Shakespeare Plays with Emotions

Shakespeare's Brilliance is illuminated at The Ware Center with "Macbeth". (Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Jessie Garrison

Associate Opinions Editor

“Shakespeare, for me, was going to be a long-term relationship,” Justin Hopkins appropriately explains the day after Valentine’s Day. Dressed in traditional Shakespearian garb, the Franklin and Marshall writing professor gave a compelling discussion before Macbeth’s opening night at the Ware Center in the heart of Lancaster city.

          Through the theme of emotions, Hopkins teaches the crowd about Shakespeare’s verse and syllable stylistic choices. Unlike a haiku—a three lined poem with a syllable pattern of five, seven, five—Shakespeare wrote his plays in verse with 10 syllables per line. Hopkins further explains that this stylistic choice was made “to represent the sound of a heartbeat.”

            The purpose of having verses represent a heartbeat is to convey a sense of emotions for the audience, both in real life and through the written plays. Hopkins then focuses on Shakespeare’s experimentation with the verse in Macbeth. Through this experimental phase Shakespeare would add or remove a syllable from the lines. Hopkins explains the reason for this is to signal “arousal, anxiety, or confusion…something intense.” In Macbeth’s line, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” there is an extra syllable. Creating a line with an extra syllable allows the audience to feel Macbeth’s intense emotions, regardless of what Macbeth’s exterior may show. 

            However, Shakespeare did not write every character in verse. According to Hopkins, “The more elevated characters,” speak in verse, for example Macbeth and other royal figures. Whereas, Hopkins’ character the Porter and other “lowly base vile characters,” speak in prose. According to Deborah Schwartz, an English professor at California Polytechnic State University, “Prose refers to ordinary speech with no regular pattern of accentual rhythm.” While verse “in Shakespeare’s plays are usually in rhymed couplets, i.e. two successive lines of verse of which the final words rhyme with another.”

            Hopkins continues to have the audience recognize the emotional presence of Shakespeare’s writing through the line “…memorize another Golgotha.” Shakespeare not only uses the assonants and alliteration to create a strong sense of emotions Hopkins explains, “[Shakespeare] creates conflict…creates an illustration of the battle, of the violence, of the death that is happening,” in the scene. According to Shakespeare Online, this line compares the brutality of the soldiers in Macbeth to the brutality of, as the online source explains, “Christ’s death upon Mount Calvary.”

            Shakespeare’s emotional linguistic choices were not the only tool to convey emotion through the audience. Macbeth itself included many political references to the realities of the time period. Hopkins explains about the historical significance in 1606 under the rule of King James. According to Hopkins, “The Gunpowder Plot was on everyone’s minds at the time.” explains the Gunpowder Plot as a “failed attempt to blow up England’s King James I and the Parliament on November 5, 1605.” Some scholar’s theories suggest, according to British Library, Macbeth’s themes of “secrete plotting, usurpation and regicide,” would create an emotional reaction in the audience. Hopkins then advises the audience to look for the ques, in this version of Macbeth, that reference to some political issues found today.

   While there are many different adaptations of Macbeth, Hopkins ensures his audience understands Shakespeare’s overall approach to emotional reactions. Having this discussion allows the audience to further understand the play, as well as, become aware to look for the adaptations The People’s Shakespeare Project made it relatable in 2019.