The Transformation. In Macbeth, Act 2 Scene 1, Shakespeare reveals Macbeth’s dishonorable state of mind through his passionate diction, morbid rhetorical devices, and syntax, which convey an overwhelmed condition.
Shakespeare’s varied language and word choice help portray Macbeth’s malicious feelings about the killing of Duncan. Macbeth’s first few lines in the soliloquy, while speaking to an imaginary dagger -” let me clutch thee” and “fatal vision”- depict that he has already been conquered by evil. (Act 2, Scene 1, lines 45 and 48) Using words like “clutch,” Macbeth gives the impression that he wants to grab and take hold of Duncan’s life with passion, until it comes to a “fatal” end. With the dagger, he sees a vision of death before the crime has been committed. Shakespeare emphasizes that Macbeth’s attention is captured by the murder; therefore whenever he has time to think, he ponders murder and death. Furthermore, Macbeth’s mind is filled with images of bloodshed and gore, which Shakespeare describes as the “bloody business” filled with “gouts of blood.” Since one murder will not create as much blood as Macbeth refers to, this statement foreshadows more death in the future. Macbeth’s imagining of the blood, symbolizes the idea there will always be blood on his sword, because from this point forward, he will kill several people after this entrance into a world of evil. With thoughts of bloodshed, Macbeth is eager and prepared to eliminate anyone that comes in his path of being king. In addition, Macbeth repeats a theme of darkness and nighttime, with phrases like “nature seems dead” and “wicked dreams abuse curtained sleep,” alluding to a side of darkness which has been uncovered in Macbeth since the witches prophecy. Shakespeare uses the darkness that intoxicates Macbeth to equate Macbeth’s transformation to that of a werewolf. Shakespeare creates a comparison between werewolves, known to come out at night and ruthlessly kill without discretion, and Macbeth who, since the prophecy was revealed, like a full moon being revealed from cloud cover, is always lurking in corners, and prepared to kill even those close to him, like family and friends. Shakespeare’s diction related to nighttime and darkness foreshadows a killing spree about to commence, in which Macbeth will kill loved ones almost unknowingly, while on a hunt for kingship, like a werewolf wreaks havoc and kills unknowingly on a search for blood.
In addition to diction, Shakespeare utilizes rhetorical devices such as apostrophe and classical allusion. Macbeth makes an allusion to Tarquin, and his “ravishing strides towards his design.” (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 65). Shakespeare compares the wolf, Tarquin, the Roman who raped Lucrece to Macbeth, and insinuates that both of them will follow the same path, from honor deteriorating to a life of malignity, driven by passion and want. Shakespeare emphasizes through a classical allusion, the similarity between these two characters, both moving towards their goal, sure of what they want, becoming infamous for what they do. Furthermore, Macbeth uses apostrophe, while addressing the dagger, -“I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.” – to exemplify his need for this weapon, and near reverence to something that creates harm. From this attempt to speak to an imaginary dagger, Shakespeare illuminates Macbeth’s dependency on killing after his entrance into a world of evil. Compared to earlier soliloquies, in which he was questioning his resort to murder, he now seems ready to kill. Furthermore, Shakespeare utilizes another classical allusion, when Macbeth is stating that “witchcraft celebrates Hecate’s off ‘rings.” Using this allusion, Shakespeare associates Macbeth with witchcraft, since Hecate is the goddess of witchcraft. Sorcery, which was frowned upon n forbidden by the church, is being contemplated by Macbeth, which to Shakespearean audiences would portray Macbeth’s turn from moralistic thane who constantly honored his lord, to unrighteous slave of greed, who is plotting to kill his king.
The syntax of the soliloquy in Act 2, illustrate Macbeth’s departure into a realm of corruption and villainy. Macbeth asks the unreal dagger if it is “proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?” (Act 2, Scene 1, line 51). This rhetorical question illustrates Macbeth’s confusion and feverish excitement. When before he was worried about killing, now he seems excited to murder and is speaking to himself. In addition, Shakespeare uses a complex sentence to end his soliloquy -“hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell, that summons thee to heaven or to hell”- to emphasize the idea of consequences for actions. As soon as the bell rings, Duncan shall be killed and enter heaven or hell. Once again, this statement portrays a conviction in Macbeth’s tone, sure of the crimes he is going to commit. Furthermore, Shakespeare uses parallel structure to contrast the death of Duncan to Macbeth, the cause of his death, by saying “while I threat, he lives.” This juxtaposes the time that Macbeth is wasting while he could be killing Duncan. This is a parallel in events, shown by a parallel in structure the witches’ prophecy creates
In Act 2 and Scene 1, Macbeth’s soliloquy conveys his true transformation from respectable man to ignoble slayer, through diction, rhetorical devices, and syntax. The idea planted in Macbeths’ mind by the witches’ prophecy creates the transformation from man to beast.