Title:
"If ÔTwere Done": The First Soliloquy as the Key to
the Plot of Macbeth
Author: "Sylvester the Cat"
Word Count:1 545 words
        Following king DuncanÕs arrival at Inverness,
Macbeth delivers his first major soliloquy. This speech
summarizes his reasons for not wanting to commit murder. It is
also an image of the plot of Macbeth, as it foreshadows the
chain of events that is to follow the murder of Duncan. Although
Macbeth knows that he cannot "trammel up the consequence"
of DuncanÕs murder and that his actions will have repercussions,
he commits the murder and continues to kill; thus is Macbeth
shown to be a weak character who can be easily convinced to
perform terrible deeds. Although this is not apparent before the
predictions, the moments following them and his homecoming
demonstrate MacbethÕs own vulnerability. The important speech
that he delivers summarizes the results of DuncanÕs murder, and
the multitude of murders following this all follow suit. MacbethÕs
eventual deterioration is inevitable.
        Near the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed
as a brave soldier and a noble officer in the kingÕs army. He
successfully leads the attack upon the invading forces of
Macdonwald, the Thane of Cawdor, and Sweno, king of
Norway. He is killing upon the order of another, in this case, the
king: "[Macbeth] Like valourÕs minion carvÕd out his passage/Till
he facÕd the slave" (I.ii.19-20). Macbeth here appears as a
powerful warlord who, although at times seems bloodthirsty, is
effective in destroying the foe. Before his meeting with the
witches, we have a rather clean view of him; he is a "good"
man.
        When Macbeth and Banquo stumble onto the barren
plateau where the witches live, they are both about to have their
lives changed forever. When the witches deliver their
prophecies, Macbeth and Banquo have significantly different
reactions:
        Macbeth. 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?
(I.iii.130-137a)
        Banquo.                 That, trusted home,
        Might yet enkindle you unto the crown,
        Besides the Thane of Cawdor. But Ôtis strange:
        And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
        The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
        Win us with honest trifles, to betrayÕs
        In deepest consequence.
(I.iii.120b-126)
Macbeth allows himself to be overridden by this "horrid image"
of him murdering Duncan. If he were to have a stronger
character, as does Banquo, he would be able to recognize the
witches as "instruments of darkness" that are merely tempting
him. As it is, he plays their game and follows their plan to the
letter, proof of his moral flaw.
        Macbeth says in scene three that he does not need to
do anything to make himself king: "If chance will have me king,
why, chance may crown me,/Without my stir" (I.iii.143-144a). He
convinces himself that murdering the king is irrational and
against natural law. Therefore, he plans to let the crown fall
upon his head of its own accord. Macbeth, however, being
morally weak, cannot resist the temptation. When he returns
home to his wife, she takes the opportunity to "pour [her] spirits
in [his] ear." She convinces him to commit the murder of
Duncan.
        In act one, scene six, Duncan arrives at MacbethÕs
castle, and praises its seemingly heavenly appearance: "This
castle hath a pleasant seat; the air/Nimbly and sweetly
recommends itself/Unto our general senses." (I.vi.1-3a). He is
unaware, however, of the great decisions concerning his fate
that are being made inside the walls of this hellish sanctuary.
Macbeth sits alone in his room and considers the consequences
of DuncanÕs murder. This is MacbethÕs most important and
longest soliloquy:
        If it were done when Ôtis done, then Ôtwere well
        It were done quickly; if the assassination
        Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
        With his surcease success; that but this blow
        Might be the be-all and the end-all. Here,
        But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
        WeÕd jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
        To plague the inventor; this even-handed justice
        Commends the ingredients of our poisonÕd chalice
To our own lips. HeÕs here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels trumpet-tonguÕd against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heavenÕs cherubin, horsÕd
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which oÕer-leaps itself
And falls on the other.-
(I.vii.1-28a)
Macbeth acknowledges the immorality of the act he has
planned to perform. He fantasizes about an imaginary situation
where the killing has no other consequences other than the
death of the king, and that the afterlife can be skipped over. He
knows very well, however, that to everything there is a result,
and that he cannot "trammel up the consequence" of this
regicide any more than he can "jump the life to come." He then
explains that his example of killing the king could be passed on
and return to "plague" him. Then, there are the practical
reasons: Duncan is a good king full of virtue. Come the
judgment day, his pleading for access into heaven would
completely drown out MacbethÕs miserable supplications. Also,
the people of Scotland would feel a great deal of pity for their
deceased king, to the extent that their tears would "drown the
wind." Macbeth can convince himself of anything, but, as soon
as an outside force intervenes, he can be easily manipulated. In
the second half of this scene, Lady Macbeth enters the room
and convinces him once again to murder Duncan. In a mere
half-scene, Macbeth allows his opinion to be turned around
one-hundred-and-eighty degrees. He shows an incredible
amount of moral weakness following his first soliloquy.
        Throughout the remainder of the play, MacbethÕs
actions are not instigated by others, but he acts upon his own
will. His murders follow each other and each is related to the
last. He murders Banquo to evade destinyÕs prediction that he
will be the seed for a line of kings. He murders MaduffÕs family so
that the first of the second set of predictions cannot come true.
He is living through the horrid consequences that he knew he
would have to endure. Macbeth predicts the outcome of his
own tragic life in the first act. He says that in killing the king he
would give a bad example and run the risk of being the victim of
his own "bloody instructions." The people of Scotland are
grief-stricken when Duncan is killed, which Macbeth predicts in
his initial speech. No doubt, Macbeth stands no chance at
getting into heaven, because DuncanÕs pleas will muffle his
own.
        MacbethÕs long soliloquy in act one is a key to plot of
Macbeth. Macbeth is aware of the probable results of his
committing murder, but allows himself to be manipulated. While
he can figure and rationalize alone, outside influences such as
Lady Macbeth and the witches change his actions and skew his
thoughts. This weakness of character was particularly
unacceptable in MacbethÕs time, when men were meant to be
full of both mental and physical fortitude. Macbeth was a great
man, but his tragic fault was his undoing, for a man of his power
could not survive in those times without much more moral
strength than he had.
Bibliography
Primary Source:
   Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Coles Total Study Edition.
Toronto: Coles, 1992.
Secondary Sources:
   1. Coles Editorial Board. "Marginal Notes to Macbeth,"
Macbeth. Total Study Edition.
            Toronto: Coles, 1992.
   2. Coles Editorial Board. Macbeth Notes. Toronto: Coles,
1992.
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