How does Shakespeare exemplify Macbeth’s deranged state of mind

Shakespeare has conveyed the idea of the degeneration of Macbeth’s mind and his descent into despair skillfully through the use of many language effects including metaphors, personification, emotive language, symbolism and rhythmic changes. The idea of power was presented to him by the witches as they told him prophecies and fed him lies of false security. He made it clear that Macbeth’s thirst for power and security was a weakness and that was what caused him to turn to the pessimistic mindset that he did. As mentioned earlier in the play “security, Is mortals’ chiefest enemy.” This quote represents the dangers of having security and feeling safe. It is clarified by Macbeth that security does have a certain element of danger when he begins to turn to madness after he acquires the security of being king.

During scene 3 act 5 after choosing to trust prophecies and dismissing warning of the battle Macbeth was brought news of a huge army that was approaching his castle. It was in this moment that Macbeth lost courage and began to convey ideas that he was truly considering the meaninglessness of his life. Previously he had believed that he was invincible due to the false sense of security that the 3 witches had been giving him via their prophecies.  Although Macbeth had shown many signs of madness this was the first occasion that Macbeth had expressed his loss of will to live.

This idea was clearly communicated in a soliloquy spoken by Macbeth when he stated “I have lived long enough; my way of life”. This line not only depicts his abandonment of hope but it also differentiates him from regular people and the regular way of life when he states “my way of life”. It accentuates the fact that Macbeth has ventured down a path that very few will ever go. The following line then expresses the deterioration of Macbeth’s mind, morals and will to live by stating “Is fall’n into sere, the yellow leaf,”. Through the use of symbolism Shakespeare compares Macbeth to a “yellow leaf”  representing that deterioration. Just like a yellow leaf, withering and ready to fall from the tree, Macbeth too is withering and ready for his life to end.

Another way that Shakespeare conveyed Macbeth’s degenerating mind in this soliloquy was through the use of emotive language. The soliloquy began using words that had positive connotations such as, honour, love, obedience and friends. Although he is stating that these are things he doesn’t obtain it still impacts the audience in a way that doesn’t seem as dark. Contrary to this, the second half of the soliloquy uses words with negative connotations such as, curses, poor heart, deny, dare not. This exemplifies Macbeth’s outlook on his life and how as time went on his perception became more and more negative.

Macbeth’s mind was beginning to degenerate as was his will to live. he had lost the rhythm in his life and Shakespeare exemplified this by disrupting the rhythm of his speech. Majority of Shakespeare’s plays were created with the use of iambic pentameter for the lines of his main characters. Iambic pentameter is a line of verse that consists of five metrical feet, giving the play a rhythm and flow. The iambic pentameter rhythm is often subconsciously associated with superiority due to the fact that it is always used by the major roles in the play. Shakespeare, as a way of displaying Macbeth’s degenerating mind, began to disrupt the iambic rhythm by adding an extra syllable to the line as shown in these lines

“And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,”

Every second line finished on what is known as a “weak foot” or a “feminine ending” which represents the way that Macbeth is lacking strength in himself. This language effect allowed shakespeare to convey the idea that Macbeth was losing sight of his morals and being overwhelmed by despair. It also shows that he is still hungry for power and trying to remain important. This is because the iambic rhythm is a way of representing authority and Macbeth is still attempting to speak in the rhythm because he still wants to possess power and domination over others.

As the play is continued Macbeth’s mind continued to deteriorate and become more and more reliant on the false sense of security that the witches were giving him. It seemed as if Macbeth had reached the lowest of all lows until Lady Macbeth too begins to fall into madness and dies in Act 5 Scene 5. Macbeth becomes distraught and dwells on the emptiness of his life. This pessimistic perspective is expressed through the use of metaphors, symbolism and personification.

Macbeth’s view is expressed in the line “creeps in this petty pace” to represent the fact that he has recognised death as being inevitable and the human life as meaningless. The alliterate words “petty pace” describe the way Macbeth sees all human years as being short and irrelevant in the great scheme of things.  He also uses personification to depict that the years of a human life creep along slowly and aimlessly until one day they disappear.

Shakespeare uses a metaphor in the line “out, out brief candle!” to compare life through his eyes as being short-lasting, fragile and pointless and once again reiterates the fact that he wants his life to end. He uses the word “brief” to accentuate the fact that our lives are so short and cannot compare in the slightest to the greater energies in the universe.  He uses “out, out” to signify that he wants his life to end just like a candle is blown out. The comparison of the candle is also to depict the fact that, just like the life of a candle, the human life is fragile and can easily disappear and be forgotten forever.

Shakespeare creates the concept that the script of Macbeth represents the life of of the characters by stating  “To the last syllable of recorded time” and “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage”. These lines begin to show more of Shakespeare’s voice as they remind the audience that the characters are merely actors and Macbeth’s life is merely a string of words on a script. Shakespeare’s message he was trying to convey was that we are all actors aimlessly moving through the motions of life. We too are expected to follow a system of life that has been set up for us just as the actors in the play of Macbeth follow the script. We move through school, university, having a job, having a family and retirement just as the actors move through Acts of the play. And just like Macbeth one day we will too reach our last syllable, but what was it all worth?





Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. This essay structure and ideas are developing well. I’d suggest that the introduction of ‘security’ on its own needs further explanation in your introduction. This is difficult as you don’t want to analyse the term in the intro – so I’d encourage you to use a phrase that explains what you mean, and then in the analysis paragraph where you explore Hecate’s point, you focus on the word security then. The intro should make sense in its own right, even though you still need to prove these points in the essay to follow.

    You’re selecting interesting and relevant detail, but do be careful not to use words that few people know the meaning of. Always choose the best word for what you’re trying to say, rather than the most obscure word.


  2. Hi Mr waugh,
    i missed the period in tuesday due to watching the play in drama.

  3. Achievement Achievement with Merit Achievement with Excellence
    Develop and structure ideas in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas convincingly in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas effectively in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control to command attention in formal writing.


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