The Tragedy of Macbeth The Tragedy of Macbeth is plagued with the images that coincide with its many themes. Although there is really no central theme and all seem to intermingle, it would be extremely difficult to research the play in its entirety. Therefore, I’ve chosen to focus my study towards the recurring image of blood and how it’s presence affected both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the eventual outcome of the play. The blood images in the play had different effects on the two. But perhaps the most noticeably affected person would be Lady Macbeth.
It was after the death of Duncan that most of the repercussions took place, however, she began making references to blood even before the murder. In her pleading to the spirits, she prayed, “Make thick my blood (Act I.Scene v.line 43)” in order that she may not feel any “remorse” by her future action. She sees her thin blood as a weakness in her character and wishes it to be richer (thicker) with the qualities of courage, bravery and even emotional strength which that of a man might have. For a time these demands seemed as if they had actually been answered. Not even after the murder of Duncan or Banquo did she lose her composure, in fact, she actually kept her husband from losing his mind. Eventually, though, her granted desire appeared to wear off and her naturally thin blood began to flow through her veins again.
The pressure of her guilty conscious had driven her to insanity. As she expresses in her sleepwalking state, this guilt is felt due to the presence of Duncan’s blood. Out, damned spot! Out I say! One: Two: why, then ’tis 2. time to do’t. Hell is murky.
Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our pow’r to accompt? Yet who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him (V.i.34-39)? It is easily seen how she has lost total control of her mind. For she jumps from topic to topic and in her jumbled thoughts has incriminated herself without even knowing it. She even experiences a hallucination as to the blood of Duncan which had once been on her hand. “Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
Oh, oh, oh (V.i.49-51)!” It is actually a sort of irony that her weakness in character (thinness of her blood) could not bear the strength of guilt brought upon her by the presence of Duncan’s blood. This fact proves to be her downfall for it ultimately drives her to take her own life. Macbeth is the next character upon which the image of blood took its toll. However, its effect was the exact opposite on Macbeth than on his wife, for he immediately felt a guilty conscious and was often being emotionally pulled together by his wife. As time went on though it became easier for him to kill and he grew emotionally stronger while his wife got progressively weaker.
Once Macbeth had committed his first crime against Scotland, he instantly felt the effects of his deed. The overwhelming state of fear, anxiety and skittishness that set in can easily be seen in 3. these lines. Whence is that knocking? How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me? What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes! Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red (II.iii.56-62). Lady Macbeth, maintaining her calmness, guides her husband through his infirmness, as they prepare to explain their deed.
For the time they had appeared successful and Duncan’s murder had been pushed to the back of Macbeth’s mind; once again he was prepared to murder, even his best friend Banquo. Having directly conspired the death of his close friend, the effects of savagely spilt blood were about to hit. Macbeth, in his hallucination, sees his deceased friend’s ghost with twenty trenched gashes on his head. Again Macbeth’s state of fear sets in. “Avaunt! and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee! Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold; Thou hast no speculation in those eyes Which thou dost glare with (III.iv.93-96).” In a state of shock, Macbeth is made to look weak and helpless in front of his lords. The bloody ghost of Banquo scares Macbeth to the point where he appears unstable and insecure.
Again, Macbeth is helped by his wife who leads the lords out be! fore they discover anymore of the king’s weaknesses. Still traumatized by the now absent ghost, Macbeth blames others and delivers his blood speech, indicating that the murders will not stop. 4. It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak; Augurs and understood relations have by maggot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth The secret’st man of blood.
What is the night (III.iv.122-126)? Already passed the point of no return, Macbeth indicates he will have blood. Even though many have already died, he knows more blood will be spilt. Macbeth, now determined, states “I am in blood Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er (III.iv.136-138).” The blood has directly affected Macbeth not to insanity but to the point where he has no care for human life at all. He orders of innocent women and children and thinks absolutely nothing of it. Macbeth’s affected state is perhaps put best in the words of Jan Kott in her book Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Macbeth has reached the limits of human experience.
All he has left is contempt. The very concept of man has crumbled to pieces and there is nothing left. The end of Macbeth, like the end of Troilus and Cressida, or King Lear, produces no catharsis. Suicide is either protest, or an admission of guilt. Macbeth does not feel guilty, and there is nothing for him to protest about.
All he can do before he dies is to drag with him into nothingness as many living beings as possible. This is the last consequence of the world’s absurdity. Macbeth is still unable to blow the world up. But he can go on 5. murdering until the end. Why should I play the Roman fool and die On mine own sword? Whiles I see lives, the gashes Do better on them (V.viii.1-3).
The blood images had strikingly different effects on Macbeth and his wife. However, both were driven to death because of it. Lady Macbeth’s suicide was due directly to her insanity caused by her bloody, guilty conscious. While Macbeth, although initially terrified by his bloody imaginings, was driven to kill more, it literally made him blood thirsty. Macbeth had been transformed into a heartless villain and a truly tragic figure. Lady Macbeth did not even realize half the murders that were committed and though she originally instigated Duncan’s murder, she seemed more like a victim of the blood images.
The constant reference to blood, although it was probably a “sub-theme” to the greater Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair theme. Its significance can not be ignored. The word “blood” would not simply be used in such unlikely places as “bleeding Scotland” for instance without a purpose. Shakespeare may have been trying to show us the fine line between life and death, which can both be signified with the blood image! WORKS CITED LIST Jorgensen, Paul A. William Shakespeare: The Tragedies.
Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985. Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1964. Rackin, Phyllis. Shakespeare’s Tragedies. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1978.
Waith, Eugene M. Shakespeare The Histories. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965. Webster, Margaret. Shakespeare Without Tears. Greenwich: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1966. Wells, Stanley. SHAKESPEARE The Writer and his Work.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978.