More Thoughts on Macbeth

“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 smothered in surmise, and nothing is but what is not.” Here Macbeth is lost in a cloud. He doesn’t know whether to be happy or horrified by the thought of taking Duncan’s place. He rationalizes that because he has been promised King, with “two truths told”—Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor, that the prophesies are not associated with evil—“This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill.” But even the fact that these “women” tell truths, hence associating them with goodness, doesn’t prevent Macbeth’s mind from conceiving that the fulfillment of this “imperial theme” will entail murder—or conversely: evil. The virtuous quality of honesty and the vile crime of murder commingled makes Macbeth’s head spin, and he lets us know: “nothing is but what is not.” Anything whether good or bad engenders its opposite natural response. Becoming king conjures “horrible imaginings” instead of joyful anticipation and death becomes preferred to life as it is composed of “restless ecstasy.”

Macbeth’s line of “so foul and fair a day I have not seen” becomes a distant memory when his situation gets more foul and less fair with every passing moment.


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