NCEA Formal Writing 1.5, Literary Essay

How does Shakespeare exploit the conventions of language and theatre to fill his play from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty – and moreover, why is this so essential to the universal meaning of the play?

In the play, Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, many language effects are used to display the universal meaning of the play. The idea that Shakespeare was attempting to convey was Macbeth’s deterioration of the mind. The most notable devices utilized are metaphors, hyperbole, and personification. With the application of these tools, Shakespeare is able to produce a well-structured script that leaves an impression on the history of literature.

Shakespeare uses the relationship between metaphors and the play, Macbeth to demonstrate a deeper meaning in his tragedy. Metaphors are a word or phrase that are often symbolic of something else. Throughout Macbeth, the reader is presented with many metaphors to provoke understanding of Macbeth’s mind, or rather the deterioration of it. A sentence is stated showing Macbeth’s interpretation of that thing or person, revealing his damaged perception of the world around him. An example of a metaphor presented in Macbeth is in Act Three, Scene Two. Macbeth discusses his suspicions to Lady Macbeth that Banquo knows that he had killed King Duncan. He compares Banquo to a snake “We have scorched the snake, not killed it”.  Banquo is the snake in the grass that will bite (or reveal) Macbeth if he steps too heavily, or in other words; takes advantage of the Witches predictions. Shakespeare uses a metaphor in this scenario to show Macbeth’s beginning skepticism about those around him. Macbeth then goes on to arrange Banquo’s death, to ease his inessential suspicions. Shakespeare applies metaphors in Macbeth so he can represent an idea while remaining rhythmical (following the Iambic Pentameter) without becoming too literal in his script. It is through Because of Shakespeare’s successful use of metaphors the reader is able to see the darkness building in Macbeth leading to his hopelessness and madness. Another example of a metaphor is in Act Five, Scene Five. Macbeth has just been told that his wife, Lady Macbeth, has died; we assume from suicide. His response is the iconic soliloquy describing his view on the triviality of life. In this, the metaphor “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more” is written. Macbeth is comparing life to an actor that performs worryingly on a stage for a short time, then is immediately forgotten or not heard of again. Shakespeare writes this is the form of a metaphor because he is imagining the script being performed on a stage, and so he is being ironic while also enabling Macbeth to show that he has deteriorated into a depressive state of mind. Shakespeare intentions when applying metaphors was to allow the reader to see how Macbeth views the world, therefore revealing his inner thought process.

In Macbeth, hyperboles are commonly used from some of the central characters to add excitement and tension to the play. Hyperbole is the act of exaggerating a statement for dramatic purposes. Macbeth is known for his use of hyperboles and unnecessary over-the-top behaviour throughout the play. He uses them to demonstrate his emotions in larger scale, but it also displays to the reader his lack of control over his feelings. After Macbeth successfully kills King Duncan he reunites with Lady Macbeth to confirm he has done the deed. Noticeably he has blood on his hands and when washing them, he utters: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red”. Translating to ‘Can the ocean truly clean these hands? No, I’d turn the sea red with the blood’. This is hyperbole because he exaggerating the amount of gore present, he believes it to be worse than it actually is. Shakespeare cleverly utilizes hyperboles to the play and to the title character, Macbeth to show how his state of mind progressively worsens and the effect that his paranoia has on the people who were once considered trusted friends. The effects Macbeth’s actions have on these people, perfectly display the effective use of hyperboles. In Act Four, Scene Three, Malcolm and Macduff are planning to take back the throne of Scotland from Macbeth. In their conversations, Malcolm, who has just learnt that his family has been murdered by Macbeth, says “This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues”. This is hyperbole because simply saying Macbeth’s name will not cause physical harm. But Malcolm says this to put emphasize of Macbeth’s awfulness and actions. The reader is able to understand Macbeth’s damaged condition because of Shakespeare’s intentional use of hyperboles.

In his tragedy, Macbeth, Shakespeare manipulates personification to progress the story and character. Personification is the language device of giving human attributes or characteristics to something that is not human. Personification is commonly used in stories and poems to give a non-human character or object the ability to relate, this language device often enables the reader to sympathize with something they otherwise wouldn’t. In Act Two, Scene One the reader is given the first glimpse of what will begin a downward spiral in Macbeth. He is having his final thoughts before fulfilling his wife’s wish of killing Duncan when he sees an apparition of a dagger in front of him. “The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still”. He refers to the dagger as ‘thee’, translating to ‘you’ in modern language. He calls the inanimate object a ‘you’ because he feels a strong human connection with it. This shows Macbeth’s dawning insanity because not only is he seeing something that is not there, but he is giving it a human pronoun. Personification can also be used to show madness in humans that see lifeless objects in an unorthodox way. Shakespeare takes advantage of this aspect of personification to show the interplay between reality and Macbeth’s form of reality. Macbeth’s reality is that he is immortal because of what the witches told him, but by believing this he is taking away the human tradition of death, dehumanizing himself. To compensate; Macbeth personifies insentient things. After committing the act of murdering his longtime friend and King while he slept, Macbeth shows regret in his actions and expresses this to Lady Macbeth. He believes he heard someone say “Sleep no more! Macbeth doth murder sleep”. In his worries, he personifies sleep because he believes that he also killed sleep as well as Duncan. This is personification because sleep is something that cannot be murdered, but Macbeth declares it as so because of the remorse he feels. Shakespeare uses personification to provoke sympathy from the reader towards Macbeth, although he does not subjectively deserve it.

Shakespeare operates metaphors, hyperboles and personification in Macbeth to illustrate his character’s deteriorating state of mind throughout his journey in becoming of Scotland. These language devices put importance on the script and make the reader more aware of what is being stated. This reflects the intelligent thought process of Willian Shakespeare.

2 Replies to “NCEA Formal Writing 1.5, Literary Essay”

  1. Your analysis is outstanding and it’s a delight to read material that is so precise in its examination of key effects.

    Later in the development of your piece, I encourage you to focus on the language you are using to express your ideas, as the best pieces will lift the analysis beyond being clear and precise, to being compelling through your own use of carefully selected language effects to reinforce and convey your ideas.

    Have a look at the intro paragraph in the exemplar essay in the task booklet for a sense of what I’m referring to.

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