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Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Macbeth | Quotes


Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/Of direst cruelty.

Lady Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 5

Lady Macbeth calls on the spirits to make her less like a woman and fill her with the cruelty of a man in order to carry out her plan to murder Duncan when he arrives at her castle.


Bring forth men-children only,/For thy undaunted mettle should compose/Nothing but males.

Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7

After Lady Macbeth encourages him to go through with Duncan's murder and take the crown, Macbeth declares that her temperament is most suited to male children. This statement is also an example of situational irony because the Macbeths have no children, nor will they live to have children later.


Is this a dagger which I see before me,/The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch/thee./I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 1

Before he goes to kill Duncan, Macbeth hallucinates a dagger like the one he carries with him. The immaterial thing persists; Macbeth sees it though he can't touch it. This is a vision that represents his guilt and hesitation about committing the murder, although he finds his real dagger and resolves to go through with the act.


From this instant/There's nothing serious in mortality./All is but toys. Renown and grace is dead./The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees/Is left this vault to brag of.

Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3

Macbeth is lamenting the loss of Duncan. From this moment on there's nothing meaningful in life. Mere toys are all that is left, along with the dregs of "the wine of life." Shakespeare uses verbal irony here. The audience and Lady Macbeth know the truth, but the other characters are unaware that Macbeth, the murderer, stands in their midst.


To be thus is nothing,/But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo/Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature/Reigns that which would be feared. 'Tis much he/dares,/And to that dauntless temper of his mind/He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor/To act in safety. There is none but he/Whose being I do fear; and under him/My genius is rebuked, as it is said/Mark Antony's was by Caesar.

Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 1

Macbeth reflects that although he's now king, his reign is meaningless if he is not safe. He is now suspicious, afraid, and envious of Banquo. Macbeth believes that Banquo is fearless, daring, and wise enough to act against him "in safety." His envy comes to the fore later in the speech when he refers to the witches' prophesy for Banquo as "father to a line of kings" and laments that he has killed Duncan "for Banquo's issue" (heirs). Shakespeare employs a historical allusion here, as Macbeth now feels that his guiding spirit (genius) must be as dejected as the guiding spirit of Mark Antony, who was defeated by Octavius Caesar.


Naught's had, all's spent,/ Where our desire is got without content./'Tis safer to be that which we destroy/ Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.

Lady Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 2

As she waits for Macbeth to come speak with her, Lady Macbeth reveals a sliver of guilt about how they have come to power. She knows he has been brooding and she thinks that taints the joy they should have as king and queen. It would have been better not to have the throne than be miserable now.


Double, double toil and trouble;/Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Witches, Act 4, Scene 1

As the witches prepare to meet with Macbeth and provide him more prophecies they cook up a noxious spell. While they add ingredients, they utter the evil enchantment: "Double, double toil and trouble." Because they are expecting Macbeth, the meaning of the enchantment can be read as calling down twice the work and woe on Macbeth's head. He has already doubled the work—killing Banquo in addition to Duncan and his guards. He soon will add to his toil the deaths of Lady Macduff, her son, and servants. Through this heinous toil Macbeth is bringing more trouble for himself, just as the witches are literally stirring double the toil and trouble for him in their cauldron.


Then the liars and swearers are fools, for there/are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest/men and hang up them.

Macduff's Son, Act 4, Scene 2

When Lady Macduff tells her son honest men must punish (by hanging) liars and swearers, the son observes that there are enough dishonest men in the world to beat the honest ones. His statement captures the state of Scotland at this time as the bad guys—Macbeth and his wife—seem to be winning. It appears all the more true when the child and his mother are murdered moments later by Macbeth's men.


What need we fear/who knows it, when none can call our power to/account? Yet who would have thought the old man/to have had so much blood in him?

Lady Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1

In the depths of her madness Lady Macbeth's words show the conflict between her guilt and her ambition. Talking to her husband, even though he isn't there, she questions who could hold them responsible for Duncan's murder now that they are king and queen. At the same time she expresses wonder as she remembers the blood and horror of the murder scene.


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.

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

With his defeat looming, Macbeth receives the news that Lady Macbeth has died. He is saddened and reflects on how life is too short, makes no sense, and in the end has no meaning.


Despair thy charm,/And let the angel whom thou still hast served/ Tell thee Macduff was from his mother's womb/Untimely ripped.

Macduff, Act 5, Scene 8

When Macbeth meets Macduff on the battlefield, he boasts about the prophecy he thinks makes him invincible. Macduff delights in telling him about how his own birth, essentially a Caesarian section, satisfies the prophecy and makes Macbeth vulnerable. Macbeth realizes he has misread the witches and his time is up.

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