Macbeth: Symbolism

In William Shakespear’s Macbeth, symbolism is abundantly used in
exemplifying the overall theme of murder. There are several prominent forms of
this throughout the play. The contrast of light and dark representing good and
evil plays a major role in the advancement of events in the play. Blood
symbolizes murder and guilt. The archetypal pattern of purification by water is
used several times in the play, particularly in the murder scenes. Symbolism is
widely displayed in order to achieve the general topic of evil.

Light and dark represent good and evil in the play. During the time in
which Macbeth was written, the king was associated with the sun. The sunset
symbolized his death or overthrow. The quotes “When shall we three meet again .

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. . ” and “That will be ere the set of sun.” (I. i. 1,4) foreshadow the king’s
death. The imagery of light and dark continues throughout the play. “Stars,
hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.” (I. iv. 50-51)
demonstrates Macbeth’s step toward evil. Most of the corrupt or unusual events
in Macbeth occur under a cloak of darkness. The murders, Lady Macbeth’s
sleepwalking, and the appearance of the witches all take place at night. Lady
Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene is the epitome of the light/darkness symbol. She
once craved the darkness but now carries a candle to dispel it. The line, “She
has light by her continually; ’tis her command.” (V. i. 19), symbolizes Lady
Macbeth’s fear of darkness or evil.

The image of blood plays an important role in the event of Duncan’s
murder. It represents Macbeth’s guilt and shame about the horrific crime.

After killing the king, Macbeth comments on his blood stained hands by saying,
“As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands.” (II. ii. 28) Macbeth refuses
to return to the crime scene to smear blood on the guards, fearing the blood
will somehow implicate him further. Macbeth feels uncomfortable with blood on
his hands. He immediately tries to remove it after killing the guards.

The archetypal pattern of purification by water is prominent in the play.

It symbolizes the removal of guilt. Following the murder of Duncan, Lady
Macbeth reassures her husband by telling him, “A little water clears us of the
deed”; (I. ii. 67) Later in the play, Lady Macbeth repeatedly rubs her hands
together, representing washing her hands. She hopes to clear her conscience by
removing the “spot” from her hand, as she says, “Out, damned spot! out, I say!
. . . ” (V. i. 31) Water symbolizes the purification of a guilty conscience.

Symbolism plays an important role in Shakespear’s Macbeth. It is used
in numerous forms to relate the overall theme of murder to the actions of
Macbeth. Light and darkness represent good and evil respectively. Blood
represents Macbeth’s and his wife’s guilt about Duncan’s murder. Water
symbolizes purification of the conscience.These symbols effectively portray
the ominous theme of murder in Macbeth.
Category: English

Macbeth Symbolism

Macbeth Symbolism With its eye-opening plot and interesting cast of characters, William Shakespeares play, Macbeth is one of the greatest works one could ever read. But, above all, the aspect of the play is most impressive and overwhelming with imagery and symbolism that Shakespeare so brilliantly uses. Throughout the play , the author depicts various types of imagery and symbolism instances that , eventually , lead to the downfall of the main character , Macbeth. Instances of imagery and symbolism are seen throughout the play. Imagery and symbolism are unavoidable features in William Shakespeares Macbeth. One of the most prominent symbolic factors in the play is the presence of blood.

It has been noted that the presence of blood “increases the feelings or fear , horror , and pain” (Spurgeon , Pg. 20). From the appearance of the bloody sergeant in the second scene of the to the very last scene , there is a continued vision of blood all throughout the play. The imagery of blood seems to affect almost all the characters in the play. It affects Lady Macbeth in the scene in which she is found sleepwalking talking to herself after the murders of Duncan and Banquo : “Heres the smell of the blood still.

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All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” [V. i. 50-1] Also , the blood imagery is present in the “weird sisters” , or witches. Most evidently , it is present in act four , scene one , when Macbeth visits the witches to seek their insight and his fortune for the future. He is shown three apparitions , one of which is a bloody child that commands him to “Be bloody , bold and resolute : laugh to scorn..” [IV. i.

79] Although blood imagery deals with almost all the characters of the play , no where is it more profound than with the protagonist himself , Macbeth. In the very beginning of the play , it is reported by the sergeant that Macbeth and Banquo are “[bathing] in reeking wounds.” [I. ii. 42] Again , blood is found haunting Macbeth in act two , scene one of the play , in which a visionary dagger is stained with “gouts of blood.” In the same act and scene , after the murder Duncan , Macbeth cries declares that nothing , even “great Neptunes oceans” , will be able to cleanse the blood that stains his hand : “Will all great Neptunes ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No , this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine , making the green one red.” [II. ii.

58-60] Next , the image of blood is induced when Macbeth calls upon the “bloody and invisible hand” of night to help the murderers he has hired carry out their assassination of Banquo and his son , Fleance. Then , Macbeth realizes that “blood will have blood” and that his murderous plots will all come to and end with his death. Finally , at the end of the banquet scene , Macbeth confesses that he is “in blood , steppd in so far that , should [he] wade no more , returning [would be] as tedious as to go oer.” [III. iv. 136-7] Through all these instances of blood symbolism and imagery , it is obvious that “Macbeth is about blood.” (Muir , Pg. 271 ) Yet another form of symbolism used in the play is that of unnaturalness. Throughout the work , it is used in the constant referral to Macbeths crime of murder and emphasizes the fact it is not natural and , in turn , is a”convulsion of nature.” (Spurgeon , Pg.

20) Although powerful , the idea of unnaturalness occurs mostly in one part of the play , immediately before and after the murder of Duncan. Macbeth , obviously bothered by the act that he had just committed , states how Duncans wounds “lookd like a breach in nature for ruins wasteful entrance.” [II. iii. 118] Then , Macbeth continues on by saying that he had “murdered sleep” , another unnatural occurrence, “I heard a voice cry , Sleep no more! Macbeth does murther sleep..Glamis hath murderd sleep , and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.” [II.

ii. 26-36] Next , the unnatural events of the night continue when Macduff and Lenox , Duncans sons , tell Macbeth of the “strange events” of the night, “The night has been unruly. Where we lay , our chimneys were blown down , and , as they say , lamentings heard i the air , strange screams of death..and some say the earth was feverous and did shake.” [II. iii. 69-76] Also, Rodd and the Old Man describe unnatural events that occurred on the night of Duncans murder. The Old Man claims to seeing a”falcon towering in her pride of place” , being “hawkd at and killed” by a mousing owl.” In addition , Ross states how Duncans horses “turnd wild in nature , broke their stalls , [and] flung out” , all the time”contending gainst obedience.” Finally , an unnatural act occurs in Lady Macbeths sleepwalking scene.

Throughout the scene , the very act of Lady Macbeth sleepwalking is seen as a “perturbation in nature” [V. i. 10] as the doctor and the gentlewoman observe her. It is in this scene that the doctor begins his suspicions about what is bothering Lady Macbeth and then states , “Foul whisperings are abroad. Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles ; infected minds to their pillows will discharge their secrets.” [V.

i. 65-8] Clothes imagery is another type of symbolism used constantly throughout the play. From the beginning to the end , there are instances of clothes imagery scattered throughout the play. Spurgeon states that clothes imagery is so important because “the crucial point of the comparison lies not in the smallness of the man and the largeness of the robes , but rather in the fact that these are not his garments.” Spurgeon also states that “the oldest symbol for the hypocrite is that of the man who cloaks his true nature under a disguise.” These are two very important ideas to consider when reviewing the clothes imagery in Macbeth. The first instance of clothes imagery occurs in the fist act , when Ross and Angus hail Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth , aware that the Thane lives , states , “The Thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me in borrowd robes?” [I. iii.

108] Next , in the same scene , Banquo aware of Macbeths “promotion” and the witches prophesies , states , “New honors come upon him , Like our strange garments , cleave not to their mold but with the aid of use.” [I. iii. 144] Another occurrence of clothes imagery was when Macbeth expresses doubt to Lady Macbeth about carrying out the murder of Duncan. She reprimands the hesitation and urges him to carry on , “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressd yourself?..Art thou afeared to be the same in thine own act and valor as thou art in desire?..” [I. vii. 35-7] Then , in the midst of events leading to Macbeths downfall , Caithness notes the uneasiness that Macbeth is in , knowing his end is near: “He cannot buckle his distempered cause within the belt of rule.” [V.

ii. 15] Finally , just as Angus and his forces are about to storm the castle Dunsinane , Angus states how Macbeths title is about to be taken from him and how he feels “his title hang loose about him , like a giants robe upon a dwarfish thief.” [V. ii. 20] One of the most crucial points of symbolism and imagery is that of darkness. The use of darkness “runs parallel to the idea that the deeds or Macbeth (and in some cases Lady Macbeth) are too terrible for human eyes to look at.” (Spurgeon , Pg.

17) It also works off of the notion that good equals light and , conversely , darkness is synonymous with evil. The first time darkness is addressed is in act one , scene four when Macbeth realizes that Malcolm , recently given the title Prince of Cumberland , is an obstacle in his desired path to eventually becoming king , “The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step on which I must fall down , or else oerleap , for in my way it lies. Stars , hide your fires ; let not light see my black and deep Desires..” [I. iv. 50-3] Next , Lady Macbeth calls upon darkness in the next scene in which she asks for the power to carry out the deed she knows must be done in order for her husband to become king , “Come thick night and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell that my keen knife see not the wound it makes nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark to cry , Hold , Hold!” [I. v.

51-5] Finally , an instance in which the darkness is referred to is when Ross reports to the Old Man of how , although it is daytime , the sun refuses to show. This quote , most likely referring to a solar eclipse , is the climatic occurrence of all the unearthly events that have been occurring , “..By the clock tis day , and yet dark night strangles the traveling lamp. Ist nights predominance , or the days shame , that darkness does the face of earth entomb , when living light should kiss it?” [II. iv. 7-11] It is evident that throughout the play Macbeth , by William Shakespeare , the many instances of imagery and symbolism play a great role in the outcome of the play.

Through the blood imagery , it is made clear to the audience the mental consequences taking their toll on the protagonist and his wife. Also , through the clothes imagery , it is clear to see how Macbeths title was really never his and how his “borrowd robes” do not fit. Next , the darkness serves as a tool to symbolize the terribleness of Macbeth and Lady Macbeths actions and how the dark is the only thing they can use to try and hide themselves from what they have done. Finally , in the unnatural events of the play , it is made clear to the audience that Macbeths chosen path of murder is one that plenty of men will venture , but not many will emerge to the other end.


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