Introduction: It was such a time when only the witches, wolves, and ravishers were awake. Macbeth was holding a dagger in his hand. He softly stole in the room where his guest King Duncan lay. But all of a Sudden it happened. He thought, he saw another dagger in the air, drops of blood at its point. He tried to grasp at it, but it was nothing but air. Unable to bear this, he cried:
“Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling, as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?”
These above lines were a dramatic device, called soliloquy. A soliloquy is a speaking alone; a character talking to himself aloud when he is alone. And an aside, another dramatic device, is slightly different from a soliloquy, since the character is not alone here. In an Elizabethan play, both of them express the secret thoughts and designs of a character. Not only in Macbeth, Shakespeare used these techniques in many of his other plays, in tragedies and comedies; to advance the plot and reveal the character.
Main Essay: As we have said earlier, both in aside and soliloquy; a character talks to himself. In a soliloquy, a character speaks to himself when he’s all by himself in the stage, and nobody except the audiences hear his speech. Chiefly here an aside differs from a soliloquy; for aside is also made by the character to himself, but in an aside others are also present. Among the many asides and soliloquies in the play Macbeth, made by different characters in different modes, we are going to discuss only about those made by Macbeth. Macbeth’s first aside (Act I, scene III): Macbeth utters his first aside while returning from the battlefield. The witches have just made their predictions and Ross and Angus have brought news of his new title of Thane of Cawdor. The attractions of ‘the imperial theme’ begin to unsettle Macbeth. His latent ambition is evident. The thought of killing Duncan triggers his mind. “This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill; cannot be good:-
If ill, why hath it given me earnest of success…”
“… If good, why do I yield to the suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair…”
Macbeth thinks this prophecy is not beneficial, nor evil. This aside reveals the ambition and brutality in Macbeth’s mind. Macbeth’s aside at the time of Malcolm’s elevation (Act I, scene IV): Macbeth settled up his mind to kill Duncan to overcome the obstruct of his rise to greatness, aroused after the announcement made by Duncan, regarding the establishment of his son, Malcolm, as the heir to the throne; yet at the next moment Macbeth was trembled regarding the brutality of his own plan, for he was completely aware about the wickedness of the plan and therefore Macbeth uttered this aside, a very poetic one: “… Stars, hide your fires!
Let not light see my black and deep desires;
The eye wink at the hand yet let that be,
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.”
Macbeth’s soliloquy (Act I, scene VII): Macbeth made another significant soliloquy when King Duncan was staying at his castle;
“… He’s here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murtherer shut the door,
Not bear the knife himself… ”
now Macbeth was wavering, whether to kill the king or not; he was considering the reasons against the deed. Macbeth was not only a subject, but also a kinsman to the king; tonight he was the host and by the law of hospitality, he was to shut the door against the murderers, not to hold the dagger himself. He was considering how just and merciful king this Duncan had been, how loving to his nobility, particularly to Macbeth. Besides he was aware about the earthly reasons too; Duncan’s subjects, he thought, were bound to avenge their king’s death.
Macbeth’s next soliloquy (Act II, scene I): Macbeth made another soliloquy while he was advancing toward the room where Duncan lay, determined to kill Duncan; it was the mid of night and Macbeth commented upon the atmosphere of that time: “…Now o’er the one half-world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain sleep: Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s off rings;”
Macbeth commented up: in such a time, Witches perform their rituals, the wolf howls, and ravishers advance toward the sleeping women. But before making this soliloquy, Macbeth had seen a dagger lying on the table before him with his handle toward him. Macbeth tried to grasp it and found out that it was nothing but air. He came to this conclusion that, it all was a hallucination caused by his heated imagination. Macbeth uttered:
“Is this a dagger, which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand?…
…or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?”
The dramatic significance of Macbeth’s soliloquy immediately after the murder (Act II, scene II): The next soliloquy, made immediately after the murder of Duncan, though very brief in size, but gives us a peep into Macbeth’s mind that was overwhelmed by the sense of guilt. Every noise now terrifies him; besides he has this strange feeling that, all the water of the great ocean cannot wash the blood from his hand. Instead the blood on his hands can turn the ocean into blood-red.
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine
Making the green one red”
Macbeth’s soliloquy about Banquo (Act III, scene I): After the murder of Duncan, when Macbeth had been ruling as the king for some time; he remembered the prediction made by the witches, that said that: the throne would pass to the descended of Banquo. Now it occurred to Macbeth that he had become a sinner only to oblige Banquo and his descendents:
“…No son of mine succeeding, if’t be so,
For Banquo’s issue have I fil’d my mind;
For them the gracious Duncan have I murther’d…”
Macbeth began to plan the murder of Banquo, and the soliloquy was made only moments before Macbeth’s consultation with the two murderers, who would kill Banquo; so this soliloquy prepares us for the murder of Banquo. Besides, this soliloquy tells what Mabeth thought about Banquo.
Macbeth’s soliloquy of disillusionment (Act V, scene III):
“…I have liv’d long enough: my way of life
Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf…”
This is a rather pessimist soliloquy, made when the news of the approach of the English forces was brought to Macbeth. His then condition, he thought, could be compared to the leaf that had turned yellow. All of his hopes, expectations and ambitions were washing away. Nevertheless, this soliloquy reveals Macbeth’s outstanding poet-like capability of expressing his anguish, anticipate and antipathy.
Macbeth’s soliloquy on hearing women’s weeping (Act V, scene V): This soliloquy, with a touch of pathos, captures the changed image of Macbeth’s mind that was caused by cruelty. Macbeth, once whose hair would have stood on end on hearing a scream at night; now has reached to such a condition that even the excruciating cries of women’s weeping cannot reach to his heart. Macbeth uttered:
“I have almost forgot the taste of fears.
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,
Cannot once start me.”
The two brief soliloquies of Macbeth towards the end : Macbeth’s last soliloquies, two brief ones, were made before his death. The first one shows his realization of the upcoming peril, with a feeling of security and confidence. In this soliloquy, Macbeth is compared to the bear which has been tied to a stake, to be attacked by the hounds. However, this comparison is made by Macbeth himself. In the other one, Macbeth expresses his decision to inflict as much damage upon the enemies as possible, instead of killing himself like the ‘Roman fool’:
“Why should I pay the Roman fool, and die
On my own sword?”
Conclusion: The critiques hold this opinion that; all the asides and soliloquies used in Macbeth are significantly and they are indispensable to the play. However, this must be added that: soliloquies were frequently used in dramas but went out of fashion when drama shifted towards realism in the late 18th century.