What symbols and imagery does Shakespeare use in Macbeth

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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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Discuss Shakespeare's use of imagery and figurative language in Macbeth. 

Shakespeare opens Macbeth with a scene rich in imagery that sets the tone for the play. Amid thunder and lightning, the witches are planning to meet on an unnamred battlefield (where they encounter Macbeth.) They sing:

Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.

This imagery foreshadows the course of the play, in which what it is clear that foulness is at work. Throughout the play, we often see blood, for example, on Macbeth's and his wife's hands after he commits the murders and she the cleanup. This blood comes to symbolize guilt later in the play, when Lady Macbeth, overcome by guilt, is sleepwalking in the famous "out, damn'd spot!" scene.  Blood thus symbolizes the actual brutality of Macbeth's actions as well as the guilt that he experiences. Banquo's ghost appears to Macbeth covered in blood, and of course, the dagger that points the way to Duncan's chamber is bloody as well. 

Darkness, blackness, and night are often used to symbolize evil, as in the weird sisters' dark gathering,...

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and the act of concealing evil, such as when Macbeth asks for the "stars" to hide their fires so that his "black" desires will not be revealed to the world. 

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List the use of imagery associated with Macbeth from Shakespeare's Macbeth.

There is of course a lot of imagery that is used in this play to describe the character of Macbeth. In particular, you might want to think about the various soliloquies he has and the kind of imagery that Shakespeare uses to help describe Macbeth, his feelings, and his situation. For example, in Act I scene 7, Macbeth uses the following imagery to describe his situation as he contemplates whether it is worth killing Duncan or not:

I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself

And falls on th'other--

The image here is of a man who jumps so high when mounting a horse that he actually doesn't land on the horse, but flies straight over and lands on the ground. Macbeth here suspects his "vaulting ambition," and begins to understand that being obedient to his ambition might not actually be the best thing he can do.

In the same way, one of the most moving and desperate images associated with Macbeth comes in Act V scene 5 when he hears of his wife's death and says:

Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

This is an incredibly moving speech as not only does it describe Macbeth's grief at his wife's death and also his sudden understanding of how temporary and meaningless power is, but also it communicates an incredibly desperate vision of life. These are just two of the images associated with the character of Macbeth, but there are plenty more to discover in this play.

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