Looking for the most important quotations in Macbeth by William Shakespeare? No matter which level you’re studying Macbeth at, you’ll need to get some key quotes stuck in your head for achieving top grades in essays and exams!
This course is particularly tailored towards those studying Macbeth at GCSE (high school), and A-Level (college) on exam boards such as AQA, OCR, Edexcel, WJEC / Eduqas, CIE / Cambridge, and CCEA, but it’s suitable for all students at any level.
Thanks for reading! If you find this resource useful, you can take a look at our full online Macbeth course here. Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!
This course includes:
- A full set of video lessons on each key element of the text: summary, themes, setting, characters, context, attitudes, analysis of key quotes, essay questions, essay examples
- Downloadable documents for each video lesson
- A range of example B-A* / L7-L9 grade essays, both at GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-Level (age 16+) with teacher comments and mark scheme feedback
- A bonus Macbeth workbook designed to guide you through each scene of the play!
For more help with Macbeth and Tragedy, read our article here.
This page takes you through some of the most memorable and useful quotations on a range of different characters and themes — it also gives you a few techniques per quotation that you can use to analyze the quotes deeper in essays.
Macbeth by Shakespeare: Key Quotes
“Fair is foul and foul is fair:” 1.1 Witches, chiasmus, fricative alliteration, antithesis, trochaic tetrameter (falling rhythm) – fair — ‘Jacobean’ meaning is beautiful, blonde/fair-haired, honest / just — beauty is ugly/horrible, and that ugliness is beautiful; things that are just are wrong and things that seem wrong are right.
“So foul and fair a day I have not seen” Macbeth’s first line in 1.3.
“most disloyal traitor, The thane of Cawdor” 1.2 Ross to King Duncan before Macbeth is made Thane of Cawdor.
‘Unseam’d him from the nave to’th’chops, and fixed his head upon the battlements’ 1.2 – asks us to question Macbeth’s nature.
‘brave Macbeth — well he deserves that name’ / “O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman” 1.2 Captain describes Macbeth; Duncan to Macbeth.
“Thou shalt get Kings, though thou be none” 1.3 Banquo’s prophecy.
“The instruments of darkness” 1.3 Banquo, about witches — metaphor, suggesting that darkness works through them.
“You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so” 1.3 Banquo to witches – actors were all men in Jacobean era, arguably this is a source of humor which amplifies the later tragedy, relates to the theme of gender, similarly to ‘unsex me here’ 1.5 Lady Macbeth (monosyllabic lexis — single-syllable words that create a heavy, intense feeling and stand out from the rest of the character’s complex, rhetorical language) at the time it would have been seen as uncanny and frightening for a woman to want to neutralize her gender.
“Why do you start, and seem to fear things that do sound so fair?” 1.3 Banquo to Macbeth, assonance of ‘fear’ / ‘fair’.
‘One cried ‘God bless us!’ and ‘Amen’ the other; ‘ ‘I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’ stuck in my throat’ – 2.2 Macbeth — Abandonment of God, a suggestion that evil has taken over the castle, that Macbeth’s actions have led God away from him (setting — very little light, dark gloomy castle, light representing clearness/God).
“Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t” (Fair is foul) 1.5 Lady Macbeth to Macbeth — antithesis, biblical allusion to Garden of Eden, sin and temptation.
“I fear thy nature;/ is too full o’th’milk of human kindness/To catch the nearest way” 1.5 Lady Macbeth to Macbeth (caesura / enjambment) Relates to gender roles, shows LM to portray Macbeth as effeminate, ‘milk’ is a nurturing force, perhaps relates also to the fact that LM and M cannot have children, Macbeth wears a ‘fruitless crown’ as he bears no heirs.
‘This castle hath a pleasant seat’ 1.6 Duncan, entering Inverness (situational irony, shows his good nature, comic element in the tragedy as he comments on the ‘pleasant’ atmosphere of the dark castle where he is about to meet his doom).
‘Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself’ – 1.7 Macbeth soliloquy exploring his motivations for murder — his fatal flaw is ‘ambition’, personification.
“I dare do all that may become a man; /Who dares do more, is none” (Macbeth 1.7, hubris / tragic downfall — suggesting men should not try to gain more power and become more than themselves).
‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’ 2.1 Macbeth’s soliloquy, supernatural vision (or alternatively madness), violence — foreshadowing Duncan’s death, madness, manipulation by witches, rhetorical question — asking no one — is he being tricked by the witches, or is his own mind descending into madness?
‘I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal’ Lady Macbeth, covering guards in blood 2.2
‘There’s daggers in men’s smiles’ 2.3, Donaldbain to Malcolm.
‘Fruitless crown……barren scepter‘ 3.1 (Macbeth Soliloquy) — ‘Fruitless’, implies no legacy that will carry on, earth is ‘barren’, emptiness, lack of ability to grow, suggests worthlessness — link to Banquo ‘shalt get kings though thou be none’, semantic field of royalty juxtaposed with a semantic field of death/ inability to grow — the character in a soliloquy is onstage by themselves, and they voice their thoughts and feelings aloud to the audience, but the other characters can’t hear — this allows the audience insight into the situation, and it creates dramatic irony — we have an extra depth of understanding into the psychology of Macbeth’s character, but the other characters don’t know his thoughts and feelings.
‘I fear thou playd’st most foully for’t’ 3.1 — Banquo doubts Macbeth in a soliloquy — true feelings.
‘I am in blood/Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,’ Macbeth 3.4
‘Strange things I have in head that will to hand‘ 3.4, Macbeth to himself, madness.
“[The GHOST OF BANQUO enters, and sits in MACBETH’s place]” 3.4 frightening, shocking to Macbeth but perhaps satisfying to the audience who see he’s getting his comeuppance — foreshadowing (proleptic irony), suggesting part of Banquo will continue the throne/lineage, Macbeth’s evil reign is only temporary and good will triumph over evil in the end.
“(Aside to Macbeth) Are you a man?” 3.4 Macbeth is in a manic state after seeing the ghost of Banquo and is showing himself to be weak to the rest of the people, Lady Macbeth challenges his masculinity in order to get him back in check. Doesn’t work since he is so shaken. Dramatic irony, the audience knows something that the characters do not, we can see the ghost but everyone but Macbeth doesn’t.
Give to the edge of the sword his wife his babes 4.1, Macbeth soliloquy regarding Macduff’s family, brutal, cold murderous thoughts.
Who’d have thought the old man to have so much blood in him, Lady Macbeth during Sleepwalk 5.1
Out, damned spot, Lady Macbeth during sleep walking 5.1
I have almost forgot the taste of fears 5.5, Macbeth to himself, just before his death and just after hearing that Lady Macbeth has committed suicide by jumping to her death — possible link to an earlier quotation of ‘fear’ / ‘fair’, a cold reaction to LM’s death given how close the couple was at the beginning of the play and how much he respected and listened (wrongfully) to her).
‘Life is but a walking shadow… a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ 5.5, Macbeth before death — shows his full tragic fall, descent into nihilism, absolute abandonment of hopes, dreams, spirituality, happiness, power.
‘A walking shadow’ – Metaphor, life is temporary, death is permanent.
‘Signifying nothing’ – shows the attitude of nihilism, life is pointless, it has no meaning.
‘Sound and fury’ – shouting, anger and rage.