Imagery In Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
The play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, is regarded as one of Shakespeare?s best tragedies. It deals with a man named Macbeth, who is introduced as a strong, brave war hero. He has the respect of the king and his peers. The predictions of three witches that Macbeth will become king begin Macbeth?s descent into his own downfall. He decides to take his fate into his own hands, The play Macbeth is full of images and motifs that recur many times throughout the play. The images of light and darkness are referenced to multiple times. There are many occurrences where hands are mentioned. The motif of equivocations is constantly brought up throughout the play. However, there were three images that stood out. The images of birds, sleep and blood are pivotal to setting the mood and developing the characters in the play Macbeth.
There are many occurrences of birds throughout the play. Birds are used for many purposes. Some birds signify power, some signify strength, some signify honor, and many birds are of ill omen. They are used in the descriptions of characters. They are used to make an analogy of what is occurring in the play, whether they are used in place of people or to mimic the situation at hand. In the first mention of birds in the play, they are used to show the high military power of Macbeth and Banquo. In Act 1, Scene 2, the Sergeant tells King Duncan how just at the moment when Macbeth?s forces defeated Macdonwald?s rebels, the Norwegian king attacked the Scots. King Duncan asks if the new attack dismayed Macbeth. The Sergeant, making a sarcastic joke, says, ?Yes, as sparrows [dismay] eagles, or the hare the lion.? He uses this analogy to show that the strong Macbeth was not to be bothered. The next mention of birds is after Macbeth spoke with the witches and he had sent a letter telling of the encounter to Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth discovers that King Duncan is coming to spend the night at her castle. Lady Macbeth says, ?The raven himself is hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements.? The raven is commonly known as an image of ill omen, and Lady Macbeth means that the raven is hoarse from saying repeatedly how Duncan must die. In arguably the most important scene in the novel, while Macbeth goes to murder Duncan, Lady Macbeth waits and listens. She hears the screech of an owl. She says, ?Hark! Peace! It was the owl that shriek?d, the fatal bellman, which gives the stern?st good-night. He is about it.? The cry of a screech owl is thought to announce a death, and a ?fatal bellman? is a night watchman who rings a bell to call a prisoner to his hanging. Lady Macbeth is glad to hear the shriek of the owl, because it signifies that Macbeth is in the process of murdering the King. In the last use of birds in the novel, Ross and an Old Man are discussing the odd things that have happened since the murder of King Duncan the night before. The old man says, ?A falcon, towering in her pride of place, was by a mousing owl hawk?d at and kill?d.? The falcon?s ?pride of place? is the highest point of its flight. And the owl, which usually catches mice on the ground, went up in the air instead of down and killed a falcon. Also, a falcon is a day creature and a royal companion, where the owl is an untamable bird of night and death. Relating that occurrence to the events taking place, it could be said that Duncan was the falcon, and Macbeth the owl.
Sleep is also a recurring image in the play Macbeth. People sleep to relax. When people don?t sleep, they become more high-strung and stressed out. Macbeth hardly sleeps throughout the entire play, to signify the huge amount of tension on his back throughout the play. He sees sleep as a reward, something to take pressure off of him. When nightmares or restlessness disturb sleep, an uneasy mood is created. A nightmare usually tells of things to come. On the night that Macbeth murders Duncan, Banquo says to his son, ?A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, and yet I would not sleep; merciful powers, restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose!? Banquo does not specify what is disturbing his sleep, but it is assumed it is most likely the witches? prophecies. Later in the same scene, Macbeth suggests that he would reward Banquo if Banquo would somehow assist him in something having to do with the witches? prophecies. Banquo shows that he is suspicious of Macbeth?s motives, and Macbeth ends the conversation by wishing Banquo ?good repose,? or a good night?s sleep. After Banquo goes to bed, Macbeth hallucinates, seeing a bloody dagger in the air. He tells himself that it is the time of night for such a hallucination. ?Now o?er the one half-world nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse the curtain?d sleep.? Sleep is ?curtain?d? because the beds of the time period had curtains around it to keep out drafts. Macbeth states that in the dark of night, wicked dreams can penetrate the curtains and sleep itself. Another occurrence is right after Macbeth murders King Duncan. Staring at his bloody hands, he tells his wife that as he left the King?s chamber, he heard two men in the other room. ?There?s one did laugh in?s sleep, and one cried ?Murder!?? To him, it?s as though the men, even in their sleep, could see his bloody murderer?s hands. Moments later, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that he thought he heard a voice telling him he would never sleep again. ?Methought I heard a voice cry ?Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep,? the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the ravell?d sleave of care, the death of each day?s life, sore labour?s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature?s second course, chief nourisher in life?s feast.? A ?ravell?d sleave? is a tangled skein of thread or yarn. Macbeth uses it as a metaphor for the kind of frustration we experience when we have so many problems that we can?t see the end to any of them. In such a case, we often say that we went to ?sleep on it? in order to get everything straight. Macbeth also compares sleep to a soothing bath after a day of hard work, and the main course of a feast. To Macbeth, sleep is not only a necessity of life, but something that makes life worth living. Macbeth feels that when he murdered his King in his sleep, he murdered sleep itself.
Of the many images found in Macbeth, the image of blood is the most abundant. The image of blood signifies evil and underhandedness. Whenever blood is mentioned, the mood turns dark, and it shows that foul play is at hand. As Lady Macbeth plans to kill King Duncan, she calls upon the spirits of murder to “make thick my blood; stop up the access and passage to remorse.” Thin blood was considered wholesome, and it was thought that poison made blood thick. Lady Macbeth wants to poison her own soul, so that she can kill without remorse. Also, just before he kills King Duncan, Macbeth is staring at the “dagger of the mind,” and as he does so, thick drops of blood appear on the blade and hilt. He says to the knife, ?I see thee still, and on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, which was not so before.” However, he’s not so far gone that he doesn’t know what’s happening to him. Macbeth tells himself “there’s no such thing: it is the bloody business which informs thus to mine eyes.” The “bloody business” he refers to is the murder he’s about to commit. After Macbeth has murdered King Duncan, he looks at his bloody hands and says, ?this is a sorry sight.? Lady Macbeth thinks it?s a foolish thing to say, and when she notices that he has brought the bloody daggers from King Duncan’s bedchamber, she thinks him to be even more stupid. She tells him that he must take the daggers back, place them with the King’s sleeping grooms, and smear the grooms with blood. Macbeth, however, is so shaken that all he can do is stand and stare at his bloody hands, so Lady Macbeth takes the daggers from him. When she goes to do the job she thinks he should do, Macbeth still stands and stares. He asks himself if all the water in the world can wash away the blood. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?” He answers his own question. “No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.? In contrast, his wife thinks his obsession with blood shows that he’s a coward. She dips her hands in the dead King’s blood, and smears the grooms with that blood, then tells Macbeth that “My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white.” She means that now her hands are bloody, like his, but she would be ashamed to have a “white,? bloodless and cowardly, heart like his. She leads him away to wash his hands, and she seems quite sure that “a little water clears us of this deed.” Later in the play, when she goes mad, she sees blood on her hands that she cannot wash away, no matter how much water she uses. When Macbeth tells Malcolm and Donalbain of their father?s murder, he says, “the spring, the head, the fountain of your blood is stopp’d; the very source of it is stopp’d.? Here, the meaning of “your blood” is “your family,” but Macbeth’s metaphors also picture blood as a life-giving essence. A second later, blood is spoken of as a sign of guilt. Lennox says that it appears that the King was murdered by his grooms, because “their hands and faces were all badged with blood.” Then blood appears as the figurative clothing of a precious royal body, when Macbeth, justifying his killing of the grooms, describes the King’s corpse. “Here lay Duncan, his silver skin laced with his golden blood.? In this scene, the last mention of blood comes from Donalbain, who says to his brother, “the near in blood, the nearer bloody,? meaning that as the murdered King’s sons, they are likely to be murdered themselves. On the morning after the night of King Duncan’s murder, it is unusually dark outside. Ross says to the Old Man, “Ah, good father, thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man’s act, threaten his bloody stage.” The “stage” is the earth, where humans play out their lives. Because of Duncan’s murder, the stage is bloody and the heavens are angry. Moments later, Macduff enters and Ross asks him, “Is’t known who did this more than bloody deed?? The deed is “more than bloody” because it is unnatural. King Duncan was a good and kind man whose life naturally should have been cherished by everyone. All the dark and evil deeds taken place are described using the image of blood.
The large amount of imagery in Macbeth adds to the depth of the play. Clever analogies and the incorporation of birds, sleep and blood helped to give a sense of understanding in the play. The three images often set the dark, underhanded mood of the story. They developed the personalities and personas of the characters, whether it was the innocence and goodness of King Duncan, the intensity and insanity of Macbeth, or the manipulative evil of Lady Macbeth. The images of birds, sleep and blood contribute greatly to the overall mood and the development of characters in the play Macbeth.