NCEA Formal Writing 1.5, Literary Essay


The Scottish Play is one crowded with witchcraft, ambition and consuming uncertainty.  Shakespeare makes full use of the conventions of language and theatre through Macbeth’s speech/actions to elucidate to the readers and audiences a world of direst cruelty. Macbeth forgets his morals and religion in the whirlwind of ambition he then suffers the consequences with the deterioration of his mind. The way Shakespeare illustrates this shows the volume of the crimes Macbeth has committed but also adds another dimension of direst cruelty by displaying mental illness.


Personification is one of the many language features that Shakespeare uses to convey the intense darkness of the play. In Act one, scene 4 Macbeth says “Stars hide your fires; let light not see my dark and deep desires…”. Macbeth does not want the “powers that be” to see his following actions; they are too completely wicked. This is said though the use of personification and symbolism. Stars are used as a emblem of the “Heavens” so by the means of this passage we can tell Macbeth is speaking to his “God”. He says to the stars to “hide their fires” so they cannot see his damnable ambition, but of course stars can neither hide fires nor see. Using personification in this situation, Shakespeare not only gives the impression that stars represent “God” but also shows the power of the stars; that they can see, and that there will grave consequences when they do. Deeper, the line shows that Macbeth fully believes in God and cares about what will happen to him in the afterlife. Like Macbeth, the original audience of the play Macbeth think “God” as undeniably real. A statement like “Stars hide your fires…” strikes fear and anticipation into the crowd of the 16th century because it shows that the following events are dire enough to send Macbeth to “Hell”.  This line so intensifies the plays submersion in ominous events.


“Mine eyes are made the fools o’ th’ other senses”. In Act 2 scene 1, Macbeth sees a dagger, one he cannot touch. This is an example of a theatre technique that reveals the darkness of Macbeth’s mind. He can see a dagger in front  of him, but he does not trust his eyes since he cannot grasp it; “Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.” At this stage he is very unsure if what he is seeing is real or a creation of his deteriorating mind. The dagger “appears” before Macbeth because he is completely consumed by the decision he has to make; to commit treason or not. In the soliloquy Macbeth says “The handle toward my hand?”, which shows he has imagined the dagger as if it is “asking” to be held. He also says “And such an instrument I was to use”, meaning that the dagger is the one he was planning to use when murdering King Duncan. Macbeth is convinced by these two things that he is meant to kill Duncan, that the dagger is a sign. From this he feels that the decision has been made for him, by the ‘dagger of the mind’. Such a theatre technique shows  the true intensity of the events that are about to occur, they induce a character under such heavy strain to conger up a hallucination to decide his fate. This scene further deepens the darkness of The Scottish Play. A character talking to a murder weapon (one meant for the king) that is not in front of him.  It storms the audience with uncertainty of Macbeth’s state of mind, but also, one now knows Macbeth is going to kill the King of Scotland.


In Act 2, scene 2, Shakespeare uses a hyperbole to convey Macbeth’s state of mind. Soon after murdering King Duncan, Macbeth says “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand?”. Will the whole ocean be able to wash the blood off Macbeth’s hand? The answer to this question is shown through the statement made by Macbeth, “making the green one red”. He feels that if he would try to clean the blood of his hands in the sea the blood would die the entirety of it red. He feels like the blood would never stop running from his hands, and he could never be rid of it. This of course is  extremely far fetched, the blood on someone’s hands obviously could not cause the entire ocean to become red but the imagery created from it makes such an impact. To actually have someone’s blood on one’s hands already represents so much; they are responsible for someone’s death. But to have so much blood on one’s hands that no amount of water could wash it off depicts that there is no way of escaping the guilt. To use a hyperbole in this instance really shows how grim an act of treason is and how it affects Macbeth’s state of mind. From murdering Duncan onwards Macbeth becomes a completely different person. He cannot escape his actions so it begins to define him. This powerful use of language also effects the audience heavily, reading or listening to a line like that provokes an image of gallons and gallons of blood polluting the largest body of water. It gives a sicking feeling. It again builds on  direst cruelty of the Play Macbeth. 


Another powerful use of theatre in Macbeth was the Iambic pentameter. Throughout the play Shakespeare uses a pattern of speaking that both makes the lines easier to remember for the actors, but also and more importantly conveys ‘status’. The higher in society a person is in Macbeth, the less likely they will falter the rhythm of the iambic pentameter. For example, the gentlewomen’s lines are; “That, sir, which I will not report after her.” and “Ay, but their sense is shut” where there is no real rhythm recognisable. While, when King Duncan speaks it is always recognisable; “We will establish our estate upon” and “But signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine”.  Macbeth is of the highest status in the country for the majority of the play, meaning that the rhythm of his speech should not waver, yet it does. This is noticeable in  Act 5, scene five where Macbeth says his speech that begins with “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” Every second line of this has 11 syllables, when they should just have 10. The technique of using the iambic pentameter adds another dimension to the storyline and the idea that Shakespeare want’s to convey: Macbeth’s life is ending. In the speech that Macbeth makes, he talks about days being meaningless, that instead time is measured in syllables: “To the last syllable of recorded time…”. At this point in the play Macbeth has given up, he no longer values life: “Signifying nothing.”, and no longer cares about what will happen to him after he dies: “The way to dusty death.” (dusty signifying that when we die we simply become dust). So now Macbeth does not care about using up his ‘syllables’, he uses one more every second line. The use of the iambic pentameter really shows how Macbeth’s mind has diminished; he is a king and can no longer talk properly. This point in the play is the height of the sickness of Macbeth’s mind. Macbeth’s mind being dark, darkens the whole play and even for some, their view on life.

In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare uses many, many language and theatre techniques to drench the audience in a world of direst cruelty. Examples of this are his use of personification, hallucinations, hyperboles and iambic pentameter. These techniques reach so much further than simply Macbeth’s character or the storyline, it steps over into real life. The techniques relate the play to the world the audience lives in, their religion, their values, oceans and views on life so the darkness of the play is quite influential. Macbeth’s struggle with his mind dimensioning and the ideas his character convey because of it really effects the audience. Sometimes even name of the play inspires darkness in one’s mind, so some cannot even say the name, Macbeth.



2 Replies to “NCEA Formal Writing 1.5, Literary Essay”

  1. Achievement Achievement with Merit Achievement with Excellence
    Develop and structure ideas in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas convincingly in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas effectively in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control to command attention in formal writing.

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