Tag Archives: macbeth

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter W




is for Weather




Pathetic fallacy is when inanimate objects of nature–specifically the weather–mimic human emotion. The distinction between pathetic fallacy and personification is as follows: personification “gives human attributes to abstract ideas, animate objects of nature or inanimate non-natural objects” (Literary Devices).

An example of this occurs in Phase Shift. After Molly finds Stanley’s body, she says,

At the foot of Stanley’s driveway. In the rain.  Police offer me hot drinks and dry blankets. Refuge from the drizzle in a cruiser. They think they’re helping. Won’t help take the chill off. 

On this night, the weather is cold and rainy, the perfect atmosphere for coming to terms with finding a body that appears to have spontaneously combusted and for finding out that you may be under investigation for setting the fire.

Think about the weather during “There’s a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place)” in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, or the lightening gathering as Macbeth meets the witches on the heath. What other notable uses of the weather via pathetic fallacy stick out in your mind? Share your ideas in the comments below.



Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter I




is for Imagery




Imagery refers either to vivid, sensory description in writing or a recurring image linked to themes or symbols.

One example of the latter occurs in Macbeth when Shakespeare uses clothing imagery to show Macbeth is not up to the kingship he has stolen. When Macbeth learns he has earned the title thane of Cawdor he asks,

Why do you dress me in borrow’d robes? (I.ii)

because he has yet to learn of the former thane’s execution. Later in the play, Angus says of Macbeth,

Now does he feel his title hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief (V.ii)

to say Macbeth is not worthy of his title, alluding to his suspicion that he stole the title rather than come by it honestly.

New writers are often told to show and not tell, don’t tell your reader when a character has smiled–describe her face, the curl of her lips, the gleam of her eye, the wrinkles that form around her mouth and eyes.

In Chicken or Egg: A Love Story, Nigel learns of Paula’s death and rushes to the scene. He finds her zipped into a body bag and loaded into an ambulance. He’s told she’s in rough shape by one of the EMTs, but he’s so overcome with regret that he’d never told her of his feelings for her that he climbs into the ambulance and unzips the body bag.

The ambulance’s interior smelled of disinfectant and alcohol, an odour that began to turn Nigel’s stomach before long,..He brushed away a blood-soaked lock of hair from her forehead. It left behind a copper trail. Her skin was pale, her lips and cheeks inordinately red where her makeup had clung in spite of the blood that had left her.

In this example, the reader can recall the medicinal smell of a doctor’s office or hospital emergency room, imagine Paula lying on the stretcher, pale and bloody, hair taking on a reddish hue as the result of a fatal head wound. Nigel’s feelings for Paula are exposed when he ignores the blood caked in her hair to perform one last tender gesture.

What images do you remember reading that stuck out in your mind as a brilliant, sensory-filled description? Have you written any passages containing imagery of which you are particularly proud? Share your thoughts and comments below!

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter F




is for Foil




Foils are characters that have opposing character traits and motivations.

An example of foils from classical literature are Macbeth and Macduff from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In this example, Macbeth is driven by ambition to suit his own, selfish needs, while Macduff’s only ambition is altruistic in nature, to put the kingdom back to rights. Macduff and his wife’s relationship is a loving one, while Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s is adversarial. Macduff has a child while Macbeth has none. Macduff is allied with Malcolm while Macbeth is his enemy. These and other traits set Macbeth and Macduff up as near polar opposites in character and desire, establishing them as foils.

In The Revenant, Morgan and his brother Malchus are constructed as opposites. Morgan is the naughty child, Malchus the good one. Morgan tends his family’s farm fields while Malchus is apprenticed to the local doctor. Morgan has the gift of foresight, something he wishes would go away while Malchus actively seeks out and embraces his power in the Dark Arts. Malchus raises Zulu from the grave for nefarious means; Morgan saves him. Morgan finds a life of purpose embracing the good while Malchus loses himself in evil. For these and other reasons, the brothers are set up as having opposing personalities, desires and motivations, rendering them foils.

Can you think of any other foils in literature or television? Post your ideas in the comments below.


Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter E




is for Equivocation




Equivocation occurs when someone uses ambiguous or unclear language with the intent to mislead or deceive (full definition). One example of this I like is from Macbeth by William Shakespeare in act 1 scene 6 when Lady Macbeth says to King Duncan upon his arrival to her castle:

All our service In every point twice done and then done double Were poor and single business to contend Against those honours deep and broad wherewith Your majesty loads our house.

Lady Macbeth equivocates here. On the surface, it may seem as if she is pandering to Duncan, telling him if they could do everything in their power double and then double again, it wouldn’t be enough to repay him for honouring their house with his visit. Alternately, she could be saying this sarcastically. All that Duncan has done for them at this point, besides honouring Macbeth with the thane of Cawdor title, is appoint Malcolm instead of Macbeth as his successor, something for which both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth deeply resent him. In the short story “A Grave Situation“, protagonist Sam Roeper mourns his wife after she’s left him, tending his garden to help pass the time. Toward the end of the story he lets his neighbour in on his gardening secret when he says,

“It’s all in your choice of fertilizer. Take the one I use, for example. Works like a charm. I have it on good authority its the same fertilizer they use at the graveyard.”

Here, Roeper deceives  his neighbour to believe he, too, could have the same green thumb if he purchases the same fertilizer used by the local cemetery. He equivocates because the one fertilizer the graveyard has in abundance is decomposing human flesh, hinting that Roeper’s wife isn’t missing; he knows exactly where she is: buried in his garden feeding the flowers planted there. Can you think of any examples of equivocation in literature, television or in the movies? Did you get the subtext behind it? Post your examples in the comments section below.

Foreshadowing Rant


When Killian Jones, aka Captain Hook in ABC’s Once Upon A Time vows to get even with “The Crocodile” aka Rumplestiltskin aka Mr. Gold, it’s not foreshadowing. From the moment we meet Hook, he is at odds with Rumple. When Rumple cuts off Hook’s hand and he begins to plan his revenge, it builds suspense as the viewer wonders how he ever could, seeing as Hook stuck  in Fairytaleland and Rumple is stuck in Storybrooke. His plan to get even is idle posturing, not foreshadowing. The long shot of The Jolly Roger in Storybrooke harbour however, now that’s foreshadowing, as it hints that Hook will finally get his revenge at some point in the future.  

In spite of what SparkNotes may say, when the witches tell Macbeth he will be Thane of Cawdor and King, it is not foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is much more subtle than that. WiseGeek defines it as giving “hints about things to come in later plot developments. It can be very broad and easily understood, or it may be [the] complex use of symbols, that are then connected to later turns in the plot.” To add to that, Buzzle says foreshadowing “can either be done in passing with the help of a comment, or as a thought that one of the characters has, as a symbolic representation through certain symbols, as well as certain other forms.” Going by this definition, the Hook revenge plot is the type of foreshadowing that is broad and easily understood.

I have just finished marking sixty exams in which students are asked to provide an example of literary devices, foreshadowing amongst them, from the works of literature studied in the semester. Invariably, students point to Macbeth and the first set of prophecies he receives from the witches early in the play. Told he will be Thane of Cawdor and king, the witches prophecies are not foreshadowing, any more than a character who states that he is about to go shopping and then leave to go to the store is foreshadowing. Conversely, the second set of prophecies may indeed be considered foreshadowing, as by this time the audience has learned the witches have the power to see the future and the prophecies are cryptic enough that one must have been paying attention to realize how they refer to Macbeth’s demise.

Foreshadowing in Macbeth occurs to predict Lady Macbeth’s death. Throughout the play, Shakespeare describes sleep as a metaphoric death. When Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, she is in a state between life and death. As Macbeth’s reign is about to come to an end with the attack of the English army, the audience knows that Lady’s Macbeth’s life as she knew it is also about to come to an end. Whether she survives or not, she will no longer be queen, which is a kind of death. Seeing how badly Lady Macbeth wanted her title, for her, actual death is probably preferable. If you missed the signs, missed making the connection between sleep and death, Lady Macbeth’s death would no doubt come as a shock.

Another example is in plant and tree imagery. In Act I, before Macbeth succumbs to his ambition, Duncan tells him, “I have begun to plant thee, and will labour to make the full of growing” (iv). Once Macbeth “plants” Duncan in the ground, he grows to be the new king. One of the markers that Macbeth’s end is near is when Birnam Wood advances on Macbeth’s Dunsinane castle. When Macbeth arrives at the witches’ lair before he receives the second set of prophecies, he comments they have, among other things, blown trees down (IV.i). When Macbeth hears the Birnam Wood prophecy, he asks “Who can impress the forest, bid the tree unfix his earth-bound root?” (IV.iii). This is after the witches show Macbeth an apparition of a child with a tree in his hand. Later, after seeing Banquo’s ghost, he admits to Lady Macbeth, “Stones have been known to move and trees to speak”. At this point, anyone that’s been paying attention should get the idea that trees and plants may play an important role in Macbeth’s future. This is how foreshadowing works.

Foreshadowing is difficult to incorporate into a piece of writing as it requires a great deal of planning. In the young adult novel I am currently crafting, I have been dropping breadcrumbs as to the revenant’s origin. That the necromancer responsible for Zulu’s resurrection is Malchus should come as a surprise to a few, but savvy readers will have picked up on this fact earlier in the plot than the reveal. One might ask, what keeps the reader reading if a major revelation is figured out early in the plot? Suspense is the answer. Even if the reader picks up on the clues and puts the puzzle together, he should continue reading to see if his assumption is correct. The reader is kept guessing if his interpretation is correct until the reveal, because foreshadowing done right is implicit in nature.  

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

Works Cited

Sparknotes. Macbeth Key Facts. 2012. <http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/macbeth/facts.html&gt;.31 Jan 13.

WiseGeek. What is Foreshadowing. 2013. <http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-foreshadowing.htm&gt;.31 Jan 13.

Macbeth and World Without End

Teaching grade 10 Academic English in a GTA school has been a challenging task to say the least. Right now, I am struggling with how to teach students to write a “3R Journal” for the Independent Study Projects (ISPs) which are worth 15% of their marks for the semester. The “3Rs” stand for “Retell”, “Relate”, and “Reflect”. Students are given a long list of questions they can choose to answer in each category based on a novel they selected for the ISPs, but they have difficulty using critical thought to produce a deep analysis. The Retell section does not use literary terminology (i.e., protagonist, antagonist, setting, mood/atmosphere, etc.) nor does it include a discussion of theme; the Retell does not take literature, television and movies into account to do a thoughtful comparison, and the Relate does not look at the real world and evaluate the author’s portrayal of teen issues, given the state of the world in which we live. In spite of the list of question, in spite of my preaching, and, yes, in spite of providing exemplars.

To remedy this, I have developed a labour intensive (for me) activity in which students write a 3R journal of Macbeth over 3 nights and I take it in and give them feedback so they know they are on the right track in preparation for the second of two journals. This means setting everything aside, including other marking and planning, in favour of providing detailed feedback that most of them will never read. And I get mostly drek in return for my troubles. Maddening.

I have a pretty good exemplar for the Retell portion of Macbeth which I share with the students when I give the assignment back after assessment. I sat down to provide them with a Relate, but found it difficult. I could talk about matters involving the current political climate in Ontario in which the Education Minister has used her power to subjugate, first teachers and then the rest of the public sector, ignoring their right to strike in strict defiance of the labour relations act. In this case, she relates to Macbeth because she is using her power for personal gain, possibly so she can say she single-handedly fixed what is wrong with paying public sector workers their due, and mending the broken budget, while ignoring the fact that she and her colleagues, public sector workers all, earn more than double teachers et al, but we are not supposed to discuss union matters with our students.

I could talk about the recent political upheaval in the Middle East and how many dictators in that part of the world have recently earned their dues, but that may potentially offend the student population, the majority of which are Muslims and may prefer to call these main saints rather than dictators. If I ask them to be politically correct and not refer to Macbeth as “a Hitler”, then I must, too, be equally PC and steer clear of Muslim politics.

I decided to scrap the Retell exemplar, resolved that, as long as the students gave me apples-to-apples comparisons (i.e., friends peer-pressuring one into smoking a cigarette does not equal Lady Macbeth “peer-pressuring” Macbeth into killing Duncan, primarily because a woman was not considered to be the peer of a man and the offenses do not compare in their severity), and gave me examples from the text to back up their assertions—in other words, as long as they tried—they would earn their “E” for excellent. Then I saw last week’s episode of World Without End.

World Without End, based on Ken Follett’s novel, takes place in the 1300s (300 years before Shakespeare wrote Macbeth) mostly in the town of Kingsbridge in which Petranilla (played by Cynthia Nixon) is a character to rival Lady Macbeth in the throes of PMS. Driven to secure her safety and security she schemes, lies, poisons, commits treason and murder to get her son, Godwyn, successfully elected prior. Her son takes the role of Macbeth, allowing himself to be persuaded by her plan for him, eventually driven near mad by his lust for his cousin, Caris, and The Black Death as it ravages his body and mind. He temporarily loses the title of prior—to Caris—due to his illness. With Godwyn incapacitated, Petranilla goes after a new target, this one a son born out of wedlock and given to a town couple to raise. Having poisoned her illegitimate son’s father, Roland, the Earl of Shiring, she convinces Queen Isabella (Aure Atika) to give the priori back to Godwyn, and to give Ralph (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen) the Earl of Shiring title, so he can rule Kingsbridge and take Phillippa, the girl of his dreams, and Roland’s daughter as his wife (nevermind the fact that this makes Ralph and Phillippa half-siblings). So far, in his “new gloss” as Earl of Shiring, Ralph has fared about as well as Macbeth. His peasants revolt, killing his men, and Phillippa commits suicide rather than allow him to touch her on their wedding night.

Another link to Macbeth is talk of witches. If you remember your high school English, Macbeth meets three witches who prophesy his future. Driven by what they say, he and his wife kill the current king. With that done, Macbeth continues to kill anyone who threatens his crown, including innocent women and children. At one time, Lady Macbeth prays to dark forces to give her more manly attributes which links her to the witches as well. In school, I discuss, at length, Elizabethan beliefs which include religion, superstition and witchcraft. This year I was able to use World Without End as a parallel, as both Caris and her mentor are accused of being witches for their practice of “the healing arts”. First Caris’s mentor is hanged for being a witch when she insists on amputating a man’s arm rather than healing it with a poultice of dung. Later, having pissed off the Prior (before Godwyn assumes the position), she, too is accused of witchcraft, and sentenced to death. It is only by agreeing to be a sister of the priori that she is able to remain alive. The notion of religion versus superstition and a belief in witchcraft, the supernatural and the afterlife are themes that are prevalent, not only in medieval literature, but contemporary literature as well.

Next semester, when it is time for the practice 3R journal, I will be able to provide them with a Relate exemplar, a modification of this blog entry. Hopefully that will help students to understand how they can relate their novels to themes and characters in other literature and/or popular culture.

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