Different Literary Techniques Used to Describe Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

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Throughout the play Macbeth, poet William Shakespeare uses different literary techniques to characterize Lady Macbeth, including; diction, imagery and figurative language. Prose, a form of diction, was added by Shakespeare to show madness, represent rushed or frenzied language, or even display social class distinctions. Imagery is one of the most profound literary devices in this play, consisting of “thick night”, death, “dunnest smoke of hell”, bile, etc. Symbolism also played a role in this scene, represented in a raven and breast milk. Lady Macbeth’s character starts as confident and decisive, then when she finishes his letter, she promptly decides that he shall be king. Lady Macbeth wishes to be cold-hearted so she won’t feel any guilt or pain when the deed is done.

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Beginning in Act 1 Scene 5, Lady Macbeth starts reading a letter she received from Macbeth from his meeting with the witches and their prophecies. The letter opens up saying “The raven himself is hoarse..” (Shakespeare 270). The word raven is often a symbol of death. Lady Macbeth then continues with the line “That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan..” (Shakespeare 270). Shakespeare’s line portrays a deeper meaning into the raven symbol, by showing that the raven will croak when Duncan finally dies. As the play progresses, this imagery of death will eventually take over Scotland.

Throughout her soliloquy, Lady Macbeth invites spirits that are responsible for heinous thoughts. Lady Macbeth has every intention of fulfilling her need to kill King Duncan. In one of her more famous lines, “unsex me here..” (Shakespeare 270). Shakespeare reveals how to resolve the situation by putting Lady Macbeth’s femininity aside in order for her to seize the crown. Shakespeare begins to characterize Lady Macbeth as cold-hearted in the line “Make thick my blood;” (Shakespeare 270) so she won’t later on feel guilt. Ironically after this line, guilt eventually takes over Lady Macbeth and she will soon be driven mad. When the line “Come to my woman’s breasts, / And take my milk for gall..” (Shakespeare 270-271) is spoken by Lady Macbeth, she is summoning the evil spirits to replace her breast milk with bile. Shakespeare targets the symbol, milk, which is supposed to be warm and nurturing, and makes Lady Macbeth wish for it to be cold and poisoned. This adds to her character, as Lady Macbeth is a cold-hearted, evil murderer with an ambition to get the crown for her husband.

Alliteration is highly present throughout this scene as well. Shakespeare writes, “you murdering ministers, / Wherever in your sightless substances” (Shakespeare 271). The “murdering ministers’ and “sightless substances” are another form of the evil spirits, that try to remove her loving- womanly remorse, “compunctious visitings of nature” or even the idea of “peace” that she will eventually miss. Imagery is seen constantly in the play, such as “thick night” and “dunnest smoke of hell”. The dark imagery in this line is basically parallel to what Shakespeare is trying to portray of Lady Macbeth. As the scene comes to an end, Shakespeare writes “ That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, / Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, / To cry “Hold, Hold!”. Lady Macbeth wants to be the only one aware of her deed. Lady Macbeth doesn’t even want the dagger aware of the crime she committed.

Finally, it can be concluded that Shakespeare puts a dramatic twist on Lady Macbeth’s character throughout the play. She starts off characterized by Shakespeare as an ambitious, determined young lady. This soon changes as she becomes evil and cold as her wish is granted from the dark spirits. Foreshadowing is seen as a turning point for the symbol peace, as there is no peace for the characters after Duncan is murdered. The only way peace is achieved is by death. A form of diction, prose, is also represented in Macbeth. Some reasons Shakespeare might have added prose may be to show madness, represent rushed or frenzied language, or even display social class distinctions. Madness is seen in both characters Lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself. Lady Macbeth wishes to be cold-hearted and emotionless to her actions, but as the play ends, guilt eats her alive and she falls into the deep hole of scaredness and culpability as consequences of her actions. 

Works cited

  1. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Edited by Kenneth Muir, Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2015.
  2. Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Riverhead Books, 1999.
  3. Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.
  4. Kermode, Frank. Shakespeare’s Language. Penguin Books, 2001.
  5. Stoll, Elmer Edgar. Shakespeare’s Art of Characterization. University of Michigan Press, 1968.
  6. Wells, Stanley. Shakespeare: A Life in Drama. W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.
  7. Mabillard, Amanda. “Lady Macbeth Character Analysis.” Shakespeare Online, 20 Aug. 2000,
  8. Loomba, Ania. Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism. Oxford University Press, 2002.
  9. Sadowski, Piotr. “Prose and Verse in Macbeth.” Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: International Review of English Studies, vol. 40, no. 4, 2004, pp. 161-177.
  10. Hunter, G.K. “Macbeth and the Tragedy of Sin.” The Sewanee Review, vol. 106, no. 1, 1998, pp. 20-34.

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