In Macbeth, what is the dramatic significance of the following quote, in terms of one of the following character development, plot development, theme, imagery, atmosphere, dramatic irony,...

In Macbeth, what is the dramatic significance of the following quote, in terms of one of the following character development, plot development, theme, imagery, atmosphere, dramatic irony, foreshadowing or background information. [ Select one and please mention below which one it is]

"Here's the smell of blood still.  All perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." 

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durbanville's profile pic

durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Macbeth,Macbeth has become increasingly murderous and has excluded Lady Macbeth his "partner of greatness" (I.v.10) who was so instrumental in driving his "vaulting ambition"  (I.vii.27)initially.

Lady Macbeth in this quote:

"Here's the smell of blood still.  All perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." (V.i.48-50)

furthers the THEME of guilt and unchecked ambition as she sinks deeper into paranoid delusions, sleepwalking and almost talking in riddles. Having told Macbeth "a little water clears us of this deed"(II.ii.67), it is clear that, despite her attempts "Out damned spot!"(V.i.33) she cannot "wash" away her guilt. Lady Macbeth thought she had prepared herself sufficiently by "unsexing" herself but, even she, had no idea that Macbeth wold go to such lengths to satisfy his ambition.  

Lady Macbeth knows that she is parially responsible for Macbeth's actions  and "the smell of blood" still lingers as she is as guilty as he is. Lady Macbeth, for all her madness, does recognize that she cannot fix this as "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."  

Hence the theme of guilt intensifies and Lady Macbeth "needs more the divine than the physician."(72)

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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I will discuss the quote in terms of Lady Macbeth's character development. 

These dramatic words are uttered by Lady Macbeth in Act V, Scene 1, during a time when she is overwhelmed by guilt. She has taken to sleepwalking and is obviously in deep distress. She constantly has a candle with her and walks about muttering of the evil she and her husband have done by murdering king Duncan and Macduff's family, among others.

Her actions are witnessed by her lady in waiting and the doctor, who are both aghast at what they see and hear. The doctor states that he cannot cure Lady Macbeth of her disease and that she needs divine intervention, not medicine, for healing. 

Lady Macbeth's hyperbolic statement makes it clear how deep her regret lies. She has clearly accepted that there is no repentance for her part in the vicious and bloody slaying of the king. It is for this reason that she imagines seeing Duncan's blood on her hands. She believes that she can actually smell it and that it has become so immersed into her skin that nothing will be able to disguise or remove its smell.

It is ironic that Lady Macbeth should be the one so overwhelmed by regret at this point in the play. Prior to Duncan's assassination, she accused her husband of cowardice and feeble-mindedness when he told her that they should cease their plot. She encouraged him to continue and threatened not to love him if he relented.

In addition, Lady Macbeth also earlier asked the spirits of darkness to "unsex her" so she could commit her and her husband's malicious deed. Furthermore, she believed, at the time, that her husband was "too full o' the milk of human kindness," as if it were a malady. He had to be cured, and she set out to do just that by encouraging him, yet now she is the one who has succumbed to remorse and has lost her sanity.

Added to the above, Lady Macbeth also accused her husband of being "brainsickly" and "infirm of purpose" when he expressed his fear of returning to Duncan's chamber to replace the guards' daggers. Ironically, it is she who told Macbeth that "a little water clears us of this deed" who now believes that the stain on her hand is irremovable. She later also criticized Macbeth when he expressed horror at seeing Banquo's ghost at the banquet table, yet now she is the one imagining things by seeing and smelling the blood of her victim.

It is obvious, then, that Lady Macbeth's character has undergone a drastic transformation. She has changed from the courageous, hard-hearted, vicious, relentless, and scheming assassin that she had been at the beginning to a gibbering and confused woman who is so overwhelmed by shame and remorse that she eventually commits suicide.

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