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Macbeth's Soliloquy: If it were done when 'tis done... (1.7.1-29).


Macbeth's first soliloquy reaffirms that the Witches, by informing him that he will be "king hereafter" (1.3.50), have merely kindled his own innermost desire to obtain the throne. Their prediction may encourage Macbeth to act upon his secret thoughts, as does the prodding of Lady Macbeth, but it does not dictate Macbeth's course of action.

Macbeth makes a conscious choice to forsake morality and pursue his "Vaulting ambition" (28). This soliloquy exposes Macbeth's conflicting feelings about the murder. His first thoughts revolve around the consequences of committing the crime. In lines 1-12 his primary concern and reason for hesitation is the possibility that someone will exact that "even-handed Justice" (10) upon him. Once Macbeth usurps the throne there will be others who will plot to steal it from him.

Some critics seem to end their analysis at this point and conclude that Macbeth "wishes intensely the death of Duncan" (Langford xxxv) and that only his fear of potential ramifications is a deterrent. However, the second half of the soliloquy supports the fact that Macbeth is deeply troubled by the horror of killing Duncan, who is a benevolent ruler, honest man, and good friend. It is guilt and not fear of the consequences that is Macbeth's greatest obstacle.

For information on the metaphors in this soliloquy and in the play in general, please see my article, Biblical Imagery in Macbeth or Figures of Speech in Macbeth.

Back to Soliloquy Annotations

Questions for Review

1. What is Macbeth's motive for hesitation, as he discusses in lines 1-12?

2. Is his reason different in lines 12-25? How does he feel about King Duncan?

3. Lady Macbeth enters immediately after Mabeth's soliloquy to provoke him. To what extent do you think Lady Macbeth's presence influences Macbeth's decision to proceed with the murder?

4. Coleridge believed that Macbeth "mistranslates the recoilings and ominous reasonings, and, after the deed done, the terrors of remorse into fear from external dangers, like delirious men who run away from the phantoms of their own brains, or, raised by terror to rage, stab the real object that is within their reach." Do you agree that Macbeth mistakes remorse with insecurity? Does this help to explain the murders that follow?

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Macbeth Commentary: If it were done when 'tis done. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < >.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Seven Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton. London: Chapman and Hall, 1856.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. W. F. Langford. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966.


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'If I had three ears I'd hear thee.' Macbeth. From a Henry Irving production, 1897

Notes on Macbeth

"[Lady Macbeth] charges him with cowardice, — the bitterest possible charge for a soldier to endure from the woman he loves. She appeals to him to keep the vow he has sworn, and declares that she would have stopped at no crime if she had taken such an oath. Finally seeing that the chief, perhaps the only, cause that holds Macbeth back from the deed is a fear, not only of failure in the attempt, but of the consequences in case of its accomplishment, she points out a plan by which the murder may be safely committed and the consequences shifted upon the shoulders of others." Thomas Marc Parrott. More critical notes...


More to Explore

 Macbeth: The Complete Play with Annotations and Commentary
 The Metre of Macbeth: Blank Verse and Rhymed Lines
 Macbeth Character Introduction
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 Figures of Speech in Macbeth

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 Soliloquy Analysis: If it were done when 'tis done (1.7.1-29)
 Soliloquy Analysis: Is this a dagger (2.1.33-61)
 Soliloquy Analysis: To be thus is nothing (3.1.47-71)
 Soliloquy Analysis: She should have died hereafter (5.5.17-28)