Macbeth Act V, scene 1:
act 5 scene 1
what does lady macbeth mean when she sais " all the perfumes of arabia will not sweeten this little hand"? what earlier line in the play does her comment parallel? how do her words contrast with her comments about bloody hands in act 2 scene2?
The two dominant leitmotifs and forms of imagery in the play are blood and hands. "Blood" is mentioned 41 times in the play; "hand" 38 times.
Lady Macbeth's line in Act V ("all the perfumes of arabia will not sweeten this little hand") is a partner to Macbeth's line from Act II: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand?" The answers to both questions are, of course, no.
Examples from Lady Macbeth, Act II:
AND in Act V:
Lady Macbeth's use of hand imagery connects to both Duncan's and Banquo's murders, even though she only helped plan the former and not the latter. The hand imagery also connects the two murderers to blood, death, bed, burial, gates, graves, the sea, ghosts, sleep, water. In short, Lady Macbeth is forever stuck in Act II, such is her guilt over that first murder. The bloody hands are symbols of welcome (handshakes), sex (being taken to bed), guilt (murder with the dagger) and her id (unconscious desires).
Lady Macbeth in Act 5.1 of Shakespeare's Macbeth is metaphorically saying that all of the perfumes of Arabia could not get rid of the smell of blood on her hands, that no amount of perfume could "sweeten" them.
Ironically, she says in Act 2.2 that her husband should not worry about the blood on his hands after he kills Duncan, that a little water will take care of it. But a little water doesn't take care of it, and here she is, later, suffering from OCD-like symptoms, obsessed with imaginary blood on her hands. Her guilt has developed and grown, and resulted in obsession and depression.