Is This A Dagger Which I See Before Me Summary, Notes And Line By Analysis In English By William Shakespeare


Shakespeare’s “Is This A Dagger Which I See Before Me” is one of his most well-known soliloquies. It first appears in Act Scene 1 of his well-known tragedy “Macbeth,” as it becomes clear why he killed Duncan: to claim the throne. The soliloquy portrays his self-control being overpowered by the act he is going to engage in. It was first printed in 1623. The poem also shows how his lust and avarice brought him dangerously close to going insane.

About The Poet

William Shakespeare’s reputation is based primarily on his plays and  he became famous first as a poet.  He was baptized in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564, his mother’s third child, but the first to survive infancy.

Lines 1-7

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
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?

This infamous soliloquy is spoken by Macbeth before he decides to assassinate the King and claim the throne for himself. Macbeth starts to have second thoughts about his ability to kill Duncan. The dagger appears in front of Macbeth, with the handle pointing in his direction. He starts off by asking, “Is this a dagger I see before me?”.

His chaotic thinking causes hallucinations, which drives him over the edge into madness. The witches’ forecasts, Macbeth’s personal ambition, and his wife’s persistent prodding all play a role in his choice to kill Duncan. However, he begins to question if the dagger he sees is a “fatal vision” or only a hallucination.

In reference to his escalating insanity, Macbeth wonders if this dagger is the consequence of his “heat-oppressed” brain.  As he continues, Macbeth goes for his belt and pulls out an actual dagger he is holding. Macbeth acknowledges his own madness and his desire to kill Duncan.

Lines 8-17

I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one halfworld

In these lines, the Dagger appears to be pointing in the proper direction of the space where Duncan is asleep. It is still unclear which dagger it is. As Macbeth continues to debate with himself, the description of the dagger becomes more detailed. He now notices bloodstains on the blade and “dudgeon.”

He quickly understands that it is not the blood, but rather the result of his thoughts being so preoccupied with gory things. Macbeth is getting closer to killing Duncan as he makes an effort to separate reality from the vision he sees.

Lines 18-24

Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings, and wither'd murder,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost.

The terrible dreams assault people’s sleep while “nature seems dead.” Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft in ancient mythology, is mentioned in Macbeth. The “offerings” or ceremonies evoke memories of the three Witches, who Macbeth believes are to blame for his condition.

He imagines that the wolf, his guardian, has woken Murder like a man with his cunning pace. Additionally, Macbeth draws a link between the demise and Tarquin’s deed in Shakespeare’s  “The Rape of Lucrece,” the man who raped Lucrece. Here, murder stalks his victim silently and covertly like a ghost.

Lines 25-30

Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
                                    [a bell rings]

In order for him to carry out his plan, Macbeth calls on the earth to come to his rescue quickly. It is now obvious that the dagger’s appearance to Macbeth changed his decision, and he decides to pull off the deed.   Macbeth believes that if he moves quietly, the horror of this situation will vanish. He appears to be afraid of what he is going to do as the sound of his steps fills the room. Words in this stanza demonstrate how the action is “hot” yet the words are cold.

Lines 31-33

I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

When Macbeth hears the bell, he is reminded that it is time to take action. That unpleasant vision of a dagger vanished and he continued with his task. In comparison to his prior fear, he is more determined and confident. The sound of the bell seems to be an invitation for him to act. He perceives it as an invitation for Duncan to die at the same time. The strongest sense of all, though, is the perception of something being present even though it is not.

Central Idea

When Macbeth’s guilt over killing Duncan overtakes him and causes him to spiral into madness, he delivered this well-known soliloquy. The image of a dagger in front of him that he sees in his mind represents the upcoming murder.

Poetic Devices

William Shakespeare’s reputation is based primarily on his plays and  he became famous first as a poet.  He was baptized in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564, his mother’s third child, but the first to survive infancy.