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Blood Symbolism in Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Updated July 3, 2022

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Blood Symbolism in Macbeth by William Shakespeare essay

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Blood is essential to every human beings survival. It is a fluid circulating throughout the body that carries nutrients and oxygen to the tissues in exchange for life and if this was somehow lost then the life would also be lost. It represents life, death, and injury.

It is an essential part of life. Without it, we would not live. As a symbol and major theme in Macbeth, Blood is used most often to represent injury and death, but also life. In Macbeth, he uses blood to represents impurity.

Shakespeare often accompanies the image of water with the image of blood. The water represents cleansing and purity. Imagery is any piece of language that provokes the readers mind to form a mental picture or image. Shakespeare’s plays are well known for the richness of their imagery. Macbeth in particular has numerous vivid examples. Macbeth is also particularly rich in repeated images, such as the image of blood.

In the beginning of the story, blood is symbolic of bravery, how he fought bravely, and how he won. Bloodshed for a noble cause is good blood. However, Macbeth’s character changes throughout the play. The changes are characterized by the symbolism in the blood he sheds. As these images of blood occur frequently, they often portray the horror of the central action, Duncan’s murder. The brilliant images of blood and water also symbolize the unrelenting guilt of the two protagonists, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

The blood and water represents their inability to erase the memory of Duncan’s murder. The blood of King Duncan clings to their hands and makes them unable to forget the repulsive crimes they committed. In the beginning, blood is used to show bravery. “For brave Macbeth–well he deserves that name– Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel, Which smoked with bloody execution,” (I, ii, 18-20) This passage is revering to Macbeth’s braveness in which his sword is covered in the blood of the enemy. After these few references to honor, the symbol of blood now changes to show a theme of treachery and treason.

Before Duncan’s murder, Macbeth imagines seeing a dagger floating in the air before him. He describes it, “And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, Which was not so before. There’s no such thing: It is the bloody business which informs Thus to mine eyes.” (II, i, 57-60) The blood imagery in this passage obviously refers to treason, ambition, and murder. This imagery shows the beginning of Macbeth’s character transformation from a person of nobility, honesty, and bravery to that of treachery, deceit, and evil. After Macbeth kills Duncan, the meaning of blood begins to change. In Act II Scene ii Macbeth’s hands are covered in blood.

Later on, Lady Macbeth’s are too. Macbeth reacts to the blood very differently then Lady Macbeth. Macbeth sees the blood as the symbol of his action and as the symbol of his guilt; Macbeth cannot believe what he has done and is in shock. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No; this hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.” (II, ii, 71-75) He imagines that all of the water from the ocean could not clean his hands of the burden of guilt that weighed so heavily on his tormented mind. He pictures Duncan’s blood staining the entire ocean red.

This passage illustrates that the act of murder has changed Macbeth’s character. No longer does the blood suggest an image of ambition; it now symbolizes guilt and remorse. The passage also shows how no amount of water could clean Macbeth’s guilty conscience. Again, blood is referred to when Malcolm and Donalbain are discussing what to do. Malcolm says: “there’s daggers in men’s smiles: the nearer in blood,/ the nearer bloody.” (II,iii, 139-140), meaning that their closest relatives are likely to kill them.

Again, blood is being used to describe treason, murder, and death. Macbeth, shortly after he sees the ghost of the murdered Banquo at his feast, goes into a state of shock and has to be escorted back to his chamber by Lady Macbeth. He tells Lady Macbeth before he goes to sleep, “All causes shall give way: 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, 159-161). In this case, the meaning of blood has changed to evil. Macbeth is saying that he is stepped so far into a sticky pool of blood that it would be impossible to get out of that pool, meaning that he is so far into evil that it is impossible to go back to being good. Like her husband, the once ambitious Lady Macbeth finally realizes the significance of associating herself in the murder plot and the severe repercussions it will bring.

She is tormented by nightmares, and she sleepwalks through her bedroom and cries, Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?… What, will these hands ne’er be clean?… Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” (V, i, 16, 18-19, 40, 21-22, 25-25). The blood imagery shows Lady Macbeth’s guilt over Duncan’s murder. Her hallucinations of blood on her hands and her constant efforts to wash it off demonstrate that the agony of having guilty feelings is causing her to go insane. We later learn that this guilt strains her mind to the point that she commits suicide. In the play’s final scene, Macduff confronts.

Macbeth to avenge the murders of his children and his wife at Macbeth’s hand, and to see Malcolm established as the rightful King. As Malcolm sees Macbeth, he exclaims, My voice is in my sword, thou bloodier villain Than terms can give thee out!” (V, viii, 8-10) Macbeth and Macduff then engage in a fight to the death with Macduff eventually emerging victorious. After Macbeth is slain, the symbolic theme of blood swings back to what it was at the beginning of the play. Macduff presents Macbeth’s bloody head to the crowd and to the new King of Scotland, Malcolm, and the people rejoice. The death of Macbeth is honored and the symbolism of blood has returned to its original meaning; the bloodiest are the ones most honored. Macduff is congratulated as he proudly walks in covered with blood and with Macbeth’s head.

Ironically, it was blood that brought Macbeth to power and blood that brought him to death. The play successfully illustrates the complete transformation of Macbeth. He begins as a noble, a just and brave person, to becoming evil, ambitious, and treacherous, to his final feelings of remorse for his crime. Throughout the play, Shakespeare effectively conveys theme of death, murder and treason through the symbol of blood.

The reader understands the meaning Shakespeare is trying to convey. The symbol of blood in Macbeth is an effective symbol that is used well. Bibliography:

Blood Symbolism in Macbeth by William Shakespeare essay

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Blood Symbolism in Macbeth by William Shakespeare. (2019, Jul 12). Retrieved from