NCEA Formal writing 1.5, Literary Essay: Macbeth

Through out the play Macbeth, Shakespeare demonstrates that power and security is harmful for someone – especially if that power or security is enquired at any means. To demonstrate this concept Shakespeare uses a variety of language techniques.

During the beginning of the play you are introduced to a brave Macbeth who had just turn the tides for Scotland in the war against Norway, Captain “Doubtful it stood, As two spent swimmers, that do cling together And choke their air…”, the captain is referring to the battle as a standstill, they were equally matched and equally tired, then he mentions “brave Macbeth…” coming to turn the tides in Scotland’s favour, Captain “Disdaining Fortune, with is brandished steel, Which smoked with bloody execution, Like Valour’s minion, carved out his passage, till he faced the slave;…”. The Captain referring to Macbeth’s sword was cutting through the enemy like a hot blade through water, leaving a lingering mist of execution behind him, Macbeth is also refered to as valour’s minion meaning that for Macbeth to achieve these actions he had to be a minion of bravery itself. When the Captain refers to the Macbeth facing the “slave;” he is referring to the Thane of Cawdor, he had decided that King Duncan (the King of Scotland at the time) was going to lose and so sided with Norway, and so once Macbeth had helped win the war for Scotland he captured and handed the Thane of Cawdor.

At the beginning of the play Macbeth is known as a great warrior and is praised for his actions this is quite ironic because of Macbeth’s actions later in the play.

During Act 1 Scene 3 Macbeth and Banquo are introduced to the witches (for Banquo this will be the first and the last time that he will observe the witches), both Macbeth and Banquo are confused about the figures standing in front of then, they are confused about what they are and what gender they are. Banquo “What are these, So withered and so wild in their attire That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ the earth And yet are on’t?…”. Shakespeare uses meter shows that even describing the witches has an unearthly effect on someone, when someone of power or important is speaking in Shakespeare’s play’s they speak in an Iambic pentameter. An iamb is a combination of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Therefore, iambic pentameter has five stressed syllables and ten syllables total. (referenced used Literary Devices) during Banquo’s description of the witches, at the end of each sentence he finishes 1 iamb short and so doesn’t complete the Iambic pentameter making the description sound broken up and unformed. This is demonstrated again further into the play when Macbeth looses his wife.

Just before Macbeth kills the king he has a hallucination of a dagger before him. Macbeth “Is this a dagger I see before me,…”. For this scene Shakespeare could have had a knife floating in the air or no knife at all, this relates to having the audience feel like they might be just as insane as the character, or not having the knife there could show how insane Macbeth is to the audience, this is a dramatic effect because it can be interpreted so many ways by the play writer or the audience.

Similar to the sence above this is in the preference of the director wether to have Banquo’s ghost visible to the audience or not. This happens after Macbeth is crowned king and the lords are having dinner with Macbeth to celebrate him becoming king, little do they know that before the dinner Macbeth had sent 2 mercenaries to go kill Banquo and his son so Macbeth can feel more secure, because Banquo was the only other person to see the witches who had predicted all the events that have occurred. Once he is killed he is then later than see by Macbeth while he is dining with the lords. Having the audience observe Banquo dead in the dining hall or witnessing him die and not having any of the other characters know is dramatic irony.


After killing Banquo Macbeth feels the need to summon the witches and for them to tell him if he will be defeated or not, for security. Once he has found the witches, he commands them to tell him what is going to happen. He is then introduced to the Hecate who summons apparitions to tell what will happen to Macbeth, the first apparition warns him about “Macduff; Beware the Thane of Fife”, the second apparition states that he should “Laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”, the third and last apparition explains that “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill…”, all 3 apparitions are examples of the supernatural. The purpose of the apparitions as explained in the previous scene the witches are wanting to give Macbeth a false scene of security and the second and third apparition are doing so, stating that he doesn’t have to worry about being harmed because only a man not women born can harm him and that he will only die when the Wood of Birnam reaches Dunsinane (the location of the Scottish castle where the throne lies.), all these goad Macbeth into executing more violent acts because he feels like he is invincible.

Since Macbeth has received the crown, Scotland has been decaying. The morning of Duncan’s Death Macduff is talking to the Porter about how the day is so dismal, you later find out that people have witness Duncan’s horses eating each other. Rosse was having a conversation with an old man and in the 70 years he can remember, all the dreadful memories, the past week has made it look like a joke, Old Man Hours dreadful and things strange, but this sore night Hath trifled former knowings., he mentioned that he had seen an ordinary Owl take down and kill a hawk, Old Man tow’ring in her pride of place, Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed”, Rosse explains that Duncan’s horses had become wild and that they were being obedient, it was like they had waged war on man kind, the old man then goes on to mention that the horses had ended up eating each other “‘Tis said they eat each other”, these are all examples of the nature becoming unbalanced and that Macbeth’s actions and what Macbeth becomes is making all these strange and horrible events occur.

After being informed that Lady Macbeth is dead, Macbeth performs a soliloquy which demonstrates further on the uncompleted meter that indicates that he is not sure about his thoughts or feelings. During Macbeth’s soliloquy he mentions, “a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon a stage, and then is heard no more:…”, Macbeth mentioning that life is like an actor on stage, there to entertain, but also once you leave the stage once your hour is up you are never heard from again. This is ironic for the character to say this because in the case of the play Macbeth is a puppet on a stage entertaining and then fading once his hour is up, he also mentions “it is a tale Told by and idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing”, Macbeth as a character has decided that all his actions even though a lot has occurred because of them, they mean nothing, his actions haven’t affected a bigger picture, they have just affected his world.

Shakespeare has used a wide variety of language techniques throughout the play Macbeth, above are a few language technique’s and explainations that were used to demonstrate an idea that shows that equiring power and security at any cost.


Literary Devices:
Finding quotes throughout the Script: