What are some examples of clothing imagery in Macbeth?Context and analysis would be greatly appreciated.

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Clothing imagery is first used in Act l, Scene 3, when Ross tells Macbeth that the had asked him to greet the general with the title "Thane of Cawdor." Macbeth responds as follows,

The thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me
In borrow'd robes?

Banquo had, after Ross's statement, rhetorically responded asking if the devil can speak true. He is surprised that the witches' earlier prediction that Macbeth would become thane of Cawdor could actually be true. Macbeth is equally amazed, for he thinks that the thane still holds the title. The "borrowed robes" symbolically refer to the title.

Ross then informs him that the Thane of Cawdor is to be executed for his betrayal by assisting Sweno of Norway and the rebel, Macdonwald, who had turned against his king. The title would then be available, and King Duncan decided to bestow it on Macbeth for his bravery.

It is ironic that Macbeth is given the title that belonged to a traitor, since he would become one himself when he brutally assassinates his liege and usurps the throne later.

In the same scene, Banquo also uses a clothing metaphor. He notices that Macbeth is "rapt withal," and comments to Ross and Angus,

New horrors come upon him,
Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould
But with the aid of use.

After Ross's surprising announcement, Macbeth is in awe and seems to have been truly shaken that the witches had been right in their prediction. Banquo is stating that Macbeth is overwhelmed by the idea that he would, as it were, be attired in "strange garments," an allusion to the title, Thane of Cawdor, which is a new one that Macbeth has to get used to wearing.

Banquo's statement also forecasts Angus's later statement in Act V, when he makes a similar comparison.

In Act l, Scene 7, Lady Macbeth uses a similar metaphor when she admonishes Macbeth for stating that they "will proceed no further in this business," which is a reference to their plot to assassinate the king. She asks her husband,

Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely?

She wants to know whether Macbeth's desire and idea to murder Duncan and claim the throne had been just the talk of a drunk man bragging and whether this ambition had now been laid to rest. She mocks Macbeth by asking whether his dream has now suddenly been revived but that he is too cowardly to execute their plan when, before, he had spoken so openly about what he was going to do. 

After the discovery of Duncan's murder, Macduff speaks to Ross in Act ll, Scene 4, and uses a clothing metaphor in reply to Ross's question of whether he was going to attend Macbeth's coronation. He tells Ross that he will not and was heading to his castle. Ross says that he will go to the coronation, at which Macduff responds,

Well, may you see things well done there: adieu!
Lest our old robes sit easier than our new!

Macduff is expressing the hope that Ross should see things being done well at Scone because there is the possibility that they might find that their positions in the past (under Duncan's kinship) were much better than they would currently be under Macbeth's rule. 

Ironically, it is Macduff's keen insight which eventually turns out to be correct. He predicts, in this scene, the mayhem and bloodshed which will be common traits of Macbeth's tyranny.

Finally, in Act 5, Scene 2, Angus uses a clothing metaphor in his observation of Macbeth's current position. The English troops, led by Malcolm, Macduff, and Siward, are ready to march on Macbeth's castle at Dunsinane and overthrow him. Angus rematks, in part:

now does he feel his title
Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.

The implication is clear. At this point, Macbeth realizes the title he ruthlessly obtained does not fit him. He does not have the character or ability to be king. His troops are abandoning him and he has very little support. His overriding ambition has not prepared him for such a momentous task, and he is losing his power. A further suggestion is that Macbeth never had, and still does not have, the greatness and nobility to be king. He is like a dwarf -- too small to fit in the new role.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 1, scene 7, when Macbeth tells his wife he wants to call off the assassination of Duncan, she berates him with a speech beginning

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?

The metaphor suggests that Macbeth put on the royal crown and dressed himself in the royal robes while drunk, then wakes up in the morning and is frightened by seeing himself dressed in the King's garments and wants to get out of them before anybody sees him. It is common for people to do and say things when they are intoxicated and have lost their inhibitions, only to wake up the next morning and remember with shame and apprehension what they did the night before. This is why this metaphor is so effective.

In Act 5, scene 2, when the English forces augmented with Scottish deserters are preparing to attack Macbeth, Angus says of Macbeth

Now does he feel his title

Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe

Upon a dwarfish thief.

Macbeth was never qualified to play the role of King. Instead, he became a tyrant, ruling by force and terror rather than by divine right.

These are two of the most striking examples of clothiing imagery in the play.