The Use of Imagery and Metaphors in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Shakespeare is perhaps most famous for his use of imagery and metaphors. Who can’t recognize the quote “Hark! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the Sun” as being uniquely Shakespeare? In uses all sorts of imagery including avian and animal. However the most predominant imagery in Macbeth involves blood. Blood is used as a symbol to represent different attributes of the characters in the play. It is used to represent honor, guilt, and strength. Blood shows the bravery of Macbeth in the first scene, but also shows his human side. King Duncan is the first in the play to refer to blood.

Scotland at this time is fighting Norway; Macbeth and his friend, Banquo, lead the Scottish forces to victory. In mentioning blood, Duncan shows the honor and the heroic deeds done by Macbeth. “What bloody man is that?” Duncan asked to which Malcolm tells him it is the sergeant who had fought honorably. The sergeant shares the battle story of how Macbeth fought so honorably even when outnumbered, and “cary’d out his passage.” This valiant story with the bloody sergeant being weak from his war injuries enhances Macbeth’s heroic appearance. Duncan’s response to the story shows his respect for Macbeth and his realization of Macbeth’s honor, “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!”

At this point, being bloody is a sign of valor and courage. Contrasting this heroic portrayal of blood, Lady Macbeth displays the evil that blood represents. She hears from a messenger that the king shall arrive at the castle tonight, and decides that she will help Macbeth live up to his prophecy by wishing evil upon herself. She wishes that her weak female body would change, “unsex me her, I and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full/ of direst cruelty!” With this change she wants her blood to become thick, which would help her become strong, allowing her to kill without regret, “make thick my blood, / stop up th’ access and passage to remorse.” Shakespeare uses the image of thick blood to make Lady Macbeth seem strong, cruel, and remorseless. After he has killed Duncan, Macbeth is in shock. His world of good has been shaken and the blood within him is scared. The blood sets up in his mind a paranoid scene.

Macbeth thinks about the terrible thing he has done when he looks at his hands, “This is a sorry sight.” His wife tells him to go back and “smear the sleepy grooms with blood.” Macbeth refuses to go because he is so shook up that he only can stare at his hands. He wants the blood that is on his hands which is full of his sickness and his nervousness off, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / clean from my hand?” Macbeth answers his own question saying that the sickness and nervousness on his hands will not go away but it will make the ocean red with this blood, “No; this my hand will rather / the multitudinous seas incarnadine, / making the green one red.”

Lady Macbeth returns to find her husband obsessed with the blood. The blood on his hands is merely a symbol. He is not so upset that his hands will not come clean, but that his conscience never will. Imagery is a tool used successfully by many authors. Shakespeare’s imagery was so powerful that it has lasted all he way through to today. In Macbeth he uses the image of blood throughout the play to represent the emotions and actions of characters as well as the mood in various scenes of the play. This imagery is created to enhance the development of characters and setting. It is through the strengths of his imagery that Shakespeare’s characters have withstood time.

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