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What are the main images in Macbeth and what is their purpose? Images I thought of were...

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khings | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 27, 2010 at 11:01 AM via web

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What are the main images in Macbeth and what is their purpose? Images I thought of were milk, heaven, leaping and blood imagery.

Feel free to include or exclude any images I mentioned. Best answers will explain the purpose of each image i.e milk translates to innocence.

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kc4u | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted June 27, 2010 at 4:32 PM (Answer #1)

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In Macbeth, there is a recurrent and patterned set of images that are all thematically functional. The most prominent image is that of blood, beginning from Lady Macbeth's;s reference to killing her child by smashing its head at the time of breast-feeding to Macbeth's imagination of the horrid bloody dagger, air borne to the famous speech about an enormous pool of blood that turns 'the green one red' with its 'multitudinous seas' incarnadined. Lady Macbeth's reference to the smells of blood in the sleep-walking scene is another instance.

Milk or milking has reference to a process of natural/biological nourishing, described throughout the play. The human action is seen to go against this natural process, wrecking great violence, which leads to Lady Macbeth's image of killing her own child or the image of milk falling into hell. There is a chaotic infiltration into the heavenly milk of harmony.

Sleep is another crucial image, associated with the order of the natural and the normal, transgressed by the act of Macbeth and his wife. The series of images on sleep as spoken by Macbeth in the murder scene establishes it as the great comforting process of nature. Macbeth is denied sleep as the voice of guilt speaks out of him. Later on, it is Lady Macbeth sharing this burden of disturbed sleep.

Fear is another recurrent image in the play. From the fearful image of Duncan's murder that unfixes Macbeth in the temptation scene to the ghost of Banquo as an image of dread to the declassed fearlessness of the deteriorated Macbeth as the king who instructs to hang all those who speak of fear--it is yet another trajectory of decline from the natural, connoted through the development of the image.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 27, 2010 at 8:16 PM (Answer #2)

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I think that the entire nature of an inverted world could be symbolized by the witches, themselves.  Their opening lines of "fair is foul" indicates that the world in which we are going to be immersed is one where values have been twisted and there is going to be a serious undermining of traditional notions of the good.  The fact that Shakespeare chose witches helps to highlight the fact that there is a supernatural quality, reflected in the level to which human beings act in the play.   The fact that Macbeth comes to rely on these witches in an increasing quality throughout the play helps to display this increase in twisted moral orders and a sense of foreboding about what is to be witnessed.  The witches operate as a symbol of this.

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