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Macbeth Act  1 scene 6: some notes on language.


  1. 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 like ‘de….ath’.
  2. 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 values.
  3. 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.


Scene 7

  1. 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’.
  2. 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.
  3. 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’).
  4. The alliteration in ‘deep damnation’ is emphatic, showing that he is thinking of hell as an ultimate consequence of such a sin.
  5. Lady Macbeth’s short, clipped questions (‘Why have  you left the chamber?’) suggest tension and her anger.
  6. Macbeth  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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

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