iconLiterary Devices

Words spoken by an actor sometimes a loud whisper which are heard by the audience, but are not supposed to be heard by the other characters on the stage.

An image is a word or a group of words which suggests a sensation. Thus an object, a sound, a movement, a smell can all be images. Imagery is figurative and involves associations. For example, Lady Macbeth says:

“The raven himself is hoarse
The croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan”

The image of the raven is particularly appropriate be- cause ravens were often seen cleaning the hones of those who had been executed. Duncan is going to his death and it is as if the raven anticipate-s the meal he might make of Duncan’s corpse. The word “hoarse” suggests that the raven had been making a noise for some time as it looks forward to Duncan’s “fatal entrance” into the castle, and as a result its voice is now “croaking”. Both “hoarse” and “croaks” have unpleasant associations that would be fitting to a creature that feeds off dead bodies.  In addition, the raven is traditionally associated with evil omens. A raven seen croaking near a building was believed to be “speaking” of an approaching danger to the inhabitants of that building.

Irony (verbal)
Irony occurs when a character is aware or unaware that there is a hidden meaning behind what is said. ‘Thereis usually a contrast between what is said and the underlying meaning. For example, when Duncan’s visit is announced Lady Macbeth says:

“He that’s coming
Must be provided for”

She can be understood on two levels: she is referring to her duties as a hostess, but she is also saving that arrangements must be made to murder Duncan. The contrast between the two meanings is clear.

When Macbeth insists that Banquo should not “fail” to attend the feast, knowing quite well that he is going to be murdered, he does not foresee that Banquo’s ghost will keep the appointment.

Irony of situation
As in verbal irony, contrast is involved. In ironical situations there is a contrast between what someone thinks or says and the true state of affairs. For example, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth think they will achieve great happiness by killing Duncan. But this contrasts with (is opposite to) the true state of affairs which involves the loss of all their happiness.

It is also ironical that Lady Macbeth sees herself as “strong” and Macbeth as “weak”. This view contrasts with the true state of affairs – Lady Macbeth collapses under the strain of her evil deeds, but Macbeth finds the strength to carry on.

A metaphor is sometimes defined as a “condensed comparison” a “condensed simile without the link words’’ (see definition of simile).Examples to use the examples given under simile:

— Peter is a bean-pole.
— He is an angry dog.

A metaphor is probably the commonest feature of poetry. It has the power to condense two or more worlds of experience, and so creates associations. It brings together two totally different objects arid gives us a new insight into them. For example, when Macbeth says to Lady Macbeth, “O full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife” the metaphor is particularly rich in associations.

The simile is a form of comparison of two things from different categories. The word linking the two compared things is very often “as”, “like” or “than”. For example:

— Peter is as tall as a bean-pole.
— He looked like an angry dog.

In Julius Caesar the scornful Cassius describes the powerful Cassius in the following terms:

“Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus...”

When a character speaks his deepest thoughts aloud to himself when he is alone, he speaks a soliloquy or he soliloquizes.This dramatic technique enables the audience to know what is going on in the “privacy” of a character’s mind. For example: Macbeth’s speech: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”.

A symbol is an object, creature, person, action or situation which is part of a larger unit. This larger unit is often abstract and inexpressible, and thus requires something more concrete to give at expression. For example:

— A flag is a symbol of a nation.
— A rose is a symbol of love.

In Macbeth, Macbeth’s castle becomes a symbol of hell when the murder of Duncan takes place. The witches are symbols of evil. The growing tree and Birnam Wood are symbols of good, of healthy growth. A writer often employs symbolism,and uses symbolic images.

Personification is a statement which gives human characteristics to something which is (1) not human or (2) to an abstract idea. For example:

1. The moon smiled shyly at the lovers.
2. Time marches on.

In Romeo and Juliet when Romeo first sees Juliet on the balcony, he says:

“Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sack and pale with grief.”

In Hamlet, Horatio describes daybreak in the lines:

“But look, the morn in russet mantle clad,
Walks o’er the dew of von high eastern hill.”

Personification is a form of metaphor.

Plot and Theme
The plot is what happens in the story – it is the order of events as arranged by the dramatist or the novelist. For example: Macbeth murders Duncan and takes has place on the throne of Scotland. He then begins a reign of terror which leads to a rebellion and ultimately his own death.

The themes are the main ideas of the play. Theme is sometimes defined as “the living idea” which emerges from the plot. In a very complex play such as Macbeth there can be many themes, some obviously more important than others. See the Themes section for a discussion of “theme”.

Macbeth: An English Website unit ©
developed and designed by George Marotous. 14 February 2011. English Faculty

Melbourne High School