Word of the Day: Incarnadine

January 31, 2010 in Word of the Day

Each week, a member of the Open Shakespeare team will be selecting a word of the week to be displayed on the site’s front page. This could be one of the thousands of words Shakespeare coined, or a pre-existing word he used in a noteworthy way:

This week’s word is INCARNADINE.

When it first appeared in the 1590s, it meant ‘flesh-coloured’. Shakespeare was the first person to use it as a verb rather than an adjective, when Macbeth finds himself unable to wash the murdered Duncan’s blood from his hands:

No; this hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine Making the green one red (Macbeth, II.ii.77)

The striking juxtaposition of ‘incarnadine’ with ‘red’ was memorable enough to lead to a subtle redefinition from ‘flesh-coloured’ to ‘blood-stained’. When later poets such as Cowper, Longfellow and Byron used the word, they were alluding to this definition – and, indeed, to this very scene.

To see the full play that this week’s word is taken from, visit our copy of Macbeth.

And, if you want to volunteer a future word of the week, or get involved with Open Shakespeare more generally, please visit our site.

A long essay on Macbeth is available:
John Boe, The Tragedy of Macbeth

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