Macbeth Language Macbeth

Language features in Macbeth: #

There is only one reason why Shakespeare’s plays are still alive and read 400 years after they were written; his mastery of clear, powerful visual language. As we have seen most of his plots are not original, but it is ability to revitalise old stories and histories, shape them into compelling dramas with syncopated plots and revitalise them with resonant forceful language that still appeals to us today.

Most transformations or adaptations to contemporary productions, directors may update everything except Shakespeare’s Language. Al Pacino admits that it is the appeal of Shakespeare’s language that convinced him to attempt to attract more people to his plays.

Some outstanding features of Shakespeare’s Language are:

  1. His powerful imagery which allows us to visualise his scenes without props or concrete backdrops.

  2. The use of nuances, the power of suggestion, implied meanings.

  3. His varied vocabulary, including the fact that he coined many new words and hundreds of new sayings that have become part of our argot.

  4. The lyricism of his verse and sometimes even his prose has a lightness and resonance or lingering effect on us.

  5. The wide range of his allusions to classical, religious and historical icons, stories and people.

  6. The play on words; he likes to use puns, oxymorons, s-xual innuendo, assonance, alliteration, ambiguity and any other tactics to engage and entertain his audiences.

Ambiguity and Ambivalence in Macbeth #

The echoing of phrases has a haunting effect throughout the play. Here are some examples:

The witches’ first utterance: “fair is foul and foul is fair” is soon echoed by Macbeth’s first speech: “So fair and foul a day have I not seen”.

This ambivalence is followed by others such as: “nothing is but what is not”, “things can not be ill, can not be good”.

The word double in Macbeth:


As cannons overcharged with double cracks,

So they doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe.

Lady Macbeth’sdisingenuous welcome:

All our service,
In every point twice done and then done double,

Macbeth’s reservations, hesitancies and qualms about murdering Duncan:

He’s here in double trust:

All Witches

Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Macbethin his paranoid state decides not to leave anything to chance:

Then live, Macduff; what need I fear of thee?
But yet I’ll make assurance double sure
And take a bond of fate.

Macbeth, finally realising that he has been conned by the witch’s evasive and duplicitous assurances:

And be these juggling fiends no more believed,
That palter with us in a double sense,
That keep the word of promise to our ear,
And break it to our hope.

The double sense ties in with the Porter’s use of equivocation:

Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O come in, equivocator.

Thrice in Macbeth: #

  • Three kings and three murders,
  • The witches “thrice this and thrice that”
  • The three “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”.

Archaic language in Macbeth: #

Macbeth: The labour we delight in physics pain. (heals) but later:

Macbeth Throw physic to the dogs

The term “battlements” refers to our guarded space and is used twice, once in its real sense and then by Lady Macbeth figuratively to refer to her house not only as a place of refuge, comfort and shelter but where she rules: Note the singular “my”.

Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops,
And fixed his head upon our battlements.

Lady Macbeth

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements.

Lady Macbeth uses an interesting double entendre when referring to Duncan she says:

“He must be provided for”

It’s almost as scary as hearing an underworld figure suggesting:

He’s got to be taken care of.