‘Is this a dagger which ns see before me, / The manage toward my hand?’ So starts one of the most well known soliloquies in Shakespeare’s Macbeth – indeed, probably in all of Shakespeare. Prior to we sell an analysis of this scene – and summarise the an interpretation of the soliloquy – right here is a reminder the the famed speech. (If you would like an overview of the whole of Macbeth, we have actually analysed the beat here.)


Is this a dagger which ns see prior to me,The take care of toward my hand? Come, permit me clutch thee.I have actually thee not, and yet I view thee still.Art thou not, deadly vision, sensibleTo feeling regarding sight? or arts thou butA dagger that the mind, a false creation,Proceeding native the heat-oppressed brain?I watch thee yet, in kind as palpableAs this which currently I draw.Thou marshall’st me the means that i was going;And such an instrument ns was come use.Mine eyes room made the stupid o’ the other senses,Or rather worth all the rest; I watch thee still,And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,Which was not so before. Yes sir no together thing:It is the bloody service which informsThus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one halfworldNature seems dead, and also wicked desires abuseThe curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebratesPale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,Whose howl’s his watch, for this reason with his stealthy pace.With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, in the direction of his designMoves like a ghost. Thou sure and also firm-set earth,Hear not my steps, which method they walk, because that fearThy very stones prate of mine whereabout,And take the present horror from the time,Which now suits with it. Whiles ns threat, the lives:Words to the warmth of deeds as well cold breath gives.

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<a bell rings>I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.Hear that not, Duncan; for it is a knellThat summons thee to sky or to hell.

Note: the soliloquy start ‘Is this a dagger which i see before me’ appears in action II step 1 the Shakespeare’s Macbeth.


‘Is this a dagger which i see before me’ is often staged, and also filmed, through the dagger rely in mid-air. Yet this makes the comprise boundary in between the real and the hallucinatory as well clear-cut: as many critics have actually pointed out, the allude is the Macbeth believes the the dagger is actual at first, rather than discovering it to be an illusion native the outset. For this reason, possibly we’re far better off picturing a dagger relaxing on a nearby table, lie flat; this also makes it less complicated to understand how the ‘handle’ the the dagger is ‘towards’ Macbeth’s hand, together if inviting him to choose it up.

After Macbeth has ‘seen’ the dagger before him, the handle towards his hand, he then starts to doubt himself.


I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

This line suggests that Shakespeare plan the actor playing Macbeth to attempt to choose up the dagger, only to uncover that it’s made of air. There’s an implied phase direction right here for Macbeth to reach to take the dagger, only to find there’s no dagger there.


Art she not, fatal vision, sensibleTo feeling as to sight? or arts thou butA dagger the the mind, a false creation,Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

In various other words, if this is a ‘fatal vision’ or hallucination, it appears to it is in one that is assailing his feeling of sight only. In various other words, ‘sensible’ here means pertaining come the senses, rather than the modern definition of the word. Macbeth is a beat obsessed v touch and the tangible, v what can be grasped and touched: the is a play full of hands, a most hand-y play.


But here, we room seeing the first of numerous hallucinatory (or room they simply hallucinatory, or possibly supernatural?) experience Macbeth will certainly have. The concern is whether this dagger is a result of his ‘heat-oppressed’ (the 2nd word have to be express with three syllables, for the metre that the line) or fevered brain.

I view thee yet, in form as palpableAs this which currently I draw.


Another piece of implied stage direction: the actor play Macbeth goes come his belt (or similar) to draw a real dagger he has in his possession (the one he will usage to murder Duncan shortly after this scene).

Thou marshall’st me the means that ns was going;


More implied stage direction – the dagger seems to suggest in the direction of the room whereby Duncan lies asleep. Yet which dagger? tho the imagine one, presumably. Despite this no certain: the could be that Shakespeare is currently referring to the real dagger the Macbeth has just drawn, and which audiences in the theatre deserve to see through their very own eyes. The very soliloquy seems to blur the boundaries in between real and also imaginary, together if us ourselves are meant to shed track that the genuine dagger and the imagine one.

And together an instrument ns was to use.Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,Or else worth every the rest;


In other words, one of two people his sight is in problem with all his various other senses (such together touch), or rather his eyes room worth more than the remainder of his various other senses put together, and he should trust what he sees. Indeed:

I check out thee still,And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,Which was no so before. There’s no such thing:It is the bloody organization which informsThus come mine eyes.


As so frequently with a Shakespeare soliloquy, here we find Macbeth saying with himself, changing his mental mid-line. The detail of the dagger intensifies: he now sees (or think he deserve to see) fall of blood ~ above the blade and also ‘dudgeon’ (the handle of the dagger). But he immediately says over there isn’t any kind of blood ~ above the dagger (whether or no a dagger is there, he appears to recognize the blood is imagined), and also merely a an outcome of his thoughts gift so turned in the direction of bloody deeds (i.e. The planned murder of Duncan).

Now o’er the one halfworldNature seems dead, and also wicked dreams abuseThe curtain’d sleep;

It’s night time, and throughout the whole northern hemisphere or ‘half-world’, points seem to have pertained to a halt. Desires of witchcraft and evil disrupt Macbeth’s sleep: he is up and also about, but the boundary between dreaming and waking seems to have been disturbed.

witchcraft celebratesPale Hecate’s offerings, and also wither’d murder,Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,Whose howl’s his watch, hence with his stealthy pace,With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his designMoves choose a ghost.

Hecate, the goddess that witchcraft in classical mythology, performs ‘offerings’ or rituals – we’re earlier to Macbeth’s encounter v the 3 Witches or monster Sisters. The word ‘murder’ have to perhaps it is in capitalised (it is in some editions) to make it clear the Macbeth is personifying it together Murder: Murder has actually been roused wake up by his watchdog, the wolf, and also like Tarquin – the male who raped Lucrece in a story Shakespeare had earlier written about in his narrative city The Rape the Lucrece, thus ‘ravishing’ – moves in the direction of his prey, silently and stealthily choose a ghost.

Thou sure and also firm-set earth,Hear no my steps, which means they walk, because that fearThy really stones prate of mine whereabout,And take the present horror native the time,Which currently suits v it.

Macbeth calls ~ above the planet to render his steps likewise silent, so the nobody will certainly be alerted to his plans as he start Duncan’s chamber and also murders him. It’s end up being clear by this allude that the dagger showing up to him has actually made Macbeth’s mind up: the plans to go v with the deed.

The phrase ‘take the current horror from the time’ is a small more challenging to interpret: the many likely an interpretation is the Macbeth thinks that if he moves silently the will eliminate the horror from this moment, due to the fact that the sound that his footsteps will certainly fill that with are afraid over what the is going come do. As points stand, though, horror and this moment are perfectly ‘suited’ or matched, i.e. ‘Which now suits through it.’

Whiles i threat, that lives:Words come the warmth of deeds as well cold breath gives.

Although the ungrammatical (it was typical in Shakespeare’s time to have actually a many paired with a singular verb, therefore ‘Words … gives’), the second line method that the no great talking around all this: he simply needs to walk ahead and commit the deed itself. The deed is ‘hot’ however his words room ‘cold’, i.e. The much more he talks around doing it, the weaker (or cooler) his deal with grows.

<a bell rings>I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.Hear the not, Duncan; for it is a knellThat summons thee to sky or to hell.

Macbeth currently takes the sound of the bell as a sign that he have to go and kill Duncan. And also this is wherein the step ends, a scene the had begun with that unsettling vision the a dagger the wasn’t really there. Macbeth will following murder Duncan, one act that will cause him to ‘see’ much more visions, ghosts, and also hallucinations later in the play. Macbeth is, of all of Shakespeare’s plays, possibly the most attuned come the assorted senses: sight, sound, and also touch room all vividly felt here. Yet the most an effective sense of all is the imaginary sense of something gift there when it isn’t.

About Macbeth

Macbeth is just one of Shakespeare’s most well known tragic heroes, no least because he represents the man Who has actually It all (seemingly) and also yet throws the away since of his ‘vaulting ambition’ to have also More: to be king. A brave and also effective soldier that is bonus by the King, Duncan, because that quelling a rebellion versus his king, Macbeth decides to death this exact same king, when Duncan is a guest under Macbeth’s own roof, simply so Macbeth can seize the crown for himself.

What’s more, that embarks top top this food of action largely because he is tempted to execute so by the three Witches (who prophesy the he will be King) and also by a woman closer to home, his ruthlessly ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, who taunts his courage and his manhood (as the were) when Macbeth seems reluctant to go through with the deed.

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Every deed Macbeth commits after the an initial one is justification by Macbeth’s desire to make his place ‘safely thus’, as he puts the in his soliloquy in III.1. That justifies having actually Banquo murdered and attempting to death Fleance because Banquo, too, has actually been offered a prophecy native the three Witches, and also seeing Macbeth’s prophecy comes true, he knows his girlfriend will do his ideal to for sure Fleance and his descendants finish up ~ above the throne. As Macbeth puts the in III.2, ‘Things poor begun make solid themselves by ill.’

The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literature critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University. The is the writer of, amongst others, The mystery Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey v Curiosities of History

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 and The great War, The garbage Land and also the Modernist lengthy Poem.