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Writing Style Used in Shakespeare's "Macbeth"


Shakespeare's style in "Macbeth," according to Harold Bloom, fuses diction, syntax and characterization into a partnership between a character's words and his evolving mental state from moment to moment. Shakespeare does this through stylistic changes that reflect not only the mental degeneration of Macbeth and his wife, but also the sanity of their underlings.

Macbeth's Metaphoric Leaps

"Macbeth" was stylistically liberating for Shakespeare according to Marjorie Garber, given how the play's language mirrors character development. The wooden declamations of murderous protagonists such as Titus Andronicus are gone. Macbeth instead presents a figurative word flow that leaps rider-like, horse to horse: "Pity, like a naked newborn babe ... or heaven's cherubim hors'd upon the sightless couriers of the air." As he disintegrates psychologically, Macbeth's metaphors become apostrophes: "Come seeling night, scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day." Finally, all is visionary, metaphoric nihilism: "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

Lady Macbeth's Fragmentation

Shakespeare's style with Lady Macbeth depicts an even more frightening psychological decline. She begins at the balance point of choice, and Shakespeare's parallel phrasing conveys this: "what thou wouldst highly, that wouldst thou holily." Her mental stability becomes fragmented after the murder of Duncan: "What's done is done ... naught's had, all's spent." Her final descent into madness is reflected in stylistic fragmentation: "One, two, why then 'tis time to do'it ... to bed, to bed!" Her last words reflect a desperate, unsuccessful attempt to retain balance: "what's done cannot be undone," a syntactically balanced sentence the content of which reflects insanity.

Style in Underlings

The cunning writing style Shakespeare employs particularly for the play's lower-class characters retains balanced syntax in that simplest of archetypal character: the fool, or in "Macbeth's" case, the porter. His delightful speech -- concerning the erectile dysfunction a drunkard suffers -- notes that drink "makes him and it mars him, makes him stand to and not stand to." Even Macduff, lost in the deaths of his family, retains balanced syntax: "not for their demerits, but for mine/fell slaughter on their souls." Finally, Malcolm gives the Macbeths' ironic epitaph the balance they had forfeited; "this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen" restores Scotland's monarchical balance.

Style Carries Audience

Shakespeare's particular stylistic genius was to reflect not only his characters' progression from one mental state to another but to also harness, with diction and syntax, the minds of his audience. In a sense, his words mentally carry us along with Macbeth, which may be how Shakespeare engages his audience's sympathy for a six-fold murderer: through the vigor of a style that is both figuratively rich and psychologically attuned.

References
  • The Riverside Shakespeare: Macbeth
  • Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human; Harold Bloom
  • Shakespeare After All; Marjorie Garber
About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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