To convey the idea that ‘power corrupts the mind’ throughout the play of Macbeth, Shakespeare uses a broad range of various language features and literary devices in order to give an insight into his own thoughts and opinions on the complexity of the human mind, specifically his character, Macbeth. This includes metaphors, verse structure, soliloquies, and many other fascinating techniques to convey his ideas in the text and make the play more effective and interesting to the reader. The instability of Macbeth’s mental state progressively increases as the story line proceeds and Macbeth falls deeper into the cruelty of his ambition for power. 

 Subsequent to when Macbeth was told by the witches that he was to lead a promising future of royalty and leadership, he became obsessed with the idea that he would have power over the minority, which consequently lead him to a greed imposed thirst for power. He relied on his proposed fortunes so heavily that his rapacious ambition drove him to a near psychotic state of mind. Macbeth’s stubborn and ambitious attitude, eventually caused him to lose grip of the ability to surrender against his enemies. He stood by the witches promising prophecies to the obsessive extent that he eventually got himself killed because of it. This is presented in act 5, scene 8, where Macbeth refuses to surrender against Macduff, who enters with a confronting challenge, “Turn, hellhound, turn!”. Shakespeare’s use of this epithet recalls to previously in the text in act 4, scene three where Macduff had referred to Macbeth as a “hell kite”, this emphasises the true characteristics of Macduff’s confident nature. To respond, Macbeth attempts to inform Macduff that he can not be harmed, by warning him that he is ” intrenchment” as the air itself. By comparing himself to the invulnerable air around him, Macbeth proves that he mistakenly imagines that the words of the witches apparitions have cast a somewhat protective charm over his life to shield him from danger or harm. He let his desire for faculty overrule his caring and respectful attributes that he was once known for by his relatives and peers. By representing this perspective of ambition in the play, Shakespeare teaches the reader that greed is not only an unruly trait, but its is also unhealthy for one’s well-being and can drive the mind to an unstable state of mental health.


The degeneration of Macbeth’s twisted mind causes him to make impulsive decisions in order to potentially maintain his power and position on the throne. He takes advantage of his position in society to commit knowingly sinful crimes whilst maintaining his innocence and reputation. This idea is displayed in act 3, scene 3, where Banquo is killed by homicide by two murderers whom Macbeth had hired to do the deed on his behalf. He and Banquo had been close acquaintances prior to Macbeth’s crowning, however Macbeth felt threatened by Banquo’s existence as he knew that he was guilty for the death of King Duncan and if Banquo were to spread the news it could be extremely detrimental to Macbeth’s higher powered status. Macbeth somewhat manipulate the murderers into believing that Banquo is an enemy to them, and his homicide is a crime they willingly must complete rather than an optional task. “So is he mine; and in such bloody distance That every minute of his being thrusts Against my near’st of life. And though I could With barefaced power sweep him from my sight And bid my will avouch it, yet I must not, For certain friends that are both his and mine, Whose loves I may not drop, but wail his fall Who I myself struck down. And thence it is, That I to your assistance do make love, Masking the business from the common eye For sundry weighty reasons.”  This passage in the text proves that not only did his desire for power push him toward a state of insanity but it also drove him to manipulate the minds of others for the sake of his own selfishness.


Shakespeare projected the disturbance of Macbeth’s deteriorating mind by breaking the rhythm of iambic pentameter in his text. This portrays the fact that Macbeth’s character had lost his mind to the point where he was driven to the verge of insanity and was losing grip of the ability to maintain his royal standard of speech. Other than this example of broken verses , Shakespeare constantly uses the rhythm of iambic pentameter to structure his lines. Each line typically consists of 5 sets of metrical feet (i am), meaning one stressed and one, unstressed syllable, creating a verse of 10 syllables. when Shakespeare used the disruption of iambic pentameter to represent Macbeth’s deteriorating state of mind, he  ends the lines on a weak foot by leaving the last metrical foot incomplete. An example of this is shown in act 2, scene 1 to reinforce Macbeth’s uncertainty towards his own mind as he hallucinates a dagger levitating before him. “Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee” The opening line of this quote finishes on an 11th syllable followed by an inversion in the middle of the nest line. Shakespeare employs this technique in order to emphasise the sporadic structure of Macbeth’s thoughts, he also finishes the line with yet another weak foot of only 5 syllables, “come, let me clutch thee”, to continue with the incomplete tension of the verse that mirrors Macbeth’s doubtfulness of the dagger.


In the play of Macbeth, Shakespeare enriches the text with metaphors and similes to convey his ideas and thoughts during the degeneration of Macbeth’s mind. By the use of metaphors, he creates meaning behind the expressions of Macbeth’s character, adding a clearer insight to the reader’s perspective of the text.  During a brief soliloquy, Macbeth describes his views on his own plummeting mental state, ”  My way of life, Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf.” By describing himself this way, Macbeth is comparing his hectic life to that of an object the is withering and dying away, something that is complete in its life and can no longer serve its purpose in the environment surrounding. Macbeth feels as though his time as a part of the living realm of life is coming to an end and his mind has fallen to a state of decay, just as a yellowing leaf falls from the tree in autumn and decomposes back into the earth. 

Another strong example of a metaphor in the text is written at the foot of Macbeth’s near psychotic period in act 3, scene 1 where Macbeth is referring to the witches prophecies regarding his future of royalty.  “Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown”. By describing his crown as “fruitless,” it conveys the idea that it is barren and merely useless as he can not bear any heirs to the throne after him, therefore his crown has no meaning.  He exclaims this is an emotion of betrayal from the prophecies of the witches as they had told Banquo that he would be, “father to a line of kings” and his family blood line would run through loyalty to a much larger extent.  Macbeth feels as though the witches proclaimed Banquo’s destiny to be of greater value than Macbeth’s singular short-term wearing of the crown. By this he is insulted and is driven to feel as though killing Banquo would be the only solution to his selfish dilemma.

The broad variety of literary devices that Shakespeare employs in his written language, shape the structure of the play, Macbeth and fulfil the tragic appeal of the story line. He uses a vast array of metaphors to give a more comprehensible insight into his ideas shown in the text. He also employs the technique of broken verse structure by using a disturbance to iambic pentameter to show the deterioration of Macbeth’s unstable mind and inability of speech. Throughout the entire text, Shakespeare portrays ideas of the vulnerable fallibility of the mind through the views and mannerisms of Macbeth’s character to convey his own ingenious theories and outlooks on this topic. 



Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Hi Himaya,

    You have a very interesting written ‘voice’ and there are times when you can craft sentences to convey your ideas with some originality.

    Remember to keep your eye on the question, which is what devices does Shakespeare use to convey his ideas. You have some excellent observations to make and you are supporting these with evidence, however in the first two paragraphs you haven’t named the language or dramatic device that Shakespeare employs.

    Do speak to me if you need assistance labelling the effects.

    Also, keep your quotations short. They should be woven and embedded in the writing, with only the key material offered – a line, maybe two.


  2. I missed two periods last week due to the play we went to with the drama students on tuesday the 5th of june, I was also home sick on friday the 8th.

  3. i will be completing my essay from 6 to 7 pm today. (18 june)


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