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A Literary Devices Used in Macbeth

Imagine how dull a Shakespearean play would be without the ingenious literary devices and techniques that contribute so much to the fulfillment of its reader or viewer. Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, is a tragedy that combines fact and legend to tell the story of an eleventh century king. Shakespeare uses numerous types of literary techniques to make this tragic play more appealing. Three literary devices that Shakespeare uses to make Macbeth more interesting and effective are irony, symbolism, and imagery.

One technique that Shakespeare uses is irony. Verbal irony is when a character says one thing but means the opposite. When a reader understands the irony of what a character is saying, then he can truly understand the nature and intentions of the character. An example of verbal irony is when Macbeth says to Banquo, "Tonight we hold a solemn supper, sir,/ And I'll request your presence" (Macbeth 3.1.13-14). The reader soon discovers that Banquo never makes it to the banquet because he is brutally murdered by order of Macbeth. Shakespeare also uses situation irony. This occurs when the results of an action or event are different than what is expected. An example of situation irony occurs when Macduff talks to Malcolm and discusses the tragedies that are taking place in Scotland. Without knowing that his own family has been slain Macduff says, " Each new morn/ New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows/ Strike heaven on the face" (4.3.4-6). Ironically, Macduff comments about widows, while he is completely unaware that he is a widower himself. Irony, a key element to a tragic play like Macbeth, has the ability to make the tragic hero appear more villainous or the down-fall seem even more tragic.

The second type of literary device that Shakespeare uses in Macbeth is symbolism. The predominant symbol is blood and is used as an effective method to describe the theme of the play. N


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A Literary Devices Used in Macbeth. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 18:52, July 29, 2014, from