This quote is one of most memorable from Macbeth (and it’s one of QuickLits’ personal favourites). It’s often used as evidence of Lady Macbeth’s ambitious, evil nature and comes from Act I, Scene V.
Let’s take a look at it in full:
“Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters.
To beguile the time,
Look like the time. Bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue. Look like th’ innocent flower,
But be the serpent under ’t.”
To put this quote into context, Lady Macbeth is telling Macbeth that in order to not be suspected of murdering King Duncan, he must make sure that he acts in a very specific way.
First up, Macbeth needs to remember that his face is capable of revealing his innermost and darkest intentions. To show this, she uses a metaphor, comparing Macbeth’s face to a book. In order for Macbeth’s murderous plans to not be detected, he must act in a pleasant, kind and welcoming way to everyone, including King Duncan.
Secondly, to really hammer this point home, Lady Macbeth talks about acting like a flower but really behaving like the serpent/snake underneath it, and this is where things get really interesting. When we think about a flower – about the connotation – we think of some nice, something pleasant to look at. This reinforces Lady Macbeth’s point about Macbeth treating his guests warmly and with kindness.
However, when we think of a serpent or a snake, something far more sinister comes to mind. Think about the serpent in the Bible, for example, the snake which tempted Eve to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden. So this section of the quote is actually an allusion to that famous Biblical story, reinforcing the idea of Macbeth’s sinister intentions.
So that’s this week’s Quote of the Week. We hope you enjoyed it.
For more Macbeth quotes and analysis, check out our study guide here.