Macbeth Analysis- How does Shakespeare use blood imagery to explore the characterisation of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have a mutual vice, their ‘vaulting ambition’. This vice is explored throughout the play alongside blood imagery. Throughout the play, Macbeth transitions from an honourable, loyal servant to an ambitious and ruthless king. While Lady Macbeth changes from being strong-willed, to succumbing to her guilty conscience. The characterisation of the pair is spread over three stages; before the murder of Duncan, immediately after, and towards the death of the pair.

Ambition does not come overnight; it is an inert force that requires a catalyst. In many ways, the witches’ prophecy is this catalyst. Macbeth is a proven warrior, driven by his ambition. To king Duncan he is — mighty, trustworthy. And he believes that “noble Macbeth” (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 67) deserves the role of the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth also is also a bit unsure about killing Duncan, we see this in “I see thee still, and on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood” (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 46–47), however he eventually succumbs to his ambition and claims power in exchange for morality, to fulfil his dream of being king. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth is a vicious character before the murder, she is incredibly ambitious and manipulative. When she hears of the prophecy, she becomes even more ambitious and wants to be “unsex(ed)” (Act 1, Scene 5, Line 31). She wants all femininity taken away from her and she wants evil to “make thick (her) blood” (Act 1, Scene 5, Line 33). So that she does not feel any remorse, as she is plotting to kill Duncan. Lady Macbeth is driven by her ambition, and this is aided with her ruthlessness. When hearing of the prophecy of the witches, “Hie thee hither, That I may … chastise with the valour of my tongue all that impedes thee from the golden round” (Act 1, Scene 5, Line 14–17). She instantly wants to manipulate Macbeth in order to seize the crown.

After the killing of Duncan, the pair change, they become crueller and their lust for power is ever-increasing. Macbeth’s “vaulting ambition” (Act 1, Scene 7, Line 27) cannot be satisfied and is fuelled by his guilty conscience and anxiousness. We see his guilt when he looks at his bloodied hands and states “This is a sorry sight” (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 20). Here he is so shocked and overcome by guilt, that he is unable to return the daggers. The themes of guilt are reinforced once more in the lines, “Will Neptune’s Ocean wash this blood clean from my hand.” (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 57–60). These lines show that Macbeth feels guilty and states that these deeds cannot be erased. Lady Macbeth, initially keeps up her charade for being a strong-willed individual and often questions Macbeth’s worries and guilt. “A little water clears us of this deed. How easy is it, then!” (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 67–68). Here she shuns Macbeth’s aforementioned statement, and replies by stating that only a bit of water can wash his ‘bloodied’ hands.

Towards the end of the play, the play takes a serious turn, the themes of ambition, guilt alongside the pair’s ‘fatal flaw’ are emphasised, along with blood imagery. Macbeth seems to accept that things are not going his way, however he wants to cause as much damage as he can. Macbeth has “almost forgot the taste of fears.” (Act 5, Scene 5, Line 9.), he no longer is the same man he was before. After he hears of the death of Lady Macbeth, he believes that “(Life) is a tale…signifying nothing” (Act 5, Scene 5, Line 26–28). He is slowly realising the impact of his aforementioned actions, and is now paying the price. However, his evil is still with him, he knows all is done for him, but he still wants to take the “lives (of his enemies and) the gashes” (Act 5, Scene 8, Line 2–30). Macbeth has transformed from a noble warrior to a cruel and ruthless king. On the other hand, guilt catches up to Lady Macbeth and she starts to become mad. Ironically she cannot wash sins from her hands. “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand!” (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 33–34). Compared to Macbeth, Lady Macbeth does not change her ideals, instead see becomes mad and eventually she kills herself as her guilty conscience is too much to bear.

In conclusion, Shakespeare uses blood, which symbolises violence, effectively to characterise Macbeth and Lady Macbeth throughout the play. This characterisation is split throughout the play, split in three main parts. These being before the murder of Duncan, immediately after, and towards the demise of the pair. The pair change immensely throughout the play, highlighting what a small catalyst, such as the witches’ prophecies can cause.



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