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Let’s Explore: Macbeth’s soliloquies

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When we are exploring Macbeth‘s character, it is revealing to look at his soliloquies / monologues. Most of these occur in the first half of the play, though perhaps his most famous monologue occurs very close to the end of the play in Act Five Scene Five. This is in a very different style to the earlier soliloquies. Let’s start with the early solilquies.

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Before we start, it’s worth noting that, when you click on any of the links below, this article will be replaced by the requested text. To get back to this article, press the back button!

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In this scene, in which Macbeth, with Banquo, meets the witches for the first time, Macbeth has a speech, barely a soliloquy – three others are present at the scene  – though Macbeth speaks this speech to himself. The speech begins “Two truths are told”,  and is towards the end of the scene. The soliloquy starts two lines further down, starting ‘This supernatural soliciting’. Read it out loud.
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Perhaps I have been over-influenced by Bradley, a famous Shakespeare scholar (Shakespeare in Tragedy), taught to us at school, but this speech seems to me to move from rational thought to horrid imaginings, and this seems to be repeated in other soliloquies.

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Here we have an undoubted soliloquy. Macbeth enters on stage, and starts to think through what he thinks about murdering Duncan. Read Macbeth‘s first speech in the scene out loud, by clicking on the link above.

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The speech starts with  rational, complex, thoughtful sentences.  But once he gets to the murder of Duncan, the thoughts become emotional and imaginative: ‘his Virtues / Will plead like Angels, Trumpet-tongued,’; …  ‘Pity, like a naked  New-borne-Babe, /Striding the blast’; …  ‘Heaven’s Cherubim, horsed /Upon the sightless Couriers of the Air,’.

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His emotional state persuades him not to murder Duncan, but perhaps because it’s based on emotion, rather than reason, Lady Macbeth finds it easy to change his mind.

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Of course, this scene is one of the most dramatic in the whole play, and should also be read as a complete scene between Macbeth and his wife. You’ll find it in the Let’s Play Section, under Macbeth shall sleep no more (A2S2, 2 players).

But at the very end of the scene, after Lady Macbeth has exited, there’s a very short soliloquy, which starts: ‘How is’t with me, when every noise appals me?’.    You can get to the text by clicking on the link above, and scrolling down to Macbeth‘s last speech which begins “Whence is that knocking?”. Here it seems clear that Macbeth‘s imagination has got the better of him. The hands which showed him a dagger, now pluck out his eyes. His hands, red with blood, will dye the ocean red. But, unlike Lady Macbeth, he can wash them clean.

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Of course this thought that Macbeth‘s imagination sometimes runs riot, is strengthened, or even confirmed, by the famous dagger speech at the end of A2S1. Read it yourself (out loud)to see that, by clicking on the link in the title above, and scrolling down to the speech which starts: “Go, bid thy mistress…”

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Now let’s compare and contrast these early speeches with  Macbeth‘s most famous monologue:

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This is the third of Macbeth‘s speeches in the scene. He has just learnt that his wife is dead.  He begins to fear that the witches’ reassurance in Act 4 Scene 1 are no more than tricks.  Where is his imagination in this speech? Gone? Is there anything in it other than despair? Read it (out loud) to come to your own view, or you can see and hear my reading of it, below:

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Let’s play!

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

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