In Macbeth, do you see recurring images, deeds, situations, consequences, or mistakes?

  • Select TWO items from the preceding list and give examples from the play.


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Consider illusion/delusion, and in the wider context of the theatre. There are seven.

1. Darkness in daylight: established symbolically by torches and candles in a play originally intended for an open-air (daylight) theatre. This illusion is extended linguistically by direct statements and allusions to 'night' and darkness. A theatrical illusion created by words and props.

2. The Weird Sisters: visible to us, to Macbeth, and to the less questionable sight of Banquo - he serves as the touchstone of common sense, a bit like Horatio in Hamlet. It is left ambiguous whether they are merely old women or supernatural creatures, and their appearances/disappearances are described, rather than left to the physical fact of actors leaving a stage:

Banquo: The earth hath bubbles, as the water has.

And these are of them; whither are they vanished?

Macbeth: Into the air, and what seemed corporal melted

As breath into the wind. (I,iii, 79-82)

3. The Dagger: is an opposite case - we see the Witches, as do Banquo and Macbeth; the dagger is not literally seen by anyone. Even Macbeth knows it is not there:

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation

Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?

4. Banquo's Ghost is different again. It is seen by Macbeth, and in most productions it is seen by the audience, yet it is seen by no one else on stage. Lady Macbeth tells her husband he looks 'but upon a stool' - contradicting our sight as much as his.

5.The Apparitions in 4,i are a climax of the stage-illusion tricks - achieved by smoke and a trap - but these do not conflict with our sight or hearing - we see and hear what Macbeth does.

6. Lady Macbeth's sleep-walking in 5,i is essentially about delusion, but caused by psychological disturbance and not by supernatural agency. This is endorsed by the Doctor and the Nurse, who recognize a connection with guilt dreams. The 'mysterious' is being progressively displaced and finally eliminated in

7. Birnam Wood, whose moving is an exercise in camouflage still used in infantry tactics. Illusion is being reduced to rational explanation, and the account of Macduff's birth (5,vii) marks the end of the process: in Macbeth's words, 'no more sights'.

We can add an eighth and a ninth: 'Enter Macduff, with Macbeth's head' (5,vii, 83) - this was probably a life-mask of the Macbeth actor, a gory stage prop. The ninth recurs throught the play: the purely verbal creations of a highly visual but unseen world of babes and cherubim, rooky wood, murdering ministers, horses eating each other. The audience is left with a sense of having seen, smelt, touched far more than we have, though as with the Dagger, we know there's no such thing.





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There are many different recurring images which appear in Shakespeare's tragic play Macbeth.

One recurring image which appears in the play is that of references made to clothing. These references are...

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important given they show Macbeth's inability to "fit" into the roles which he takes (Thane of Cawdor and King). Other characters in the play make references to clothing as well--whether or not they will like their "new clothes," or new roles, with Macbeth gaining more and more power.

Examples of references to clothing are as follows:

The thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me In borrow’d robes? (Macbeth--Act I, Scene iii)

Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, Not cast aside so soon. (Macbeth--Act I, Scene vii)

Lest our old robes sit easier than our new! (Macduff-- Act II, Scene iv)

Another recurring image is that of the supernatural. Not only are the witches supernatural, the apparitions, Banquo's ghost, and the appearance of the dagger all are representative of the supernatural.

Direct quotes from the text which exemplify the appearance of the supernatural are as follows:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.Art thou not, fatal vision, sensibleTo feeling as to sight? (Macbeth--Act II, Scene i)

[The GHOST OF BANQUO enters, and sits inMACBETH’s place] (Scene direction--Act III, Scene iv)

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