Explain how a color motif is used in Macbeth and why is it important.I'm planning to compare Macbeth and another novel through the use of colors. But I am not sure if it is evident in Macbeth....

Explain how a color motif is used in Macbeth and why is it important.

I'm planning to compare Macbeth and another novel through the use of colors. But I am not sure if it is evident in Macbeth. Please help!



Asked on by booyakasha

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Act I of Macbeth as Lady Macbeth reads her husband's letter, she remarks,

Yet do I fear thy nature;

It is too full o'the' milk of human kindness

To catach the nearest way.... (1.1.17-18)

This is another use of the imagery of white as symbolic of weakness to accompany one that has been previously mentioned.  Later, in this same scene, Lady Macbeth, calling upon the spirits, asks that her milk be taken for gall; that is, any kindness in exchange for bitterness.

In the final scene of Act I, after Macbeth expresses reluctance to harm Duncan who has honored him lately, Lady Macbeth chastises him for being a coward using the color green:

Was the hope drunk

Wherein you dressed yourself?  Hath it slept since?

And wakes it now, to look so green and pale

At what it did so freely?  Art thou afeard

To be the same in thine own act and valor

As thou art in desire?  (1.7.38-41)

And, again, Lady Macbeth employs milk imagery (white) as equivalent to weakness as she speaks of taking the baby "that milks me" and "dashed the brains out."

The colors of silver and gold are used in alluding to the king, Duncan as Macbeth repents his act of murder.  These colors represent both strength of character and royalty:

...Here lay Duncan,

His silver skin laced with his golden blood

And his gashed stabs looked like a breach in nature

For ruin's wasteful entrance:  there, the murderers,

Steeped in the colors of their trade, ....(2.3.123-127)

Of course, the play is replete with red imagery as the blood motif runs throughout Macbeth.  Black, too, connotes death and evil.  One example is in Act III before Banquo's death, as Macbeth says, "Whiles night's black agents to their preys do rouse...(3.2.58) And, in Act IV, there is music and a song entitled "Black Spirits."

shakespeareguru's profile pic

shakespeareguru | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

Well, the simplest use of color in Macbeth, would be red, for the appearance and significance of blood in the play.  In Act II, Scene iii, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth make reference to the blood that cannot be washed from their hands.  Macbeth:

Will all great Neptune's oceans wash this blood

Clean from my hands?  No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.

Then, Lady Macbeth takes up the theme of color when she re-enters, saying:

My hands are of your colour; but I shame

To wear a heart so white.

There are numerous references to blood in the play, the most next obvious coming in Act V, Scene i, when Lady Macbeth enters sleepwalking and attempting to wash the "spots" of blood from her hands.

Earlier at the banquet in Act III, Scene iv, Macbeth is spooked by the murderer of Banquo who arrives with "blood on [his] face."  And then beginning from line 77 in the same scene, after the appearance of the ghost of Banquo, Macbeth has quite an extensive bit of text about the shedding of blood through time.

These are some examples of the many references to blood and its color throughout the play, the most siginifcant aspect of its use possibly being that those who have murderous blood on their hands (or their face) cannot wash off the guilt.


lit24's profile pic

lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

There are numerous instances of color motifs in Macbeth, if you had mentioned the title of the novel I could have given appropriate examples which could have been more useful to you. However, a few striking examples are as follows:

1."Let not light see my black and deep desires" (Act I Sc.4). Macbeth acknowledges the treachery of his evil ambition.

2. Although his ambition is 'black' his nature is 'milky white' as evidenced in his wife's remark, "It is too full o' the milk of human kindness." Act I Sc.5.

3. The same color 'white' which symbolizes 'purity' and 'innocence' takes on a negative connotation when it represents 'cowardice' when Lady Macbeth remarks,

My hands are of your colour; but I shame
To wear a heart so white. Act II Sc.2.

The colors 'black' and 'white' are the binary opposites which function as objective correlatives for the entire play which are encapsulated in the motto of the witches,

Fair is foul, and foul is fair

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