What symbols and imagery does Shakespeare use in Macbeth? 

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most important repeated images in Macbeth is blood.  Blood is symbolic of violence and destruction in this play.

The first example of blood is found when the sergeant explains Macbeth’s heroics to Duncan.  He is described as injured and bloody.  This foreshadows blood and violence connected with Macbeth.  Blood is also imagery because it is used very descriptively in the dialogue, such as this line from Macbeth.

What hands are here? Ha, they pluck out mine eyes!

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,Making the green one

red. (Act 2, Scene 2, p. 31)

This vivid image is used to connect us with the violent act, and to remind us of the blood motif.  Macbeth has killed Duncan, and his reaction is more a sign of his being afraid of being caught than experiencing guilt over the murder.

Lady Macbeth does experience guilt over her part in Duncan’s death.  In fact, she seems to lose her mind as a result of the guilt. 

Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One–two—

why then ’tis time to do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie!

A soldier, and afeard? … Yet who would

have thought the old man to have had so much blood in(35)

him? (Act 5, Scene 1, p. 77)

She also had blood on her hands, literally, when she took the daggers from Macbeth.  This blood becomes symbolic of the deed, and is figurative.  She cannot wash the blood from her hands.

Another symbol that is also a vivid image is Macbeth's head.  When Macduff kills Macbeth at the end, he holds up the head.

Hail, King! for so thou art. Behold where stands
The usurper's cursed head. The time is free. (Act 5, Scene 8, p. 90)

The head is symbolic of the end of Macbeth's tyranny.  Although it is not described in detail, one can picture it clearly.

 

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