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Shakespeare’s Macbeth famously says, “If it were done, when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly,” which I rearranged, according to my understanding, as, “‘Twere well it were done quickly, if, when ‘tis done [the assassination], it were done [his ascendancy assured].

I think I’ve understood this line correctly, and if I haven’t, please let me know. But my question otherwise bears on the subjunctive, “‘twere well it were done quickly.” I rather understood this as, “It would be well [or sensible] if it were done quickly.” Have I got that wrong? And did “would” come to replace “‘twere” is these subjunctive constructions?

Thank you for your time!

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    Don't all three done refer to assassination? Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 0:59
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    But would be would wreck the scansion. Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 1:03
  • You’re absolutely right that it would; thank you! But was it common, in Shakespeare’s modern English, to use another “were” where we say “would”? Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 1:25
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    There's no point in trying to analyse Shakespeare's literature using today's grammar.
    – BillJ
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 11:11

1 Answer 1

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If it were done, when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly

Shakespeare has beguiled another victim with his wordplay.

Macbeth is saying that he hopes this will solve all of his problems. That's what the first "If it were done" suggests. In other words. "If the whole mess will be over when I kill Duncan, then I'd better get at it."

And here's a quote from Interesting Literature to back that up:

Macbeth begins his soliloquy by saying that if the act of killing Duncan would truly be the end of it, and there would be no consequences, it is better to get it over and done with as quickly as possible

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  • Thank you very much! Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 1:25
  • @David: If this solves your problem, consider accepting the answer by clicking the checkmark.
    – Robusto
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 3:03

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