What is the denotation and connotation of the word "creeps" as it is used in line 20 of Act V, Scene V, of Macbeth?

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

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Denotation and connotation are considered the opposites of each other as connotation, which is widely used in Macbeth, associates a word, in this example, "creeps," with emotions and contextual images and tries to create or suggest that there is more to a situation. In Act V, scene v, Macbeth delivers his famous soliloquy after he is informed that Lady Macbeth, his former "Partner of Greatness" (I.v.10) is dead. The word "creeps" slows the pace of his futile attempt to defend his seat, convinced that "none of woman born" (IV.i.80) can stop him. Macbeth's trust in the witches prophesies and reliance on words he misunderstands confounds his confusion and reveals the usefulness of connotation in Macbeth.

The word "creeps" denotes moving slowly and things have certainly crept up on Macbeth. Its connotation suggests something far more sinister than this as Macbeth's delusions make him increasingly suspicious. Whilst denoting moving slowly, it also suggests stealth and caution, taking time to complete something underhand. Now that Lady Macbeth is dead, it seems that all Macbeth's efforts lead only to "dusty death." He has always known that his actions "cannot be good"(I.iii.131) and the "foul and fair" (30) day when the witches first shared his future with him, "is a tale Told by an idiot...signifying nothing."(V.v.26-28)

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kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 1) Educator

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In this line, the denotation (or literal meaning) of the word "creeps" is to move very slowly, without being noticed. In this context, Macbeth has just heard that Lady Macbeth has died (by committing suicide), and by using the word "creeps," he suggests that her death was inevitable; it would have happened at some point in the future, as death happens to everyone.

In terms of its connotation, however, the word "creeps" has a deeper meaning, too. Notice how death is personified here: Macbeth suggests that death is a living, breathing thing that has physically "crept" in and taken Lady Macbeth's life. He therefore implies that death is a sinister force that snatched Lady Macbeth from him so that he is now left to face life alone. This is significant because it gives us a glimpse into Macbeth's state of mind at this critical moment in the story.

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