William Shakespeare

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Macbeth: Soliloquy 2 key examples

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Definition of Soliloquy
A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself, relating his or her innermost thoughts and feelings as if... read full definition
A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself, relating his or her innermost... read full definition
A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself... read full definition
Act 1, scene 7
Explanation and Analysis—If It Were Done:

Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 7 illustrates his internal struggle as he wavers back and forth between his loyalty to Duncan and his ambition to become king of Scotland. Throughout the soliloquy, he utilizes a great deal of figurative language, beginning with an extended metaphor about fishing:

Macbeth: If th’ 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.

Macbeth reasons that, if he could get Duncan's murder and all its consequences over with quickly, he would be willing to risk possible damnation in the afterlife. But he concedes that it would be impossible to kill Duncan and not have to deal with any repercussions.

Macbeth is also aware that murdering Duncan, who is both his cousin and a guest in his home, would be a grave violation of the rules of hospitality and of kinship bonds:

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.

In addition, Macbeth fears that, by killing someone as saintly as Duncan, he will become a target for divine retribution. As a result, his soliloquy is also filled with religious allusions:

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;


Finally, Macbeth admits that he has "no spur / To prick the sides of [his] intent"—that is, no real motivation for killing Duncan, other than his "Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself / And falls on th' other." He ultimately decides that mere desire for power is a foolish reason to commit such a terrible act, (correctly) asserting that acting solely on ambition will inevitably lead to tragedy. This passage stands in stark contrast to the soliloquy that occurs in Act 2, Scene 1, in which Macbeth once more struggles with his guilty conscience but arrives at the opposite conclusion.

Act 2, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—A Dagger of the Mind:

Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 2, Scene 1 demonstrates his feelings of guilt and self-loathing and foreshadows the madness that will consume him and Lady Macbeth in the aftermath of Duncan's murder.

This soliloquy includes various types of sensory imagery. Macbeth's senses become muddled, and he struggles to determine whether the dagger that he sees pointing the way to Duncan's chamber is real or illusory:

Macbeth: Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but 
A dagger of the mind, a false creation
Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.

This confusion of visual and tactile imagery echoes the Weird Sisters' claim in Act 1, Scene 1 that "Fair is foul and foul is fair." Although the dagger appears to be "fair" or real, the fact that Macbeth cannot touch it makes him suspicious that his guilt and anxiety about Duncan's murder are causing him to hallucinate:

Macbeth: Mine eyes are made the fools o’ th’ other senses
Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still,
And, on thy blade and dudgeon, gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing.
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes.

In addition to this uncertainty regarding the reliability of his senses, Macbeth also worries that the ground itself, having heard him entering Duncan's chamber, will be able to reveal his crime to the world:

Macbeth: Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabouts

Macbeth's paranoia regarding sound foreshadows the moment in Act 2, Scene 2, when he thinks he hears a voice say "Sleep no more!"

The soliloquy also contains several allusions to mythology and history, which help demonstrate how Macbeth views the act he is about to commit. Macbeth references Hecate, the ancient Greek goddess of witchcraft, as well as the Roman prince Sextus Tarquinius:

Macbeth: Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s off’rings, and withered murder,
Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his
Moves like a ghost.

The reference to Hecate suggests that Macbeth views the murder of Duncan as an act that, like witchcraft, goes against the natural order of things. By mentioning Sextus Tarquinius, who famously raped a Roman noblewoman, Macbeth also suggests that the murder of Duncan is an act of defilement as morally repugnant as sexual assault.

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