Literary and dramatic devices

Soliloquy and aside

Since there is no narrator in a play, other literary or dramatic techniques must be used to show the characters’ feelings and thoughts in Macbeth. Two dramatic devices - soliloquy and aside - are particularly useful for showing inner characteristics.

A soliloquy is a lengthy speech meant to be heard by the audience and typically spoken when the character is alone on stage. One example is Macbeth‘s soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 7 when Macbeth is logically outlining the pros and cons of killing King Duncan (1.7.1-28). So far, we have mainly seen him as the brave warrior and loyal subject. Now, being alone, he reveals his motives and moral scruples to us: Macbeth needs to kill Duncan to become king himself but fears the consequences.

However, before this point, Macbeth has allowed us a glimpse into his feelings and thoughts via another device: the aside. An aside is a brief remark meant to be heard by the audience but not by the other characters. In Act 1, Scene 3, the witches’ prophecy kick-starts Macbeth’s thought process, which Shakespeare shows us by having Macbeth suddenly speak five asides in that scene. When Macbeth exclaims, “Glamis, and thane of Cawdor!/ The greatest is behind” (1.3.123-124) in his first aside, it tells us that he immediately believes in the prophecies (unlike the sceptical Banquo) and expects to become king soon.

Other examples of soliloquies are Lady Macbeth’s powerful “unsex me” soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 5 or her worried soliloquy on her husband’s gentle nature in the same scene.

Dramatic irony

Macbeth is a play which is full of confusion, surprise, and lies. This becomes clear via dramatic irony, which typically means that the audience knows something which the character does not because the playwright has made sure that our level of knowledge is greater. One example is when King Duncan describes Macbeth’s castle as a pleasant place which is good for his nerves (1.6.1-3). This comes across as ironic since we have just seen the Macbeths plotting to murder him in the previous scene. Duncan is ignorant of this and does not realise that he is already doomed by coming to their castle.

Another example is when Macduff tries to keep the horrible news of Duncan’s death from Lady Macbeth because “the repetition, in a woman’s ear,/ Would murder as it fell.” (2.3.100-101). Again, this is rather ironic to us as we have just seen Lady Macbeth taking part in the King’s murder.

Yet another exam...

The text shown above is just an extract. Only members can read the full content.

Get access to the full Study Guide.

As a member of, you get access to all of the content.

Sign up now

Already a member? Log in