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Commentary: Macbeth, Act II, Scene I “Is this a dagger which I see before me…” Macbeth is one of the most famous plays written by William Shakespeare. The play tells the story of Macbeth, Thane of Glamis whose dark ambition will lead him to murder the king and take his crown. This passage is Macbeth’s first soliloquy extracted from the Scene I of Act II, also known as the “dagger scene”. This is the scene that precedes Duncan’s murder. Many themes are recurring throughout the play and this passage.
First, we will deal with illusions and reality and their consequences on Macbeth’s state of mind, then we will move on to order and disorder and finally to the murder Macbeth is about to commit. In this passage, the theme of illusion and reality is clearly shown. Macbeth is the victim of his illusions. The ultimate questions would be to know if we can rely on our senses and if what we see is real. Those questions are at stake in this passage. Macbeth asks a lot of rhetorical questions in his soliloquy, the first being “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? ” (l. 2-33). He doesn’t know what to think about the dagger as shown l. 35 “I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. ” Is the dagger real? He doesn’t understand hence why he starts questioning his senses (l. 36-37) “Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to feeling as to sight? ”. He knows that he can see it but he wonders if he can touch it. The word “vision” is used which emphasises the fact that it is an illusion, an image created by his brain. He then thinks that something might be wrong with him to see such a thing “A dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? (l. 38-39). In other words, he is starting to doubt himself and wonders if he is becoming crazy and if it could only be his mind tricking him and making him see the dagger. An allusion to the witches is made (l. 51-52) with the word “witchcraft” and the reference to Hecate, a Greek goddess depicted in the triple form hence the three weird sisters. Witchcraft can be seen as an illusion. Throughout the play, Macbeth doesn’t know whether he really sees the witches or if they are an illusion because of their tendency to disappear after announcing what is going to happen to him.
As far as reality is concerned in this extract, the dagger Macbeth sees is an illusion which becomes then a stage reality when he draws out his own dagger: “I see thee yet, in form as palpable as this which I now draw” (l. 40-41). Reality joins illusion. They become closely related and confuse Macbeth even more. Why does the dagger he sees seem as real as the one he has in his hand? Given these points, we can interpret the vision of the dagger as the product of Macbeth’s guilty mind. He is uncertain about what he has to do.
The dagger represents his conscience which will finally lead him to the murder of Duncan. The second predominant theme in Macbeth and particularly in this passage is order and disorder and how Macbeth’s figure dramatically changes from one to the other. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is seen as an order figure. He is a soldier and defends the king. His dark ambition and his greed for power, being his worst enemies, made him turn into a disorder figure. The struggle takes place in his mind.
Even before committing the murder, he has troubles sleeping: “Now o’er the one halfworld nature seems dead and wicked dreams abuse the curtain’d sleep […]. ” Darkness is already mentioned, it echoes to the natural disorder Duncan’s murder will cause. His sleep is haunted by nightmares. His guilty mind is trying to make him foresee the consequences his acts will have on him. The importance of the “dagger scene” is that it introduces the murder of Duncan, which leads to the real beginning of the story and therefore the start of Macbeth’s descent into hell.
The murder and the vision of blood are key elements to this scene. First of all, a dagger is a weapon and second of all it is the weapon Macbeth will use to kill Duncan. The dagger is leading him: “Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going; and such an instrument I was to use” (l. 42-43). Blood is mentioned a few times. There is however a difference between military blood drawn during the battles and the blood of murders. Macbeth sees blood on the dagger: “And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood which was not so before” (l. 6-47). Blood is dripping off the illusionary dagger to show Macbeth what his conscience wants him to do. Blood is the symbol of murder and it will be drawn. We can see that he still doesn’t know if he can kill Duncan: “Whiles I threat, he lives: words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives” (l. 60-61). Talking makes him realise what he is about to do. He is torn between fulfilling his dark ambitions of becoming king and being a good man with an honourable conscience. The more he talks, the less he is willing to commit the murder.
Then hearing his wife ring the bell triggers something within him and all of a sudden he becomes determined to carry it out: “I go, and it is done” (l. 62). He thinks that he might as well do it now because there won’t be any other opportunities. The last verse of the soliloquy shows that Macbeth has made his mind up “That summons thee to heaven or to hell” (l. 64). He announces that Duncan is going to die. All things considered, this analysis shows the importance of the “dagger scene” in the play. It can be seen as an open door through Macbeth’s mind and thoughts.
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All of his questions are rhetorical but they help us understand the way he thinks and how he struggles. This scene can be understood as a preview of Macbeth’s upcoming madness and the vision of the dagger as the first of many others to come. Macbeth still has a bit of sanity left since he questions his senses and doesn’t believe what he sees at first: “Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses, or else worth all the rest” (l. 44-45). This scene is not only the beginning of what Macbeth is going to become after the murder of Duncan and but also stands as a warning.
Author: Michelle Kivett
Macbeth, the dagger scene
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Crucial Scene In Macbeth: The Dagger Soliloquy
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee:
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
to feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
a dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding form the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marrshall'st me the way that I was going,
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o'th'other sense,
Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of bleed,
Which was not so before.
There's no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes.
Now o'er the one half-world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtained sleep. Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's off'rings, and withered murder,
Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost.
Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stone prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror form the time,
Which now suits with it.
Whiles I threat, he lives; ...Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
How this scene contributes to our understanding of character and play:
So far, the play has hurdled through seven scenes of mounting tension and now tithers on the threshold of regicide. At this point, Shakespeare freezes the action. In the tension of silence, both character and play develop on new levels.
For Macbeth, this soliloquy, in A.C. Bradley's words: "is where the powerful workings of his imagination rises to a new level of visible intensity as his conscience manifests itself as an air-drawn dagger." This is the first glimpse of a vigorous imagination from which stems the guilt-inspired hallucinations that will torment him. Bradley concludes that "his imagination is a substitute for conscience", but this isn't all. This soliloquy expresses macbeth's most profound fears and hopes, and the dagger symbolises the fulfilment of his black desires.
It conveys his internal struggle to divest himself of fear and scruples to become wholly committed to murder. His attempt to grab the dagger indicates his desperation to accomplish the deed before any regrets. Yet the past tense in "the way I was going" suggests that realisation of his desires has blunted blind courage.
Macbeth's difficulty in overcoming his conscience demonstrates that murder goes against his person, and he has to fight his own nature to carry it out....
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