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What is the role of blood in "Macbeth"?I'm writing an essay on the role of blood and...

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haloguy423 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 20, 2008 at 8:32 PM via web

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What is the role of blood in "Macbeth"?

I'm writing an essay on the role of blood and its extreme use in Macbeth, does anyone have anything to add to it?

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sampu88 | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted January 25, 2008 at 9:35 PM (Answer #2)

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Macbeth is a play centered on war, betrayal and justice and as such blood plays a significant role in arousing different kinds of emotions in the minds of the onlookers throughout the course of the play. One particular incident, was the scene after King Duncan was murdered by Macbeth. Macbeth enters his bedroom, pale faced and fear-stricken. He could not believe he had been part of the heinous crime he had just committed. He mentions that the thought of the blood splattered all over the body of the virtuous Duncan was itself horrifying, and returning the bloody daggers to his chamberlains, was impossible for him to endure or perform. This was when we see the ambitious and domineering Lady Macbeth say that a ‘little water’ will clear the blood of their hands, and therefore, their names of the deed. While it seemed simple for Lady Macbeth to do, Macbeth says that the blood on his hands would instead the ‘multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red’. Here we see the difference in the opinions of the husband-wife duo concerning the sight and the power of blood. Even though Lady Macbeth, at the time, disposed it off as ordinary blood, Macbeth signified it as the blood of a great man and worthy King. He feared repercussion and God’s punishment for his cruel and misguided actions. Lady Macbeth saw the same blood, as a step forward to their success in the future, and the derivative of their hard work, which would ultimately result in fruition.

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sampu88 | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted January 25, 2008 at 9:36 PM (Answer #3)

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Another incident worth mentioning, is the sight of the ‘blood-clotted’ ghost of Banquo, as seen at the banquet that was organized by the Macbeth’s, as the first major event after Macbeth’s coronation at Scone. Macbeth’s fear and inner quilt plays with his conscience and sickened mind, by taking up the form of the late Banquo, in the state in which he told his son Fleance, to run away and take his revenge. The appearance of this ghost, disrupts the entire Banquet and along with planting suspicion in the minds of his quests (which constituted of his nobles, kinsmen and people of rank), it also caused them to think poorly of their King- a very bad first impression. Even at this stage, Lady Macbeth, still pretty much in control of her emotions and her feelings, disposes off Macbeth’s fear of having seen the ghost as immaturity and fear- not the making of a brave man. The elaborate blood clots on Banquo’s body are clearly etched in his memory, and we understand, as the audience, that these are the first few incidences of Macbeth’s impending doom, and the downfall of his carefully plotted reign on the Kingdom of Scotland.

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sampu88 | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted January 25, 2008 at 9:36 PM (Answer #4)

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The third and probably most important blood-related theme associated with the play are the seemingly permanent stains of blood created by Lady Macbeth’s guilt on her hands and its smell which fills her nose and has blocked all other senses. Her weakness causes her to take to sleepwalking. She also utters monstrosities while she is sleepwalking. Her guilt finds itself coming alive every time she sleeps, and this highlights her poor state of mind and her desperate requirement of care. The, once morally strong and self-willed woman, who would question and challenge her husband’s masculinity was weakened beyond repair. Her guilt was consuming her from within, causing worry for all but her husband. When the doctor tells her husband, that she could not be cued by medicine, his turbulent state of mind causes him to dispose off the news. Even her eventual death, which the audience thought, would be harsh and unimaginably hard for him to cope with, was considered by him as an event that would have happened eventually, today or ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.’ It is at this point in the play, that we finally realize the once strong bond shared between the husband and wife, crumbling into nothingness, as it gave in to their individual and demanding ambitions.

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blacksheepunite | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted January 26, 2008 at 7:30 PM (Answer #5)

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Blood= guilt 

water= rebirth, forgiveness, regeneration

A recurring motif in the play is the possibility (or impossibility) of "washing away" responsibilities for one's actions. The hand washing scene contains an allusion to Pontious Pilate, who "washed his hands" of responsibility for the crucifiction of Christ.

Neither Macbeth nor Lady Macbeth can wash their hands of the deed, because both are responsible--Lady Macbeth, for arguing Macbeth into killing Duncan, and Macbeth for the actual act.

 Macbeth is aware that water cannot eradicate his guilt and he knows that his guilt is so vast that were he to touch anything pure, his guilt (the blood) would infect it (hence the reference to his blood turning the ocean red). 


The blood in the play symbolizes his violent desire and his separation from his humanity. As the play progresses, Macbeth becomes deeper and deeper entrenched in blood--to the point where, at one point he says he is stepped in blood so far, that it would be as easy to get to the other side of the bloody river than to return to where he started. The metaphor of the river of blood reinforces his earlier comment that he would dirty the oceans rather than cleanse himself. Here he is again, in the midst of a "river" but instead of purifying him, it is a river comprised of the blood from his bad deeds. 

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 12, 2012 at 4:08 PM (Answer #7)

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The play is very bloody, but blood is usually symbolic.  Most of the deaths occur off-stage, and the characters have blood on their hands or see blood that is not there. 

The first place blood is used is in the “bloody sergeant” who can barely stand as he reports to Duncan on Macbeth’s exploits.  Here, he is fresh from battle and the blood foreshadows Macbeth’s fall into violence.  In his speech, Macbeth is a brave and loyal soldier.

The second solid use of blood is when Macbeth sees the dagger floating in front of him.  He thinks he is hallucinating because he is sick or something.

There's no such thing:(55)

It is the bloody business which informs

Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one half-world

Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse

The curtain'd sleep … (Act 2, Scene 2, enotes etext p. 29)

This dagger both warns him and lures him on.  Like the blood on Lady Macbeth’s hands in Act 5, this blood is symbolic and not real.  Yet soon both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth have real blood on their hands.  In her sleepwalking horrors, Lady Macbeth comments on her role in the deed by saying:

Yet who would

have thought the old man to have had so much blood in(35)

him?  (Act 5, Scene 1, p. 77)

In this case, the real blood has clouded her mind and made her lose her mind.  Macbeth undergoes a similar fate, as he succumbs to madness too, believing that he is invincible until he learns that Macduff was ripped from his mother’s womb.

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