What role does blood play in Macbeth especially following Duncan's murder?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since Shakespeare did not show the actual murder of Duncan on the stage, he must have decided to use a lot of blood immediately afterwards to represent the ghastliness and the significance of the crime. Macbeth returns with two bloody daggers and his hands smeared with blood. This is convincing proof that he has murdered Duncan offstage. Lady Macbeth says:

Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there. Go carry them, and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.

Macbeth replies:

I'll go no more:
I am afraid to think what I have done;
Look on't again I dare not.

This gives an impression of what the murder scene must look like, with Duncan lying in a bed soaked in his own blood. Lady Macbeth is forced to take the daggers to Duncan's chamber herself and to smear blood on the faces of the grooms. She does this offstage too. All this blood is simply to represent the actual murder of King Duncan. Now Lady Macbeth returns with her hands covered with more blood, all of which is Duncan's. She tells her husband:

My hands are of your color, but I shame
To wear a heart so white. 

The player who said these lines was probably instructed to smear "her" nightgown with the blood from her hands. With the word "shame" she would wipe one hand across her "breast," and with the word "white" she would wipe the other hand across the other breast. The action of smearing big streaks of blood on the white nightgown would show that she wasn't frightened like her husband. 

Both husband and wife are covered with blood. When Macbeth says that his bloody hands "pluck out mine eyes," he probably suits the action to the word by clawing at his face and thereby smears his whole face with Duncan's blood.

Shakespeare did not mean the blood to symbolize anything but blood. Since he felt he couldn't show the actual murder, he wanted a lot of blood to represent the murder to the audience. He probably didn't want to stage the actual murder because it would have been difficult to do so on his stage, and it probably would not have been very effective anyway. Duncan would be asleep. Macbeth would creep in and cut his throat. All the display of blood and all the talk about blood afterwards is more effective than a simulated murder would have been. Besides that, it enables Shakespeare to bring Lady Macbeth into the gory business. With her present, there can be an exchange of dialogue. Otherwise, the murder would have been only a dumb show.

sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Blood is a reoccurring symbol in Macbeth.  Blood is all over the place.  There are battles and murders and frequent mentions of the blood that was drawn.  

After Duncan's murder though is when blood starts to really become meaningful in the play.  Macbeth kills Duncan and comes back to Lady Macbeth with the bloody daggers and blood on his person.  Lady Macbeth at this point is still cold and ruthless.  She scolds her husband for not leaving the daggers elsewhere.  She goes and does it, because Macbeth is too shaken up.  Macbeth must have a lot of blood on him, because he says “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?” Lady Macbeth returns and more or less tells him to suck it up and be a man.  She then helps Macbeth clean up and says “A little water clears us of this deed,” she tells him. “How easy it is then!”

After this though, blood comes to symbolize the guilt that both of them feel.  It REALLY starts to wear away at Lady Macbeth.  She is constantly imaging that she has blood on her hands or clothing and says the famous “Out, damned spot; out, I say . . . who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”  She's freaking out and her guilt is causing her to hallucinate and imagine real blood on her hands.  

Macbeth also succumbs to the guilt of blood, but he feels less guilty and more resigned to what is coming.  Because of his actions, he has to kill his friend Banquo.  More blood.  He knows that he is going to be punished and likely killed.  More blood.  His line "blood will have blood" sums it up -- it started with blood and it's going to end with blood.  

juanamac eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Macbeth the imagery of blood is strong.  It symbolizes the warrior, fighter and soldier elements of warfare, as well as the guilt from killing for greed.

Early on we see the battlefield, where blood is shown in a positive light.  The bloody sergeant arrives to speak of the valor in combat of Macbeth to Duncan and the other officers.

"What bloody man is that?"

Lady MacBeth asks for the strength to take control, and to kill Duncan to speed Macbeth's becoming the king.  

"Make thick my blood..."

However, at this point, neither of the Macbeths have committed any wrong acts.  Later, however, blood takes on a creepier vibe.

When the act of killing Duncan has occurred, there is a change in the perception of blood.  Macbeth himself feels guilty over the murder, whereas his wife shows courage in the face of it all and tells him that everything will be fine.

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?”

“A little water clears us of this deed,”

Later on, the tables have turned.  Lady Macbeth has begun to feel guilt, which leads her to suicide.

“Out, damned spot; out, I say . . . who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

Macbeth however goes on to arrange the death of his best friend, an attempt to kill his best friend's son, the murder of a whole guiltless family, and the death of a young boy at his own hands.

tamanaxxx | Student

blood is role that comes really often in the play such as the murder of king duncan ,i.e when macbeth was regretting why he killed king duncan and decscribed the water in the sink as multitudinous seas,this suggests that when macbeth was washing his hands,after the murder the water had turned from green to red.multitudinous seas=green water to red, as described in the book