Shakespeare s classic play MacBeth is the story of a young and ambitious noble, MacBeth and his wife, Lady MacBeth living in 11th century Scotland. When MacBeth is told by three witches that he will become King of Scotland, his mind begins to wander. He considers killing the current king, Duncan, but he soon dismisses the thought from his mind. When Lady MacBeth hears of the witch s prophecies, she urges him to take fate into his own hands and kill the king. With her help, he commits this treasonous act and becomes King. This one murder is only the beginning as the couple strives to protect their power and maintain their innocence. Both characters fail to take into account the vast guilt that comes with their sinful actions. Shakespeare manifests this guilt in the images of blood and disease.
Duncan makes the fatal decision of paying an overnight visit to MacBeth s castle. With lady MacBeth s coaxing MacBeth agrees to drug the grooms and murder Duncan. However, Lady MacBeth must go back after the initial killing and frame the sleeping grooms for the murder. Both MacBeth and his wife s hands now carry the blood of the late king, Duncan. A little water clears us of this deed, is Lady MacBeth s response to this situation. She thinks washing the blood off their hands will also wash the guilt off their minds. Nothing so complicated is ever that easy.
Lady MacBeth soon learns that guilt is heavier than water. She is in a state of dementia and believes there is still Duncan s blood on her hands. She keeps trying to wash this imaginary blood away. Yet here s a spot/ Out, damned spot out I say! One. Two. / Yet who would have thought the old man/ to have had so much blood on him? (5.1. 33, 37, 40-42). She realizes that she can never conquer the guilt which is eating her away from the inside. She cannot forgive and forget what she has done. Here s the smell of the blood still. All/ the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little/ hand. O, O, O! (5.1. 53-55).
MacBeth has a discussion with the Lady MacBeth s doctor concerning her condition. Cure her of that./ Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,/ Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,/ Raze out the written troubles of the brain,/ And with some sweet oblivious antidote/ Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff/ Which weighs upon the hear? (5.3. 49-55). In this scene Shakespeare brings out in the open his link between blood and disease with the guilt. He asking the doctor to essentially remove the memory of Duncan s murder from his wife s mind. Things have gotten hopless and he realizes this. He is asking the doctor to perform miracles. Things can only get worse. And they do when Lady MacBeth guilt grows to the point where she takes her own life.
Shakespeare uses the images of blood and death to represent guilt. It is a way of him putting a feeling into a tangible form. As the play progresses, MacBeth and Lady MacBeth come to realize that guilt is much more serious than they thought. It can control a person to the extent of having them kill themselves.