What is done is done Macbeth

A Short Analysis of Macbeths If it were done when tis done Soliloquyinterestingliterature3 years agoIf it were done when tis done, then twere well / It were done quickly: so begins

What is done is done Macbeth

A Short Analysis of Macbeths If it were done when tis done Soliloquyinterestingliterature3 years ago

If it were done when tis done, then twere well / It were done quickly: so begins one of the most famous and revealing soliloquies in William Shakespeares Macbeth. The words, spoken by Macbeth himself as he considers whether he can go through with the murder of Duncan, appear in act I scene VII of Macbeth and see Macbeth, in a room in his castle, meditating on whether to go through with his (and his wifes) plan to murder Duncan, the king, and seize the throne of Scotland for himself. A number of features of the language and imagery require unpicking and analysis, but first, heres a reminder of Macbeths words:

If it were done when tis done, then twere 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,
Wed 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 th ingredience of our poisond chalice
To our own lips. Hes 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-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heavens cherubim, horsed
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 oerleaps itself
And falls on th other.

So, heres a breakdown or analysis of the meaning of Macbeths If it were done when tis done soliloquy, piece by piece:

If it were done when tis done, then twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
With his surcease, success;

Macbeth begins his soliloquy by saying that if the act of killing Duncan would truly be the end of it, and there would be no consequences, it is better to get it over and done with as quickly as possible (Shakespeare provides us with perhaps the very first use of the word assassination in these lines, by the way).

A trammel was a net for catching partridges, although Kenneth Muir, in his annotations to the play in the Arden Shakespeare edition, Macbeth (Arden Shakespeare: Second Series)

, points out that trammel also meant to fasten the legs of horses together so they couldnt run off.

When Macbeth says his surcease, he is probably referring to Duncans (his) death (surcease: a legal term meaning to stop something, but used elsewhere in Shakespeare with the suggestion of a euphemism for death).

that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
Wed jump the life to come.

Another new coinage here: be-all and end-all, a phrase neatly encapsulating Macbeths wish that ending Duncans life would also mean an end to all this worry about it. Indeed, Macbeth says that he would gladly put his immortal soul and its fate in the afterlife (the life to come) at risk if he knew that killing Duncan would prove the end of the whole business.

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 th ingredience of our poisond chalice
To our own lips.

But here in this world, Macbeth says, there is judgment too (such as the law, which punishes murder). If we teach others how to commit bloody deeds, he continues, these others may commit such acts upon us, who taught them in the first place. Justice is equal for everyone and so the murderer who served up the poisoned drink ends up having to drink from it himself.

Hes 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.

There are two reasons (apart from the obvious) why Macbeth should think carefully about whether killing Duncan is a good idea: Duncan is Macbeths relative and his king, to whom he owes allegiance.

But then theres the added reason that Duncan is a guest at Macbeths castle, and so Macbeth should be providing protection against harm rather than harming Duncan himself. (Note here that Macbeth actually ends up offering three reasons why he shouldnt kill Duncan, rather than the double reason he initially mentioned: Duncan is family; Duncan is his king; and Duncan is a guest in his home.)

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-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heavens cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind.

Duncan is such a humble and virtuous king, that if Macbeth were to murder him, heaven itself would cry out against the crime.

I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which oerleaps itself
And falls on th other

I cannot spur myself on to commit this act: all I have to motivate me is my ambition, which makes me rush so hastily into things that Ill end up falling over myself.

This summary/paraphrase of Macbeths soliloquy gives a sense of its meaning, on a line-by-line (or chunk-by-chunk) basis. But what does it mean in the context of the play?

A key word in Macbeth as a whole is done. The word comes at us three times in the first two lines here, and elsewhere, numerous characters, including Macbeth himself, use it liberally. When Duncan had first arrived at Macbeths castle, Lady Macbeth had greeted him:

In every point twice done and then done double
Were poor and single business to contend
Against those honours deep and broad wherewith
Your majesty loads our house;

And later, once the deed is done against Duncan (whose name, like the castle of Dunsinane, happily hides a homophone for the word), Lady Macbeth tells him whats done is done and, alter, Whats done cannot be undone.

Balanced against such a simple monosyllable as done, we have the more formal Latinate complexities of assassination, consequence, and surcease; compare shortly after this, when Macbeth confronts his bloody hands after the deed, and says:

Will all great Neptunes ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,
Making the green one red

Where the monosyllables of that final line are balanced by the two expansive, polysyllabic words in the previous one, mirroring the spreading of the blood throughout the green ocean. The effect in this soliloquy, however, is more to suggest Macbeths vacillation between simple action (just get the deed done) and more thoughtful, even philosophical doubting and considering (especially when such a thing as consequence is concerned).

One aspect of this soliloquy thats often overlooked is how much of it relies on language and imagery derived from horse-riding: trammel, as already noted, summons the idea of binding a horses legs together, while I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent suggests a rider kicking his horse into a gallop, and Vaulting ambition, which oerleaps itself / And falls on th other calls to mind an over-hasty horse which trips because it is jumping too far too fast.

Shakespeare doesnt hammer home this motif, but it is there, loosely threaded through Macbeths thought-process and suggesting both the perils and the cost of rushing in to a course of action too quickly. As the two old axioms have it, He who hesitates is lost but at the same time, Look before you leap.

About Macbeth

Macbeth is one of Shakespeares most famous tragic heroes, not least because he represents the Man Who Has It All (seemingly) and yet throws it away because of his vaulting ambition to have Even More: to be king. A brave and effective soldier who is rewarded by the King, Duncan, for quelling a rebellion against his king, Macbeth decides to kill this same king, while Duncan is a guest under Macbeths own roof, just so Macbeth can seize the crown for himself.

Whats more, he embarks on this course of action largely because he is tempted to do so by the Three Witches (who prophesy that he will be King) and by a woman closer to home, his ruthlessly ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, who taunts his courage and his manhood (as it were) when Macbeth seems reluctant to go through with the deed.

Every deed Macbeth commits after the first one is justified by Macbeths desire to make his position safely thus, as he puts it in his soliloquy in III.1. He justifies having Banquo murdered and attempting to kill Fleance because Banquo, too, has been given a prophecy from the Three Witches, and seeing Macbeths prophecy comes true, he knows his friend will do his best to ensure Fleance and his descendants end up on the throne. As Macbeth puts it in III.2, Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.

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