Considered among William Shakespeare’s greatest work, Macbeth is laden with some of the most powerful lines ever written. Some of the lines used in the play have become idioms while others are often quoted by people in general conversation. Here are 10 of the most famous quotation from this dark and powerful play.
#10 “Yet do I fear thy nature, It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way.”
– Lady Macbeth (Act I, Scene V)
This line is said by Lady Macbeth after she reads a letter from her husband informing her of the prophecy of the witches which say that Macbeth would be King. She is excited by the letter but fears that Macbeth is too ‘full of the milk of human kindness’ or of too good a nature, to take the shortest route to the crown which would be to eliminate the king and seize the throne.
#9 “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under ‘t.”
– Lady Macbeth (Act I, Scene V)
This line is said by Lady Macbeth during a speech in which she is convincing her husband to pretend like a perfect host when King Duncan visits them to hide their true purpose of murdering Duncan. Hence she tells Macbeth to look like an innocent flower but be like the serpent which hides underneath it.
#8 “Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.”
– Second Apparition (Act IV, Scene I)
The ‘bloody child’ is the second of the three apparitions that the witches conjure for Macbeth and it is perhaps the most famous. It tells Macbeth to be confident and without fear, for no person who is born of a woman can harm him. This convinces Macbeth that he is invincible as he would never be killed by another man. He chooses to neglect the first apparition which warned him of Macduff and doesn’t realize that the ‘bloody child’ is in fact the infant Macduff covered with the blood of the untimely ripped womb of his mother.
#7 “There’s daggers in men’s smiles. The near in blood, The nearer bloody.”
– Donalbain (Act II, Scene III)
This line is said by the younger son of King Duncan in a conversation with his elder brother after their father’s murder. Donalbain suspects that the people who surround them and are acting kindly contain among them the person who murdered their father. He says that daggers are present in men’s smile probably referring to the canines which show when one smiles and implying that not everyone who acts friendly is a friend. ‘The near in blood, the nearer bloody’ implies that beware of the ones who are in the closest-relation with you as they are most likely to betray and murder you.
#6 “Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests; I bear a charmed life, which must not yield to one of woman born.”
– Macbeth (Act V, Scene VIII)
This line is spoken by Macbeth when Macduff challenges him. He says that let your blade fall on chests that are vulnerable or fight with someone who can be defeated. He adds that he leads a charmed life which can’t be ended by anyone born of a woman. Macbeth gets this illusion of being invincible due to the second apparition which states that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” Macduff then states that he was not born but cut out of his mother’s womb before she could bear him naturally. This quote gave rise to the famous phrase ‘charmed life’. Though charmed meant magical in Shakespeare’s times, the phrase was extended to mean anyone who was lucky and escaped danger narrowly.
#5 “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”
– The Witches (Act I, Scene I)
Among the last lines in Scene I of Act I, this famous quote is said by the witches and sets the tone of the play. It could be simply deciphered as what is fair or pretty will become foul or ugly and vice versa, i.e. things would be opposite to what they appear. It could be also interpreted as suggesting that Macbeth’s world will become upside down and he will do things he considers foul or unfair disregarding what appears fair to him. This line is among the most important in Macbeth and can be considered closest to describing the theme of the play.
#4 “To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself.”
– Macbeth (Act II, Scene II)
This famous quote is spoken by Macbeth in the scene where he returns after killing Duncan in his sleep. Macbeth is stating that it would be better if he was completely unaware of himself than to be conscious and think of the crime he had committed. He doubts whether he knows the man who committed the crime. The quote reflects that although Macbeth chooses to realize his ambition by unethical means, he is also aware of his wrongdoing.
#3 “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”
– Macbeth (Act V, Scene V)
This quote is from one of the most famous soliloquies in Macbeth. It is spoken by Macbeth after he hears that his wife has committed suicide and he also knows that armies are marching against him. He says that days on this world are short, a ‘brief candle’ and ultimately one is enveloped in darkness. He compares life to an unimportant actor, a ‘walking shadow’ for the character he plays. This insignificant actor “struts and frets his hour upon the stage” or is proud and anxious for the small part he has to perform on stage and then he is heard no more. He then compares life to the tale told by a director which is full of noise and passion but ultimately it signifies nothing. Comparing life to theatre, Shakespeare not only questions the purpose of life but also gives a reminder of the illusionary nature of theatre.
#2 “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. “
– Lady Macbeth (Act V, Scene I)
This line is from the famous sleepwalking scene after which Lady Macbeth commits suicide off-stage. It is part of what is considered one of the greatest passages capturing guilt in English literature. Lady Macbeth is traumatized and guilt-ridden and she says that she cannot get rid of the smell of blood from her hands, not even if all the perfumes of Arabia are applied to it. This is in sharp contrast to her statement to Macbeth when he murdered Duncan where she said “a little water clears us of this deed”. Knowing that she was the prime force that led Macbeth to this murderous path, her guilt dominates her thoughts and she is unable to turn away from what she now considers sins.
#1 “Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done, is done.”
– Lady Macbeth (Act III, Scene II)
Lady Macbeth says these lines to her husband in an effort to make him get over the guilt and fear he is experiencing due to the murder he has committed. She says that things which cannot be remedied should not be given regard to or you shouldn’t think about things which you can’t rectify. She adds “what’s done, is done” implying that “there’s no changing the past, so forget about it and move on.” Although Shakespeare didn’t coin the phrase “what’s done, is done” but Macbeth remains one of the first recorded use of it and it definitely made the phrase popular.