Symbolism Of Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
The tragedy of Macbeth is filled with ironic and
symbolic elements. Throughout the play Shakespeare uses a
variety of clauses to symbolize both good and evil. The
four major images he uses are light and darkness, the number
three, birds, and blood.
The contrast of light and darkness is shown throughout
the play. The light symbolizes life and happiness, while
the darkness symbolizes evil and death.
Before Macbeth murders Duncan there is a great deal of
light shown in the play. After the murder the light turns
into darkness, not only the darkness of death, however but
also the darkness of evil. The murder has forced Macbeth to
suffer from insomnia. After the murder he states exclaims,
Sleep no more!/Macbeth does murder sleep?…?Glamis hath
murdered sleep, and therefore/Clawdor/Shall sleep no more.
Macbeth shall sleep no more? (II,ii,46-47,54-57) He cannot
shake the memories and guilt he feels about murdering
Lady Macbeth also suffers from the darkness. At first
she is not affected by the murder; however in the end she is
the person who suffers the most. In the final days of her
life, Lady Macbeth start to sleep walk. She is unable to
hide from the deep horrors of the darkness and her fear of
discovery. She is afraid of the dark and uses the light to
try to hide from the demons of the night, in an attempt to
rid of her demons. In Act V, the doctor and the gentlewoman
watch Lady Macbeth walk into the light from the darkness of
Doctor: ?How came she by that light.”
Gentlewoman:” Why, it stood by her. She has light by
her continually. ‘Tis her command” (V,i,23-25).
Here Lady Macbeth commands that she has light by her at all
times, to help escape from the darkness. The contrast of
light and dark is portrayed so drastically to show that the
deeds of darkness, the murder, overshadow the light.
The number three is used throughout the play as a
symbol of evil. The number itself traditionally is
considered to be unlucky. The first time the number appears
is in the fourth scene of the play with the three witches,
or weird sisters.
First witch:? Thrice the brinded cat that mewed.”
Second witch: ?Thrice, and once the hedge-pig whined.”
First witch: ?Days and nights has thirty-one”
Another example is the three apparitions give to Macbeth at
his second visit with the witches. Macbeth’s name is called
three time before called before they, the witches speak.
First Witch:? All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane
Second Witch:?All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane
Third Witch:?All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king
The word three is shown in other context as well. The
Porter in Act II seems to be providing some comic relief for
the audience, but it goes deeper than that. He explains to
the audience that the number three and drinking does not
make for a good mix. He shows that the two play a major
role in the play. Porter:”…and drink, sir, is a great
provoker of three things” (II,iii,25-26). Here he may be
referring to the three fatal apparition that the three
witches are to eventually tell Macbeth about.
Birds also are mentioned in the play to symbolize both
good and evil, often paralleling the light and darkness
theme. The marlet and wren are used to symbolize goodness,
while the raven and owl are used to symbolize evil.
The raven, is used to tell of the messenger that
informs Lady Macbeth that King Duncan is coming. Lady
Macbeth exclaims,?The raven himself is hoarse/That croaks
the fatal entrance of Duncan.” Not only is the raven’s
voice is traditionally thought to be a call of death, but is
also a symbol of death itself along with evil and darkness.
The owl, also shown as a symbol of darkness and evil,
is used throughout the play. The owl is a bird of the night
and appears many times as an omen of death and evil. Once
again Lady Macbeth exclaims:?It was the owl that shrieked,
the fatal bellman,/Which gives the stern’st
good-nite”(II,2,5-6). Again in Act II, in Old Man?s
conversation with Ross, he states,?A falcon, tow?ring in her
pride of place,/Was by a mousing owl hawked at and
killed.?(II,iv,15-16) This statement by the Old Man
suggests that the night bird, the bird of evil and darkness,
has finally struck, with the murder of Duncan. Then in Act
IV, the owl comes back to haunt again, this time to prey on
Lady Macduff:?The most diminutive of birds will fight,/Her
young ones in her nest, against the owl.? Lennox talks of
an ?obscure bird? that ?Clamored the livelong night?
(II,iii,67-68). One might conclude that this ?obscure bird?
that he speaks of is the owl.
Shakespeare uses blood to symbolize many events,
ranging from honor for a victory well won to guilt from
malicious murder of a great king. The first reference to
blood we find in the play portray “blood” as good and
honorable. King Duncan pronounces “What bloody man is
that?”(I,i,1) regarding an obviously bloody soldier after he
has fought a long gurgling battle to protect Malcolm. The
blood here symbolizes goodness and honor. A few lines
further, blood is again shown as a symbol of honor. The
Captain,refering to Macbeth, rejoices with the victory of
their battle and says,”Disdaining Fortune, with brandished
steel,/Which smoked with bloody execution.”(I,ii,19-20)
These are a few rare occurrences in the play that portray
“blood” as good and honorable.
From this point on the references to blood are used to
symbolize evil, rather than goodness and honor. The scene
is that of the murder of King Duncan. After Macbeth murders
Duncan, he returns to his room where the king’s blood has
saturated Macbeth’s hands. Lady Macbeth tells her husband
to go and frame the sleeping guards for the deed, “Go,carry
them and smear/The sleepy grooms with blood.” (II,ii,63-64)
Macbeth does so and he also tries to wash his hands with
water to clear his name of the deed, as his wife had
instructed him to do, but is unable to rid his conscience of
the guilt; ?Will all great Neptunes?s ocean wash this
blood/Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather/The
multitudinous seas incarnadine…? (II,ii,78-80) This time
the “blood” symbolizes the evil deed of murdering King
Duncan. Blood again,as evil, appears in Act V. Here Lady
Macbeth is suffering from the guilt of the murder, she says
“Out, damned spot, out, I say!…Yet who would have
thought the old man/to have had so much blood in
him?…Here’s the smell of the blood still.
All/the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this
The guilt of the evil murder has gotten the best of Lady
Macbeth and has caused her to have demons. The guilt seemed
to have overtaken Macbeth at first, however he was able to
rid of the feeling. Lady Macbeth on the other hand seemed
to not to be shaken by the murder at first, but in the end,
the massive guilt caused the death of her.
Shakespeare uses a variety of symbolism to better
describe the situations that occur throughout the tragedy.
Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffer from the evil and
darkness that is illustrated in the play, through the use