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There are several literary devices in Shakespeare's Macbeth in Act Five, scene two. One occurs as Lady Macbeth's companion reports her behavior to the doctor. The "gentlewoman" confides that Lady Macbeth acts as if she is writing, reading and sealing a letter and then locking it away—but is sleepwalking. The doctor's response is an example of a paradox. A paradox is a statement of truth that at first seems contradictory and untrue. He notes that she is sleeping yet awake.
A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the
benefit of sleep and do the effects of watching!
How can one receive the benefits of sleep while walking around? How can one watch when asleep? It is only in the circumstance of sleepwalking that someone can be asleep and seem awake at the same time. (8-9)
There is also the use of hyperbole, or exaggeration used for effect, found in the following quote:
Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes
of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. (45-46)
The exaggeration is that perfume might cleanse one's hand, but not all the perfume in the country of Arabia could "sweeten" her hand. The exaggeration conveys the depth of the crime that rests upon her soul and that nothing will wipe it away.
In the following, Shakespeare uses personification as the Doctor describes inanimate things as having human characteristics:
Foul whisperings are abroad. Unnatural deeds
Do breed unnatural troubles: infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets... (65-67)
"Whisperings" cannot be foul or sweet. They have no physical substance. Use of the word "breed" means to create, but literally, "unnatural deeds" cannot "breed unnatural troubles"—one cannot create the other, as neither has the power to "breed" or create. Deeds also have no physical substance. Personification is used again when referring to "deaf pillows." Pillows can neither listen nor hear; only humans can do these things.
The literary devices used by Shakespeare in the play encourage the audience to imagine through his descriptions what can only be hinted at on stage. The audience responds to these images and in doing so, the players and the plot take on new life and greater depth through each viewer's use of his or her imagination.
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