, with this line, Lady Macbeth recognizes that he was not as firm as she wanted him to be, and thus they are in danger of being caught.

"This is a sorry sight...."   (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.

"No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine,..."   (Act II - Scene II)

The verb incarnadine here means "to redden." Macbeth is saying that the blood on his hands will turn the whole ocean red rather than be cleaned off. Prior to Macbeth this word's meaning was primarily associated with coloring objects red; however, since Shakespeare, the word is most often associated with blood.

"Knock, knock! Who's there, in th’ other devil's name?..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Knocking is a motif throughout Macbeth. After Macbeth and his wife complete their hideous murder, they hear a knock within that causes them to immediately fear and begins their slow descent into guilty madness. The Porter imagines Hell's Gate and unwittingly invokes two symbols. First, Macbeth's castle begins to resemble hell as he has committed a hideous crime. Second, the Porter reminds the audience that bad deeds, such as murder and suicide, are met with punishment in hell. This foreshadows not only Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's coming end, but the promise of punishment in the afterlife for their ambition. It is unclear whether or not this line was the basis for the modern Knock, Knock joke.

"What's done is done...."   (Act III - Scene II)

Lady Macbeth uses this speech to calm Macbeth's guilty conscious. However, her flippant response to Macbeth's worries, essentially there's no changing what has happened so forget about it, comes back to haunt her when she begins to feel pangs of guilt. Her "what's done is done" later transforms into "what's done cannot be undone," as Lady Macbeth becomes overrun with guilt.

"After life's fitful fever he sleeps well..."   (Act III - Scene II)

What Macbeth says seems paradoxical: life itself is a sickness from which we recover by dying, after which we will sleep comfortably. Note the alliteration of "F" sounds in "after," "life's," "fitful," and "fever," intended to emphasize the stress, anxiety, and wasted effort, i.e., the fitfulness and feverishness, involved in living. There are actually six "F" sounds in "after life's fitful fever," because the "V" in "fever" will sound like an "F."

"Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog,(15) Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg and howlet's wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

This incantation is the most famous depiction of witchcraft in the Western canon. The three witches's spell emphasizes the play's theme of inversion. They fragment parts of the natural world in order to create an unnatural outcome; in other words, they use pieces of animals instead of whole parts in order to turn reality upside down. The rhyming couplets and lilting seven syllable lines also highlight the enchanting power of language, which can be used to create beauty, or in this case, to engender horrific deception and evil.

" Something wicke..."   (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.

"What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Macbeth's exclamation alludes to a belief during the reign of James I of England (the Jacobean era) that a thunderclap ("crack") announced the coming of Doomsday ("doom). Essentially, Macbeth thinks that Banquo's children and heirs will reign for a very long time.

" Double, double, toil and trouble;(10) Fire burn and cauldron bubble..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

As the witches brew a potion in the cauldron, they repeat this chant as a kind of evil spell. Interestingly, Shakespeare uses tetrameter (four beats per line) instead of iambic pentameter for the witches' spell. This incantation, the cauldron, and the evil atmosphere all credit Shakespeare with the creation of the Western conception of a typical witch.

"At one fell swoop?..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

While to a modern audience this phrase means "suddenly" or "all at once," Shakespeare's audience would have interpreted this original expression as a more savage extension of Macduff's bird metaphor. "Fell" can mean cruel or savage, and the word "swoop" can refer to an attack pattern from a bird of prey—such as the kite just mentioned.

"Out, damned spot!..."   (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.

"Must minister to himself...."   (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. 

"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!(25) 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, Signifying nothing..."   (Act V - Scene V)

In a play in which ambition and power were the only goals of the main characters, Macbeth realizes that all of his decisions and actions are meaningless: life is a "brief candle" set to go out. Not only does Macbeth realize that life is meaningless, he begins to see his life as ruled by others. This is a take on the Shakespearian trope of "all the world's a stage;" but rather than highlighting the performed nature of identity or love, Macbeth uses this theater metaphor to show that our ambitions and actions are part of a badly scripted performance without meaning. In other words, life, ambition, achievement are all illusions that dissolve in death. This is one of the most famous speeches from this play and it has inspired multiple literary and artistic works, including William Faulkner's 1929 The Sound and The Fury.

"(30)..."   (Act V - Scene V)

Harold Bloom argues that Macbeth's response to his wife's death is nihilistic. In Macbeth's world, there is no life after death (541).

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: Invention of the Human. New York:  Riverhead Books, 1998. Print.

William Faulkner borrowed the phrase "sound and fury" for the title of one of his best novels, The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner had a pessimistic view of life and human nature himself. "When [Malcolm] Cowley, for example, wrote asking if it would be fair to call his work a 'myth or legend of the South,' Faulkner testily replied that the South 'is not very important to me,' adding, in a gratuitous discharge of bile, that in his opinion human life is 'the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing everywhere and man stinks the same stink no matter where in time.'" Frederick Crews, "Faulkner Methodized."

If motion pictures had existed in Shakespeare's time he might have said that life is like a black-and-white movie, because the actors we see on the screen really are "walking shadows." Shakespeare seems to be saying that we are all like actors on the stage but each of us is carrying a candle which casts a shadow on the floor. When our candle burns out, we cease to exist. We are as insubstantial as shadows.

Notice how the words "struts," "frets," "hour," "upon," etc., are stressed in the meter of the following lines to create the impression of a gigantic shadow pacing across a stage:

...a poor player 
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, 
And then is heard no more.

With the last two words, “no more,” it is as if the sounds of the shadow’s pacing fade out. This is because of the strong “O” sounds in “no” and “more” and also because the word “no” is not naturally stressed. The metrical stress, if anywhere, would be on the word “more”—almost like an echo of the departed shadow’s footsteps. A huge shadow has paced across the stage and disappeared on the other side. These wonderful words can be much better appreciated if one reads them aloud. (But, for that matter, all of Shakespeare’s words can be better appreciated if one reads them aloud, because they were intended to be spoken aloud.)

Why does Macbeth use the word "fools" to describe all those who have died before him? They were fools because all their plans and activities were canceled by death.

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