Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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For all his boastfulness when the Ghost finally exits – ‘Why so; – being gone,/ I am a man again’ (106-7) – Banquo’s appearance deeply affects his already disturbed imagination:

the time has been,
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now, they rise again,
With twenty mortal murthers on their crowns,
And push us from our stools. (III.iv.77-82)

The strange, almost farcical tone of ‘push us from our stools’ is a good measure of Macbeth’s nightmare-haunted and unstable mind at this point in the play. He will later allude to all his murdered enemies rising up to accuse him: ‘Rebellious dead, rise never, till the wood/ Of Birnam rise’ (IV.i.97-8). His world is now a terrifying place of such imagined horrors, and he knows no way out, other than to press forward into the deepest and darkest regions of hell in the hope that his dreadful path might lead him to a place where he can know peace again. At the end of this scene, therefore, he tells his wife that he will actively seek out the ‘Weird Sisters’ and learn what he can of them – ‘By the worst means, the worst’ (III.iv.134) – and he also confirms that he will continue on the way of ‘blood’ he has already chosen:

I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er. ( Ibid ., 135-7)

This is another of the play’s most memorable, and revealing, images. Macbeth will now out-face every horror, commit every hellish deed, until finally there is nothing left to disturb him or to terrify him. His intention is confirmed at the end of the scene by his grim words to his wife: ‘We are yet but young in deed’ ( Ibid ., 143).

Ironically, such a programme involves the final suppression of his reason, drowning it altogether in an entirely instinctive and impulsive state of mind. The tendency that brought about Macbeth’s downfall in the first place now becomes something he actively fosters and strives towards:

Strange things I have in head, that will to hand,
Which must be acted, ere they may be scann’d. (III.iv.138-9)

The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand. (IV.i.147-8)

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William Shakespeare