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).