Figurative Language in Macbeth

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  • 0:00 Figurative Language
  • 0:24 Similes & Metaphors
  • 2:12 Allusions
  • 2:45 Personification
  • 3:06 Alliteration & Assonance
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

William Shakespeare uses many different types of figurative language in ~'Macbeth.~' Some of these literary devices convey ideas beyond the literal meaning of the word, while others appeals to readers' senses, as we'll discover in this video.

Figurative Language

In Macbeth, William Shakespeare uses figurative language to appeal to the audience's senses and convey meaning in an imaginative way. Figurative language includes comparisons such as similes and metaphors, sound devices such as alliteration and assonance, and personification.

Similes & Metaphors

Shakespeare uses several similes, or implied comparisons using like or as, in Macbeth. In Act I, for example, the Sergeant arrives to report progress on the battlefield to King Duncan. The Sergeant describes what happens when Macbeth fights Macdonwald, who is leading an insurrection against Duncan.

'Doubtful it stood;' as two spent swimmers, that do cling together/ And choke their art.' This simile uses the word as in the comparison.

Another simile occurs later in the play after Macbeth kills Duncan and seizes the throne for himself. Angus and the other nobles do not believe Macbeth is fit to lead; Angus uses a simile to describe Macbeth as ill-fitted to the role of king.

'. . . Now does he feel his title/Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe/Upon a dwarfish thief.'

Macbeth is filled with metaphors, another type of figurative language. Metaphors are stated comparisons that, unlike similes, do not use the words like or as.

In Act I, Macbeth tells his fellow warriors, 'Kind gentlemen, your pains,/ Are register'd, where every day I turn/ The leaf to read them.' In this example, Macbeth refers to memory as a book that can be read and re-read, just as memories can be replayed in the mind.

Macbeth's famous soliloquy in Act V shows the depths of his despair after the death of his wife and his likely defeat in battle. This soliloquy is a metaphor that compares life to an actor saying his lines on stage.

'Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more: it is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.'


Allusions are another type of figurative language in which meaning beyond the literal is conveyed. Allusions are references to other works that may be familiar to readers. In Act I, the Sergeant uses a biblical allusion. He informs Duncan that the opposing army he has just witnessed is as ruthless and violent as the soldiers who crucified Christ.

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