Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What were some literary devices used to help portray crime and violence in act 1, scene 7, in Macbeth?

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Shakespeare uses various devices to portray crime and violence in act 1, scene 7 of Macbeth.

The bard utilizes personification and simile during Macbeth’s soliloquy in which he worries about karma. He states that “Bloody instructions…return / To plague the inventor.” Macbeth is concerned that if he (the inventor) commits murder, he will suffer the consequences. He reminds himself that Duncan has been such a good man and king, that were he to be murdered, the heavens themselves would cry out.

Shakespeare personifies Duncan’s personality, as Macbeth states that “his virtues / Will plead like angels” against the injustice. He compares Duncan’s good qualities to angels to reiterate that the king is an innocent person who should not be subjected to a horrible crime. Next, Shakespeare personifies pity, who “like a naked new-born babe /…Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye.” Pity is compared to an infant, who is pure and innocent, to further suggest that Duncan is pure and helpless like a baby. Pity will tell everyone about the unjust murder, thereby exposing Macbeth.

Shakespeare also uses imagery to portray Lady Macbeth’s argument to convince Macbeth to kill the king. For instance, she argues that, were she to make a promise to her husband, she would do anything to see it through. She states that she would kill her own child if she had promised Macbeth to do so:

I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn.

The horror of Lady Macbeth’s words is underscored by the demonic image they create in the reader’s mind.

The playwright also combines alliteration, consonance, rhetorical questions, and simile when Lady Macbeth outlines the plan. She tells Macbeth to “screw your courage to the sticking-place.” She will “with wine and wassail” confuse “the warder of the brain” so that they can frame Duncan’s guards. They will have no memory of what really happened, and “the receipt of reason” will be lost because they will be “in swinish sleep” when the murder occurs. The repetition of strong consonant sounds brings a strength to Lady Macbeth’s words, echoing the power and control she wants to have and attempts to hold over Macbeth.

She also chides her husband that the guards in their drunken stupor will “lie as in a death.” This simile suggests that the guards will not be threats to the true murderers and also reminds Macbeth that death looks just like sleep, so he should not be afraid.

Finally, Shakespeare adds in rhetorical questions, as when Lady Macbeth asks “What cannot you and I perform upon / The unguarded Duncan?” The question is meant to go unanswered but implies that they will get away with murder because the guards will be incapacitated.

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