How does Shakespeare in his play ‘Macbeth’ 

In the Shakespearean play ‘Macbeth’, Shakespeare paints the picture of the main character Macbeth as a leader to be and takes us through the journey as to how a caring humble man can driven by ambition into a hollow dark tyrant. The themes of murder, corruption, ambition, etc are all displayed through the use of interesting techniques of language and in the time period of Shakespeare, unconventional language conventions. I will be exploring the idea of Macbeth’s deteriorating mental state through Shakespeare’s use of symbolism to portray his ideas which is where the main meaning of the play ‘Macbeth’ is centered around.

The first sign of Macbeth’s mental state happens quite early in the play. It starts during a meeting between three characters portrayed as witches in Act 1 Scene 3 where they proclaim to Macbeth that he will become king which also starts the theme of ambition. “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” Symbolism in Shakespeare’s play is key role and here it implicates that the weather in a literal sense is both bad and good but Shakespeare also uses this as an interesting literary technique to foreshadow later events and hints towards Macbeth’s eventual downfall with these antonyms ‘fair’ and ‘foul’ right before Macbeth speaks to the three witches. Macbeth starts off the play fair as an honourable character being very respected by the people as seen in Act 1 Scene 2 where a Captain proclaims that ‘For brave Macbeth, He deserves that name’ where he then meets the three witches that trigger his dire ambition and leads him into becoming a foul character of being a menace to society which ultimately leads to his demise. The witches are another sign of symbolism with all three representing the darkness and evil of Macbeth. Upon hearing of the witches prophecies of Banquo’s sons and Macbeth becoming king, Macbeth turns to Banquo and says “Your children shall be kings” where Banquo replies “You shall be king”; Banquo can sense the evil ambition brought upon Macbeth from the witches by replying with ‘no, you want to be king, you don’t care about my children’. Shakespeare with this quote also hints towards the theme of betrayal which is rife throughout the entirety of the play which is also another factor affecting Macbeth mental state. Shakespeare uses his characters quotes very specifically. The reason why Shakespeare portrays this idea so early in the play is to set up the rest of Macbeth so an audience can see what to expect over the course of the play.

Interference’s in the natural realm plays a big part in how Shakespeare demonstrates Macbeth’s deteriorating mental state throughout the play and how it would be comprehended by the audience. Shakespeare uses symbolism to convey the various abstract ideas of human mentality through physical means. “Hold, take my sword. – There’s husbandry in heaven; Their candles are all out – Take thee that, too. A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, and yet I would not sleep” Banquo is anxious and suggests to the audience that the scene is dark both literally and metaphorically; The word “heaven” is used to symbolise light or goodness and is then followed by “Their candles are out” suggesting that the light has gone and all that is left is darkness and therefore goodness is gone. We can see Shakespeare’s use of a technique of language known as pathetic fallacy, used to symbolise an idea being demonstrated through literal uses of light and dark colours (day and night), two polar opposites for contrast used for the illustration of human emotion and in this case, the ideas of good and evil.  Banquo’s anxiety indicates that he senses darkness which would make sense in context to this scene that this darkness that he is sensing correlates to evil which is demonstrated through the actions of Macbeth. Shakespeare uses supernatural elements “Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle towards my hand?” another instance of an interference in the natural realm, Macbeth is hallucinating that he holds within his hand a dagger draped in blood. This dagger in question is symbolic in many different ways: it represents the murder that is going to happen, the guilt that comes after and the downwards spiral of Macbeth’s mentality. At this point, Macbeth is in a mental state of insanity; a state of shock as he cannot fathom the idea of killing King Duncan. “A dagger of the mind” By killing Duncan, it will become a dagger of Macbeth’s mind leaving Macbeth brain-dead; Macbeth knows that he can’t stop now as his ambition is just too strong but is also thinking about the consequences if he were to continue on this path. Another strong indication of Macbeth’s deteriorating mindset is through Shakespeare’s use of metaphor with for example in Act 3 Scene 2 where Macbeth proclaims “Oh, full of scorpions is my mind”. Through these words, we can see that scorpions are symbolising the evil that plagues Macbeth’s mind as scorpions are usually associated with danger and poison. From here, Macbeth’s mental state only worsens throughout the rest of the play and Shakespeare’s conventions of language get more sophisticated.

At this point in ‘Macbeth’, Macbeth has killed a handful of people and is seen to be over the brink of insanity. Shakespeare uses a plethora of figurative languages techniques in Macbeth’s last stage in his deteriorating mental state through the theme of time. “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing. ” this is a beautiful piece of literature and shows just how skillful Shakespeare is. What is happening here is that following the death of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth stops to think about the misery his life has become. Macbeth was so caught up in his ambition to become king, he never once stopped to think about how it would bring him self-happiness; all that his ambition has given him is death, guilt and suffering and we can see him here come to realise that. On the technical side of things, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” Shakespeare uses repetition here to emphasise on Macbeth’s grief by showing that time is torturous and repetitive. Shakespeare then expands on this with “creeps in this petty pace from day to day” and uses “creeps” as a metaphor to suggest that time is a creature, a slow-moving predator out to get him. It is a theme of paranoia, further expanding on the idea of Macbeth’s deteriorating mental state. Another language feature Shakespeare uses is alliteration, “lighted fools the way to dusty death”, which he uses to emphasise on how empty death is by saying death is nothing but emptiness because life is nothing but a drag. This is another extension to the idea of Macbeth’s mental state as Macbeth is now justifying his killings by saying that life is meaningless. The reason why Shakespeare uses so many language devices during Shakespeare’s is to give an in-depth look at Macbeth’s mental state while he is at the point of insanity.

In closing, Shakespeare keeps his audience interested on the journey throughout the mental deterioration of the character Macbeth by using unorthodox techniques of language. We see Shakespeare portray this idea throughout the play with the uses of symbols, themes of darkness and language devices to give us, the audience, a story within a story which is why to this day people around the globe are still analysing the contents of “Macbeth” as there is still much more to be explored within this play.


*****KEY IDEA: Aftermath Cause and Effect*****

Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. By the look of this introduction, you’ve got an excellent handle on the dimensions of this task. I look forward to watching it develop as the week progresses!


  2. Just for clarification, am I allowed to copy and paste my practice paragraph?

  3. You are doing a very good job of examining a range of different techniques and effects in the play and relating these to Macbeth’s state of mind. Your ideas are highly original and, as long as you consistently connect them to the play itself through the use of direct reference to quotes, they will stand well in your analysis.

    A couple of pieces of useful information:

    !) When the weather or the natural world reflects the world of humans in literature, it’s called “Pathetic Fallacy”

    2) Don’t forget to examine the use of metaphor. There are a number of passages in the play where references to blood (an extension of your idea of symbolism) are used in amongst other metaphors. Macbeth also refers to his unsettled mind as having ‘scorpions’ in it, and we’ve explored his state at the end of the play extensively.

    3) There are a few minor spelling and sentence errors which will need to be addressed through a careful final reading. “literacy” instead of literary is one example of this.

    If you’re unable to complete this in the allocated time, please speak to me directly. It’s clear you are putting dedicated work into this.


  4. Miss Bagley has approved an extension for this piece of work so that you have time to act on the feedback you have been given. I will be going over some further details of the structuring of your writing and content coverage in class today.

    Your new deadline is: Tuesday 6 June, 5:30pm

  5. Achievement Achievement with Merit Achievement with Excellence
    Develop and structure ideas in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas convincingly in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas effectively in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control to command attention in formal writing.

  6. Very well written.
    You have examined the use of language in a clear and in depth manner. Your ideas are very well developed.
    I was captivated by your writing for the entire piece.

    Moderated by Renee Macdonald 1st August 2017 at English Department Meeting


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