What is onomatopoeia in Macbeth?

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Onomatopoeia is a device whereby a word is utilized, or even created, in imitation of the sound or sense made by the thing it describes. We can find onomatopoeia in Macbeth from the opening scene, in which the witches describe a time "when the hurlyburly's done." "Hurlyburly" here refers to action, tumult, and so on, with aspects of "hurling" and but ultimately it seems to connote the noise and chaos of the action of the play to follow.

Some onomatopoeic words are commonly used in English—such as "mew'd," or "knocks," both of which are found in this play and are sounds which imitate the action they describe. Other examples may be found in the witches' spell: "Double, double . . . cauldron bubble . . . " The word bubble is onomatopoeic because it seems to imitate the sound made by bubbles being generated, particularly in a cauldron that is boiling. The use of this word here helps the audience to picture the contents of the cauldron (which they may not be able to really see) and to create a sense of the scene—the elements of heat on the "foul and fair" day, and so on.

A similar effect occurs when Macbeth describes Duncan's "gash'd stabs." The language choice is deliberate: the phrase "gash'd" seems to echo the sound of something messy and gushing, as blood from a wound, while the curtness of "stab" reflects the fierce plunging motions of Macbeth's arm. The onomatopoeia serves to give us a sense of the murder scene.

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Onomatopoeia is a literary device which is characterized by the use of the words which express the sounds of the objects or actions. It is usually associated with natural sounds. The primary purpose of this literary device is to intensify the visual and auditory aspects of any literary work (poem, story, etc.). Some examples of onomatopoeia are words such as hiss, buzz, meow, roar, rustle, etc.

In Macbeth, there are many instances of this literary device being used:

The raven himself is hoarse

That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan

Under my battlements.

This example illustrates the use of onomatopoeia, whose purpose is to intensify the sense of ominousness, danger and tragedy in this scene. The arrival of Duncan at Lady Macbeth's home will result in his death.

Another example of onomatopoeia is seen in the cauldron scene:

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd ...

Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

In this scene, the usage of onomatopoeic words serves to depict the brutality of the witches that use animal parts to create their evil potions. The image of the boiling cauldron is also expressed here:

  Double, double toil and trouble;
  Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Onomatopoeic words in Macbeth help readers visualize various situations and actions more vividly, like the gruesome details regarding the witches' potion. 


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Onomatopoeia is a literary sound device in which a writer imitates the noise of an object or an action. The purpose of onomatopoeia is to create both a visual and an auditory connection from the text to the reader. This can be achieved by using words like dingdong or ring to show the sound a bell may make. This is a more simple example in contrast to what may be found in Macbeth.

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, following the murder of King Duncan, Macbeth says, "[Knocking] Knock, Knock, Knock! Who's there?" The repetition of the words "knock, knock" is an example of onomatopoeia. The effect of this is to allow readers to experience the sound of the knocking on the door, which builds some suspense in the play.