The Role and Symbolism of Blood in Macbeth
In plays and novels, blood is normally used to symbolize death, mortality, and family. Blood reminds us of the vitality and importance of life. In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses blood to convey the emotional turmoil and the conscience of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. We are constantly reminded, through the use of blood, the emotional impact of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s actions has on them. While Macbeth becomes more paranoid than guilty, Lady Macbeth spirals down a path of insanity and regret. Shakespeare uses the blood of the victims and the imaginary blood to contrast how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth handles their situation emotionally.
Shakespeare uses the blood of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s victims to draw out their emotional response to the crimes committed. This is seen clearly when the couple discusses guilt and blood after murdering their first victim. After Macbeth murders Duncan, he returns to his wife and comments on his guilt and worries.
Macbeth “Whence is that knocking?/ How is’t with me, when every noise appals me?/ What hands are here? Ha? They pluck out mine eyes./ Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather/ The multitudinous seas incarnadine,/ Making the green one red.” (2.2, 68-74)
Macbeth’s obsession with blood in this scene demonstrates his inability to remove his guilt. The blood acts as a reminder that he killed his king. He knows that this guilt will carry with him everywhere. This is demonstrated when he says that the sea would not wash the blood away, and would rather be tainted by the blood. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth is very dismissive about the blood and the guilt of this act. This is seen when she mocks Macbeth about his manliness.
Lady Macbeth “My hands are of your colour, but I shame/ To wear a heart so white…. A little water clears us of this deed:/ How easy is it then! Your constancy/ Hath left you unattended.” (2.2, 75-76 & 78-80)
This was said as a response to Macbeth’s inability to wash the blood and guilt off his hands. Contrary to Macbeth, Lady Macbeth quickly disregards the guilt. She favours the reality of their physical situation. This is shown when she corrects him and says that he doesn’t need an ocean, but only a little water. She remarks that they both share the weight of the guilt. This is followed by a mocking line that says Macbeth should be ashamed of being so weak. Especially if they share equal weight in guilt. In these examples, Macbeth is shown as worrisome and restless while Lady Macbeth is shown as dismissive and dominant. Blood imagery from the victims of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is used to emphasize guilt by showing how Macbeth can’t seem to forget his guilt while Lady Macbeth is quick to suppress her guilt.
Another use of blood imagery comes from Shakespeare’s use of imaginary blood in Macbeth. Imaginary blood is used to portray the conscience and desires of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. A prime example of Macbeth imagining blood is the famous dagger soliloquy.
Macbeth “Is this a dagger which I see before me,/ The handle toward my hand? Come let me clutch thee:/ I have thee not, and yet I see thee still/ ….. Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going,/ And such an instrument I was to use./ Mine eyes are made the fools o’th’other senses, /Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still, /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.” (2.1, 40-42 & 49-56)
This soliloquy demonstrates Macbeth’s obsession with the murder of Duncan. It also demonstrates how Macbeth likes to take care of stressful situations. Macbeth is commonly seen throughout the play to want to speed up the process and get things over with. When the blood appears on the dagger, it is an image representing the aftermath of the murder. Macbeth desperately desires to see the end outcome but is immensely hesitant when approaching what he needs to do in order to achieve that outcome. An important scene where Lady Macbeth imagines blood is in act 5 scene 1. Lady Macbeth starts talking to herself and having hallucinations about blood on her hands.
Lady Macbeth “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two: why,/ then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie, a/ soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when/ none can call our power to account?—Yet who would have/ thought the old man to have had so much blood in him…. The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she/ now?— What will these hands ne’er be clean?— No more/ o’that, my lord, no more o’that: you mar all with this/ starting.” (5.1, 33-37 & 39-42)
Lady Macbeth is shown to have visible hallucinations that represents her immense guilt. This is interesting because of all the times she mocked Macbeth for doing the same thing. However, as Lady Macbeth said, they share the same guilt. This sudden outburst is a build up of all the guilt she has suppressed or tried to brush away so far. She also specifically mentions that the “Thane of Fife had a wife”. The fact that Macbeth would kill a woman and a child may have shocked Lady Macbeth. This may have been the point where Lady Macbeth has stopped trying to justify Macbeth’s actions. Here, the imaginary blood shows the degree of insanity both characters go through.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses the imagery of blood to demonstrate how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth react to their situation emotionally. This is seen many times as they obsess over the blood and guilt. Shakespeare uses the blood of the victims to draw out reactions while using the imaginary blood to demonstrate Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s state of insanity. Blood shows the mental struggle as they debate between wanting to be king and queen and the guilt of murdering innocent people. It is this mental struggle that ultimately leads Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to their endless feelings of guilt and paranoia.