What are some literary devices in Macbeth, act 5, scene 1?

Some literary devices in act 5, scene 1 of Macbeth include oxymoron and repetition, both of which are used by Shakespeare to show that Lady Macbeth is in the grip of mental illness.

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As the other educators have shown, there are lots of literary devices in this scene. However, I would add that there are several other devices that are all used to emphasize the mental state of Lady Macbeth—specifically, how she is deeply disturbed and affected by recent events.

First of all, the Doctor uses an oxymoron when he is observing Lady Macbeth. This happens when he says “slumbery agitation.” If we think about the connotations of these two words, we see that they conflict and are contradictory. “Slumbery,” for instance, makes you think of peace and stillness. This is the natural state when you are asleep. However, “agitation” suggests movement, a movement that is linked to feeling stressed or under pressure. The effect of this is to emphasize Lady Macbeth’s unnatural state of being. Like an oxymoron, she is behaving in a way that is conflicting and contradictory.

Another device worth noting is Lady Macbeth’s use of repetition. You will find lots of examples of this as you look through the scene. There is the repetition of “out,” for instance, “oh,” and “come.” Again, the purpose of this repetition is to show how much she is mentally suffering. She is not communicating in an ordinary or natural manner, which shows both the reader and the Doctor that her state of mind is really suffering.

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In act 5, scene 1, Shakespeare uses dialogue to convey action—rather than stage directions, as would be common practice. The conversation between the doctor and the gentlewoman is an example of this. In their brief exchange, they tell us that Lady Macbeth is constantly washing her hands. They don't know why she's doing this, which makes her behavior all the more strange. In actual fact, Lady Macbeth is washing her hands because she's hallucinating that they're covered with blood and that she needs to wash it off.

Blood is used here as a symbol for the great, bloody sins that Lady Macbeth and her husband have committed. Her inability to wash away the blood indicates that she and her husband will never be able to remove the stain of sin from their corrupted souls.

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During her sleepwalking episode, Lady Macbeth cannot wash the appearance of blood from her hands nor the smell of blood from her nose. This symbolizes the murder she helped commit and the fact that it haunts her to this very day. The phrase "deaf pillows" is an example of personification, where the pillow's lack of ability to listen is described instead in human terms.

In the next scene, Angus describes "[Macbeth's] secret murders sticking on his hands," which is a metaphor for the ways that Angus and his fellows have trapped Macbeth with their plans. Shortly after, Lennox uses imagery to describe how excited he is for Macbeth to die. He thinks the purpose of their mission is "To dew the sovereign flower and drown the weeds." The following scene contains the idiom "lily-livered," which means cowardly, in a line where Macbeth is angrily yelling at his servant. These are just a few of the dozens of literary devices contained in act 5 of Macbeth.

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Act V, Scene i of Macbeth certainly continues the imagery that is prevalent in the play with its phantasmagoric realm, as in this scene a succession of things are seen or imagined by Lady Macbeth.

  • Imagery - The representation of sensory experience

Lady Macbeth imagines that she sees bloody spots (visual imagery) on the stairs; she also smells blood (olfactory imagery):

Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh, oh! (5.1.53-55)

There is also hyperbole in the above lines, since saying that all the Arabian perfumes cannot erase the smell is a rather apparent exaggeration.

  • Repetition - The repeated use of words, phrases, or sentences

There is the repeated use of "Oh" in the passage above in line 55; Lady Macbeth also repeats her words in this passage:

To bed, to bed!....Come, come, come, come, come, give me your hand!....To bed, to bed, to bed. (5.1.45-47)

  • Synedoche - The use of a part for the whole

"What will these hands ne'er be clean?" (5.1.31). Lady Macbeth's hands are used to mean her soul, her conscience.

  • Metonymy - The use of something closely related for the thing actually meant

The physician observes that Lady Macbeth's "heart is sorely / charged" (5.1. 56-57). Lady Macbeth's heart represents her conscience that is burdened with guilt for the things that she has seen and known.

  • Personification - The attribution of the qualities of a person to inanimate things

Pillows are given the ability to hear in these lines: "Infected minds / To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets" (5.1.76-77).

"...Unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles" (5.1.49-50).

  •  Assonance - The repetition of vowel sounds
    (the short vowel sound of /o/)
To bed, to bed!....
...Come, come, come, come, give me your hand!
What's done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed!
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