Exploring Desire Through Figurative Language in Shakespeare's Macbeth
In the course of this passage Macbeth settles his inner conflict between flimsy “goodness” and the evil that he yearns for by sacrificing his love for his wife.Macbeth’s inner conflict is not between “good” and “evil.”It is between love for his wife, the only reason Macbeth retains any semblance of goodness, and his desire for evil.
This passage incorporates a variety of “sweet and sour” double entendres, deceptive and harsh sound effects, personification, and symbolism to convey Macbeth’s final struggle, NOT choice, between “goodness” and “evil.” At the beginning of this passage, Shakespeare employs double entendres, a carefully placed allusion, and sound effects to convey Macbeth’s deliberate choosing yet inability to do evil because of his love for Lady Macbeth. “Be innocent of the knowledge” (3.2.51) alludes to Adam and Eve before they ate the fateful Apple that gave them knowledge and introduced evil into mankind.It is ironic how Macbeth, edging closer and closer towards evil, alludes to the part of the Adam and Eve story where Adam and Eve are pure and innocent. The contrast between Macbeth’s transition into evil and his allusion mirror his ever growing ambivalent feelings towards his wife.By asking Lady Macbeth to be “innocent of the knowledge” (3.2.
51) Macbeth is protecting her-a sure symbol of his love.A more manipulative double meaning is also present in this seemingly “innocent” and simple passage.Before now, it was Lady Macbeth who was “running the show.”Now, Macbeth has broken free of her grip and is taking control.He, by not giving her information, is taunting her and showing her that he is in charge.In the Adam and Eve story, knowledge was symbolic for evil.
By asking Lady Macbeth to be “innocent of knowledge” (3.2.51), Macbeth is asking her to be innocent of evil.Macbeth knows that he is becoming evil, and he does not want to drag his wife down with him, because he loves her.At the same time, his attitude for his wife is becoming more “frosty” and mean, which shows that he is trying not to love her.Macbeth, in a rare display of affection, playfully calls Lady Macbeth “dearest chuck” (3.
2.51). “Chuck” (3.2.51) is generally used as a term of affection and endearment.
A more subtle meaning of “chuck” (3.2.51) is “throwaway”, so basically, Macbeth is calling Lady Macbeth disposable. This clearly illustrates Macbeth’s inner conflict – he is transitioning to evil and is caught up between love for his wife and the feeling to “throw that love away” because it is detrimental to him becoming truly “evil”.Again, Macbeth illustrates his ambivalent feelings towards his wife when he says “Till thou applaud the deed” (3.2.
52).He wants to take control, assert power, and become independent of Lady Macbeth, which shows that he wants to let her go so he can become evil.At the same time, Macbeth still wants Lady Macbeth’s love and full support, because he wants her to “applaud” (3.2.52) for him.
The harsh consonant endings of most of the words in “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck Till thou applaud the deed” (3.2. 51-52) indicate that there is malevolent intent in what Macbeth says to his wife.Love for Lady Macbeth is, in essence, the only thing that is stopping Macbeth from becoming truly “evil.”Macbeth’s attempts to “stop loving” his wife show that he is choosing to become evil.
All Macbeth has to do to become evil is cut off the love he has for his wife-which at this point in the passage, he cannot do. In the second part of the passage, Shakespeare uses personification and connotation to reveal Macbeth’s final choice between love for his wife and evil, as well as to explore the battle between desire and natural compunctions. Macbeth speaks to the night as if he is talking to a godly entity, an entity he must revere and respect and awe. The word “seeling”(3.2.
52), which refers to the power of the night to blind the eyes is effective in depicting Macbeth’s reverent worship of the night. By using the word “seeling” (3.2.52),Macbeth emphasizes how powerful the night is in contrast to the “pitiful day” (3.2.
53). By describing the night with an attribute of power and the day with an attribute of weakness, Macbeth clearly illustrates which one he respects. Macbeth reveals that he has fully chosen to commit to evil and renounce his love for his wife by placing himself on the same level as the night. Macbeth says, “Come, seeling night” (3.2.
52), the word “Come” (3.2.52) being no less than a command to the night itself. By illustrating how omnipotent the night is while giving the night an order, Macbeth shows that he is on the same level, in terms of power, to the night. The connotations of night are evil and power, and remind the reader of the three witches, whose mysterious ways and supernatural powers are as dark as the night itself.
Macbeth, by giving a command to the night, is giving a command to evil. Macbeth feels that he has enough power and enough evil inside himself to order evil itself. Since the night also reminds the reader of the three witches, Macbeth is also showing his superiority to the three witches, and in a way, telling them that their evilness and their power is nothing compared to his. Macbeth uses the word “tender”(3.2.53)to further exhibit his renunciation of love for his wife.
The many connotations of the word “tender” (3.2.53) include maternal love, sweetness, and just love in general. By mocking the weakness of the day when he says, “The tender eye of pitiful day” (3.2.53), Macbeth is mocking love itself.
In essence, Macbeth views love with contempt, while he views evil with respect. “Come seeling night, scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day” (3.2.52-53) is an example of personification. Macbeth speaks to both the night and the day as if they are capable of sight and action.
By asking the “night” (evil) to scarf up the eyes of the “day” (love), Macbeth reveals that while he has chosen evil, he is ashamed of it, and he does not want love to see the evil that he does. Basically, Macbeth does not want the love, a natural compunction he feels inside himself that he cannot get away from to be aware that he is doing evil, because he is ashamed to do evil in the presence of the love that is still inside him. Therefore, Macbeth needs evil to cover up the love, so that the feelings of humanity inside him will not stop him from being evil. Macbeth calls the “hand” (3.3.54) of night (evil) “bloody and invisible” (3.
3.54), which parallels Macbeth’s hands, metaphorically speaking. Macbeth connects himself to evil by showing the reader how he and evil both have “blood on their hands” and how they both move stealthily. By making this personal connection with evil, Macbeth shows how much he has renounced love and gone over to the “dark side”, so to speak. Macbeth shows that he and evil are one and the same, and are almost interchangeable.
The most powerful double entendre employed in this passage are the words”great bond” (3.2.55). Literally, Macbeth is talking about Banquo. Figuratively, however, “great bond” (3.2.
55) could be referring to Lady Macbeth. Connotations for “great bond” (3.2.55) include the institution of marriage as well as love, on both the romantic level and the friendship level. When Macbeth asks the night’s “bloody and invisible hand” (3.
2.54) to “Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond” (3.2.55), he is asking evil to destroy the love for his wife that is inside him and to break their bond, which illustrates Macbeth’s commitment to evil. At the same time, Macbeth’s request of evil to destroy the bond between him and his wife demonstrates that Macbeth acknowledges the natural feeling of love that is inside him, which he wants to be completely destroyed so that it does not deter him or make him feel guilty for doing evil actions. Macbeth’s diction is particularly strong in this phrase.
Macbeth does not just ask for the bond of love between him and his wife to be destroyed, he is asking for it to be cancelled. Cancelled means much more than destroy. To cancel means to remove from existence. Macbeth’s strong diction shows that he is so desirous of evil that he would “remove from existence” the love between him and his wife to get the evil that he longs for. What strikes the reader’s eye in this passage is the amount of double entendres and connotations used.
While the double entendres and connotations serve to let the reader delve deep into the tension Macbeth is feeling towards his wife, as well as to highlight a major motif of the play, disguise, they also serve to try to answer one of Macbeth’s burning questions. Why is evil so desirable? SO desirable, in fact, that Macbeth would rather renounce his love for his wife than not have it. Evil, for Macbeth, is not a choice- it is a desire.And love is not a choice either.It is an unwanted deterrent that Macbeth cannot get away from.
In this passage, while Macbeth’s desire for evil clearly overcomes his love for his wife, Macbeth knows that this love is still inside him. Shakespeare makes the point that desire can overcome love because one desires things because they are unattainable. Macbeth was a noble hero, incapable, it seemed, of evil. Now, in this passage, Macbeth is fully capable of evil. However, this evil is unattainable, because of his love for Lady Macbeth as well as his humanity. This passage is a battle between what is unattainable and what is natural, what is unattainable being more attractive than what is natural simply because it is unattainable.
Love, which is natural, can never leave, and evil, which is unattainable can never be fully had. “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, // Till thou applaud the deed.-Come, seeling night,// Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day// And with thy bloody and invisible hand// Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond” (3.2.51-55)