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Firstly, one needs to define the term in order to establish what one needs to look for. On a very basic level, imagery refers to the descriptions a writer uses to appeal to our physical senses. We should see, hear, feel, smell and taste what the author or the characters experience. In literature and poetry, imagery is much more complex and involves the use of figures of speech to appeal to the senses and even enhance the experience being described.
In each of the eight scenes of Act 5, Shakespeare utilizes a variety of figures of speech to appeal to our senses. In scene 1, the focus is on Lady Macbeth and her mental condition. When we first encounter her, she says the following:
Yet here's a spot.
Out, damned spot! out, I say!
The 'spot' lady Macbeth sees is imaginary and symbolizes her guilt for the murder of King Duncan. It is a metaphor for her remorse in having committed such a heinous crime. Her trauma is later emphasized when she cries out:
Here's the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!
The use of exaggeration in this instance informs of the overwhelming regret she is feeling at this point. Lady Macbeth eventually commits suicide for she cannot bear the pain of her sin any longer.
In scene two, when Angus comments about Macbeth's current situation, he effectively uses metaphor and simile to describe what the tyrant is experiencing:
Now does he feel
His secret murders sticking on his hands;
Now minutely revolts upbraid his faith-breach;
Those he commands move only in command,
Nothing in love: now does he feel his title
Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.
The metaphor in line two succinctly describes Macbeth's perfidy. Just like Lady Macbeth's 'spot', it is as if he cannot wash the blood of those he murdered from his hands. It is an unforgivable sin that he has committed. The fact that he feels his title 'hang loose' is metaphoric of the fact that Macbeth is losing control and his grip on those who once were loyal to him. The simile, 'like a giant's robe', emphasizes the point. Macbeth's lust for power has overwhelmed him and it has become an ill-fitting garb. He has metaphorically been dwarfed by his own power and ambition - he cannot sustain or maintain it any longer.
Scene three depicts both Macbeth's stubborn resolve and later, his anxiety:
... I cannot taint with fear...
The metaphor he uses refers to the fact that he cannot be fearful. Macbeth still believes in the witches' predictions and resolves that he therefore cannot be overcome by fear for any man for, 'none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.' later though, Macbeth states:
I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf;
Macbeth realizes that his rule and the tyranny he has maintained has degraded and he uses a metaphor to compare his rule to a leaf which has turned yellow and is dying. He now accepts the fact that his tyranny is almost over.
In scene four, Macduff uses appropriate metaphors to describe what has to be done:
Let our just censures
Attend the true event, and put we on
What he means is that their justified disapproval of Macbeth's tyranny should drive them on to deal with the removal of the tyrant (the true event). They must now become true, hardworking soldiers to remove Macbeth.
In scene five, upon hearing about his wife's death, Macbeth utters a remarkably poignant metaphor:
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The brevity of life is compared to that of a candle. Macbeth, through an extended metaphor also explains how meaningless life is and that our existence is shallow for we only put on a show and we do it all for nothing. He compares us to inept actors who play our roles badly, presenting ourselves in a foolish manner - all a purposeless exercise.
Scene six signifies Macduff's determination:
Make all our trumpets speak; give them all breath,
Those clamorous harbingers of blood and death.
Once again, a metaphor is used. Macduff asks that the soldiers blow their trumpets at full volume and compares them to messengers who loudly proclaim tidings of slaughter and execution, in this instance, the death of Macbeth and his supporters.
In scene seven, the older Siward informs Malcolm that they are on the verge of success in the battle against the tyrant, Macbeth:
... The day almost itself professes yours,
And little is to do.
he uses personification. It is as if the day itself (an allusion to the battle), has declared Malcolm's victory. There is little more to achieve to ensure success.
In the final scene, Macduff provides Macbeth with a shocking revelation:
Despair thy charm;
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb
The witches had previously informed Macbeth that 'no man of woman born shall harm Macbeth.' Macduff has just informed him that he has been 'untimely ripped' from his mother's womb. The image is brutally descriptive of the fact that he had been prematurely cut from his mother's womb and had therefore not been born through natural process. Macbeth finally realizes that he had been deceived by the witches and curses them for such wicked duplicity. He refuses to surrender and bow to Malcolm's authority. Macduff kills him and then presents his head to Malcolm later.
Throughout the final Act of Macbeth there are numerous instances of imagery in each of the scenes. However, the predominant imagery that comes across in the entirety of the Act is first the violence of impending war time as Malcolm, MacDuff and their armies approach Macbeth's castle, and then the imagery that is associated with the emotions that Lady Macbeth and Macbeth feel during the final moments of their lives. These two opposing styles of images help reinforce the central themes of the play regarding the evil deeds that one does in order to attain power or pursue ambition.
In the first scene, Lady Macbeth suffers from pervasive mental illness which is marked by her continuously washing imaginary blood from her hands. This imagery of hand washing is paired with her continuously seeking out the light. These visual images reinforce the guilt that she feels over the evil things that she and Macbeth have done in order to gain power.
In scene II, the images of impending war open the scene with the flourishing colors that represent the army. Moreover, the overall discussion of war time preparations serve as the primary source of imagery here.
In scene III, the primary imagery within this section of the text is color related. There are many references to white and pale yellow which suggest fear and cowardice. These color images serve to develop the sense of panic that Macbeth begins to feel but attempts to put off. This is also ironic because he spends much of the scene accusing others around him of being afraid.
In scene IV, there is not much imagery to speak of. Again, war time preparations are the primary source of imagery.
In scene V, the shriek of Lady Macbeth's suicide serves as the primary auditory imagery and the visual images of the moving wood towards the castle serves as the primary visual imagery. These two events begin to cause Macbeth's unraveling and ensure his downfall. Moreover, the imagery here of candles and shadows reinforce a deeper meaning about the frailty of existence and give one of Shakespeare's most lasting messages within the play.
In the final scene bloody and violent imagery is the most important and serves to end the play with Macbeth's demise. The image of Macbeth being be-headed is an important and lasting one to close out the play.
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