What are some examples of dark imagery in Macbeth?
In William Shakespeare's Macbeth the ambition for power leads to the dark and mysterious realm of witchcraft, murders, insomonia, and madness. And, the imagery used to inspire the experiences of darkness and evil are abundant.
Certainly, the weather connotes sinister acts. For instance, the play opens with "fog and filthy air" as the three witches stir their cauldron and the captain describes the actions of the dauntless Macbeth:
For brave Macbeth--well he deserves that name--
Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution. (1.2.16-19)
And, throughout the play there are storms, dark castles in which the candles are out (2.2,5), and murders in the night. As Lady Macbeth prepares to "unsex" herself in order to encourage Macbeth in his deadly deeds, she asks that heaven not "Peep through the blanket of the dark" (1.53)
Enthralled by the prophecies of the "instruments of darkness" as they win him with "honest trifles," Macbeth spends many a night of "curtained sleep" (2.2.51).
When Macduff and Lennox arrive at Macbeth's castle in Act II, Scene 3, Lennox describes the night as "unruly," speaking of confusion. He describes the earth as shaking the livelong night." Ironically, Macbeth agrees, "'twas a rough night" (2.3.63).
The many dark images of night and its predominance in the play clearly suggest that evil abounds:
That darkness does the face of earth entomb. (2.4.
Banquo says in Act III that he
must become a borrower of the night
For a dark hour or twain.(3.1.27-28)
And, as he sends his murderers to kill Banquo, Macbeth comments,
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse (3.3.53)
In Act IV, Malcolm, determined to return to Scotland tells Macduff, "The night is long that never finds the day" (4.3.240). And, so it is for Macbeth whose many nights of murder have finally caused the madness of Lady Macbeth as well as that of Macbeth himself.
Macbeth is Shakespeare's bloodiest and darkest play, with its supernatural forebodings, revenge, bloody births, wanton cruelty, murder of women and children, and our tragic hero's beheading at the end. The whole play is predicated on dark imagery, beginning with the witches' equivocations:
• Wicked / Evil Imagery: “Foul is fair and fair is foul” (I.i); "Something wicked this way comes." (IV.i.45)
• Blood Imagery: "Which smoked with bloody execution, Like valor’s minion carved out his passage Till he faced the slave...[and] unseamed him (Macdonwald) from the nave to the chops and stuck his head upon the battlements.”
• Light / Dark Imagery: “Let not light see my dark and deep desires”
• Gender Imagery: “Unsex me here”; “If you were a man…”
• Sickness Imagery: "If thou couldst, Doctor, cast The water of my land, find her disease And purge it to a sound and pristine health”
• Appearance vs. Reality Imagery: “Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t"
• Animal Imagery: There the grown serpent lies, the worm that’s fled Hath nature that in time will venom breed, No teeth for the present. (III.iv.29-31)