Personification in Macbeth Video

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  • 0:02 What Is Personification?
  • 1:17 Personification & Macbeth
  • 2:44 Personification & Lady Macbeth
  • 3:35 Personification &…
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

Personification is a literary device used by authors to give human characteristics to non-human objects. In this lesson, we'll look at how William Shakespeare uses personification in his play 'Macbeth' and explore how it emphasizes the characters' personal struggles.

What Is Personification?

Have you ever been somewhere and thought, 'Wow, time flies?' Or have you ever tried to buy something and thought, 'Man, that really flew off the shelf?'

In each of these examples, you were personifying an object. While personification, or giving human characteristics or abilities to non-human objects, may not be used often in our day-to-day conversations, it's very common in literature.

An author will use personification to help readers connect more with a lifeless object. As readers, we would probably not think too much about an inanimate object or wonder how it supports a theme in a book. However, if the author uses human characteristics to give this object life, we are more likely to stop and ask about its importance to the story. It makes us think more outside the box, which helps us understand the larger meaning of the story. In addition, this object now helps set the scene in the story, create a mood, and add much stronger descriptive details.

In his play Macbeth, William Shakespeare has his characters use personification to create a stronger visual of both the external and internal battles that the characters fight.

Personification & Macbeth

In the play, Macbeth often uses personification when sharing his internal battle with guilt.

When Macbeth delivers his soliloquy in Act I, scene vii, he includes several different personifications. Describing Duncan, Macbeth states, 'that his virtues / Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against / The deep damnation of his taking-off.' Macbeth is giving Duncan's virtues the ability to plead against death. Macbeth knows that he's killing a virtuous person and that very virtue will cry out as angels do against his murder.

Later in the same soliloquy, he says, 'I have no spur / To prick the the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o'er leaps itself / And falls on th' other.' There are two examples of personification in these lines. First, Macbeth gives his intent an animal-like quality by saying that it can be pricked on the sides as a horse might be. After this, Macbeth personifies his ambition by giving it the ability to leap and fall.

After Macbeth kills King Duncan, he feels guilty over what he has done and says, ''Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more! / Macbeth doth murder sleep.' '' Of course Macbeth did not hear this voice, and sleep is not a person that can be murdered. However, he has given sleep the characteristic of something living and, therefore, something that can killed.

Personification & Lady Macbeth

In Act I of the play, Macbeth sends a letter home to Lady Macbeth to tell her of the witches' predictions. When she finishes reading the letter, she says, 'Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires.' Lady Macbeth is giving the stars the ability to put out their light so as to hide her desires from others. The stars, of course, have no ability to hide a person's inner being, but Lady Macbeth is giving them this human quality of helping to keep her secrets from others.

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