Here's the quote (from The Tragedy of Macbeth, by William Shakespeare):

This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature?

The connotations may have changed since it was written, but doesn't the word "seated" evoke the image of the object under discussion being, to all intents, still? As in pretty much motionless? What am I missing?

  • 1
    I don't think you're missing anything except the fact that ELU doesn't do Lit Crit. It works for me to see that usage as akin to This shoe also has a heel cut-out to confirm that the heel is well seated in the shoe. Securely/safely held/positioned - which you'd want, with something as important as your heart. Jan 16, 2016 at 23:20
  • 5
    You understand the tenor of the term correctly: his heart, which is ordinarily 'seated' in its place, is set in violent motion by the horrid image, 'unfixed' just like his hair. The play is full of such images depicting disruption of the natural order of things. Jan 16, 2016 at 23:26
  • 4
    @FumbleFingers It's not LitCrit. You can tell because you can understand the question.
    – deadrat
    Jan 16, 2016 at 23:31
  • @StoneyB honestly I think that's worthy of an answer. IMO it's as simple as that.
    – hobbs
    Jan 17, 2016 at 6:08
  • Try to find an online text with annotations.
    – rogermue
    Jan 17, 2016 at 13:28

3 Answers 3


Oxford English Dictionary

seated, adj.
1. Fixed in position. Obs. or arch.

with that line from Macbeth as its first example


There are of course many themes in MacBeth. One of them is similar to Hamlet; how much stock should one place in information from the supernatural world? The play was written with King James in mind. James had a keen interest in all things supernatural (he had also written a book on witchcraft) and most scholars agree that these subjects would have been of interest to him. Queen Elizabeth, not so much.

Macbeth has just met the three witches, and like Hamlet, is questioning the veracity of his encounter with the supernatural. Is the information from the witches good or bad? Is information from the spirit world good or bad? I think now just as then, that is still a relevant question. He is a strong and steadfast man (except around his wife who manipulates him like a puppet...a theme that would have resonated with audiences of the time.) Yet, the witches have scared him...it's messed up his hairdoo and made his strong (seated) heart shake and tremble. Also, note that in English we have the expression "The heart is the seat of the emotions." Seated here means still, quiet, firm, relaxed. He's saying that his heart (or center of emotions as it was seen then, and still is today), which is normally resolute, is now afraid.

I think it's important to see that MacBeth has some similarities to Hamlet, but unlike Hamlet, he is an emotional doer; Hamlet is a cool thinker. The kind of internal thinking that MacBeth does is different than Hamlet. Hamlet sees ghosts and agonizes over what to do. Macbeth doesn't agonize over what to do. He thinks about things, realizes he is scared, but knows that as a man he's gotta do something, then makes up his mind and lives with the consequences. I mention all of this because as far as I can recall, Shakespeare did not use similar imagery to talk about Hamlet, so the line is saying something specific about MacBeth's personality--that he is more emotionally driven than Hamlet.

  • I think you nailed it in that Shakespeare loved double meanings. Which, of course, was even harder to dissect four+ centuries later in high school English class. In this case, it seems three or four meanings are possible with each individual playgoer or reader getting to make their own interpretation.
    – Stu W
    Jan 17, 2016 at 3:28
  • @StuW Most of the tragedies and histories have double meanings but are easier to understand today. The comedies are quite difficult for me. I can understand when there is a joke but often I think "Who the heck would find that funny?" Complicating this is the fact that we can't really be sure that everyone laughed at the jokes and thought they were hilarious. Jan 17, 2016 at 3:36
  • Twelfth Night was pretty funny, but that's the only one we were taught. Perhaps that's why. I tried Midsummer's Night on my own, but I'm just a little too post-sexual revolution
    – Stu W
    Jan 17, 2016 at 4:16
  • @StuW Yeah, it's a bit hard to laugh at jokes that are now considered sexist. Jan 17, 2016 at 4:19

It is certainly a matter of interpretation, but I think it refers to his heart which is:

  • steadfast, resolute, determined.

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