‘Is this a dagger which i see before me, / The handle toward mine hand?’ So starts one of the most well known soliloquies in Shakespeare’s Macbeth – indeed, probably in every one of Shakespeare. Prior to we offer an analysis of this scene – and also summarise the meaning of the soliloquy – below is a reminder the the famed speech. (If you would certainly like summary of the whole of Macbeth, we have analysed the pat here.)


Is this a dagger which ns see prior to me,The handle toward my hand? Come, permit me clutch thee.I have thee not, and also yet I watch thee still.Art she not, deadly vision, sensibleTo feeling regarding sight? or art thou butA dagger that the mind, a false creation,Proceeding indigenous the heat-oppressed brain?I watch thee yet, in form as palpableAs this which now I draw.Thou marshall’st me the way that ns was going;And together an instrument i was come use.Mine eyes room made the fools o’ the other senses,Or rather worth all the rest; I view thee still,And on your blade and dudgeon gouts the blood,Which was no so before. Yes sir no such thing:It is the bloody organization which informsThus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one halfworldNature seems dead, and also wicked desires abuseThe curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebratesPale Hecate’s offerings, and also wither’d murder,Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his designMoves like a ghost. Thou sure and also firm-set earth,Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fearThy an extremely stones prate of my whereabout,And take the existing horror indigenous the time,Which now suits v it. Whiles i threat, he lives:Words to the warm of deeds also cold breath gives.

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<a bell rings>I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.Hear the not, Duncan; because that it is a knellThat summons thee to sky or to hell.

Note: the soliloquy start ‘Is this a dagger which ns see prior to me’ appears in action II step 1 the Shakespeare’s Macbeth.


‘Is this a dagger which ns see prior to me’ is regularly staged, and filmed, with the dagger suspended in mid-air. But this renders the include boundary between the real and the hallucinatory too clear-cut: as plenty of critics have actually pointed out, the suggest is that Macbeth believes the the dagger is real at first, quite than understanding it to be an illusion from the outset. Because that this reason, probably we’re much better off picturing a dagger resting on a nearby table, lied flat; this likewise makes it simpler to understand just how the ‘handle’ that the dagger is ‘towards’ Macbeth’s hand, as if inviting the to pick it up.

After Macbeth has ‘seen’ the dagger before him, the take care of towards his hand, that then begins to doubt himself.


I have actually thee not, and also yet I view thee still.

This line shows that Shakespeare plan the actor play Macbeth to attempt to pick up the dagger, just to uncover that it’s made of air. There’s an implied phase direction here for Macbeth to reach to take the dagger, only to uncover there’s no dagger there.


Art she not, fatal vision, sensibleTo feeling as to sight? or arts thou butA dagger of the mind, a false creation,Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

In various other words, if this is a ‘fatal vision’ or hallucination, it appears to it is in one that is assailing his feeling of sight only. In other words, ‘sensible’ here method pertaining come the senses, quite than the modern meaning of the word. Macbeth is a play obsessed with touch and the tangible, through what deserve to be grasped and touched: the is a play complete of hands, a many hand-y play.


But here, we space seeing the first of many hallucinatory (or space they merely hallucinatory, or probably supernatural?) experience Macbeth will have. The question is even if it is this dagger is a an outcome of his ‘heat-oppressed’ (the 2nd word should be express with 3 syllables, because that the metre the the line) or fevered brain.

I check out thee yet, in kind as palpableAs this which now I draw.


Another item of implied phase direction: the actor playing Macbeth goes come his belt (or similar) to attract a real dagger he has actually in his possession (the one he will usage to murder Duncan shortly after this scene).

Thou marshall’st me the method that i was going;


More implied phase direction – the dagger seems to suggest in the direction of the room wherein Duncan lies asleep. However which dagger? still the imagine one, presumably. Though this isn’t certain: the could be that Shakespeare is now referring come the genuine dagger the Macbeth has actually just drawn, and also which audiences in the theatre have the right to see through their own eyes. The really soliloquy seems to blur the boundaries between real and imaginary, together if us ourselves space meant to lose track of the real dagger and the imagined one.

And together an instrument i was to use.Mine eyes space made the fools o’ the various other senses,Or rather worth every the rest;


In various other words, one of two people his vision is in conflict with every his other senses (such as touch), or else his eyes space worth much more than the remainder of his other senses placed together, and he must trust what the sees. Indeed:

I view thee still,And on your blade and dudgeon gouts that blood,Which was no so before. Yes sir no such thing:It is the bloody service which informsThus come mine eyes.


As so frequently with a Shakespeare soliloquy, here we discover Macbeth arguing with himself, an altering his mental mid-line. The detail of the dagger intensifies: he currently sees (or think he have the right to see) drops of blood ~ above the blade and also ‘dudgeon’ (the handle of the dagger). Yet he immediately says over there isn’t any type of blood on the dagger (whether or not a dagger is there, he appears to recognize the blood is imagined), and merely a result of his thoughts gift so turned towards bloody deeds (i.e. The planned killing of Duncan).

Now o’er the one halfworldNature appears dead, and wicked desires abuseThe curtain’d sleep;

It’s night time, and across the totality northern hemisphere or ‘half-world’, things seem come have concerned a halt. Desires of witchcraft and also evil disrupt Macbeth’s sleep: he’s up and about, but the boundary in between dreaming and also waking seems to have been disturbed.

witchcraft celebratesPale Hecate’s offerings, and also wither’d murder,Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,Whose howl’s his watch, for this reason with his stealthy pace,With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, in the direction of his designMoves favor a ghost.

Hecate, the goddess the witchcraft in classical mythology, performs ‘offerings’ or rituals – we’re back to Macbeth’s encounter v the 3 Witches or weird Sisters. The word ‘murder’ have to perhaps be capitalised (it is in some editions) to do it clear the Macbeth is personifying it together Murder: Murder has been roused wake up by his watchdog, the wolf, and like Tarquin – the man who raped Lucrece in a story Shakespeare had previously written around in his narrative city The Rape that Lucrece, hence ‘ravishing’ – moves in the direction of his prey, silently and stealthily choose a ghost.

Thou sure and firm-set earth,Hear no my steps, which way they walk, for fearThy very stones prate of my whereabout,And take the existing horror from the time,Which now suits through it.

Macbeth calls top top the planet to render his steps similarly silent, so the nobody will be alerted come his plans as he beginning Duncan’s chamber and also murders him. It’s become clear by this suggest that the dagger showing up to him has actually made Macbeth’s mind up: he plans to go with with the deed.

The expression ‘take the existing horror native the time’ is a tiny more complicated to interpret: the many likely an interpretation is that Macbeth thinks the if he moves silently the will eliminate the horror from this moment, because the sound that his footsteps will certainly fill that with are afraid over what that is going to do. As things stand, though, horror and this moment are perfectly ‘suited’ or matched, i.e. ‘Which now suits with it.’

Whiles ns threat, the lives:Words to the warmth of deeds also cold breath gives.

Although the ungrammatical (it was typical in Shakespeare’s time to have actually a plural paired with a singular verb, so ‘Words … gives’), the second line method that that no great talking around all this: he simply needs to go ahead and commit the deed itself. The deed is ‘hot’ yet his words are ‘cold’, i.e. The much more he talks around doing it, the weaker (or cooler) his resolve grows.

<a bell rings>I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.Hear the not, Duncan; because that it is a knellThat summons thee to sky or come hell.

Macbeth currently takes the sound that the bell together a sign that he have to go and also kill Duncan. And this is where the step ends, a scene the had begun with the unsettling vision that a dagger the wasn’t yes, really there. Macbeth will following murder Duncan, one act the will cause him to ‘see’ much more visions, ghosts, and hallucinations later in the play. Macbeth is, of every one of Shakespeare’s plays, perhaps the many attuned to the miscellaneous senses: sight, sound, and touch space all vividly feeling here. However the most an effective sense of every is the imaginary sense of something gift there once it isn’t.

About Macbeth

Macbeth is among Shakespeare’s most famed tragic heroes, no least due to the fact that he to represent the guy Who has actually It every (seemingly) and yet throws that away because of his ‘vaulting ambition’ to have even More: to be king. A brave and effective soldier that is bonus by the King, Duncan, for quelling a rebellion versus his king, Macbeth decides to kill this exact same king, if Duncan is a guest under Macbeth’s very own roof, simply so Macbeth can seize the crown for himself.

What’s more, the embarks on this course of activity largely due to the fact that he is tempted to do so through the 3 Witches (who prophesy the he will certainly be King) and by a woman closer come home, his ruthlessly ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, who taunts his courage and his manhood (as that were) once Macbeth seems reluctant to go with with the deed.

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Every deed Macbeth commits after ~ the an initial one is justified by Macbeth’s desire to make his position ‘safely thus’, as he puts it in his soliloquy in III.1. The justifies having Banquo murdered and also attempting to kill Fleance since Banquo, too, has been offered a prophecy indigenous the three Witches, and seeing Macbeth’s prophecy come true, he to know his friend will execute his ideal to certain Fleance and his descendants finish up top top the throne. As Macbeth puts the in III.2, ‘Things negative begun make strong themselves by ill.’

The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and also lecturer in English in ~ Loughborough University. He is the author of, among others, The an enig Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey through Curiosities of History

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 and The great War, The rubbish Land and the Modernist long Poem.