Macbeth: Style and Structure
How it works
William Shakespeare was a scriptwriter, poet and actor in England. He is highly revered and still considered to be their national poet today. He is one of the most well know writers of all times. His plays have been studied and reproduced infinite times throughout the world. The bulk of his work was done in the latter part of the 1500s and early 1600s. One of his most well-known plays is Macbeth. It is what is called a tragedy. It is about a general in the Scottish army who sees a vision from three witches who tell him he will become king someday. He became obsessed with gaining the throne and the power that came with it. His madness drove him to murder numerous people, including the king. The guilt consumed him and the story ended in his death. Shakespeare was a master at story telling. He used many types of literary devices, styles and sentence structure to make his plays more appealing to audiences from all walks of life. Hence, the reason Macbeth was so popular in his time and still is today.
One of the greatest literary devices that Shakespeare made use of in Macbeth was symbolism. The main symbol he used throughout the play was blood. The overall theme was depicted powerfully through his choice to use this. Blood was utilized to represent honor. For example, in the beginning of the play Shakespeare makes his first reference to blood when Duncan sees the war torn soldier Macbeth and says, “What bloody man is that?” (Macbeth 1.2.1). In this way, Shakespeare leads the observer or reader to see Macbeth as a heroic soldier worthy of being honored. When Macbeth is given an award for his bravery Shakespeare described his sword as “For brave Macbeth – well deserves that name – /Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel, /Which smoked with bloody execution,” (Macbeth 1.2.18-20). By describing it in this way he is connecting blood with bravery. He also used blood to depict the treachery in Macbeth’s heart and mind when he hallucinated about murdering Duncan, “I see thee still, /And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, /Which was not so before. There’s no such thing: /It is the bloody business, which informs /Thus to mine eyes” (Macbeth 2.1.45-49). Since blood is something that is well known to everyone, rich or poor, it makes sense that Shakespeare would use is a one of the primary symbols in his play to draw the attention of all kinds of people.
How it works
Shakespeare’s use of style is obvious in the way he made people from different social orders speak in Macbeth. Noble people spoke in unrhymed poetry or what is known as blank verse. There was a kind of rhythm to it known as iambic pentameter. Each line is constructed in such a way that it has ten syllables with the accent on each second beat. An example of this can be seen in this line: “I have thee not, and yet I see thee still” (Macbeth 2.1.35). Common, everyday people spoke in prose or the way people normally speak. It had no rhythmical structure to it. One can see this in the way the porter spoke, “Faith sir, we were carousing till the second cock; /And drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things” (Macbeth 2.3.22-23). Shakespeare wrote the witches speaking voices in trochaic tetrameter with couplets. This style of writing is made up of what is called four trochees that have a syllable that is accented followed by an unaccented syllable. Also, the lines end in couplets that rhyme. An example of this is, “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” (Macbeth 4.1.10-11). He used this to set the witches apart from all the other characters in the play. Shakespeare used these different types of writing and speaking styles for his characters so that people from all socio-economic levels could identify with the play.
Sentence structure is very important because the way words are ordered is what denotes its meaning. For example, “The dog bit the boy” and “The boy bit the dog” have the same words but they are in a different order. This gives each sentence a different connotation. The sentence structure Shakespeare used is confusing to most readers today. That is because he rearranged the words in his play to flow more poetically. He also did this to give his characters their own way of speaking. The most accepted way to structure a sentence in today’s world is to place the subject of the sentence at the beginning, the verb following the subject and then at the end whatever other object might be needed. Shakespeare’s writing tended to be with the object or adjective at the beginning, then the subject and verb next. For example, “If’t be so, For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind, For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered, Put rancors in the vessel of my peace Only for them; and mine eternal jewel Given to the common enemy of man, To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings! Rather than so come, Fate, into the list, And champion me to the utterance!” (Macbeth 3.1.69-77). In this way, Shakespeare used an inverted sentence structure to put emphasis on the conflict going on in Macbeth’s mind. In order to grasp the true meaning of Shakespeare’s writing one must reorder the sentence. For example, in this passage he wrote, “The castle of Macduff I will surprise” (Macbeth 4.1.168). Written this way, its meaning is confusing. However, when the words are reordered in the customary subject, verb, object arrangement it makes more sense: I will surprise the castle of Macduff. Reordering the sentences does help to understand them better, but it takes away the flow of the poetic rhythm that Shakespeare originally intended. Shakespeare also employed the use of lengthy, revealing discourses such as, “Had I but died an hour before this chance, /I had lived a blessed time; for, from this instant, /There’s nothing serious in mortality: /All is but toys: renown and grace is dead; /The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees Is left this vault to brag of” (Macbeth 2.3.70-72). In this scene Macbeth is expressing his guilt for murdering the king. Shakespeare did this to give his characters more depth.
Shakespeare’s plays and writings have continued to be popular for centuries. Today they are the subject of study for many classrooms all over the world. They are scrutinized to gain meaning of the culture in his time and how the same issues are still relevant today. His uncanny ability to use literary devices, styles and sentence structure are part of what has allowed his works to withstand the test of time. All of his plays, including Macbeth are ones that have taken on a life of their own and will live on forever.