How Shakespeare Used Unique Language and Coined New Phrases to Enhance Macbeth – British Library



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“When Shakespeare began writing Macbeth (probably in 1605), there seem not to have been enough words in the English language to deal with his protagonist’s state of mind and the events relating to it. We find a surprisingly large number of ‘Williamisms’ (first recorded usages in the Oxford English Dictionary) – 62 of them – most of which feel like genuine coinages on Shakespeare’s part, for they clearly relate to the themes and actions of the play.

For a start, there’s the word needed for the central event:

If the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence (1.7.2)

Assassin and assassinate were already in use, and other attempts had been or were being made to find a noun for the ‘act of assassinating’, such as assassinment, assassinacy, and assassinay. But Shakespeare either hadn’t come across these or didn’t like them. And it is his usage which remained in the language.

Other murder-related words had to be coined. Macbeth says of Banquo and Fleance:

They are assailable (3.2.29, ‘open to assault’)

And we find two new verbs capturing the redness of blood:

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red. (2.2.62, ‘dye with incarnadine’)

Go prick thy face and over-red thy fear (5.3.14, ‘cover with red’)

Incarnadine (‘flesh-coloured, carnation’) had already been used as an adjective and a noun, but this was the first time it had been used as a verb.”



  • David Crystal


  • Macbeth and Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation


  • British Library


  • No date.


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