Hyperbole In Macbeth

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Shakespeare uses hyperbole to show the deep guilt Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both feel for their horrible acts. The first example is found in Act II immediately after Macbeth has killed King Duncan. Studying Duncan's blood on his hands, Macbeth says these lines with deep emotion:

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.

Macbeth is saying that there is enough blood on his hand to turn the ocean itself red. This hyperbole (exaggeration) shows show much guilt and horror he feels after killing Duncan.

In Act V, Lady Macbeth walks in her sleep and goes through the motions of washing Duncan's blood from her hands. She cries out:

Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!

She means that the smell of the blood on her hands is so strong that it cannot be washed away and all the sweet perfume in Arabia would not be strong enough to cover it up. This exaggeration shows that, like her husband, Lady Macbeth is deeply guilty and horrified by her role in Duncan's murder. She also feels guilt for the murders of Banquo and Macduff's family and servants, all of which happened after Duncan's murder.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In a superlative drama such as Macbeth it seems appropriate that exaggeration should be employed. Certainly, after Macbeth commits the mammoth crime of regicide, it is appropriate that hyperbole, deliberate exaggerations or overstatements, are used by Shakespeare to denote the magnitude of this act by Macbeth and to raise the action to that of high drama. 

Here are two further examples of hyperbole:

1. In Act I, Scene 5, Lady Macbeth reads of Macbeth's success in the battlefield and his subsequent promotion. Macbeth also writes to her that three witches have predicted that he will be king. But, Lady Macbeth fears that her husband will have too much of the "milk of human kindness" to go after the crown and be king as the witches have predicted. So, after the messenger departs, she invokes the spirits to come to her and unsex her. In her speech Lady Macbeth employs hyperbole:

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. (1.5.38-40)

Lady Macbeth uses an exaggeration in describing the raven as having croaked so much about the entrance of King Duncan that he has lost his voice. As an omen of death, the raven is hoarse from predicting Duncan's death for so long. Now Duncan's time is up.

2. In Act IV, Scene 3, Macduff alludes to Macbeth in hyperbolic expression:

               Not in the legions
Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned
In evils to top Macbeth. (4.3.55-57)

In order to express the wickedness and evil that Macbeth possesses, Macduff describes Macbeth's evil as superlative to that of a devil in "horrid hell" itself. 

 

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