His Knell is Knolled in “Macbeth”

In Act V, Scene XI of [amazon_link id=”0198324006″ target=”_blank” ]Macbeth[/amazon_link], Siward learns of his son’s death from Ross. Siward tells Ross and Malcolm that he was glad that his son died the honorable death of a soldier saying:

Why then, God’s soldier be he.
Had I as many sons as I have hairs
I would not wish them to a fairer death;
And so his knell is knolled. (13 – 16)*

Shakespeare is using complex [amazon_link id=”0195111095″ target=”_blank” ]figurative language[/amazon_link] here to express reverence surrounding Malcolm’s son’s death. Figurative language is the use of words, phrases, symbols, and ideas in such a way as to evoke mental images and sense impressions. Figurative language is often characterized by the use of figures of speech, elaborate expressions, sound devices, and syntactic departures from the usual order of literal language. In general, this is a way of using words to make imaginative connections in the reader’s “mind’s eye.” These connections can be called images. As you learn to recognize and appreciate figurative language, your appreciation and ability to actively read literature will increase. …

A “knell” is a sound announcing the death of a person. “To knell” is to ring a bell slowly and solemnly, as a part of a funeral. (A knell is also known as a toll.) Think of the individual movements in ringing a bell as a “knoll.” This is when the rope is moved back and forth to cause the bell to ring.

A “death knell” is the final blow a person receives in order to kill them: “knell” also means “to strike with a resounding blow;” therefore, when Seward says “his knell is knolled,” he simply means that Macduff is dead. The direct implication being that his funeral bell has already rung.

[amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]Shakespeare[/amazon_link] further points to death with another use of the word “knoll:” a knoll is a small hill or eminence of more or less rounded form or a mound. Ancient burial mounds are found throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Lines like this are what make reading Shakespeare so challenging and yet so interesting!

*[amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition[/amazon_link] edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells © Oxford University Press 1986, 2005.


Attention Students: to cite this web article in the current MLA-style, please use the example below.

Dixon, Catherine Jo. “His Knell is Knolled in Macbeth.” Feast Of Languages. Catherine Jo Dixon, 17 August 2011. Web. [today’s date].

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English literature students most commonly use the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) style to write their papers. This citation reflects the [amazon_link id=”1603290249″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition[/amazon_link] and/or the [amazon_link id=”0873522974″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition[/amazon_link]. For additional information, I recommend a free online writing lab from Purdue University: “The Purdue OWL” https://owl.english.purdue.edu/ which has current, credible information and reliable examples.

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