The best key quotes in Macbeth

Studying Shakespeare is something everybody will do, whether it is for their GCSE’s, A-levels, or university degree. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, full of drama and Scottish history. To help you with your studies, here are the key quotes in Macbeth that you should learn.

For more help studying Macbeth, watch here, or take a look at these online study guides.

1. “Fair is foul and foul is fair”

Who: The Witches

When: Scene 1, Act 1

To understand it you must first remember that fair and foul can mean different things, including pretty and ugly or good and bad. This quote would then me good is bad and bad is good. This quote is used by the witches to show that not everything is as it appears, and appearances can be deceiving. This is important in regards to the relationship between Macbeth and Duncan, as Macbeth appeared as a loyal soldier, but he was actually planning to murder the king he had sworn to protect.

2. “Brave Macbeth – Well he deserves that name – Confronted him with brandished steel”

Who: Ross

When: Scene 2, Act 1

The purpose of this quote as well as the rest of this scene is to portray Macbeth as a very strong and loyal soldier, and a hero on the battlefield who fought bravely to protect his king. This is important, as by showing Macbeth to be so loyal to Duncan, it makes his downfall more obvious and shows the start of his multiple acts of evil. Brandished steel refers to Macbeth’s sword, which he used to fight the opposing army.

key quotes in Macbeth
Source: Slideshare

3. “Stars hide your fires; let not light see my dark and deep desires”

Who: Macbeth

Where: Scene 4, Act 1

It clearly identifies the contrast between light and dark, which represents good and evil. Macbeth says this quote after Duncan announced his son Malcolm as his heir to the kingdom. This announcement makes Macbeth both angry and jealous, but he hopes nobody will see his deep desires as he knows he will get into severe trouble if found out.

4. “Come you spirits, that tend on mortal thoughts. Unsex me here, and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty”

Who: Lady Macbeth

Where: Scene 5, Act 1

She is asking the spirits to strip her of all her feminine weakness and to instead fill her with masculinity, as she fears that her husband, Macbeth, is not strong enough to kill Duncan on his visit, and so she must be ready to kill him herself. Additionally, the prefix ‘Un’ as used in this quote, is frequently used by Shakespeare in Macbeth. This could be to represent how the protagonists are repeatedly trying to undo what has been done.

key quotes in Macbeth
Source: The Medium

5. “When thou durst do it, then you were a man”

Who: Lady Macbeth

Where: Scene 7, Act 1

She is basically trying to insult Macbeth, by telling him that he is no longer a man as he is doubting whether he should kill Duncan. Lady Macbeth feels that a real man would be able to kill the king and usurp the crown without questioning it, due to their desire for power. This is a desire that she clearly has, and this quote is also a good example of how she is able to manipulate Macbeth.

6. “I have no spur, to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other”

Who: Macbeth

Where: Scene 7, Act 1

This quote is an extended metaphor of how Macbeth’s ambition is like a wild horse. A spur is the back of a boot which makes the horse go faster when it taps them, as it pricks their sides. Vaulting ambition refers to Macbeth’s ambition, and how it is out of control as he becomes consumed by his greed of power. It shows that Macbeth feels his ambition is going to end up leaving him in an unknown and uncontrollable situation.

key quotes in Macbeth
Source: The British Library

7. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand”

Who: Macbeth

Where: Scene 2, Act 2

The key thing to remember in relation to this quote is that Shakespeare uses blood as a metaphor for guilt. Macbeth uses this quote to say that he is so guilty that he is covered in blood, which could also represent the blood of his victims. He feels that even if he washed his hands in the ocean they would not be clean, as because of the amount of blood on his hands he is more likely to make the ocean turn red.

8. “I am in blood, steeped in so far, that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er”

Who: Macbeth

Where: Scene 4, Act 3

Steeped is the key verb in this quote, as Macbeth feels that the blood has steeped into his body and into his soul, so will remain there forever. Yet this quote also shows that the decisions Macbeth has made have led him to this point, yet if he doesn’t continue to hold onto power it would have all been for nothing. The adjective tedious has many meanings, including tiresome, and boring, this is to show that his actions will be pointless if he stops now.

key quotes in Macbeth
Source: The Iron Room

9. “Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”

Who: Lady Macbeth

Where: Scene 1, Act 5

At this point in the play she deeply regrets her actions and feels remorse for what she has done. She feels that she will forever stink of blood, and no matter what she does that smell will never go away. Remembering that blood represents guilt, this shows that she feels she will remain guilty forever. The reference to Arabian perfumes shows not only her wealth as a queen but also her femininity. Suggesting that the spirits have restored her femininity and she no longer feels strong and masculine, but weak and emotional.

10. “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow”

Who: Lady Macbeth

Where: Scene 2, Act 5

This quote is said by Macbeth towards the end of the play when he discovers that his wife has killed herself. The exclamatory sentence suggests that he is frustrated and shocked at her death. He refers to her life as being a candle, for many reasons, but mainly to suggest that life is precious and delicate, and won’t last forever. The walking shadow however could refer to infinite and eternal darkness he feels is upon him due to the actions he committed.

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