Flashcards in Macbeth Quotation Analysis Deck (15):
“brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name” (Act 1 Scene 2)”
This tells us that at the start of the play Macbeth has many good qualities. He is brave and also a good soldier. He fights loyally for the king. He is trusted by the king. So much so the king decides to award him the title of one of the traitors now to be executed – the Thane of Cawdor.
“stars hide your fires/ Let not light see my black and deep desires” (Act 1 Scene 4)
The word choice of “black” and “deep” suggests that the witches’ words are working on Macbeth. As a result of his ambition, Macbeth is beginning to consider doing something evil to make the prophecy come true. However, Macbeth acknowledges that this is wrong, made clear through Shakespeare’s use of an aside which makes Macbeth appear guilty and secretive. The metaphor suggests he desperately does not want anyone to find out about his evil thoughts. He wants to maintain an appearance of loyalty.
“too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” (Act 1 Scene 6)
Lady Macbeth knows that Macbeth is not a natural born killer. She acknowledges that he has good quality – kindness and compassion. “Milk” suggests that she finds this childish and perceives this as a weakness in her husband.
“I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent/ but only vaulting ambition” (Act 1 Scene 7)
In his soliloquy, we see that all Macbeth has is ambition and he decides that is not enough. The image is of sharp, jaggy bits of metal riders used to wear on their heels so that when they kicked their horses, they would gallop faster. This suggests that he isn’t able to spur his ambition as he does not like the thought of murdering the King.
The personification of Macbeth’s ambition also suggests that he is distancing himself from the evil idea of killing Duncan. He suggests his ambition is riding away of its own accord.
Macbeth’s conscience is clearly winning over his ambition at this point.
“His virtues will plead like angels trumpet tongu’d against the deep damnation of his taking off” (Act 1 Scene 7)
Macbeth knows that Duncan is a good king. He compares Duncan’s virtues, his god qualities, to angels, which suggests he is good and innocent. Macbeth thinks that if Duncan was an evil king there would be some justification for killing him, but as he is good he cannot justify it to himself.
“When you durst do it/ then you were a man” (Act 1 Scene 7)
Lady Macbeth is a very forceful and manipulative character. She persuades Macbeth into going through with the murder by attacking his masculinity. She says that he was only a man when he dared to kill the king, suggesting that now he has backed out he is no longer masculine to her. She cleverly makes Macbeth change his mind again. This is important to the rest of the play, as the action that follows is the outworking of the consequences of this decision.
“a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?” (Act 2 Scene 1)
“Heat oppressed” has connotations of something which causes pain and is constricting. This suggests the mental torment Macbeth is going through. This shows that he is not an evil monster but an otherwise good man who knows he is doing something terrible in order to gain his ambition.
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?” (Act 2 Scene 2)
Macbeth speaks in hyperbole (exaggeration). He asks if all the water of the world can wash away the blood on his hands. This metaphor suggests that he feels his guilt will never be washed away. Again we see a man with a conscience. This highlights the tragedy in Macbeth’s character – he has denied his better self in doing what he knows to be evil.
“A little water clears us of this deed.” (Act 2 Scene 2)
In contrast, Lady Macbeth speaks practically about what they must do in order to make sure they are not found out by the rest of their guests. The word choice of “a little water” provides a direct contrast with Macbeth’s hyperbole about never being able to wash away his guilt. This suggests that Lady Macbeth does not have the same conscience as Macbeth and is unaffected by the murder.
“To be thus is nothing/ but to be safely thus” (Act 3 Scene 1)
Macbeth’s first thoughts expressed as King suggest fear and unease rather than enjoyment of his crown. In this soliloquy we see that Macbeth is now a very paranoid man Macbeth plots to commit more murders as a result of his insecurity. The evil means Macbeth has used to realise his ambition now begin to have their terrible consequences. Macbeth is no longer a man with a conscience.
“Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck.” (Act 3 Scene 2)
Macbeth is now taking the initiative in committing evil acts. This is a clear indication that his character is deteriorating. His sense of right and wrong, his conscience, is no longer working. The evil of killing Duncan has hardened his heart so that this next evil comes easily to him. In addition, we see that Macbeth’s relationship with his wife is also deteriorating. In Act 1 she was “his dearest partner in greatness”. Now she “dearest chuck”, a more patronising nickname, suggesting that he no longer considers her his equal but inferior to him.
“From this moment, the very firstling of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand.” (Act 4 Scene 1)
Macbeth says that from now on he will immediately act on whatever his heart desires. This shows us how far Macbeth has fallen from the noble, brave warrior hero of Act 1. He commits himself to whatever evil must be done without thought or regret. He is now ordering the death of innocent women and children and he is now almost enjoying the thought of destruction for its own sake.
“What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” (Act 5 Scene1 )
This statement is a stark contrast to the cold and practical character we see in the immediate aftermath of Duncan’s murder where she said that a little water would wash away Duncan’s blood. The blood now appears to be a metaphor for guilt and suggests that Lady Macbeth’s conscience has caught up with her. The guilt is driving her mad. This contrasts with Macbeth as by Act 5 he appears to no longer feel any guilt at all.
“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” (Act 5 Scene 5)
Macbeth achieved his ambition in becoming King, but to do so he has sacrificed everything which has given him meaning. Again, this ability to reflect upon what has happened to his character because of his evil actions tells us that he is still a human being. Shakespeare shows us that a fundamentally good person can be capable of terrible things if they make the wrong choices.