What techniques are used in the quote, "Come to my woman's breasts, / And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers"?

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This quotation is taken from act one, scene five. Lady Macbeth, anticipating the arrival of King Duncan to her home, is calling upon the “spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts” to make her less womanly and more masculine—and thus, implicitly, less merciful and more cruel.

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This quotation is taken from act one, scene five. Lady Macbeth, anticipating the arrival of King Duncan to her home, is calling upon the “spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts” to make her less womanly and more masculine—and thus, implicitly, less merciful and more cruel.

The first part of the quotation, beginning with the verb “Come,” is an imperative sentence. Lady Macbeth is here demanding that the spirits come to her aid, which shows how determined she is to murder King Duncan and become the queen. The breasts in this quotation, and specifically the milk in the breasts, are an example of symbolism. The milk in Lady Macbeth’s breasts is here symbolic of the femininity that she wants the spirits to take from her.

At the end of the quotation there is an example of alliteration, when Lady Macbeth addresses herself to the “murdering ministers.” The alliteration here emphasizes the phrase and its sinister, evil connotations. Lady Macbeth also uses direct address when she uses the personal pronoun “you” to address the aforementioned ministers. This direct address implies that Lady Macbeth is trying to align herself closely to the evil spirits. It also suggests that Lady Macbeth’s tone is insistent, almost as if she is challenging the spirits to act immediately and directly.

The quotation is also part of a soliloquy, which is when a character on stage speaks as if to herself. A soliloquy is different from a monologue because in a monologue the character is addressing another character and thus may not be being entirely truthful. In a soliloquy, however, the audience can trust that what the character says is sincere and a truthful reflection of what that character is thinking. Thus, Lady Macbeth’s evil intentions suggested by the given quotation are all the more alarming because they are sincere and heartfelt.

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In this quote, Lady Macbeth is trying to steal her courage to go ahead with the murder of Duncan, having received her husband's letter with the prophecy that he is destined to be King of Scotland.

Several literary techniques are used in the quote. First, Shakespeare employs alliteration, which is when words beginning with the same letter are placed in close proximity. In this case, the "m" sounds are alliterative in "milk," "murdering" and "ministers." "Milk" and "gall" also create an internal sense of rhyme with their repeated "l" sounds.

When Lady Macbeth speaks to unseen spirits, the "murdering ministers" she has just called upon, she is using apostrophe. Apostrophe occurs when a speaker addresses inanimate objects, animals, spirits, or an absent person. In this case, the murdering ministers are spirits of darkness.

Lady Macbeth uses antithesis when she juxtaposes two opposites together: the milk of her woman's breasts, usually symbolic of mercy, and the murderous spirits who she asks to turn her milk to gall.

All of these techniques are meant to build a sense of ominous foreboding and horror. That Lady Macbeth would call on evil spirits to help stiffen her to a murder also characterizes her by revealing how ambitious she is for the crown. It also shows how ruthless she is willing to become to achieve her desires.

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This scene begins with Lady Macbeth reading the letter written by her husband, a letter which acquaints her with the Weird Sisters' prophecies and the fact that he's recently been named Thane of Cawdor, bringing one of those prophecies to fruition. Immediately, Lady Macbeth seems to resolve on violence as a means of quickly achieving the remainder of the prophecy. She says, speaking of Macbeth,

Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' th' milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.  (1.5.15-18)

She vows that Macbeth will be everything the Sisters said he would, but she worries that Macbeth is too compassionate to take the quickest path to the throne: murdering the current king rather than waiting for him to die.

When Lady Macbeth finds out that Duncan is on his way to her castle, to stay the night, she sees this as their opportunity to get rid of him. In a soliloquy, she calls on any spirits that assist deadly thoughts to come and remove any feminine impulse she might have, an impulse like compassion, and fill her up with masculine cruelty. A soliloquy is a dramatic convention where a character who is alone on stage speaks her thoughts aloud; it is a way for the writer to reveal that character's innermost feelings to the audience. Shakespeare uses this technique here to show us just how ruthless Lady Macbeth is. Also, as part of this soliloquy, she says,

Come to my woman's breasts
And take my milk for gall, you murd'ring ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief.  (1.5.54-57)

Still speaking to those spirits that might help her to advance her deadly thoughts, she tells them to come to her breasts, take her milk and replace it with bitterness.  She wants to feel only the viciousness and heartlessness associated with men and none of the kindness and concern associated with women. In having her speak to someone or something that cannot respond, Shakespeare also employs apostrophe, a poetic technique, with this soliloquy. 

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