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The Philosophy of Humanism in Macbeth

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The Renaissance was a time period in history filled with enlightenment and growth in so many ways. From Shakespeare and all of his amazing works, to artists like Michelangelo who created the famous statue of David. The Renaissance marked a period in European history filled with cultural flowering. Shakespeare’s work during this time reflected the teachings and ideals of the Renaissance. Through the personalization of his characters and their complex intellect, he has been able to emotionally connect his readers to the plays. One of Shakespeare’s major works during this time was Macbeth. He utilizes many literary devices to make his writings more complex and dimensional.

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The Renaissance took place in European civilization following the Middle Ages. It’s direct translation from French is “Rebirth”. It has been characterized by a surge in exploration and discovery in all aspects of life. From the arts to science and politics, there was a rise in the rediscovery of the Classical world. A major characteristic of this time was the creation and practice of the Humanism movement, which was the belief and that human beings could be changed dramatically by education. Humanism played a major role in shaping the Renaissance period, not only by creating schools to teach their ideas but also in art. It affected the artistic community and how people perceived them. Surprisingly with this movement there was no conflict between Humanists and their study of the Ancients (Greek and Romans) and Christianity.

Although he was not born until towards the end of this period, Shakespeare was one of the first playwrights to bring the Renaissance’s core values to the theater. His work created a new style of play writing by mixing both comedy and tragedy which had never been done before. While our modern definition of comedy is funny, during the Renaissance it simply meant that the play or show had a happy ending. We usually associate Shakespeare with tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet, however he had quite a few plays that were “comedies” such as Much Ado About Nothing where it ends in a double wedding or Twelfth Night where the play ends with a dance. While these two plays are humorous, during this time not all comedies had to be funny. Most of the time Shakespeare would set up his plays where they had the potential to be funny or where the characters often embarrassed themselves.

Shakespeare also standardized the English language and expanded it’s vocabulary. He introduced about 1,700 words into the language, many of which we still use today even with the obvious changes to the language since that time. His additions have enriched the English language and made it more colorful and expressive. He also focused on creating psychologically complex human characters regardless of their social position. Through his writing he was able to bring hundreds of different characters to life and they all brought a new kind of depth and realism to his plays. He also used his knowledge of Roman and Greek texts and mythology which had previously been suppressed by the Catholic Church before the Renaissance. For example in Macbeth when Shakespeare references the gods Hecate and Neptune, or when Macduff calls Macbeth a ‘hell hound’ in reference to Cerberus, the guard of the underworld. The distinct writings of Shakespeare greatly assisted the growth and expansion of the Renaissance era and the rebirth of entertainment, art and literature. His plays have had a profound impact on literature that has lasted for centuries and will continue for many more.

Shakespeare uses many different types of literary techniques to make the tragedy of Macbeth more appealing. Three main literary devices he uses are imagery, irony, and symbolism. There are many instances of imagery in this play, mainly it is used to provide irony and contrast to scenes, to help display characters, and setting the tone of passage. Shakespeare uses imagery and applies it to clothing, blood and even darkness in the descriptions of his play. There are a few different types of irony used often in this work, situational, verbal, and dramatic irony. An example of situational irony would be how in the beginning of the drama, Macbeth feels guilty about killing King Duncan, however Lady Macbeth does not. As the drama comes to an end, the tables turn and their feelings are opposite. Verbal irony comes into play when a character says or writes something, but actually mean the opposite. Dramatic irony is the most used in this play. A good example would be when King Duncan comes to Macbeth’s castle to celebrate his elevation to Thane of Cawdor and the audience knows that the king is going to be murdered, but the king has no idea. The last of the main literary devices is symbolism. I would say this is the most recognizable device in this story since it is used so often. Symbolism plays a very important role in this drama. It is used in many different forms to relate to the overall theme and actions of Macbeth. For example light and darkness represent both good and evil. Blood represents Macbeth and his wife’s guilt about killing Duncan. While there are many other literary devices utilized in the story of Macbeth such as allusion, similes and metaphor’s, these are the main and most used devices in the drama.

In Macbeth, the philosophy of Humanism is reflected in a theme of the play, the reversal of nature. When a single mans humanity is corrupted, the entire order of the universe is disrupted. The Humanism movement calls for the exploration of the qualities of man to further yourself and reach perfection. 

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