Imagery & symbolism - Macbeth (Blood (Banquo & Macbeth are…
Imagery & symbolism - Macbeth
Darkness / evil
are evil - "midnight hags". They meet Macbeth in a dark meeting place and have a dark appearance which emphasises their destructive nature - "instruments of darkness".
exists between "noble" Macbeth in Act 1 and "black Macbeth" in Act 4 due to the murders he has carried out. "dark" and "devilish" also used as words to describe Macbeth.
In Act V Macbeth imagines life as a candle that will inevitably burn out. This pessimistic image illustrates how the dark forces of evil have coloured his view of the world - "out, out, brief candle!"
After the regicide of King Duncan juxtaposes his duty as being "a porter of hell-gate" - comparing the gates of the castle to the
gates of hell
Just as darkness is associated with evil,
is linked with
. At the end of Act 4 Malcolm looks forward to bringing an end to the long night of Macbeth's tyranny: "Receive what cheer you may: the night is long that never finds day."
Banquo & Macbeth are presented as beheading & dismembering all around them. Macdownald's death is described in a graphic manner - "unseamed from the nave to th' chops. And fixed his head upon our battlements." - illustrated as brave & fierce.
"What bloody man is that?" - symbolises the bleeding man who has fought to protect Duncan. Duncan orders for him to be looked after due to his loyal and brave nature.
Duncan's blood on Macbeth's hands is a symbol of the evil crime they committed, the guilt which cannot be washed away - "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?". Blood is associated with guilt.
"A little water clears us of this deed" - shows Lady Macbeth has less immediate guilt for the crime, whereas Macbeth's conscience is eating away at him.
"Out, damned spot! Out I say!..." Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and hallucinates blood on her hands. The guilt has grown in Lady Macbeth, due to her husband's murders & has visions of her hands getting bloodier and bloodier.
Banquo's death is particularly bloody with twenty stab wounds to his head alone.
Macbeth is a very violent play set in a very violent time, so it is little surprise that blood imagery permeates the play.
Before he has Macduff's family butchered, Macbeth pictures himself half-way across a river of blood, concluding that he might as well wade to the other side: "I am in blood stepped in so far that I should wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er". This image suggests that he now feels that he is beyond redemption.
At the close of the play Macbeth is reluctant to fight Macduff, telling him: "My soul is too much charged with blood of thine already." May suggest remorse as opposed to guilt.
On the night of Duncan's murder, Duncan's horses ate each other and a mouse owl killed a falcon illustrating disorder in the natural world due to regicide. "A falcon towering in her pride of place, Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd".
"Why do you dress me in borrow'd robes?" - Macbeth questions why Ross is addressing him with a title that is not his -> Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth's unease at this point is probably related to the fact that the witches had earlier prophesied that he would be Thane of Cawdor.
When Macbeth steals the crown, it is compared to a giant garment that Macbeth is not big enough to wear because he is a usurper/absolute ruler rather than the lawful king. Angus (Thane who informs Macbeth of his promotion to Thane of Cawdor) says: "Now does he feel his title hang loose about him like a giant's robe upon a dwarfish thief."
Disease and corruption
Health & disease are symbolically related to good and evil.
Macbeth's corruption is suggested by images of sickness & disease - rule described as "distempered" / disease.
When speaking to the doctor about his wife's illness, Macbeth also wishes that the doctor could somehow cure Scotland's disease: "If thou couldst, doctor, cast the water of my land, find her disease, and purge it to a sound and pristine health. It is ironic that Macbeth cannot see that he is Scotland's disease.
Malcolm & the forces of good are seen as the antidote to the disease that is Macbeth. In the final act, the Scottish lords march to Birnam wood to join forces with Malcolm: "Meet we the medicine of the sickly weal".
Lennox describes Scotland under Macbeth's rule as "our suffering country under a hand accursed".
Appearance vs. reality / False appearances
Falseness & deception are inextricably bound up with evil - evil hides behind a false face. Conrast between appearance and reality is apparent in the play.
Once Macbeth & Lady Macbeth commit themselves to evil, they hide their true intentions. Lady Macbeth tells her husband to "look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't". Macbeth also expresses "False face must hide what the false heart doth know".
Immediately after the murder, Donalbain reflects on the falseness behind Duncan's murder: "There's daggers in men's smiles."
Prior to the banquet, Macbeth tells his wide that they must hide their troubled hearts: "And make our faces vizards to our hearts, disguising what they are." During the banquet scene Macbeth inadvertently reveals his true character to the disguise. He dispenses entirely with the mask when he decides to avenge himself on Macduff: "From this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand". From this point on there is no further need to disguise as appearance and realisty are now one.
Light / Evil
In contrast to the hellish / diabolical images assocaited with Macbeth, images of virtue and grace suggest the goodness of Duncan and Edward. Duncan is described as "gracious" and as "a most sainted king".
Edward in described as "holy" and "most pious" (religious). We are told that Edward can help heal Scotland's suffering through a miracle due to his close connection with God.
Dagger:Macbeth suffers hallucinations before the murder: “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?”
Macbeth, during his hallucinations of Banquo at the banquet, tries to make himself look less guilty: “thou canst not say I did it”, speaking directly to the ghost of Banquo and raising suspicion amongst the lords