Friday, February 6, 2009

Pathetic Fallacies in Macbeth

A pathetic fallacy is the attachment of human traits such as emotions, thoughts, sensations and feelings to inanimate objects. It largely relates to the personification of objects. Examples are smiling/dancing flowers, angry/cruel winds, and brooding mountains.

Its Use In Macbeth:
"Thunder and lightning. / Enter three Witches / When shall we three meet again? / In thunder, lightining or in rain?" (1.1.1-2)

In the beginning of the play, we already see that the use of pathetic fallacies, particularly, the use of nature, to reflect emotions and events is an integral part in Macbeth. The play beginning with thunder and lightning with three dark and evil witches entering onstage establishes a omnious atmosphere for the play and also foreshadows the dark and dismal events to come.

"The night has been unruly: where we lay / [...] Lamentings heard i'th' air, strange screens of death, / And prophesying with accents terrible /[...] Some say the earth / Was feverous and did shake." (2.3.55-62)

This excerpt clearly uses pathetic fallacies to reflect the events that have happened during the night of Duncan's murder. The unruliness of the night, the "strange screams of death" heard in the air, the "feverous" and shaking nature of the earth (II.iii.55-62); these sinister personifications are all symbolic of the dark murder that happened the night before.

"By th'clock 'tis day,/ And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp; is't night's predominance, or the day's shame, That darkness does the face of earth entomb/ When living light should kiss it?" (2.4.5-9)

This excerpt comes at the end of the act, when Ross is talking to the old man, and speaks of how the dark seems to overpower even the goodness of light. There are several relevant issues; The King has been assassinated, the only witnesses of the murder (the guards) have been slain as well, the sons of the King have fled. There are also other foreboding symbolic happenings; The falcon being killed by the low-flying owl, the horses of the king breaking out of their stalls, going crazy, and eating each other. There is evil present; it is the darkness. All normality and goodness, or "travelling lamp" which is the sun, is being "strangled" or taken over by the evil.

Modern Painters Vol. III, Part IV (1856). John Ruskin (1819 – 1900).

Word Origin
The word “pathetic fallacy” originates from two basic words: pathetic comes from the word “pathos” and a fallacy is the false interpretation of an external thing.

Pathetic fallacies were utilized before Ruskin’s time, even at the time of Homer. Also, there was a rampant use of pathetic fallacies towards the 17th century. Pathetic fallacies were used by both painters and poets.

Ruskin was the first to coin the term “pathetic fallacy” in the year 1856. In his renowned piece of work, Modern Painters Vol. III, Part IV, he states that people make pathetic fallacies because sometimes, they undergo a series of occurrences or events, which ultimately make them temporarily irrational. John Ruskin states his thoughts in chapter 12 of Modern Painters Vol. III, Part IV, “an excited state of the feelings, making us, for the time, more or less irrational"(5.205). As a result, pathetic fallacies produce in us a falseness of our impressions of nature.

Examples where Pathetic Fallacies are used:
Kingsley’s The Sands of Dee: “They rowed her in across the rolling foam – The cruel, crawling foam”.
In “On The Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” by John Milton (1608 – 1674), all aspects of nature react affectively to the event of Christ’s birth.


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