How was water used as an image in Act 3, scene 2 in Shakespeare's Macbeth?

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lcassidy | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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Shakespeare uses imagery in his plays to add a deeper meaning in his text.  The image of water for example (although it is not found in Act 3, scene 2), represents innocence and the washing of guilt.  Traditionally, water is used to wash oneself.  In baptism, the water is used to wash away original sin.  Consequently, these images bring deeper meaning to the play.  After the murder to Duncan, Macbeth is grief stricken and cannot believe what he has done.  In fact, Lady Macbeth is forced to finish the job for him by smearing the bloody daggers on the sleeping guards and framing them for the murder.  When she returns to her husband she tells him, "A little water clears us from this deed."  By washing the blood off of their hands (literally), Lady Macbeth is insinuating that they are also washing away the guilt.  Unfortunately for her, at the end of the play, she realizes that washing with water is not so powerful.  Her mind is so troubled at the end of the play that it manifests itself through bouts of sleepwalking.  During these nightly episodes, she re-enacts the murder of Duncan where she cannot remove the blood from her hands.  When she repeats the words, “Out, damn'd spot!" she is realizing that her guilt cannot simply be washed away.

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