An analysis of Macbeth’s symbolism
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In William Shakespeares iconic play “Macbeth”, we see the reoccurring symbols which assist the development of the central themes throughout the writing. These symbols are used to discover the topic of guilt, which plays one of the leading roles in this play. Some other symbols may not be as prominent, but they show up and eventually contribute to the overall portrayal of guilt. The three symbols that are seen as the most important ones are blood, water, and hallucinations. Each time Shakespeare uses these symbols, they are followed by a reference to the central theme or an important event.
The Portrayal of Blood in Macbeth
The first symbol discussed is blood. It directly represents the guilt Macbeth and his wife carry after their wrongdoings. We see blood everywhere. For example, in Act 2 Scene 2, Macbeth gets covered in blood as he kills the King of Scotland. Once Macbeth commits the murder, he discusses the guilt and violence with his spouse, Lady Macbeth. The character cries to her, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand?”. Somehow Macbeth was never afraid of the crime he had committed, despite the fact he messed it up. Even though Macbeth succeeded in killing Duncan, he completely forgot to cover King’s servants in blood and frame them for killing the monarch.
It is the point where the leading female character steps in and takes care of the murder scene. Lady Macbeth has the same feeling as the protagonist. They share the feeling of guilt for killing King Duncan. Lady Macbeth expresses her guilt when she states, “Yet who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him!”. She reveals these feelings when she is sleepwalking through the castle. The woman seems confident about the crimes committed, but as the play progresses, she feels remorseful, as what she did was wrong.
The couple has blood on their hands and can’t wash it off of their hands, and it becomes a permanent reminder of their crimes.
Expression of Guilt through Water
The second thing that symbolises guilt throughout most of the play is water. For example, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use water to wash the blood off their hands after committing the crime. Lady Macbeth advises her husband to wash his hands with water to clean him of the guilt he carries. However, the guilt is rooted so deep that no water in the ocean would be enough to clean his guilty bloody hands. He says, “No; this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red”. Despite his wife’s suggestion of cleansing their acts with water, no amount of water seems to be enough to handle this task.
Closer to the end of the story, it is evident that she does not feel innocent when she is sleepwalking. She says, “Out, damned spot; out, I say!” and mimics rubbing he hands together as if she was washing her hands. In her soul, she feels the guilt and knows no amount of water will cleanse her guilt. She shouts, “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”. Water comes hand in hand with guilt throughout the play and is a significant symbol because Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both turn their attention to water for cleansing when they have no other options.
Expressing Guilt through Hallucinations the Character’s Experience
The final symbol to pay attention to is the hallucinations throughout the play. When the main character goes to kill Duncan, he sees a sword floating through the air. He exclaims, “Is this a dagger I see before me? The handle to my hand?” Because of his guilt, he thinks the dagger is there to unravel who the actual murderer is. As the play progresses, Macbeth’s guilt makes him hallucinate and see people he has killed. The ghost of Banquo tells Macbeth: “Here had we now our country’s honour roof’d were the graced person of our Banquo present; Who may I rather challenge for unkindness Than pity for mischance!”. Later on, Lady Macbeth starts hallucinating. She now feels unbearable guilt as she sleepwalks at night and says, “Here’s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” Lady Macbeth can not handle the guilt she carries and ends up killing herself out of guilt.
Shakespeare uses symbols uniquely and smartly. He accentuates guilt throughout the play. For example, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s guilt causes them to act irrationally and become different people. “Macbeth” covers three symbols representing guilt: blood, water, and hallucinations. The author uses these symbols many times in the play to better explain the characters’ guilt.
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- Shakespeare, W. (1992). Macbeth. Wordsworth Editions.