Macbeth

by

William Shakespeare

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Macbeth can help.

Macbeth: Style 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 1, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Shakespeare famously wrote his plays and sonnets using a metric line called iambic pentameter. The basic rhythmic unit that makes up a typical Shakespearean line of verse is the iamb, a metrical "foot" composed of one unstressed and one stressed syllable. "Pentameter" indicates that each line consists of five of these "feet."

Characters of noble birth, like Duncan and the Scottish thanes, tend to speak in unrhymed iambic pentameter, which is also called blank verse. This use of elevated language signifies their social status and makes their speech poetic and assured. 

Not all characters speak in iambic pentameter. The Weird Sisters utilize an unusual meter called trochaic tetrameter, which characterizes them as bizarre and supernatural creatures. The trochee, which consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, is the opposite of the iamb, and sounds less natural to the ear. The Weird Sisters also speak in short lines of rhyming verse, gives their speech a a musical and ritualistic quality, as if they are always reciting charms and incantations. An excellent example of trochaic tetrameter comes in Act 4, Scene 1:

All: Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

A few characters in Macbeth, notably those of low social status, speak in prose. The porter's speech in Act 2, Scene 3, for example, lacks both rhyme and meter:

Porter: Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes. It provokes
the desire, but it takes away the performance.

This separation of characters by speaking style is typical of Shakespeare's other plays. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, noble characters speak in blank verse, peasants speak in prose, lovers speak in rhymed verse, and fairies speak in a form of rhymed trochaic tetrameter. 

But a few aspects of Macbeth's style set it apart from other plays. Firstly, although Macbeth contains a large amount of figurative language, there is a notable scarcity of puns, which Shakespeare uses in the majority of his other plays, including other tragedies. Secondly, characters utilize delayed or inverted sentence structures to create a sense of building anticipation. The captain's speech in Act 1, Scene 2, for example, is filled with delays and interruptions that separate the subject of his sentence from the verb:

Captain: For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like Valor’s minion, carved out his passage

This type of construction, along with the use of repetition and alliteration in key scenes, create a sense of forward momentum that reflects the play's preoccupation with fate.

The language in Macbeth is also often deliberately vague. Characters obscure their meanings through imprecise word choice, like this line in Act 1, Scene 7:

Macbeth: If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly.

Not only is "done" an imprecise verb, but Macbeth also does not explicitly mention that "it" refers to the murder of Duncan until the following line. This calculated imprecision reflects themes of duplicity and muddled senses.

Characters' speaking styles also change over time, reflecting developments in their mental state. For example, Lady Macbeth's speech in Act 1, Scene 7 is eloquent, confident, and energetic:

Lady Macbeth: We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place
And we’ll not fail.

By contrast, her language in Act 5, Scene 1 is halting and confused, and she speaks in prose rather than verse, demonstrating her descent into madness, as she speaks mainly in questions, asking, "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" 

Act 1, scene 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Shakespeare famously wrote his plays and sonnets using a metric line called iambic pentameter. The basic rhythmic unit that makes up a typical Shakespearean line of verse is the iamb, a metrical "foot" composed of one unstressed and one stressed syllable. "Pentameter" indicates that each line consists of five of these "feet."

Characters of noble birth, like Duncan and the Scottish thanes, tend to speak in unrhymed iambic pentameter, which is also called blank verse. This use of elevated language signifies their social status and makes their speech poetic and assured. 

Not all characters speak in iambic pentameter. The Weird Sisters utilize an unusual meter called trochaic tetrameter, which characterizes them as bizarre and supernatural creatures. The trochee, which consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, is the opposite of the iamb, and sounds less natural to the ear. The Weird Sisters also speak in short lines of rhyming verse, gives their speech a a musical and ritualistic quality, as if they are always reciting charms and incantations. An excellent example of trochaic tetrameter comes in Act 4, Scene 1:

All: Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

A few characters in Macbeth, notably those of low social status, speak in prose. The porter's speech in Act 2, Scene 3, for example, lacks both rhyme and meter:

Porter: Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes. It provokes
the desire, but it takes away the performance.

This separation of characters by speaking style is typical of Shakespeare's other plays. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, noble characters speak in blank verse, peasants speak in prose, lovers speak in rhymed verse, and fairies speak in a form of rhymed trochaic tetrameter. 

But a few aspects of Macbeth's style set it apart from other plays. Firstly, although Macbeth contains a large amount of figurative language, there is a notable scarcity of puns, which Shakespeare uses in the majority of his other plays, including other tragedies. Secondly, characters utilize delayed or inverted sentence structures to create a sense of building anticipation. The captain's speech in Act 1, Scene 2, for example, is filled with delays and interruptions that separate the subject of his sentence from the verb:

Captain: For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like Valor’s minion, carved out his passage

This type of construction, along with the use of repetition and alliteration in key scenes, create a sense of forward momentum that reflects the play's preoccupation with fate.

The language in Macbeth is also often deliberately vague. Characters obscure their meanings through imprecise word choice, like this line in Act 1, Scene 7:

Macbeth: If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly.

Not only is "done" an imprecise verb, but Macbeth also does not explicitly mention that "it" refers to the murder of Duncan until the following line. This calculated imprecision reflects themes of duplicity and muddled senses.

Characters' speaking styles also change over time, reflecting developments in their mental state. For example, Lady Macbeth's speech in Act 1, Scene 7 is eloquent, confident, and energetic:

Lady Macbeth: We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place
And we’ll not fail.

By contrast, her language in Act 5, Scene 1 is halting and confused, and she speaks in prose rather than verse, demonstrating her descent into madness, as she speaks mainly in questions, asking, "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 2, scene 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Shakespeare famously wrote his plays and sonnets using a metric line called iambic pentameter. The basic rhythmic unit that makes up a typical Shakespearean line of verse is the iamb, a metrical "foot" composed of one unstressed and one stressed syllable. "Pentameter" indicates that each line consists of five of these "feet."

Characters of noble birth, like Duncan and the Scottish thanes, tend to speak in unrhymed iambic pentameter, which is also called blank verse. This use of elevated language signifies their social status and makes their speech poetic and assured. 

Not all characters speak in iambic pentameter. The Weird Sisters utilize an unusual meter called trochaic tetrameter, which characterizes them as bizarre and supernatural creatures. The trochee, which consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, is the opposite of the iamb, and sounds less natural to the ear. The Weird Sisters also speak in short lines of rhyming verse, gives their speech a a musical and ritualistic quality, as if they are always reciting charms and incantations. An excellent example of trochaic tetrameter comes in Act 4, Scene 1:

All: Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

A few characters in Macbeth, notably those of low social status, speak in prose. The porter's speech in Act 2, Scene 3, for example, lacks both rhyme and meter:

Porter: Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes. It provokes
the desire, but it takes away the performance.

This separation of characters by speaking style is typical of Shakespeare's other plays. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, noble characters speak in blank verse, peasants speak in prose, lovers speak in rhymed verse, and fairies speak in a form of rhymed trochaic tetrameter. 

But a few aspects of Macbeth's style set it apart from other plays. Firstly, although Macbeth contains a large amount of figurative language, there is a notable scarcity of puns, which Shakespeare uses in the majority of his other plays, including other tragedies. Secondly, characters utilize delayed or inverted sentence structures to create a sense of building anticipation. The captain's speech in Act 1, Scene 2, for example, is filled with delays and interruptions that separate the subject of his sentence from the verb:

Captain: For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like Valor’s minion, carved out his passage

This type of construction, along with the use of repetition and alliteration in key scenes, create a sense of forward momentum that reflects the play's preoccupation with fate.

The language in Macbeth is also often deliberately vague. Characters obscure their meanings through imprecise word choice, like this line in Act 1, Scene 7:

Macbeth: If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly.

Not only is "done" an imprecise verb, but Macbeth also does not explicitly mention that "it" refers to the murder of Duncan until the following line. This calculated imprecision reflects themes of duplicity and muddled senses.

Characters' speaking styles also change over time, reflecting developments in their mental state. For example, Lady Macbeth's speech in Act 1, Scene 7 is eloquent, confident, and energetic:

Lady Macbeth: We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place
And we’ll not fail.

By contrast, her language in Act 5, Scene 1 is halting and confused, and she speaks in prose rather than verse, demonstrating her descent into madness, as she speaks mainly in questions, asking, "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 4, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Shakespeare famously wrote his plays and sonnets using a metric line called iambic pentameter. The basic rhythmic unit that makes up a typical Shakespearean line of verse is the iamb, a metrical "foot" composed of one unstressed and one stressed syllable. "Pentameter" indicates that each line consists of five of these "feet."

Characters of noble birth, like Duncan and the Scottish thanes, tend to speak in unrhymed iambic pentameter, which is also called blank verse. This use of elevated language signifies their social status and makes their speech poetic and assured. 

Not all characters speak in iambic pentameter. The Weird Sisters utilize an unusual meter called trochaic tetrameter, which characterizes them as bizarre and supernatural creatures. The trochee, which consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, is the opposite of the iamb, and sounds less natural to the ear. The Weird Sisters also speak in short lines of rhyming verse, gives their speech a a musical and ritualistic quality, as if they are always reciting charms and incantations. An excellent example of trochaic tetrameter comes in Act 4, Scene 1:

All: Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

A few characters in Macbeth, notably those of low social status, speak in prose. The porter's speech in Act 2, Scene 3, for example, lacks both rhyme and meter:

Porter: Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes. It provokes
the desire, but it takes away the performance.

This separation of characters by speaking style is typical of Shakespeare's other plays. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, noble characters speak in blank verse, peasants speak in prose, lovers speak in rhymed verse, and fairies speak in a form of rhymed trochaic tetrameter. 

But a few aspects of Macbeth's style set it apart from other plays. Firstly, although Macbeth contains a large amount of figurative language, there is a notable scarcity of puns, which Shakespeare uses in the majority of his other plays, including other tragedies. Secondly, characters utilize delayed or inverted sentence structures to create a sense of building anticipation. The captain's speech in Act 1, Scene 2, for example, is filled with delays and interruptions that separate the subject of his sentence from the verb:

Captain: For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like Valor’s minion, carved out his passage

This type of construction, along with the use of repetition and alliteration in key scenes, create a sense of forward momentum that reflects the play's preoccupation with fate.

The language in Macbeth is also often deliberately vague. Characters obscure their meanings through imprecise word choice, like this line in Act 1, Scene 7:

Macbeth: If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly.

Not only is "done" an imprecise verb, but Macbeth also does not explicitly mention that "it" refers to the murder of Duncan until the following line. This calculated imprecision reflects themes of duplicity and muddled senses.

Characters' speaking styles also change over time, reflecting developments in their mental state. For example, Lady Macbeth's speech in Act 1, Scene 7 is eloquent, confident, and energetic:

Lady Macbeth: We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place
And we’ll not fail.

By contrast, her language in Act 5, Scene 1 is halting and confused, and she speaks in prose rather than verse, demonstrating her descent into madness, as she speaks mainly in questions, asking, "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" 

Unlock with LitCharts A+