Since Macbeth was written many words in English have changed their meaning and some are no longer used. If you remember the slang you used a few years ago, it seems dated. Who now uses the word “groovy”? Shakespeare used the rich vocabulary of his day within his plays. Below you will find just a sample of words we don’t often see today and an example of how it might be used today.
hurly-burly: commotion, uproar
“When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won.” Second Witch 1.1.3
When this commotion of war is over and we know who has won and lost.
chaps: jaws, like our usage of chops
“…Till he unseamed him from the nave to the chaps…” Captain 1.2.22
Split him in two, from his belly-button to his head.
aroint thee: be gone, go away
rump-fed: well-fed, pampered
ronyon: a trash eater
“Aroint thee, witch! The rump-fed ronyon cries.” First Witch 1.3.7
“Get out of here, witch!” That pampered trash-eater cried.
thane: Scottish nobleman
“By Sinel’s death I know I am thane of Glamis. But how of Cawdor?” Macbeth 1.3.72
I know I am Mayor of Glamis because I inherited the title from my father when he died. But how am I mayor of Cawdor?
soliciting: inciting, persuading
“This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill...” Macbeth 1.3.134
This persuasion from another world cannot be bad.
harbinger: forerunner, one who goes before
“I’ll be myself harbinger and make joyful the hearing of my wife with your approach.” Macbeth 1.4.47
I’ll go ahead before you and tell my wife who will be so happy.
incarnadine: make blood-red
“No! This, my hand, will rather the multitudinous seas in incarnadine, making the green one red.” Macbeth 2.2.62
The blood on my hand would make all the green seas of the world blood-red.
prate: chatter, noise
“Thy very stones prate of my whereabout.” Macbeth 2.1.61
As I walk, the noise of my feet on the rocks reveals where I am.
marshall’st: directs, leads
“Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going.” Macbeth 2.1.43
You tell me which way I’m going.
weird: from Old English “wyrd” meaning fate.
“The weird sisters, hand in hand, posters of the sea and land…” Witches 1.3.32
We weird sisters, hand in hand, travelers of the sea and land…
physic: cures, having to do with physicians or doctors
“Throw physic to the dogs, I’ll none of it.” Macbeth 5.3.49
Leave medicine to the dogs, I won’t have anything to do with it.
play the Roman fool: commit suicide the way the Romans did
“Why should I play the Roman fool...” Macbeth 5.8.1
Why should I kill myself?
tied to a stake: for sport, bears were tied to stakes and dogs were allowed to attack the trapped bear.
“They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly, but bear-like, I must fight the course.” Macbeth 5.7.1
I cannot escape so I must fight on.
knell: funeral bell
“Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell.” Macbeth 2.1.66
Don’t listen to the bell because it is either summoning you to heaven or to hell.
“Whiles I stood rapt in the wonder of it came missives from the king…” Lady Macbeth 1.5.1
While I stood amazed from the news of it came messengers from the king.