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Macbeth's Soliloquy: To be thus is nothing (3.1.47-71)


Macbeth has killed Duncan and has become king of the Scots, yet he believes his crown is in jeopardy. The menace is Banquo. Like Macbeth, Banquo knows that there were two key parts to the unearthly revelation: first, that Macbeth will become king, and second, that Banquo will beget future kings. Macbeth fears Banquo is planning a coup to hasten the day of triumph for his heirs. Macbeth's mistrust of Banquo causes him to dwell on the Witches' prediction that he will have no successors of his own. Thinking that he has murdered Duncan to secure the throne for Banquo's offspring, Macbeth's unease grows to ferocious enmity as he vows to crush Fate's kingly plans for Banquo's children.

A comparison between the above soliloquy and Macbeth's previous soliloquies in 1.7 and 2.1 reveals a key change in his character. Macbeth is again contemplating murder, but what impels his deliberation this time is not guilt and shame but panic and rage. The murder of Duncan has made the murder of Banquo a necessity and, more importantly to Macbeth's character development, a facile task. Gone is any trace of the humanity under the vaulting ambition -- gone are the moments of reflection and regret that prompted "this Duncan/Hath borne his faculties so meek" (1.7.17) and that incited the shameful plea "Thou sure and firm-set earth, Hear not my steps" (2.1.56).

Macbeth forfeited his soul with the murder of Duncan. What is left now is the husk of a man who shows not a hint of compunction as he plans the murder of his noble friend. There is no remorse after the deed either. He was unable to say 'Amen' after Duncan's murder; now he effortlessly says "Thanks" to the hired assassins who slay Banquo, adding maliciously, "There the grown serpent lies" (3.4.38).

What makes Macbeth a tragic character and saves him from becoming a one-dimensional monster is that he is perpetually conscious of his evil choices. He is poignantly aware of the rapid deterioration of his humanity, as we will see in his final and pivotal soliloquy in Act 5.

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

For general commentary and line annotations for the whole scene, please click here.

Back to Soliloquy Annotations.

Questions for Review

1. How has Macbeth changed since his last soliloquy?

2. Macbeth fears Banquo is plotting against him when he says "'tis much he dares." Why is Macbeth so suspicious of Banquo? How has Banquo been behaving? See lines 17-20.

3. Has Macbeth misjudged Banquo? See lines 1-10.

4. How does this passage relate to 3.4.29-31, where Macbeth finds out Fleance is alive but seems unconcerned?

5. In Macbeth, the role and characterization of Banquo differs considerably from Shakespeare's primary source, Holinshed's Chronicles. Research Shakespeare's changes and discuss how they contribute to the play. More on this topic.

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Macbeth Commentary: To be thus is nothing (3.1). Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < >.

Suggested Reading
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. W. F. Langford. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966.


Even More

 Explanatory Notes for Lady Macbeth's Soliloquy (1.5)
 The Psychoanalysis of Lady Macbeth (Sleepwalking Scene)
 Is Lady Macbeth's Swoon Real?

 Explanatory Notes for the Witches' Chants (4.1)
 Macbeth Plot Summary (Acts 1 and 2)
 Macbeth Plot Summary (Acts 3, 4 and 5)
 How to Stage a Production of Macbeth (Scene Suggestions)

 A Comparison of Macbeth and Hamlet
 The Effect of Lady Macbeth's Death on Macbeth
 The Curse of Macbeth
 On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth

 Macbeth Q & A
 Essay Topics on Macbeth
 Aesthetic Examination Questions on Macbeth
 What is Tragic Irony?

 Stages of Plot Development in Macbeth
 Time Analysis of the Action in Macbeth
 Macbeth Study Quiz (with detailed answers)
 Quotations from Macbeth (Full)
 Top 10 Quotations from Macbeth

 Shakespeare's Workmanship: Crafting a Sympathetic Macbeth
 Origin of the Weird Sisters
 Temptation, Sin, Retribution: Lecture Notes on Macbeth
 Alchemy and Astrology in Shakespeare's Day

 Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers

 Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
 Life in Stratford (structures and guilds)
 Life in Stratford (trades, laws, furniture, hygiene)
 Stratford School Days: What Did Shakespeare Read?

 Games in Shakespeare's England [A-L]
 Games in Shakespeare's England [M-Z]
 An Elizabethan Christmas
 Clothing in Elizabethan England

 Queen Elizabeth: Shakespeare's Patron
 King James I of England: Shakespeare's Patron
 The Earl of Southampton: Shakespeare's Patron
 Going to a Play in Elizabethan London

 Ben Jonson and the Decline of the Drama
 Publishing in Elizabethan England
 Shakespeare's Audience
 Religion in Shakespeare's England

 Entertainment in Elizabethan England
 London's First Public Playhouse
 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time

Lionel Barrymore as Macbeth, 1921. NYPL DG.

More to Explore

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

 The Three Apparitions in Macbeth
 Supernatural Solicitings in Shakespeare
 Shakespeare on Omens

 Macbeth, Duncan and Shakespeare's Changes
 Contemporary References to King James I in Macbeth
 The Royal Patent that Changed Shakespeare's Life

 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)