Drama Macbeth by William Shakespeare is deservedly considered to be one of the greatest literary works, the one which impresses a reader with its sophisticated and deep idea, rich in metaphors, literary figures, and images language, as well as round and extremely complicated characters. Macbeth appears to be “the most vehement, the most concentrated, perhaps we may say the most tremendous, of the tragedies” of the poet (Bradley). It is the language of the play and the soliloquies of the characters that made this drama so valuable and popular around the world. Through the soliloquies in Macbeth, William Shakespeare illustrates the greatness and power of words, presents the personages, and creates the tonality of the whole play. Each soliloquy can be considered as a separate work of art full of imagery, metaphors, new contexts and hidden ideas. Thus, their precise analysis in Macbeth will provide the deeper understanding of the drama, an insight into the language and stylistic figures used by the poet, and will open the multifaceted nature of the characters.
In the play Macbeth, William Shakespeare depicts one of the most crucial topics of human life: constant struggle of good and evil inside a person. The main personage, Macbeth, is given a prophecy according to which he must become a new king of Scotland. Greed of power and desire to become a king leads Macbeth and his wife to the murder. The poet concentrates in his play on the emotional and psychiatric instability of characters, combined with their constant inner struggle between feeling of remorse and fear to lose everything. The soliloquies of the main characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, present the inner struggle of the heroes, outline their motives and create general atmosphere of that time and people described in the play.
One of the most famous soliloquies of the play is the first speech of Macbeth, who is waiting for the dinner with the King and decides what should be done. The monologue opens the seventh scene of the first act and, for the first time, introduces Macbeth to the audience through his thoughts and words. The speech starts with the words
If it were done ‘tis done, then ‘twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
With his surcease, success; but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here. (Thompson 33)
and ends with the appearance of Lady Macbeth. The language of the discourse presents, as well as the language of the whole play, a completely formed Shakespeare’s final style of writing (Bradley). Along with the other soliloquies of Macbeth, the passage presents abundance of allusive and perplexing imagery, complex rhythm, and contorted sentence structure (Held).
In the above-described particular discourse, Shakespeare exploits plenty of literary stylistic devices to strengthen the ideas of the character and emotional influence of the speech. For example, the poet excessively uses alliteration in the passage: change of sounds d and t in the first line of the soliloquy. (Held) What is more, there are plenty of other cases of alliteration throughout the whole speech. In the third and fourth line of the verse, there are constantly repeated sounds s and c: “Could trammel up the consequence, and catch, with his surcease, success; but this blow” (Held). Such phrases as “trumpet-tongu’d,” “naked new-borne babe,” and “deep damnation” are examples of alliteration (Thompson 33). Macbeth’s first soliloquy also contains verbal repetitions: constantly repeated “done” in the first and second lines; “be-all” and “end-all” in the fifth line (Held). In addition, Macbeth uses word “here” obsessively throughout his first speech: “Might be the be-all, and the end-all. Here,” (4th line) “But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,” (5th line) “We still have judgment here, that we but teach” (7th line) (Thompson 33).
Furthermore, the passage is abundant with similes. Macbeth speaks by similes what indicates a person with great imagination. Such passionate, figurative and lively language makes readers somehow sympathize the character, recognize something human in his cruel nature, and observe his inner agony and doubts. What is more, Macbeth compares virtues of Duncan with “angels” and pity with “naked new-borne babe.” The choice of such comparison might lead to the assumption that Macbeth feels great pity, respect and sympathy towards his King. Yet, he is determined to commit a murder and get the power which is steeped in blood.
Apart from richness in stylistic devices and figures of speech, the monologue plays a crucial role in the drama and provides a basis for its understanding. The ideas, which Macbeth reveals in his speech, create the first impression about the personage. Shakespeare presents the central conflict of the play through the words of his personage: Macbeth’s awareness of his cruel deeds and their consequences confronts the inevitability of the murder. Although the main character appears several times in the play before the soliloquy, it is the first time when the audience is able to observe the personage alone on the stage and is eager to know his attitude and thoughts about prophecy.
The speech presents two different angles on murder (Clemen 151). The change in the style of soliloquy reflects change in feeling, emotions, and determination of Macbeth to kill Duncan. Therefore, Macbeth begins his speech with more general words and ideas referring to murder as “it” and omitting the name of his victim (Clemen 152). Yet, with every next line, the personage is becoming surer in the inevitability of the evil deed, and gives more details: “I am his kinsman” or “Besides, this Duncan” (Thompson 33). Such shift in Macbeth’s thoughts indicates that the character turns from uncertainty to determination to kill Duncan. At the same time, through bright images and masterful comparisons, Macbeth expresses his great admiration of the king and grief about the murder of his lord by comparing his virtues with “angels,” by referring to obligation of “double trust,” and mentioning his “great office” (Clemen 153).
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At some lines of the soliloquy, the character presents his clear understanding of future judgment, inevitability of “even-handed justice,” and that “the horrid deed in every eye” will be blown (Thompson 33). Macbeth’s imagination allows the man to see the dire consequences of his deeds and makes him aware of his end. Imagination of Macbeth is usually deeper and higher than his conscious thoughts (Bradley). Probably, the view of future, which opens in the mind of the character, makes him express uncertainty in the end of his soliloquy. Macbeth doubts his own capacity to commit such evil deed by saying “I have no spur” (Thompson 34). Consequently, Macbeth is not perceived by audience as just cruel and cold-blooded villain but as a person who is trapped in the circumstances and aware of the repercussions and punishment of his evil deeds.
The second soliloquy presented by Macbeth takes place in the Act II Scene I when the feast has finished and all guests go to rest. In this soliloquy, Macbeth expresses his determination to commit the vile wrongdoing and feels the closest presence of upcoming murder in the walls of castle. Being left alone, he has a vision of a dagger which symbolizes the bloody business which will happen there. The soliloquy starts with the lines
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.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation. (Thompson 33)
and ends with the ringing of the bell and entering of lady Macbeth. As in the first speech, Macbeth exploits such stylistic device as alliteration in his soliloquy. There is an excessive repetition of the sound w in line “whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace” and words “wicked,” “witchcraft,” “wither’d,” and “wolf” in the soliloquy (Held).
Moreover, the passage presents the affluence of symbols which reflect the emotional tension inside the character and his determination to perform the murder. The central image of the soliloquy is the vision of a dagger which appears in the same manner, deceptive twilight, as the witches (Clemen 160). Such a vision makes Macbeth feel trapped and deceived. Yet, the personage does not refuse his wicked thoughts. In this soliloquy, the dagger is not just perceived as ordinary knife, but is recognized by Macbeth as a murder weapon. The man understands that the blade in front of him is not real by referring to it as “fatal vision” and “false creation.” Macbeth even tries to reassure his senses by looking for and touching his real “palpable” dagger. What is more, the hero realizes all the cruelty and evil nature of his plans by describing the dagger: “on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood” (Thompson 39).
Besides, Macbeth employs many images in his soliloquy to create the dramatic and emotionally high coloring of the speech. Thus, the personage provides a display of nature which “seems dead” to describe the mourning of the world for the approaching betrayal. In the second half of the soliloquy, the man asks nature to assist him to cover his evil deeds. As in the first speech, there is a shift from more general tone to more detailed lines. Thus, at the beginning of the soliloquy, Macbeth does not mention any names and refers to the murder as “bloody business.” Yet, in the several last lines, the hero’s position is “firm-set” (Clemen 160). Although Macbeth admits having great fear and “present horror,” the man is determined to commit a murder and addresses Duncan who will have to go or “to heaven, or to hell” (Thompson 39).
Not least interesting and crucial for the play is a short monologue performed by Macbeth right after the news of Lady Macbeth’s death. Although the passage is comparatively short to other soliloquies of Macbeth, it is one of his most known speeches. In this short passage, Macbeth expresses his disappointment with the meaning of the life or, more precisely, its absence. Being fueled by the death of his wife and approaching defeat, Macbeth declares the emptiness and stupidity of life as such. He states in the soliloquy that life is worth of nothing and there is no point in living. Although evil is still inside Macbeth, it takes passive form and turns rather into boredom and dissatisfaction. Yet, wrong inside the character is not considered as completely cruel since it includes some other motives such as ambition and desire of power (Held). Having understood that all his cruel deeds do not lead to any results, Macbeth loses interest in further fighting and living.
In the soliloquy, Macbeth draws attention to the word “tomorrow” employing such stylistic device as verbal repetition. The personage stresses the absurdity and meaningless of future. What is more, in the passage, pointless “tomorrow” is contrasted with “yesterday” which has “lighted fools” (Thompson 113). That being said, the character does not just claim the absurdity of future, but underlines the foolishness of the past. Macbeth describes the life through such images as “way to dusty death,” “brief candle,” “walking shadow,” “poor player,” and a “tale told by an idiot” (Thompson 113). All these images support one general idea expressed by Macbeth: life is short, pointless, boring, disappointing, and rather miserable for all people since it is only a trip which leads us always to death. Shakespeare exploits such bright images to strengthen the disappointment and inner exhaustion of Macbeth who finally understands that his life was “signifying nothing.” The soliloquy in question can be contrasted with the first speech of the personage which expresses Macbeth’s determination, certainty of the future and satisfaction with his life. In this speech, Macbeth feels tricked and betrayed by those powers that prompted him to perform evil deeds and created false values of the life.
Apart from legendary and figurative speeches of Macbeth, the soliloquies of Lady Macbeth have also greatly contributed to the tone and central idea of the play. Notably, the audience can understand the personality of the woman through her words, her attitude to the upcoming evil deed, her relationships with the husband, and, finally, some personal traits of Macbeth. The first soliloquy in the play is spoken not by Macbeth but by his wife. Lady Macbeth reads the letter from her husband in which he describes the encounter with the witches and their prophecy. The woman is excited about the prediction and expresses her thoughts on it, as well as the plan of actions, in the speech.
Since it is the first soliloquy of the play, it gives the first impression of Macbeth, his wife, and their relationships. From the words of Lady Macbeth, the audience can understand that her husband is not as strong-willed as herself. In her soliloquy, the woman enumerates both the weaknesses and merits of her husband. Such words as “ambition,” “highly,” “illness” are the terms of praise for Lady Macbeth while “holily” and “human kindness” are terms of blame (Bradley). The woman describes Macbeth as a person who is “full of the milk of human kindness” and can refuse to “catch the nearest way” or, in other words, to murder the king. At the same time, by such speech, Shakespeare inclines audience to think favorably about Macbeth and contributes to his perception as not completely evil (Clemen 145).
Overall, the soliloquy provides a precise vision and picture of the Lady Macbeth’s personality and ambitions. As soon as the woman gets to know the prophecy of the witches, she prepares a plan of action and is deliberate to fulfill it. Through her speech, the audience can assume that Lady Macbeth is the most “commanding, most awe-inspiring” character in the play that is stronger than Macbeth and demonstrates inflexibility of will (Bradley). Although the woman understands and enumerates the weaknesses of her husband, she is determined to fight them and overcome all the obstacles on her way to power. The soliloquy presents a person who can hold imagination, feelings, and consciousness even in the most complicated and emotionally intense situations (Bradley). The first speech of Lady Macbeth provides an insight into the crucial debate of the play – inner confrontation of human kindness and evil desires of every person. The monologue ends with the vision of Macbeth crowned with “golden round” that illustrates the determination and strong will of his wife to commit a murder of the king (Clemen 146).
The second soliloquy is pronounced by Lady Macbeth not long after the first one, when the woman gets to know that the king has decided to visit the castle of Macbeth. Such news provides a great opportunity for Macbeth and his wife to commit a murder and arises a clear plan of actions in the head of the last one. Although Lady Macbeth is determined to perform the vile deed, she turns her attention on her weaknesses in her soliloquy. Like every woman, Lady Macbeth must have such traits as sympathy, fear, kindness. Consequently, in her speech she addresses infernal powers and asks evil forces to deprive her of any female emotions and make her as stiff as not every man can be. Besides, the audience can assume that the heroine is fixed on the murder by describing the visit of the king as “fatal entrance of Duncan.” Yet, the woman makes “call for spirits’ to “unsex” her and “make thick” her “blood” (Thompson 29). Lady Macbeth wants to assure that nothing will “shake” her “fell purpose” and distract her from the evil plans. The lady begs dark unknown forces to ruin her human qualities, fight her feminine weakness and leave no place for “remorse” (Thompson 29). This soliloquy provides a clear image of Lady Macbeth’s personality: a woman with a cold mind who is ready to repudiate her beauty and motherhood. In that way, the heroine wants evil forces to “take milk for gall” to become insensitive and full of “direst cruelty” (Thompson 29).
What is more, in her second soliloquy, Lady Macbeth asks the nature to cover her cruel acts and evil plans. The woman calls for “thick night” and “dunnest smoke of hell” which can hide her inner emptiness and atrocity and assist in her desire to kill the king. Lady Macbeth hopes that dark forces will help them to fulfill the prophecy of witch and that nothing and nobody can break “the blanket of dark” and prevent them from their bloody business (Thompson 29). The monologue provides an insight into the inner struggle of the woman who attempts to conquer her human traits with the view to remain calm and determined to commit such a cruel deed as murder of a person.
To sum up, Macbeth by William Shakespeare opens a completely new world of everlasting struggle between good and evil forces inside a person. It explores the inner nature of an individual, his/her motives in life and desires. The play depicts a story of a man who succumbed to temptation to get more power and respect. Yet, the audience and readers sympathize the personage as they understand that there are no flawless people. The most essential part of the play appears to be the main heroes’ soliloquies which perfectly reflect the mastery of the poet, as well as feelings and personality of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Every monologue has its own purpose such as to create atmosphere of tension, outline the central debate of the play, or to introduce and provide new traits of the personage. The analysis of soliloquys given by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth can lead the readers to some conclusions. Firstly, Macbeth has much stronger and wider imagination that his wife which allows him to foresee the future and be aware of the tragic ending. Secondly, from soliloquies spoken by Lady Macbeth, she can be assumed to have a strong, determined and firm personality who is ready to refuse from her female charms to be able to murder Duncan. Thirdly, analysis of soliloquies provides us with a set of metaphors and images which contribute to the perception of the play and characters. Thus, the poet presents nature as evil force that can help to cover the murder. Finally, all the analyzed soliloquies are tightly connected to each other both in context and in structural organization. For example, the first soliloquy of Lady Macbeth provides a basis for understanding the doubts and ambivalent attitude to the upcoming deed expressed by Macbeth in his first speech. All in all, there is, undoubtedly, not a single interpretation of these passages, but one should try and understand them from his/her own perspective and discover something impressive and useful in their wonderful lines.