What are the literary devices used in Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1 of Macbeth?

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To be thus is nothing;
    But to be safely thus.--Our fears in Banquo
    Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature
    Reigns that which would be fear'd: 'tis much he dares;
    And, to that dauntless temper of his mind,
    He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour
    To act in safety. There is none but he
    Whose being I do fear: and, under him,
    My Genius is rebuked; as, it is said,
    Mark Antony's was by Caesar. He chid the sisters
    When first they put the name of king upon me,
    And bade them speak to him: then prophet-like
    They hail'd him father to a line of kings:
    Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
    And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
    Thence to be wrench'd with an unlineal hand,
    No son of mine succeeding. If 't be so,
    For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind;
    For them the gracious Duncan have I murder'd;
    Put rancours in the vessel of my peace
    Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
    Given to the common enemy of man,
    To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!
    Rather than so, come fate into the list.
    And champion me to the utterance! Who's there!

  1. Metaphor - "our fears in Banquo stick deep"
  2. Metaphor - "dauntless temper of his mind"
  3. Personification - "wisdom that doth guide his valor"
  4. Simile - "then prophet like"
  5. Imagery - "fruitless crown", "barren sceptre"
  6. Metaphor - "rancours in the vessel of my peace"
  7. Metaphor - "and mine eternal jewel
        Given to the common enemy of man,"

Now, YOU try some - first try to figure out what he is saying, then look at the language again and see how these thoughts are expressed poetically. For example, the "fruitless crown" and "barren sceptre" refer to the fact that Macbeth will have no sons to reign after he is gone, unlike Banquo.

See the analysis on eNotes for further help.




droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this soliloquy, Macbeth muses to himself on how his "fears in Banquo / stick deep" because "in his royalty of nature / reigns much to be feared." These two metaphors imply the depth of character in Banquo, which makes Macbeth anxious: the second metaphor plays on "royalty" (here meaning "supremacy" –– essentially, Banquo has a good and righteous nature in which reigns much for Macbeth to be afraid).

Macbeth also uses allusion to compare himself and Banquo to Marc Antony and Caesar, suggesting that Banquo "rebukes" Macbeth's "Genius." This creates an understanding in the audience of the relationship between Banquo and the king, with Banquo his righthand man and advisor.

Macbeth then reminds the audience that the witches had "hailed [Banquo] father to a line of kings." Using a semantic field of children and fatherhood, he says that his own crown will be "fruitless" and a "barren sceptre" has been placed in his "gripe." The imagery here, particularly "gripe," suggests that the sceptre has not been given to Macbeth, so much as shoved into his bowels as a punishment. This could perhaps even allude to Christ on the cross with his side pierced, suggesting Macbeth's sense of himself as a martyr. Macbeth is certainly concerned that "for Banquo's issue have a filed my mind" –– that is, he has worn down his mind in worrying over someone else's children, although there is, of course, a pun on "issue" here, with the word referring both to Banquo's potential children and to the matter of Banquo.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Numerous literary devices exist in Macbeth's speech in Act III, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's Macbeth.  I'll start you off with one, metaphor.  When Macbeth says:

Our fears in Banquo stick deep,...

he is comparing the fear he has for Banquo (since Banquo is noble, self-controlled, and wise) to something piercing his body, a dagger or sword, maybe.  His fear is the tenor of the metaphor and "stick deep" is the vehicle.  In other words, Macbeth explains or elaborates on his fear by comparing it to a deep wound.

A second metaphor is used when Macbeth says:

Upon my head they [the witches] placed a fruitless crown,...

Here, his crown is compared to a fruitless tree, of course.

The depiction of Macbeth's ambition is furthered in this speech.  Before he attained the crown, Macbeth didn't give a second thought to the fact that he alone would rule but not his heirs (according to the witches).  But once he has it, as we see, that is no longer enough.