What is an example of pathos in Macbeth?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Pathos is a persuasive technique where the person trying to persuade uses an appeal to emotion.  There are several examples of pathos in Macbeth, but Lady Macbeth’s diatribe about bashing her child’s brains out is one of the most obvious ones.

I have given suck, and know(60)

How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:

I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,

And dash'd the brains out (Act 1, Scene 7)

In this scene, Lady Macbeth is trying to convince her husband to kill King Duncan.  She wants to convince him that she is strong, and if she could do it so can he.  At the same time, Shakespeare uses this line to help convince us that Lady Macbeth is truly nuts.  She is so violent that she brings up this terrible image of nursing a child and then bashing its brains out, losing the audience’s sympathy as she gains Macbeth’s respect.

An appeal to emotions is one way to persuade.  In this case, the use of pathos in this image works two ways.  It persuades Macbeth, but it also convinces the audience.


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