In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, soliloquies give the reader a close insight to his complex character, helping us understand his transition from a war hero to a ruthless tyrant.
The purpose of any soliloquy (aside notes) is
• motivations of the central characters.
In the case of Macbeth, his soliloquies prominently reveal he never loses sight of his actions and how he is fully aware of the rippling effects and impacts they will have on others. Focusing on this, we can analyze how Macbeth’s soliloquies are centralized around a single theme reflecting his present thoughts and emotions.
“The Macdeath line”
Desire ( Ambition ( Motivation ( Paranoia ( Overconfidence ( Despair
Act 1 Scene 3 Line 140Pg. 27
This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is but what is not.
If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me
Without my stir.
Come what come may,
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.
This quote takes place when Macbeth finds out he has been named thane of Cawdor due do the previous thanes execution. The witches have planted the seeds of desire into Macbeth, and he has already begun thinking and wanting to claim the throne as his own. He is initially aware of his thoughts and knows the difference between right and wrong, but consumed be ruthless greed, he states:
“If good, why do I yield to that suggestion, whose horrid image doth unfix my hair?”
This shows him wary of the witches' prophecy, but realizes that want to be crowned king, since one half of what they predicted has already come true. Determined to listen to his conscience, he even states to himself how the imaginary thoughts of killing Duncan is goes against whom he is. When Macbeth states:
“Shakes so my single state of man that functions is smothered in surmise, and nothing is but what is not.”
It shows that his ability to act is suffocated by the horrible thoughts (meaning that at the time, he was unable to commit the crime) and the only things that mattered to him did not exist.
Overall, his desires to become king have got him thinking about the glory, and he is determined that the prophecies will come true regardless if fate is on his side.
Act 1 Scene 7 Line 1Pg. 57
Macbeth debates whether he should kill Duncan. When he reminds himself of Duncan’s noble qualities and the loyalty that he feels toward his king (“I am his kinsman and his subject”), he begins to dredge up reasons not to kill the royal guest in their house. The imagery in this speech is dark “bloody instructions,” “deep damnation,” and a “poisoned chalice” demonstrates that Macbeth is aware of how the murder would open the door to a dark and sinful world.
At the same time, he admits that his only reason for committing murder, “vaulting ambition,” suddenly seems an insufficient justification for the act. The destruction that comes from unchecked ambition will continue to be explored as one of the play’s themes. As the soliloquy ends, Macbeth seems to resolve not to kill Duncan.
Act 3Scene 1Line 52 Pg. 115
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown
And put a barren scepter in my grip,
Thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If 't be so,
For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind;
For them the gracious Duncan have I murder'd;
Put rancours in the vessel of my peace
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!
Rather than so, come fate into the list.
And champion me to the utterance!
This quote occurs after Macbeth’s coronation, where the thoughts of the witches’ prophecies lingered in his mind. After committing the ultimate crime of regicide, Macbeth begins to ponder about the words they told Banquo; how he would beget a line of kings. After seizing the throne as his own, Macbeth begins to develop a fear of losing it and the quote shows how he desperately believes and tries to cling on to the prophecies. Heavily influenced by the tainted prophecies, Macbeth’s soliloquy shows he is already losing his sanity when wanting to kill Banquo, his closest friend. Already clouded by the bloodlust of murdering Duncan, this quote also demonstrates Macbeths more impulsive and destructive personality (grown out of his fears) without his wife’s persuasion. Finally, he is perpetually conscious of his evil choices and is fully aware of the rapid deterioration of his humanity.
For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind;
For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered,
Put rancors in the vessel of my peace (
I’ve tortured my conscience and murdered the gracious Duncan for Banquo’s sons.