The One Who Knocks: An Analysis of MacBeth’s Soliloquy in Act Three, Scene One

MacBeth’s soliloquy in Act Three, Scene One is arguably the most telling of MacBeth’s character. Having already killed Duncan and attained his coveted throneship, MacBeth moves onto more pressing matters: ensuring that no one ever learns of his crime and, perhaps more significantly, protecting his status as king. There is much at stake for MacBeth, and he divulges the details of his unease through his impassioned monologue. Close scrutiny of this speech gives us a better understanding of MacBeth’s character: it brings to our attention the seriousness of his commitment to becoming an all-powerful king.

MacBeth begins by stating “To be thus is nothing,” in itself a very telling phrase (and rather pithy, too—reminiscent, of course, of Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be”), but the king goes one step further and expands his statement with “But to be safely thus” (3.1.47-48). “Thus,” of course, refers to MacBeth’s status as king. Here he is suggesting that the power and prestige that comes with obtaining the crown is essentially worthless if his supremacy can unravel at any moment. MacBeth’s newly acquisitioned title is, of course, threatened by his own criminality: the corruption imbedded in his procurement of the crown spells MacBeth’s demise. If anyone were to learn of and/or expose the details of his felonious actions, MacBeth’s future would be in flux; he would face unthinkable repercussions for unlawful act.

Furthermore, MacBeth refers to one individual specifically who could potentially prompt his downfall: Banquo. MacBeth’s “fears [reside] in Banquo” (3.1.47). Banquo’s existence threatens MacBeth’s status and prospective empire. So, naturally, Banquo must be eliminated like King Duncan before him. A character who was once an ally to MacBeth now stands in the king’s way—and must perish for his unknowing interference.

So what do we make of MacBeth’s character upon analysis of this speech? What do we make of a character who is willing to end innocent lives for personal gain—and, what’s more, to maintain all that he has gained? While this soliloquy may only serve to reinforce our notions of MacBeth’s character thus far—his power-hungry nature intensified to us by the divulgence of his plot to kill Banquo—MacBeth’s speech gives us a lot to think about.

Perhaps it was Professor Mulready’s mention of Breaking Bad and its relation to MacBeth in class the other day, but while I was reading MacBeth’s speech, I found myself immediately, in particular, reminded of Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias—for which one of the episodes in the series is named. The poem recounts the foreordained, inevitable demise of all rulers, both great and corrupt. Having read this play before, I can say with upmost certainty that MacBeth is no exception to this rule. His demise is certain and foretold. Like Breaking Bad’s protagonist, Walter White, MacBeth will face the consequences of his actions by the story’s conclusion. MacBeth, it appears, is the one who knocks (or the one who hears all the knocking, anyway).

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4 thoughts on “The One Who Knocks: An Analysis of MacBeth’s Soliloquy in Act Three, Scene One

  1. deabarbieri

    I really liked your post and that you took the time to analyze Macbeth’s soliloquy–it is definitely one of the most important sections of the play. We see how paranoid Macbeth has become, wanting to take down anyone in his path to the throne, such as Banquo. The last paragraph of your post is great; Shelley’s poem and Breaking Bad are two perfect examples of how power ultimately corrupts us, as it corrupts Macbeth throughout the play.

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  2. michaeldrago

    The Breaking Bad comparison is certainly interesting, and it can be applied in several different ways. Both protagonists didn’t fully consider the potential consequences of their actions, and both found their original entry into sin leading into further immoral acts that ultimately result in everything spiraling out of control. Macbeth went through a lot of anguish in deciding whether or not to kill Duncan; once he carries out that action, however, he becomes fully committed to doing whatever he has to do to maintain his newfound power. As both of these works show, it only takes one immoral act to completely change the course of a life.

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  3. zacharyschiff

    Wow! I really like the “knocking” connection between Breaking Bad and Macbeth. Something we brought up in class was the interesting fact that Macbeth is both the protagonist and the antagonist of the play. I wonder if we sympathize with him more, or hate him more? It seems like you are suggesting that he is mostly evil, as his increasingly violent behavior would pretty clearly indicate. Is there ever a time in the play when we root for Macbeth to succeed? In Breaking Bad, I think we (or at least I) rooted for Walter White to succeed, though I admit to feeling a little guilty about rooting for a murderous meth cook. Perhaps Macbeth plays with some of the same ambiguities. Isn’t there something of everyone–conscience-less ambition–in Macbeth? Most of us, thankfully, don’t act on these sorts of feelings, but I think we all have them in some form or another.

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  4. irenecorvinus

    I enjoyed your allusion to Hamlet and I think both Macbeth and Hamlet have a lot of similarities. They both are morally ambiguous characters who are driven by an internal feeling of ambition and finding the truth, more so in Macbeth’s case than Hamlet’s. But when looking at both character’s it is easy to see how Macbeth driven to find the truth of the witches prophecies which causes him to kill Duncan, can be very similar to Hamlet’s quest to find the truth about the death of his own father.

    I also agree that this soliloquy characterizes Macbeth at this point in the play – but it becomes clear that he is a paranoid and power hungry man, which once again can be concluded as being a part of his quest for ambition and the truth of the weird sisters prophecy.

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