The Role of Imagery in Macbeth
If a picture tells a thousand words, than imagine the importance of an image upon a play such as Macbeth. In any literary work, it is extremely important that the author can effectively manipulate a reader’s feelings towards a character. In Macbeth, that feat is accomplished magnificently by Shakespeare. Through his skillful use of imagery, Shakespeare shows us a deeper look into the true character of Macbeth. Though imagery is widespread throughout Macbeth, it is most dominant in clothing imagery, light and darkness imagery, and blood imagery. Through these images,
Shakespeare shows the development of Macbeth’s character.
Using clothing imagery, Shakespeare develops Macbeth’s character. This is evident, as, imagery of clothing shows us Macbeth’s ambition and the consequences thereof. We see this ambition, through Banquo, when he says, “New honours come upon him, / Like our strange garments, cleave not to their / mould but with the aid of use.” (Shakespeare, Macbeth I, III, 144-146), meaning that new clothes do not fit our bodies, until we are accustomed to them. Throughout the entire play, Macbeth is constantly wearing new clothes (titles), that are not his, and do not fit. Hence, his ambition. This ambition, as we see, is what leads to his demise. When Macbeth first hears the prophecy that he will be King, he does not see how it can be so, “to be king / Stands not within the prospect of belief” (I, III, 73-74). However, Macbeth’s ambitious nature becomes visible when he considers murdering King Duncan to claim the throne, “If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well / It were done quickly” (I, VII, 1-2). His ambition is encouraged by Lady Macbeth, of whom attempts to convince him to commit this crime, and lay claim to the throne. He is reluctant however, as Macbeth states, “I have bought / Golden opinions from all sorts of people, / Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, / Not cast aside so soon” (I, VII, 32-35). Macbeth compares being recently named the Thane of Cawdor to a new set of clothes. He believes that he his not ready to be king, and thus not ready for a new set of clothes. He states that the clothes that they have should be worn for a little while longer. However, Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth otherwise, and he proceeds, and murders King Duncan. This is due to his ambitious nature. As Macbeth first believed, he is not ready to be king at this time. This is evident when Angus states, “his title/ Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe / Upon a dwarfish thief.” (V, II,20-22). We see here how the Macbeth that has become King greatly differs from the Macbeth that defeated the invading armies in the beginning of the play. This shows us that Macbeth has changed drastically, due to his ambition, as is seen through imagery of clothing.
With Shakespeare’s use of light and darkness imagery, we see development in Macbeth’s character. This is apparent as, darkness, which symbolizes evil, provides us with a deeper look into Macbeth. We see this in Act II Scene I, which is opened by the immediate announcement that it is past midnight, “I take’t, ’tis later [than midnight], sir” (II, I, 3). During this dark night, we see how Macbeth is a moral coward. This is evident as, he is undecided as to whether or not to kill King Duncan, and he needs to hallucinate that a dagger is leading him towards Duncan in order to commit the crime. Through this hallucination, we see that Macbeth’s ambition gets the better of him, and appears to have control over him. He gives in against his moral conscience, and commits the horrible crime. During this same night, after Duncan’s murder, we also see how Macbeth changes into a cold-blooded killer. While the cruel murder of King Duncan took much convincing, by both Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth himself, he proceeds to murder both of Duncan’s guards without hesitation. This shows us how during this night, Macbeth changes greatly.
Using the image of light, we also see Macbeth’s character develop. Although the sun only appears to be present on two occasions, the
Literary significance of these occurrences is great. Ironically, both examples of the sun, as light imagery, occur when the ‘good’ king approaches Macbeth’s castle. When Duncan approaches Inverness, Macbeth is still held in high esteem by Scotland, ” we love him [Macbeth] highly” (I, VII, 29). Nevertheless, when Malcolm, son of Duncan, approaches Dunsinane, Macbeth is not loved in Scotland, “those he commands move only in command, / nothing in love” (V, II, 19-20). We see here how ambition ruins Macbeth, and changes him from a hero to a villain.
Through the three witches, of whom symbolize evil and darkness, we also see Macbeth’s character develop. This is evident, as the witches are a representation of Macbeth’s very own thoughts and desires. The witches prophecies are Macbeth’s very thoughts, which is the reason that they inspire him so much. The first prophecies show Macbeth to be young and ambitious, and reinforce his previous thoughts of becoming king. The second prophecies, however, expose Macbeth’s deterioration, as we see that he is now in danger, as all three prophecies warn him of impending doom. We see that Macbeth has gone too far, “Vaulting ambition, which o’er-leaps itself / And falls on the other” (I, VII, 27-28), and there is no turning back now. Through the images of light and darkness, we see Macbeth’s character develop.
Through Shakespeare’s abundant use of blood imagery, Macbeth’s character is developed. This is apparent as, using blood imagery, we see how Macbeth changes from a noble person at the beginning of the play, to a sinister, dishonorable man at the end. Despite the fact that he has gone from a thane, to a king, the opposite has occurred in terms of his character. Macbeth, as a thane was honorable, “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!” (I, II, 24), yet as king, we see how he has changed, “Devilish Macbeth / By many of these trains hath sought to win me / Into his power” (IV, III,
117-119). We see this through blood. First, how Macbeth shed blood honorably, in war, defending Scotland: For brave Macbeth with his brandish’d steel like a valour’s minioin carv’d out his passage / till he
faced the slave?unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps, / and fix’d his head upon our battlements. (I, II, 16-23)
When Macbeth next sees blood, however, it is upon the dagger that he hallucinates of, while he is considering killing King Duncan. Through the blood, Macbeth convinces himself to commit the crime, and proceeds to murder the King. However, immediately after he has commits this heinous crime, we see, through blood, that a great change has occurred in him, when he commits his next murders, “O yet I do repent me of my fury, / That I did kill them.” (II, III, 107-108). Macbeth slays the guards, whom he framed for Duncan’s murder, and he has does it without hesitation. This shows us that Macbeth has now lost control over himself, and that Lady Macbeth has lost control over him as well.
Macbeth next draws blood, when he murders Banquo. Whether or not Macbeth was present at the murder is debatable, however, Banquo does return to haunt Macbeth as a ghost. Banquo’s ghost is described as having “gory locks” (III, IV, 51), and “twenty mortal murders” (III, IV, 81) on his face. The return of Banquo as a ghost represents Macbeth’s downfall. He is now convinced that he has no choice but to continue his career of murder and deceit “I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more, /Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (III, IV, 136-138). We see that he is now becoming desperate, as he returns to the witches for further advice. Macbeth decides to kill Macduff, and his family, which again, shows his desperate nature “give to the edge of the sword / His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line” (IV, I, 151-153). Macbeth’s kingship is now in jeopardy, as, he has lost the support of most of his country “Now, minutely revolts upbraid his faith breach” (V, II, 18 ). He is trying to comfort himself by recalling the witches’ prophecies as he is told of the approaching armies, “Let them fly all: / Till Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane / I cannot taint with fear. What’s that boy Malcolm? / Was he not born of woman?” (V, III, 1-4). As the prophecies come to deceive Macbeth, he accepts his defeat, and decides to die fighting “At least we’ll die with harness on our back” (V, VI, 52). During the battle, he again, reminds himself of the prophecies, “What’s he / That was not born of woman? Such a one / Am I to fear, or none” (V, VII, 2-4). The constant mood changes in Macbeth show us of his fragile state, and how he has lost control over himself. Macbeth’s character development is completed only with his own death, at the hands of Macduff, of whom Macbeth has shed the most blood around. By using blood imagery, Shakespeare develops Macbeth’s character.
In Macbeth, imagery plays a crucial role in developing the character of Macbeth. We see this through the images of clothing, light and darkness, and blood. Clothing in Macbeth is often compared to Scottish titles, or ranks. Macbeth’s ambition caused him to continually strive to improve his current
position, most often by means of murder and deceit. This over ambition caused Macbeth’s downfall, as we see that he was not quite fit to be a king. Darkness is used to represent evil, and through different types of evil we see Macbeth’s true nature. The murders that Macbeth commits are at night, due to their evil nature. The witches that Macbeth encounters, are the ones who expose to us Macbeth’s innermost fears and desires. Light, on the contrary, represents good, and shows us the truly brutal nature of Macbeth’s crimes. Blood, the most dominant symbol in the play, shows us the changes in Macbeth’s character, from the start of the play to the end. We see how the blood drawn by Macbeth changed from noble blood, to corrupt blood. This ultimately, leads to his own blood being drawn. Shakespeare makes obvious his marvelous use of imagery, and gives way to feelings that could not have been felt otherwise. Without imagery, this masterpiece may not have been considered so, for we have seen, what a momentous effect it has on the play, as a whole. Remember, a picture tells a thousand words, however, an image might just tell more.