Macbeth: Literary Techniques

A look at Shakespeare’s use of literary techniques in Macbeth.

                As Act I, Scene 5 of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth begins, Lady Macbeth is reading a letter from her husband concerning his plan for becoming king. She finds out that he has been named Thane of Cawdor, and she decides to help him acquire the position of king through any means necessary.                 Lady Macbeth begins her soliloquy by describing what must happen so that she will be able to commit the murder. She says, “The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements.” Shakespeare is using the technique of onomatopoeia by saying that the raven “croaks” the fatal entrance of Duncan, or in other words, the raven is announcing that Duncan will die that night. Shakespeare then uses a hyperbole when Lady Macbeth states, “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me, from the crown to the toe, topfull / Of direst cruelty!” Shakespeare goes to the extreme of writing that Lady Macbeth wants to be “unsexed”, (she wants to become a man) so that she can be full of cruelty, from head to toe, so that she can kill Duncan.

                Later in the soliloquy, Lady Macbeth asks for her breast milk to be replaced with bitterness when she says, “Come to my woman’s breasts, / And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers…”. Shakespeare uses the technique of alliteration here in order to poetically describe spirits of murder by referring to them as “murdering ministers”.  Shakespeare further uses alliteration when Lady Macbeth says, “Wherever in your sightless substances / You wait on nature’s mischief!” He replaces the word invisible with the word “sightless” in order to better poetically describe the spirits.

                At this point, Lady Macbeth starts to ask for darkness to cover up what she wants to do. She proclaims, “Come, thick night, / And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell…”. In this case, Shakespeare is using imagery by saying the night will cover everything in dark smoke, so that nothing can be seen. She wants her act of mischief to be invisible. Furthermore, Shakespeare uses personification when Lady Macbeth says, “…That my keen knife see not the wound It makes…”. Shakespeare gives the “keen knife” the human characteristic of being able to see, and Lady Macbeth asks that it be so dark that not even the knife she uses “sees” the murder. Shakespeare uses personification again when Lady Macbeth continues to say, “…Nor Heaven peep through the blanket of the dark / To cry, ‘Hold, hold!’ Shakespeare gives Heaven the characteristic of sight as well as voice. Lady Macbeth wants nothing, not even God to interfere with her act.

                At this point, Macbeth enters, and Lady Macbeth greets him with his newly bestowed title, and she tells him that the letter reached her, and that everything shall happen soon. Macbeth informs her that Duncan is arriving at the castle that night, and she responds by saying that he must appear kind, but in reality be and act ambitiously and with evil intention.  

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