What is the stress pattern of Macbeth's soliloquy in Act I, scene vii?If someone could mark the whole soliloquy, or guide me to where I could find it that would be great. Thanks  

Expert Answers
shakespeareguru eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This soliloquy is written in the verse structure that Shakespeare used in writing his plays -- iambic pentameter.  It follows a repeated rhythm in five feet of verse per line.  Each foot is broken down into stressed and unstressed syllables (five stressed feet and five unstressed) in an alternating pattern.  Like this:

da DUM/ da DUM/ da DUM/ da DUM/ da DUM

The "da," in all small letters, is the unstressed foot of the syllable.  The "DUM," bolded in all Caps, is the stressed foot, which means that it gets the weight of your emphasis when speaking it.  Shakespeare used this unstressed/stressed structure, because it is very closely aligned with the natural rhythm of English, and it mimics our heartbeat.  So, it is meant to be spoken aloud rather than simply read like many other verse structures.

You should be able, once you have the pattern, to do some of this work of identifying the stressed and unstressed syllables on your own, since it is a repeating pattern.  Below, I have given you the link to a great Enotes page on iambic pentameter, so you can use this to guide you further.

PLEASE NOTE:  There are specific notations to use in standard marking of stressed and unstressed syllables.  I will use ALL CAPS  for stressed syllables and all small letters for unstressed in the way that I did in the example above.  You should follow the notation shown for properly marking the passage.


If IT/ were DONE/ when 'TIS/ done THEN/ 'twere WELL

It WERE/ done QUICK-/ -ly IF/ the ASSASS/ -i- NATION

Could TRAM-/-el UP/ the CON-/ -se- QUENCE/ and CATCH

With HIS/ sur- CEASE/ suc - CESS/ that BUT/ this BLOW

Might BE/ the BE-/ -all AND/ the END-/-all HERE

But HERE/ u- PON/ this BANK/ and SHOAL/ of TIME

We'ld JUMP/ the LIFE/ to COME.

I have finished my example in the middle of a line, since this concludes the first whole complete thought in the speech.  A couple of things to note:

  • You will see words divided into separate feet above.  You must be careful to split words of more than one syllable so that the meter stays true.
  • You will also notice where Shakespeare has created what look like funny contractions (example above:  "We'ld").  This is simply the joining of two words into one or the reducing of syllables in a word with more than one to help in fitting the rhythm of the meter.  You must be careful to note these contractions.

Good luck!  I've also given you a link to an analysis of this soliloquy, so that once you have your stressed/unstressed syllables in place, you can read it aloud and see what ideas it gives you about what meaning Shakespeare might be after in having Macbeth stress some words/ideas over others.