Which literary motifs are found in Macbeth? 

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Numerous motifs can be found in Macbeth, the most predominant one being blood. From the opening of the play until its conclusion, Shakespeare references blood many times, frequently in terms of horror or guilt. After stabbing Duncan to death, Macbeth is appalled by the blood on his hands; during her sleep walking, Lady Macbeth tries to wash Duncan's blood from her own hands: "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" When Macbeth faces Macduff on the field of battle in the play's conclusion, he does not want to fight with him: "My soul is too much charged / With blood of thine already." Macbeth alludes here to his ordering the murders of Macduff's family and household.

A second motif is sleep, which "knits up the raveled sleave of care." The innocent can sleep, but the guilty are denied its peace and healing effects. Duncan is sleeping when Macbeth murders him; after the murder, Macbeth will never again sleep well for he has "murdered sleep." Lady Macbeth's sleeping walking develops the motif. Even as she sleeps, she does not rest; she walks, tormented by her guilt.

Another motif to note is that of guile and deception through false appearance. Duncan is betrayed by Cawdor, whom he trusted, because he could not see beyond Cawdor's appearance of loyalty. Duncan says, "There's no art / To find the mind's construction in the face." As Macbeth and his wife plan Duncan's murder, she advises him make a show of love and loyalty in all his actions to deceive the king. He is to look like the "innocent flower," but be the deadly serpent under it. Macbeth concurs: "False face must hide what the false heart doth know." The motif occurs again in Malcolm's extended conversation with Macduff. Malcolm pretends to be a despicable person, unfit to lead Scotland, in order to test Macduff's loyalty to their country.