Faith in Shakespeare

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Macbeth is a brave and loyal warrior, but he's ambitious. He wants to be King of Scotland, his wife wants him to be King, withches have prophecied that he'll be King, and in this extract he considers killing the present King, Duncan. Notice how the reasons he gives for not doing the evil deed are a mixture of self interested and morally sound. This extract shows Shakespeare's keen grasp of moral principles, his understanding of conscience and human behaviour, and the consequences that follow from bad choices.


Macbeth: If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well,
It were done quickly: If th' assassination
Could trammell 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 Schoole of time,
We'ld jump the life to come. But in these Cases,
We still haue judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody Instructions, which being taught, return
To plague th' Inventer, this even-handed justice
Commends th' Ingredients of our poison'd Challice
To our own lips. He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his Kinsman, and his Subiect,
Strong both against the Deed: Then, as his Host,
Who should against his Murderer shut the door,
Not beare the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his Faculties so meeke; hath been
So clear in his great Office, that his Vertues
Will plead like Angels, Trumpet-tongu'd against
The deep damnation of his taking off:
And Pity, like a naked New-borne-Babe,
Striding the blast, or Heaven's Cherubin, hors'd
Upon the sightlesse Curriors of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the winde. I have no Spur
To pricke the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting Ambition, which ore-leapes itself,
And falls on th' other.

Click here to listen to a reading (by Brendan O'Regan) of this speech.
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Student Assignments
1. Discuss how the above speech shows that Shakespeare well understands the workings of conscience.
2. To what extent is Macbeth thinking clearly in this extract?

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