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Shakespeare s Literary Devices
Shakespeare, through his use of stylistic devices; namely, his use of metaphors, personification, symbols, imagery, and irony, though not necessarily limited to them; creates rich, vivid verse that has yet to be paralleled in writing since. There are many excellent examples of stylistic devices throughout Shakespeare s work, but for this paper I will only quote from Mac Beth. I would like to quote and reflect some of these devices in the aforementioned order.
There are many examples of powerful metaphors throughout Mac Beth; here are a few I have picked out that have meaning to me:
The deep damnation of his taking off,
And pity, like a new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven s cherubin, horsed,
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. (Act I, scene vii)
This example is very deep. It is saying that pity is like a newborn or one of heavens angels, they attract a lot of attention, making it obvious to everyone who killed Duncan.
Another example is this:
True worthy Banquo- he is full so valiant,
And in his commendations I am fed.
It is a baquet to me. (Act I, scene iv)
This quote says that Duncan is fed by Mac Beth s compliments and deeds. This means Mac Beth makes Duncan proud, like how a parent makes his child feel when they compliment him.
And for my last metaphor:
Your face, my Thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters (Act I, scene v)
Your face can easily be read whether you want it read or not. Lady Mac Beth was telling her husband that he is letting everyone know his face, being a book that is easily read, is troubled.
The examples of personification I have chosen are, first:
Norweyan banners float the sky and fan are people cold (Act I, scene ii)
This implies that the Norwegians being there would bring their cold air to the Battle. But in meaning it would mean that the Norwegians are ravaging the people, making them shiver out of fear.
My second quote is:
Was the hope drunk,
Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now to look so green and pale,
At what it did so freely? (Act I, scene vii)
This would mean Lady Mac Beth is insinuating that Mac Beth becoming weak. She is saying he can t back his actions and should feel pathetic. She wants him to become callous, like her. She has done this by personifying hope. She says it was drunk, that it slept, that now when it has awakened it looks sickly. I like this quote because it has meaning for all of us. Be sure of what you do and it s consequences.
My third and last example of personification is this:
Confusion now hath made his masterpiece! (Act II, scene iii)
I like this line because confusion has made something. Confusion could be the devil or it could be miscommunication between people. It has created a tragic situation; no one knows what happened except the man who caused it.
Shakespeare loves to use symbolism; it helps put an even deeper meaning into the already heavily enriched text. Symbolism helps to better explain and/or familiarize the text for the readers; so it is either more easily understood and/or uses an archetype that everyone can relate to. A good example would be that of the dagger:
Is this dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? (Act II, scene i)
Everyone knows that daggers can be fatal and that this dagger represents Duncan s slaying by Mac Beth; he even calls it a fatal vision. Another excellent symbol that I like is: The Thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me in borrowed robes? (Act I, scene iii) When something is borrowed, you know it is not yours and do not feel the comfort you would have if it was yours. If I was to borrow a CD, for example, I would be a lot more careful with it than I would if it was my own. Mac Beth probably felt the same way; he was given a title he knew someone else had and did not feel comfortable being addressed as something he was not. When the title was indeed his, he then thought about attaining the crown. An interesting symbol I found is that of the witches; they always say things that contradict, but at the end of the play all come true; such as this: But in a sieve I ll thither sail, and like a rat without a tail, I ll do, I ll do, I ll do. (Act I, scene iii) For one thing a sieve cannot float, obviously. Rats without tails are not really capable of doing anything. This all symbolizes what Mac Beth does to himself by the end of the play; he sets out to sail, but has forgot to cover all the holes. When he recognizes what he has done he loses all competence and runs around like a crazed man (rat), which, perhaps, he has become.
Imagery is a way of putting words that can make you see, smell, hear, or even touch it, perhaps even, all of these things. Imagery is important to all writing; it brings out the imagination. Making us picture things, if used right, can produce various feelings that can be used to an authors advantage and is what separates the great from the great. Shakespeare mastered imagery well. Maybe this is what has kept readers interested, for hundreds of years, after the intended audience it was written for, disappeared. It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move, trees to speak. (Act III, scene iv) This passage brings up images of red blood; gray stone that talks and trees that actually speak. It also seems mysterious and brings up images, not of good, but of evil.
Irony is usually a foreshadowing that is not easily recognized until a certain point and are often easily overlooked. They can be humorous as well as grim and can often be used to emphasize a character s character; flaws, strengths, etc. For Duncan to have brought about the demise of his own life, through making Mac Beth Thane of Cawdor, is great irony in itself. Almost the whole play, in fact, is one big irony. This is what makes this play so lifelike. Life is full of irony. But it is never seen until after the fact or by those who have the privilege to view from the outside; like readers, friends, parents, etc. This is one of the reasons why all of Shakespeare s works are so successful; they are very lifelike and believable. Mac Beth thinks he is invincible because he believes every man is of woman born (Act IV, scene I), anyone knows there are exceptions to every rule but his rationale is typical of a lot of humans. Hindsight is best seen from behind and either makes past decisions funny or obviously moronic. Human error can be either a funny or a tragic thing. Shakespeare knew how to implement both well.
It is easy to see why Shakespeare is considered one of the greatest playwrights of all time. His mastery of irony, imagery, and other such devices allowed him to construct worlds both familiar and unfamiliar to us; those unfamiliar, became as night and day; just as George Lucas created a universe so different, yet so familiar, so too, did Shakespeare, and he rendered (punt intended) it the old way through the written word.
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