Macbeth's Soliloquies

Updated on December 2, 2018
Jule Romans profile image

Jule Romans is a retired English teacher and college instructor. She has taught Shakespeare and advanced literature for over 25 years.

The character of Macbeth has seven different soliloquies within the play. Four of them are exceptionally well known. The other three soliloquies are not quoted as frequently, but they are essential to Macbeth’s character development.

Thos, W. Keene as Macbeth, 1811
Thos, W. Keene as Macbeth, 1811 | Source

Macbeth’s Soliloquies and Character Development

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the main character is a tragic hero who rises from the rank of general to become the King of Scotland. Sadly, his dramatic rise to power is the downfall and destruction of his moral compass.

The play traces the path of Macbeth’s greed and ambition. These shortcomings lead Macbeth to commit murder not once, but several different times, each more atrocious than the last.

The seven soliloquies that Macbeth speaks span all five acts of the play.

Act I, Scene 3: Present Fears

  • Why do I yield to that suggestion 1.3 (lines 240-255)

Act I, Scene 7: Vaulting Ambition

  • He’s here in double trust 1.7 (lines 474-500)

Act II, Scene 1: The Dagger Speech

  • Is this a dagger which I see before me? 2.1 ( lines 612-643)

Act III, Scene 1: A Fruitless Crown

  • To be thus is nothing; but to be safely thus… 3.1 (lines 1056-1081)

Act IV, Scene 1: The Firstlings of My Heart

  • From this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand. 4.1 (lines 1724-1735)

Act V, Scene 1: May Way of Life is Fallen

  • That which should accompany old age…I must not look to have. 5.1 (lines 2272-2278)

Act V, Scene 5: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

  • Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow 5.5 (lines 2374-2385)

Why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs?

— Macbeth, Act I, Scene 3

Macbeth's First Soliloquy: Present Fears

In Macbeth’s first soliloquy, he is transfixed by fear.

The Soliloquy in Context

Macbeth and Banquo have just been visited by three witches, who offer the prophecy that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor, and then King of Scotland. The witches also predict that the sons of Banquo will become kings in future days.

As the two men walk away, they are almost immediately met with a messenger who tells them that Macbeth has been given the title and lands belonging to the Thane of Cawdor. This news at first makes Macbeth happy, then terrifies him.

Two truths are told,
As happy prologues to the swelling act
Of the imperial theme.
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 smother'd in surmise, and nothing is
But what is not.

--1.3 (240-255)

A Brief Analysis

In this soliloquy, Macbeth stands still and describes his fear in very dramatic terms. No one but the audience can hear him. During this soliloquy, Macbeth firs voices the thought of murdering King Duncan. The thought frightens him, but he is drawn into his own ambitious imaginings to the point where he loses touch with reality. He begins to be consumed by “what is not” –in other words, that which does not really exist.

What is a Soliloquy?

Let’s remember that a soliloquy is a very particular type of speech, different from a monologue and longer than an aside. A soliloquy is NOT the same thing as a monologue.

In a soliloquy, the other characters onstage do not hear the words spoken because the speech reveals a private expression or an internal struggle. Unlike a monologue, the content of a soliloquy is heard only by the audience and the individual character. Even if other characters are nearby onstage, they do not respond, and are not even aware of what is taking place. In a soliloquy, it is as thought all the action stops, and time stands still while the character reveals a deep inner struggle. A soliloquy, then, is directed mainly toward the self.

I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself

And falls on the other

— Macbeth, Act I, Scene 7

Macbeth's Second Soliloquy: Vaulting Ambition

In Macbeth's second soliloquy, he worries about the consequences of murder, and wonders if he really has the nerve to kill King Duncan.

The Soliloquy in Context

Macbeth stands in a hallway, just outside where King Duncan and his men are at dinner. Macbeth contemplates the idea of murdering King Duncan. He wrestles with his conscience. Macbeth knows that he should be protecting King Duncan, not planning to murder him.

Macbeth is also very aware that he does not truly desire to kill, but he does have a fierce amount of ambition. That ambition, he concludes, may have some deadly consequences.

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly: if the 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'ld jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips. 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. 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;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other.

--1.7 (474-500)

A Brief Analysis

The first several lines of the soliloquy are composed of Macbeth's desire to simply do the deed and get it over with-- assuming that the murder would be an end in itself. However, Macbeth well knows that there will be long-reaching consequences, and that committing murder is not a simple task.


E.H. Sothern as MacBeth, 1911
E.H. Sothern as MacBeth, 1911 | Source

Identification of Soliloquies in Macbeth

The soliloquies in Macbeth are often referred to by one key line or phrase that identifies the main idea or theme of the soliloquy. This line is sometimes the first line of the soliloquy, but sometimes it is a line that appears in the middle or near the end of the soliloquy.


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

Macbeth's Third Soliloquy: The Dagger Speech

In Macbeth's third soliloquy, he sees a vision of an imaginary dagger. The hallucination strengthens Macbeth's resolve to commit murder.

The Soliloquy in Context

Macbeth, alone, envisions a bloody dagger dangling in front of him. The hallucination is a product of his mind. There is a pause here, in the action of the play, while Macbeth speaks aloud his inner thoughts. This verbalization of inner thoughts is a key point for all soliloquies.

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,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the 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. Now o'er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings, and wither'd murder,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
[A bell rings]
I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

--2.1 (612-643)

A Brief Analysis

The dagger symbolizes Macbeth's deep inner, dark desire to commit murder. It is dripping with blood, demonstrating the violence Macbeth both fears and desires. In this scene, Macbeth worries over his decision, and finally resolves to take action. This demonstrate a turning point inthe development of his character.

Locating Soliloquies in Macbeth

Shakespearean speeches are identified by act, scene and line number. There is a regular system for identifying the act, scene, and line numbers for Shakespearean speeches. Typically, these are identified with numbers. For example, 1.3 means act one, scene three. 1.7 means act one, scene seven.

The act and scene numbers are followed by the line numbers, enclosed in parentheses. Act one, scene three, lines 240 to 255 would be represented as 1.3 (240-255). Act one, scene seven, lines 474 through 500 would be represented as 1.7 (474-500).

Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,

And put a barren sceptre in my gripe

— Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 1

Macbeth's Fourth Soliloquy: A Fruitless Crown

In Macbeth's fourth soliloquy, Macbeth is acutely aware of the fact that he has no children. He recalls the prediction of the witches that Banquo's sons will be kings.

The Soliloquy in Context

This is the point at which Macbeth decides to murder his own best friend. The witches have predicted that Banquo will be the father of many kings. Macbeth is distressed by this, because he knows that his own legacy will be barren. No children will inherit Macbeth's kingdom. Thus, he wears a fruitless crown.

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 fear'd: 'tis much he dares;
And, to that dauntless temper of his mind,
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour
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. He chid the sisters
When first they put the name of king upon me,
And bade them speak to him: then prophet-like
They hail'd him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench'd 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!

--3.1 (1056-1081)

A Brief Analysis

This soliloquy represents another turning point for the character of Macbeth. He admits that he has committed great acts of violence to become king. Now, he wonders if it all was worth it, if he will have no heirs. He is jealous of the fact that Banquo will be father to kings. Macbeth is also very worried that Banquo may become suspicious. In order to make sure that Banquo never reveals the truth of what Macbeth has done, Macbeth decides to kill his own best friend.

Edwin Forrest  As Macbeth, pre-1872
Edwin Forrest As Macbeth, pre-1872 | Source

Line Numbering for Macbeth Soliloquies

It may be also useful to note that in this analysis the line numbers begin with line 1 at the beginning of the play and continue to count upward until the end of the play. Therefore, some plays will have line numbers in the thousands. For example, the play Macbeth has 2,565 lines.

Some versions of Shakespeare’s plays will re-start line numbers at the beginning of each scene. This can lead to variations, depending upon the publisher and editor of each version. For ease of research this alternate line numbering is listed afterwards, italicized and in brackets.

From this moment,

The very firstlings of my heart shall be

The firstlings of my hand.

— Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1

Macbeth's Soliloquy: The Firstlings of My Heart

In Macbeth's fifth soliloquy, Macbeth entrenches himself even further in the bloody path that he has chosen. He swears never to hesitate again, no matter how intense the action may be that is required.

The Soliloquy in Context

Now, Macbeth decides that he will not hesitate on any action that he must take. This is quite different form his original crisis of conscience about killing King Duncan. In this speech, Macbeth directly states his intent to kill all the family of Lord Macduff.

Time, thou anticipatest my dread exploits:
The flighty purpose never is o'ertook
Unless the deed go with it; from this moment
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand. And even now,
To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done:
The castle of Macduff I will surprise;
Seize upon Fife; give to the edge o' the sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
That trace him in his line. No boasting like a fool;
This deed I'll do before this purpose cool.

--4.1 (1724-1734)

A Brief Analysis

The key point of this soliloquy is that it is very direct. Macbeth simply states that his first thoughts-- the firstlings of his heart-- will lead immediately to action without any hesitation. That is, they will also be the immediate actions of his hands.

This is not only a change in character, but also a change in the manner of speech he uses. We don't know if Shakespeare did this on purpose, but it is interesting to contemplate.

How is a Soliloquy Different from a Monologue?

A monologue is a longer speech that is delivered by a single character. However, unlike a soliloquy, the other characters onstage are able to hear and respond to a monologue. The characters may listen and react emotionally, or they may speak directly back after the speech is concluded. A monologue is directed toward other characters onstage.

And that which should accompany old age,

As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,

I must not look to have

— Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1

Macbeth's Soliloquy: Sick at Heart

In this soliloquy, Macbeth contemplates the deeper consequences of what he has done. He realizes that he will never have the real rewards of a well-lived life.

The Soliloquy in Context

This soliloquy comes as Macbeth faces the upcoming battle at his castle. His people have rebelled against him. Malcolm, the true king, is approaching. Macbeth is putting on his armor and preparing for war.

I am sick at heart,
When I behold—This push
Will cheer me ever, or disseat me now.
I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.

--5.1 (2272-2278)

A Brief Analysis

In this soliloquy, we see that Macbeth may now value things other than ambition. However, he feels it is too late for him to redeem himself. When he says "mouth-honor," he is talking about false words of praise that are given to him by his subjects. He knows that they do not respect or honor him. Macbeth realizes now, that he will not and cannot have the true rewards of friendship, respect, and genuine love. This is a moment of insight for him.

How is a Soliloquy Different from an Aside?

In an aside, time seems to stand still onstage as well, but for a much shorter time. An aside serves almost the same purpose as a soliloquy, but it is very short- only a couple of lines or so. Unlike a soliloquy, an aside is spoken directly to the audience for a single brief thought. An aside may shed some light on an interior struggle, but it does not go into detail. The aside is intended to help the audience see the intentions of a character, but not the complex thoughts or motivations. An aside is directed toward the audience.

So, these three dramatic elements have distinct differences.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time

— Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

Macbeth's Soliloquy: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

This is the most famous of all Macbeth's soliloquies. In it, Macbeth expresses a deep sense of gloom.

The Soliloquy in Context

This speech comes just after Macbeth learns that Lady Macbeth is dead. He speaks about the futility of all that he has done. Macbeth is grieving his wife.He is also sinking into a dark place of despair because of his former actions.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
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

--5.5 (2374-2385).

A Brief Analysis

The famous words "tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" exemplify effective use of repetition to enhance a theme. The rest of the speech is about how futile, repetitive, and hopeless life seems to Macbeth. Beginning with a hopeless type of repetition ony serves to underscore Macbeth's feeling of despair.


© 2018 Jule Romans

Comments

Submit a Comment

No comments yet.

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)