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What does this phrase in Macbeth mean?this is malcolm talking in act 5 scene 4." for...

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mcake | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted January 3, 2010 at 2:58 AM via web

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What does this phrase in Macbeth mean?

this is malcolm talking in act 5 scene 4.
" for where there is advantage to be given,

BOTH MORE AND LESS HAVE GIVEN HIM THE REVOLT

and none serve with him but constrained things
whose hearts are absent too"

whats the meaning of the more and less thing?
is that an oxymoron?

What is that oxymoron's function in this passage?
for example what was the effect of using that more and less oxymoron

3 Answers | Add Yours

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 3, 2010 at 3:08 AM (Answer #1)

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I do not believe that this phrase is meant to be an oxymoron.  I believe that "more" and "less" are meant to refer to the status of various soldiers -- more means the more important soldiers (officers, for example) and less means the regular soldiers.

I think this is the case because what he is saying in this quote is that no soldiers want to fight for Macbeth.  Both the "more" and the "less" dislike him and the only ones who fight for him are ones who are forced (constrained) to do so.

The link below is to eNotes' text of the play, which has a modern English translation with it.

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jenjen456 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted January 3, 2010 at 3:30 AM (Answer #2)

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i'm sorry but i'm not sure thats a real oxymoron

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enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted January 3, 2010 at 3:53 AM (Answer #3)

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The text, as printed in the First Folio:


  • Seyw.
    What wood is this before vs?
    2295:
    Ment.
    The wood of Birnane.
    2296:
    Malc.
    Let euery Souldier hew him downe a Bough,
    2297: And bear't before him, thereby shall we shadow
    2298: The numbers of our Hoast, and make discouery
    2299: Erre in report of vs.
    2300:
    Sold.
    It shall be done.
    2301:
    Syw.
    We learne no other, but the confident Tyrant
    2302: Keepes still in Dunsinane, and will indure
    2303: Our setting downe befor't.
    2304:
    Malc.
    'Tis his maine hope:
    2305: For where there is aduantage to be giuen,
    2306: Both more and lesse haue giuen him the Reuolt,
    2307: And none serue with him, but constrained things,
    2308: Whose hearts are absent too.
    2309:
    Macd.
    Let our iust Censures
    2310: Attend the true euent, and put we on
    2311: Industrious Souldiership.

As stated, his own soldiers, officers and enlisted, have revolted; since both "more and less" have done so, he's left with "none" or zero soliders who truly wish to serve him.  So we've got a bit of a numbers pun here.  Those who do serve are "constrained things" meaning their (absent) hearts aren't really in it.

The text before and after Malcolm's statement feeds into this numbers theme -- "[we shall] shadow the numbers of our host" meaning the tree camouflage used by the soldiers will cause him to miscalculate the number of soldiers attacking him.  So the opposing army also has "more and less" -- "less" is the number that he thinks will attack, "more" is the actual number of camoflaged soldiers who will!  In this deception, Malcolm "gains the advantage" in the battle.

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