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William Shakespeare uses imagery, or symbolic language that evokes a visual image, to emphasize the main themes in ‘Macbeth.

‘ This lesson will discuss the examples of clothing and blood to represent duality and guilt.

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Purposes of Imagery in Macbeth

William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth presents the story of Macbeth, a man driven by ambition. Macbeth kills Duncan, king of Scotland, and seizes the crown for himself.

He soon finds that the killing cannot end with Duncan; to retain his position, Macbeth orders the murders of all those who might challenge his rule. In all this darkness, how does Shakespeare bring the characters alive and evoke an emotional understanding of the consequences of their deeds? Well, imagery is one way.In literature, imagery is symbolic language used to evoke a visual image. It also contributes to the mood, or emotional atmosphere, that the work evokes. In Macbeth::

  • Shakespeare uses clothing imagery to emphasize the conflict between appearance and reality, a concern found in many of Shakespeare’s plays.
  • The play’s blood imagery often serves as a metaphor for guilt and retribution and serves as a continual reminder to the audience that Macbeth’s reign is drenched in blood.

Let’s see some specific examples.

Clothing Imagery

There are several references to clothing in Macbeth, and much of the clothing in the play is ill-fitting. When the noblemen greet Macbeth with the title ‘thane of Cawdor’ in Act I, scene iii, Macbeth says, ‘The thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me/In borrowed robes?’Later, in Act V, as the noblemen prepare for the final conflict against Macbeth, they consider Macbeth’s character. They determine that he is not suitable for leadership: ‘Now does he feel his title/Hang loose about him like a giant’s robe/Upon a dwarfish thief.

‘ His clothes do not fit, and he’s not fit to lead the country.Clothing can also be used for concealment and deception, and this dark play contains several passages that allude to concealment or hiding. After Macbeth murders Duncan, Lady Macbeth suggests the use of clothing to deceive the arriving noblemen. When she hears Lennox and Macduff knocking at the door, she instructs Macbeth, ‘Get on your night-gown, lest occasion call us/And show us to be watchers’ (Act II, scene ii).As the army moves on Dunsinane, the soldiers clothe themselves in branches from Birnan wood, and just as the witches have predicted, the forest seems to move. In this case, something that appears to be impossible becomes reality, and Macbeth watches, horrified, as his position begins to crumble when the camouflaged soldiers move on his castle.

Blood Imagery

Macbeth is perhaps the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays, and even in scenes in which the blood is not shown on stage, the actors’ words contain frequent references to it.As Lady Macbeth steels herself for Duncan’s assassination, she calls on the spirits: ‘Make thick my blood;/Stop us the access and passage to remorse’ (Act I, scene v). The relationship between blood and remorse or guilt appears throughout the play, but Lady Macbeth is particularly associated with blood as a symbol of guilt.

In the well-known sleepwalking scene, she continually acts as if she is washing the blood from her hands in a fruitless attempt to cleanse herself of her guilt.Blood is also a symbol of guilt and ultimately retribution for Macbeth. ‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?’ he wonders. In Act III, scene iv, Macbeth says, ‘Blood will have blood.’ He knows that the blood of his victims will cry out for justice.

The ‘bloody business’ of the play consists of blood-stained grooms, the ‘gory locks’ of a ghost, and the faces of hired assassins, smeared with blood. The play contains ‘dudgeon gouts’ of blood, so much so that near the end of the play, Macbeth seems to wade in a river of blood. ‘I am in blood,/Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er’ Macbeth says (Act III, scene iv), implying that he has caused so much death that going back is pretty much impossible.

Lesson Summary

Imagery is symbolic language used to evoke a visual image.

Shakespeare uses imagery in Macbeth to examine moral issues, such as guilt and retribution, and to highlight the play’s concern with the conflict between appearance and reality. The clothing imagery in the play highlights the conflict between appearance and reality:

  • Macbeth’s clothes are described as ill-fitting
  • Macbeth’s leadership is described by others as a giant’s robes on a dwarf, in other words unfit
  • Lady Macbeth uses clothes to aid in deceiving others
  • Soldiers dress as trees to deceive their attack on the castle

The blood imagery points to the concept of guilt and retribution:

  • Lady Macbeth sleepwalks and imagines herself trying to wash her hands of blood
  • Macbeth describes his deeds as walking in a river of blood
  • Macbeth knows that ‘blood will have blood’ as his dead enemies will have vengeful friends

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