Macbeth Quotations

"Fair is foul and foul is fair." (Act 1, Scene 1)   This quotation, spoken by the witches, sets the stage for many things that happen in the play. In modern terms, it means good is bad and bad is good, suggesting that things are not what they seem. The importance of this statement is further reinforced by the fact that when Macbeth first enters the play he states, "So fair and foul a day I have not seen."

"The raven himself is hoarse That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan Under my battlements. Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe topful Of direst cruelty!" (Act 1, Scene 5, Lines 38-43)

  Lady Macbeth utters these words as soon as she receives the letter from Macbeth that tells about the witches' message. With her note of the "fatal entrance of Duncan" she asserts her willingness to kill Duncan. Additionally, her calling on evil sprits to take "unsex" her basically means she is asking for them to take away her femininity which, in Shakespeare's day, might be interpreted as a woman's natural weakness. Essentially, she is willing to take on whatever amount of cruelty is necessary to fulfill her ambitions.

"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... ...I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself And falls on th' other." (Act 1, Scene 7, 13-30)

  Macbeth speaks this quotation right before he and his wife go through with the plan to kill Duncan. This shows Macbeth's hesitance to kill Duncan because he knows that, as Duncan's host and loyal subject, he should be protecting his king, not plotting his murder. This is one of the clearest moments of conscience for Macbeth in the play.

"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." (Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 6-9)

  This quotation comes from Lady Macbeth, alone on stage as she waits to meet her husband. Here, the audience realizes for the first time that Lady Macbeth is beginning to change. Despite their actions, Lady Macbeth remarks she and her husband are "without content." In other words, killing Duncan and making Macbeth king has done nothing to bring her the joy she wished for. She also feels their position is unstable, remarking that they dwell only in "doubtful joy." Her statement here suggests some remorse on her part because killing Duncan has given her the results she'd hoped for.

"Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth." (Act 4, Scene 1, lines 81-83)

  These words are spoken by the second apparition to Macbeth during his second meeting with the witches. It warns that no one born from a woman can defeat Macbeth. However, this later proves to actually be true of Macduff because, technically, he wasn't born at all; instead, he was "ripped" out of his mother's woman. This would also explain the apparition's appearance as a bloody child. Later in the play, it becomes clear that the apparition's prediction is setting Macbeth up for failure because it seems to say that he is invincible; after all, all people are born from a woman. Macbeth doesn't realize the loophole of Macduff's birth.

"Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo. Down! Thy crown does sear mine eyeballs. And thy hair, Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first. A third is like the former.-Filthy hags! Why do you show me this? A fourth? Start, eyes! What, will the line stretch out to th' crack of doom? Another yet? A seventh? I'll see no more. And yet the eighth appears, who bears a glass Which shows me many more, and some I see That twofold balls and treble scepters carry. Horrible sight! Now I see 'tis true; For the blood-boltered Banquo smiles upon me And points at them for his." (Act 4, Scene 1, lines 117-130)

  This quotation also appears during Macbeth's second encounter with the witches. Here, he describes the line of kings he sees, beginning with Banquo. In total, he sees eight kings standing behind Banquo, seeming to suggest that his descendants will be kings long after his own death. Macbeth calls this a "horrible sight," and the audience knows that, more than ever, Macbeth is motivated to do whatever necessary to keep this from becoming reality.

"Out, damned spot! Out, I say!-One, two. Why, then, ‘tis time to do ‘t. Hell is murky!-Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? 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?" (Act 5, Scene 1, lines 25-30)

  Haunted by her grief, Lady Macbeth speaks these words as she sleepwalks in Act 5, observed by a doctor and a gentlewoman. As she speaks this quotation, she is making motions as if she is washing her hand. The "spot" she refers to is likely the blood from when she and Macbeth killed Duncan. She also reenacts the murder in her sleep, scolding Macbeth as she had before they committed their crime. However, her mention of all the blood in the old man-Duncan-shows her horror and her grief over her actions.

"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! 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 5, Scene 5, Lines 19-28)

  This famous quotation from Macbeth occurs during the final act, right after Macbeth learns of the death of his wife. Macbeth discusses the unstoppable passage of time, hence the "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" and the brief passing of life with "out, out, brief candle!" He is here mourning the loss of his wife; however, he also seems to know that his own demise is near. He compares life to an actor's "hour on the stage," which happens briefly, but then is gone just as quickly. This is a rather pessimistic world view, as he says that life "[signifies] nothing." Clearly, this is a reflection of his mental state. He has fought furiously to become king, but all for nothing

Related Links:

Literature Summaries
Macbeth Act V - Summary Summary

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