Important Quotes in Macbeth and their Significance

Fair is foul, and foul is fair Speaker: WitchesScene: Act 1 Scene 1Significance: It is a motif that runs throughout the play. At the most basic level, it means that appearances can be deceiving: that which seems “fair” and good is actually “foul” and evil. The best example of this motif is Macbeth himself. At the beginning of the play, King Duncan believes Macbeth to be a loyal servant but Macbeth eventually betrays Duncan’s trust and murders him to steal the throne.
When the battle’s lost, and won Speaker: Second WitchScene: Act 1 Scene 1Significance: Obviously if one side wins the battle, the other side has to lose. The witch who says this seems to be completely indifferent to the lives of humans. She doesn’t care who wins and who loses. She also seems to be reflecting on the futility of human endeavors.
If chance will have me king, why chance may crown me without my stir Speaker: MacbethScene: Act 1 Scene 3Significance: He hopes that if destiny (“chance”) will have him to be king, then destiny will do the dirty work, and he won’t have to lift a finger. Chance may crown him without his stirring in his own service. But the subjunctive mood of “may” tells us that chance may take care of the business, but then again, Macbeth may still have to do it himself.
Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it. He died as one that had been studied in his death, to throw away the dearest thing he ow’d, as ’twere a careless trifle Speaker: MalcolmScene: Act 1 Scene 4Significance: Nothing that Cawdor had done in his life before was as good as how he acted in his death. Malcolm, a loyal subject of Duncan, does not approve of Cawdor’s traitorous acts; but Malcolm is impressed that Cawdor is not afraid of death, nor begs for mercy in a cowardly way. He appeared to have prepared himself, philosophically, for death. None of the predictable human fear of death are shown by Cawdor. Cawdor takes the fact of his execution manfully, without fear, or pleas for mercy, or attempts to escape. He gives up his life willingly. Cawdor gives up his most important possession — his life — as if it were nothing important at all. Cawdor’s courage in the face of death, and repentance for the betrayal that got him to his execution, impress Malcolm and Duncan greatly.
Yet do I fear thy nature, it is too full o’th’milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way Speaker: Lady MacbethScene: Act 1 Scene 5Significance: She knows him well and understands that he is not sufficiently ruthless to use treachery and violence to obtain what he wants. He is too soft-hearted, in her opinion. It is an apt metaphor for a woman because it suggests the feeling of a women breast-feeding a baby. It is also a veiled insult when applied to a man.
Look like th’innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t Speaker: Lady MacbethScene: Act 1 Scene 5Significance: She is trying to convince Macbeth to become a villain and murder King Duncan. She encourages him to play the fabulous, welcoming host to the King, so that no one will suspect his true intention — murder.
I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none Speaker: MacbethScene: Act 1 Scene 7Significance: Macbeth is saying that he isn’t afraid to do anything that’s suitable for a man to do, but if he went beyond what’s suitable (in this case, killing his King and friend) he would not be a man.
But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail Speaker: Lady MacbethScene: Act 1 Scene 7Significance: Macbeth still has cold feet; he and his wife have agreed to kill King Duncan of Scotland, but he can’t stop thinking of all the consequences the deed might not trammel up. Lady Macbeth’s meaning is obvious though her words are obscure: “tighten up your courage until it is fixed in the place necessary for the murder of Duncan.”
I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’other Speaker: MacbethScene: Act 1 Scene 7Significance: Macbeth is admitting to himself that he has no justification for committing the murder of King Duncan. He specifies the reasons he has for not killing him and then candidly acknowledges in an extended metaphor that his only reason for committing the treasonous deed is his own “vaulting ambition.” The metaphor, of course, refers to horses and horsemanship. This metaphor suggests an inexperienced and rather ridiculous rider who tries to vault onto a horse and vaults so vigorously that he goes right over the saddle and falls in a heap on the ground. As far as this relates to Macbeth’s ambition, he is foreseeing that it will be a serious mistake to murder Duncan because he has no excuse for doing so and because his misdeed will lead to his own ruin.
Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Speaker: MacbethScene: Act 2 Scene 1Significance: Lady Macbeth has persuaded her thane husband to commit regicide, but he’s still reticent to do it. He’s still a good man, albeit one who is considering throwing his life, his honor, his name, and his soul to the devil, all for the sake of the crown. He’s having his first “fit” at this point–seeing things that aren’t there. He realizes that his mind is playing tricks on him–that it isn’t all there, that something’s wrong with the plan, but he proceeds with it, anyway.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No: this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red Speaker: MacbethScene: Act 2 Scene 2Significance: water changing to red, as is from blood, is a sign of sin. Blood symbolizes the sin of murder, and water not being able to absolve this sin shows the magnificence of the sin, and the guilt that does with it. But in addition, with sin and guilt also comes fear of discovery. Especially the notion that, even if nobody finds out, the sin is crystal clear in the eyes of God. So the sea turning red shows how visible, how glaring the sin is in the eyes of God, which again feeds into how unforgivable it is.
There’s daggers in men’s smiles Speaker: DonaldbainScene: Act 2 Scene 3Significance: Donalbain recognizes that although everyone at Macbeth’s castle seems to be friendly toward them and their father, someone obviously was hiding a ‘dagger’ behind their ‘smile’ of friendship.
What’s done, is done Speaker: Lady MacbethScene: Act 3 Scene 2Significance: She intends her blandishments to calm her husband, who’s having more trouble than she forgetting that he murdered King Duncan. She means by “what’s done, is done” exactly what we mean by it today—”there’s no changing the past, so forget about it.” Neither then nor now is the psychology of this advice very sophisticated, but the Lady isn’t trying to be profound. She’s merely trying to treat Macbeth’s guilty hallucinations with the blandest possible palliative.
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes Speaker: Second WitchScene: Act 4 Scene 1Significance: The first time around, they came looking for him, to deliver the enticing prophecy that set off the whole chain of events which has included Macbeth’s regicide and subsequent bloody events. Now, Macbeth comes looking for them, and the witches summon apparitions to tell Macbeth exactly what he wants to hear: that he’s invulnerable. This news is purposely ambiguous; it is calculated only to make Macbeth act more wickedly before he is finally finished off.
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble Speaker: WitchesScene: Act 4 Scene 1Significance: The witches are trying, with their spells, to pile up toil and trouble until they “double”—yielding twice the toil and double the trouble for Macbeth, presumably.
Out, damned spot! out, I say! Speaker: Lady MacbethScene: Act 5 Scene 1Significance: One motif of Macbeth is how tough it is to wash, scrub, or soak out nasty bloodstains. Macbeth had said that even the ocean couldn’t wash his hands clean of Duncan’s blood; Lady Macbeth, who scorned him then, now finds the blood dyed into her conscience. The king and queen persist in imagining that physical actions can root out psychological demons, but the play is an exposition of how wrong they are.
All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand Speaker: Lady MacbethScene: Act 5 Scene 1Significance: Having told Macbeth “a little water clears us of this deed”, it is clear that, despite her attempts, she cannot “wash” away her guilt. Lady Macbeth thought she had prepared herself sufficiently by “unsexing” herself but, even she, had no idea that Macbeth would go to such lengths to satisfy his ambition. Lady Macbeth knows that she is partially responsible for Macbeth’s actions and “the smell of blood” still lingers as she is as guilty as he is.
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 Speaker: MacbethScene: Act 5 Scene 5Significance: After hearing that his wife has died, Macbeth takes stock of his own indifference to the event. Death—our return to dust—seems to him merely the last act of a very bad play, an idiot’s tale full of bombast and melodrama (“sound and fury”), but without meaning (“signifying nothing”). Murdering King Duncan and seizing his throne in retrospect seem like scenes of a script Macbeth was never suited to play.