Give some examples of the connotation and denotation of words from Macbeth to help portray characters' innermost thoughts. Concentrate mostly on Macbeth, Banquo, Malcolm, and the King.

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Connotation and denotation refer to the implied meaning of words (connotation) and the primary or understood meaning (connotation) attached to words. Macbeth is full of instances where the real meaning is underplayed by the inferred meaning which allows the audience to read far more into the play and the motivations of its characters than they would from purely literal interpretations. Connotation adds emotion to the potential meaning of words.

In Act I, scene iii Macbeth talks of the "foul and fair" day (line 38) and he is literally referring to the bad weather (foul) and the success in battle (fair) but he also has an impending sense of something sinister and the witches' presence confirms this, especially as they give him news that makes him "start and seem to fear" (51). Banquo is intrigued but obviously uncomfortable with the witches' claims and he tries to warn Macbeth. He uses connotation when he refers to the witches and their "trifles." The word trifle means something insignificant and Banquo's innermost feelings are revealed in his attempts to downplay the witches' words as they refer to his own future when his "children shall be kings" (86) but he tries to deflect this back on to Macbeth which reveals his unease to the audience.

Duncan is full of praise for Macbeth and Banquo and talks of "a banquet"(I.iv. 56). He is feeling so proud of his soldiers and the victory in battle that he uses the words "fed" and "banquet" metaphorically, their inferred meaning revealing his absolute pleasure.  

When Malcolm meets with Macduff, he is afraid that Macduff may be a traitor and he first confirms Macduff's allegiance before the men can strategize on how to deal with their "deadly grief" (IV.iii.215). They are stricken with grief but Malcolm's words here are referring to Macbeth's treachery which is proving "deadly." They are suggesting that Macbeth must be dealt with in the same deadly manner. Therefore the connotation of the word deadly reveals the depth of their grief and their intention to avenge Duncan. They too will use such force against Macbeth.  

Much later, when Macbeth's life is unraveling and he has heard that Lady Macbeth is dead, he talks of how "tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace..." (V.v.20). The words creeps denotes a slow pace of life but Macbeth is also using it as a sinister reminder of how "tomorrow" becomes "all our yesterdays" (22). The choices he made previously (yesterday) have affected him going forward (tomorrow). 

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