Act I - Scene VII

Macbeth's castle.

Hautboys [and] torches. Enter a Sewer and divers Servants with dishes and service [who pass] over the stage. Then enter Macbeth.

MACBETH:
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,(5)
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(10)
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,(15)
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,(20)
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(25)
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other—

Enter Lady [Macbeth.]

How now, what news?
LADY MACBETH:
He has almost supp'd. Why have you left the(30)
chamber?
MACBETH:
Hath he ask'd for me?
LADY MACBETH:
Know you not he has?
MACBETH:
We will proceed no further in this business:
He hath honor'd me of late, and I have bought(35)
Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon.
LADY MACBETH:
Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress'd yourself? Hath it slept since?(40)
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? 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? Wouldst thou have that(45)
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would”
Like the poor cat i’ the adage?
MACBETH:
Prithee, peace!(50)
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none.
LADY MACBETH:
What beast was't then
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;(55)
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know(60)
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.(65)
MACBETH:
If we should fail?
LADY MACBETH:
We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we'll not fail. When Duncan is asleep—
Whereto the rather shall his day's hard journey(70)
Soundly invite him—his two chamberlains
Will I with wine and wassail so convince,
That memory, the warder of the brain,
Shall be a fume and the receipt of reason
A limbec only. When in swinish sleep(75)
Their drenched natures lie as in a death,
What cannot you and I perform upon
The unguarded Duncan? What not put upon
His spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt
Of our great quell?(80)
MACBETH:
Bring forth men-children only,
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males. Will it not be received,
When we have mark'd with blood those sleepy two
Of his own chamber, and used their very daggers,(85)
That they have done't?
LADY MACBETH:
Who dares receive it other,
As we shall make our griefs and clamor roar
Upon his death?
MACBETH:
I am settled, and bend up(90)
Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.
Away, and mock the time with fairest show:
False face must hide what the false heart doth know.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Lady Macbeth responds to her husband by asking what could have possibly made him break his promise to her. In this context, enterprise refers to the bold, arduous, or momentous undertaking they have been planning: the murder of Duncan and Macbeth's ascension to the throne.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. "Prithee" is an archaic interjection which is used to express a wish or request. ("I pray thee," or "I beg of you.") In this instance, when Macbeth requests "peace," he is expressing a desire for his wife to stop discussing this matter altogether.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. In another clothing metaphor that extends from and builds on Macbeth's previous comments, Lady Macbeth accuses him of a lack of resolution to carry out the plan. Here, "hope" initially refers to Macbeth as a person drunk with the idea of success, and then becomes the robe that Macbeth has dressed himself in that has become pale and weak.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Macbeth is saying two things: One is that he would like to get the murder over and done with because the ideas connected with it are driving him crazy. He also means that he would never have another opportunity to do it than tonight since King Duncan is an overnight guest, and he is at Macbeth's mercy.

    — William Delaney
  16. What Macbeth means is that if a man dares to do dishonorable things he is not a real man. It is "unmanly" to do wicked deeds. His wife doesn't see it that way because she is not a man and doesn't feel governed by her husband's code of honor. 

    — William Delaney
  17. Macbeth is using horseback riding as a metaphor when he says he has no spur to prick the sides of his intent. Where he says, "...but only Vaulting ambition," he evidently is thinking of the image of a man who intends to leap onto a horse but vaults so high that he goes clear over the horse's saddle and falls to the ground on the other side. The word "side" is left out because Macbeth's soliloquy is interrupted by his wife, but the audience should understand the missing word because of all that went before it, beginning with "I have no spur." A man who did such a thing would look foolish, and Macbeth is apparently thinking that it is foolhardy to be plotting an assassination when he has no real need of further advancement and no just reason for wanting to replace the existing monarch. The alternative to being foolish is to be wise, and Macbeth is thinking that his better wisdom is telling him to abort this whole assassination plot.

    — William Delaney
  18. "Prithee, peace!" is a polite way of saying, "Stop—Enough, already!" Macbeth's wife has been driving him crazy by urging him to do something that goes against his character, his sense of duty, his sense of honor, and everything else in his nature. When he says, "Prithee, peace!" he does not just mean, "Please stop talking for now," but "Please stop talking about this matter altogether." But it doesn't do any good. She just takes another tack when she asks,

    What beast was't then
    That made you break this enterprise to me?

    In effect, she is saying, "It wasn't my idea to kill the King. It was your idea." This is probably true. 

    — William Delaney
  19. Lady Macbeth is concerned that her husband has left the dining chamber and won't return, which looks suspicious and is also rude. Macbeth was likely finding it difficult to talk to Duncan in a cordial manner while he was secretly thinking about murdering him. Lady Macbeth can't understand this because for her such duplicity comes easily.

    — William Delaney
  20. Macbeth’s foretelling the future consequences of assassinating King Duncan should be compared with Marc Antony's soliloquy in Julius Caesar (III.i). In both, Shakespeare summarizes what actually happens by using the future tense rather than the past tense. Both Macbeth and Antony predict what will happen as consequences of wicked violence. This is a shorthand way for Shakespeare to cover years of chaotic historical events in single speeches rather than attempting to dramatize or describe them onstage.

    — William Delaney
  21. There has long been speculation about the childless marriage of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. Clearly, from these lines she has had a baby at least once (given suck = nursed) but whether that child was from a previous marriage or one(s) who have died is left unknown. In either case, it appears that Macbeth, not his wife, is the cause of their childless state.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  22. Duncan's virtuous nature is so evident, even to Macbeth, that even as he contemplates murdering his king, he is compelled to praise him.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  23. Audiences in Shakespeare's time (and indeed to some contemporary audiences) would have been especially troubled by Lady Macbeth's "rule" over her husband, as early modern men were "enjoined" to keep their women under their control, supervising both women's actions and their speech. Macbeth's failure to "rule" his wife would have been viewed as "unnatural."

    — Jamie Wheeler
  24. As stated earlier in the play, clothing often refers to titles and ranks. This quote includes a metaphor for Macbeth's new title of Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth does not wish to go through with the plan to murder Duncan and take the title of king. He only recently took on the title of Thane of Cawdor and wants to embrace the new title for a while. 

    — Lorna Stowers