Act 1 scene 6: some notes on language.
- Duncan’s opening words are charged with irony;
the ‘pleasant seat’ will prove his deathbed. Banquo’s words about the nesting house martins are similarly
ironic: he too will die in this place not of births but of deaths. Perhaps
the emphatic ‘d’ in his words ‘the air is delicate’ for a moment sounds
- Lady Macbeth’s words are two-faced; when she says
‘We rest your hermits’ her words are ironic, as compared to the honest
Duncan, morally she and Macbeth are like ‘hermits’ on the scale of
- Duncan’s references to Macbeth’s ‘great love’
continue the irony; note his description of Lady Macbeth as ‘our fair and
honoured hostess’. We know that fair is of course foul;he does
not: irony again.
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- Macbeth’s soliloquy (thinking aloud) reveals his
doubts; note how the sibilance (‘s’ sounds, hissing like a snake – Satan) suggests evil: ‘catch
with his surcease success’.
- Macbeth’s alliteration reveals his fear of the
consequences of regicide: ‘that but this blow / Might be
the be-all and the end-all’.The plosive b and d sounds
suggest his strong feelings.
- His numbered list of reasons why not to kill the
king moves from the literal and true (‘his host who should against
his murderer shut the door’) to
the poetic and abstract (‘his virtues/Will plead like angels’).
- The alliteration in ‘deep damnation’
is emphatic, showing that he is thinking of hell as an ultimate
consequence of such a sin.
- Lady Macbeth’s short, clipped questions (‘Why
have you left the chamber?’)
suggest tension and her anger.
gives two reasons to her why to ‘proceed no further’ but his tone
lacks conviction and his sentence is long and unemphatic. In contrast,
Lady Macbeth’s reply begins with a
series of scathing rhetorical questions given power by plosive
alliteration (‘Was the hope drunk / Wherein you dressed
yourself?’);it builds to the scathing comparison of her husband with a
pussycat, by the way throwing
‘coward’ at him with a heavy
stress on the word.
- After Macbeth’s feeble and short defence (‘I dare
do all that may become a man..’),
she uses heavily stressed words
and plosives to begin a renewed attack (‘What beast was’t then, / That
made you break this enterprise to me?). She builds to the scathing
and shocking image of killing her
own baby if she had so sworn to
it, with plosive ‘p’ and ‘b’
initial consonants stressing her contempt.
- At ‘ If we should fail?’, she knows she has won.
She immediately switches from
questions to orders: ‘But screw your courage to the sticking place, / And
we’ll not fail’. Note the force of
the ‘s’ alliteration here, and the pointed contrast of ‘courage’ with the
word ‘coward’ she used earlier.
- Macbeth’s closing words echo the witches’
spell with the mention of ‘mock the time with fairest show’ and ‘false
face must hide what the false heart doth know’ (note the
alliteration and stresses on false face and false heart, to bring home the
hypocrisy they have planned.