Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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52-3 ‘the sleeping, and the dead,/ Are but as pictures’ – The idea of death being the ‘picture’ or image of sleep, and vice versa, is common in both Shakespeare and other writers of the period, but, here, Lady Macbeth seems to mean that the sleeping chamberlains and the murdered Duncan are only to be thought of as visual images – ‘pictures’ – since they can do no harm. Duncan, although ‘painted’ with blood, only appears a horror; he can no more threaten or hurt than a ‘painted devil’ in a child’s picture book. Lady Macbeth had earlier considered the close relationship between death and sleep in lines 7-8. Macbeth’s weakness here seems to spur her to recover her own strength of purpose. He has a completely different attitude to such imagined ‘pictures’, which he regards as more disturbing than real horrors (cf. I.iii.137-8).

55-6 ‘I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal/ For it must seem their guilt.’ – Notice the grim pun.

56 ‘Whence is that knocking? –’ – Sound effects offstage have been a major part of the effectiveness of this scene. So far there has been Lady Macbeth’s bell and an owl hoot. Macduff’s doom-laden knocking is a masterful piece of drama: it comes so pat to the action that the effect is almost comic, and Shakespeare will shortly provide the audience with some much more obvious comic relief in the Porter’s speech.

58 ‘Ha! they pluck out mine eyes.’ – Cf. Mt 18:9: ‘And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.’

59-60 ‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand?’– Similar images are to be found in a number of classical tragedies: Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus , 1227; Seneca, Phaedra , 715-8; Seneca Hercules Furens , 1323-9.

60-2 ‘No, this my hand will rather/ The multitudinous seas incarnadine/ Making the green one red.’ – ‘multitudinous’ refers to the many seas found around the globe; ‘incarnadine’ is the first recorded use of the word as a verb. Etymologically, it means ‘make flesh-coloured or pink’, but Shakespeare clearly means ‘make blood-red’ here, perhaps by confusion or association with the word ‘carmine’. The manner in which Macbeth’s speech patterns sway from impetuously flowing polysyllables to the stark stresses of ‘the green one red’ adds to the impression of his unbalanced mental state.
63ff ‘My hands are of your colour…’ – Lady Macbeth’s crisp, brief statements contrast effectively with Macbeth’s more passionate and imaginative language.

67-8 ‘Your constancy/ Hath left you unattended’ – ‘Your firmness has deserted you.’

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William Shakespeare