In Macbeth, what are some examples of the connotation and denotation of words that help portray characters' innermost thoughts? For example, what words help portray Macbeth, Banquo, Malcolm, and the King?
The connotation of a word is an additional meaning beyond the definition of a word. The dictionary meaning is the denotation and the inferred meaning is the connotation. In Macbeth misinterpretation abounds. Often the words used signify far more than they appear to and it is the context and the emotional and disturbing connections which give the words their sinister and therefore connotative meanings.
There are many instances when word usage reveals character traits and intentions. Macbeth's innermost thoughts and scheming ways are revealed in several of his double-talking episodes and his misinterpretation of what the witches say. Macbeth's narcissism and his inability to connect with reality due to his arrogance are clear when the witches say, "None of woman born" (IV.i.80) and Macbeth interprets that to mean he is invincible, not considering what the witches really mean or the alternatives.
Banquo is sincere when he warns Macbeth to be aware that "the instruments of darkness" (I.iii.124) cannot be trusted. Banquo is loyal and is not self-serving like Macbeth. Banquo's thoughts are revealed when he uses connotation and talks of "honest trifles" (125). He is an honorable man and would protect his king at all costs, with or without reward. However, the awarding of a title is not a "trifle" and he is trying to downplay the importance of title because of the risk to Duncan, the king. Banquo also uses connotation when he speaks of "new honors" in line 144 and he talks about how "garments, cleave not to their mold But with the aid of use." He is saying that the clothes themselves do not provide protection but it is in the way they are applied in battle; what he is inferring is that Macbeth can be honorable with his new title (and the potential for greater honors) or can use his new title (and elevated position) for less than honorable purposes.
Malcolm is cautious of Macduff's intentions when Macduff rallies him to fight for the crown. Malcolm suggests that Macbeth "will seem as pure as snow" (IV.iii.53) when compared to himself. This reveals that he will do whatever he can to protect Scotland, even if it means demeaning himself. He must first ensure Macduff's allegiance. Once he knows that Macduff can be trusted and has heard that Macduff's family has been killed, Malcolm says that they must "cure this deadly grief" (215) and help Macduff in this terrible time, but what he really means is that they must fight Macbeth to the death. Macbeth is the manifestation of this grief and the only way to "cure" themselves is to remove him completely. This further reveals Malcolm's grasp of the situation and his military thinking.
Duncan's character is revealed through Macbeth's words. As Macbeth steels himself to murder his "kinsman" and talks of how Duncan's "virtues will plead like angels" (I.vii.19), this shows Duncan to be fair and noble, but Macbeth is removing blame from himself by suggesting that the bell "is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell" (II.i.63). The connotation here is in the fact that "the bell invites me" (62). What he means is that it is Duncan's destiny and not Macbeth's fault at all as he must also meet his presumed destiny of greatness as king. He says that he hopes Duncan does not hear the bell because he does not want to alert Duncan, but it also shows Macbeth's conflicted character as he also suggests that if Duncan does not hear the bell, it will at least spare this great king from the knowledge of his impending death.