William Shakespeare’s Use of Imagery in Macbeth In 16th century literature, primarily plays, it is common practice for authors to employ various forms of imagery in order to draw more emotion from the reader or audience. William Shakespeare, a literary master, makes heavy use of imagery in most of his works. Macbeth, one of his most famous plays, is no exception to this. Macbeth implements numerous examples of imagery and symbolism in order to strengthen the theme and add depth to the underlying subtext within the play.
Shakespeare makes heavy use of clothing and the appearance of characters to augment the deception that took place throughout the play. After Macbeth becomes king, the role which he has taken is compared to clothes that simply do not fit right. “New honours come upon him, Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould, But with the aid of use” (I, iii). Lady Macbeth’s advice to Macbeth is, “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t” (I, v).
In this example, Shakespeare utilizes the appearance of the characters to further illustrate the deceit that has taken place.
He contrasts the image of a flower with that of a snake. The flower is meant to be a symbol of innocence, whereas the snake is a common metaphor for evil. Macbeth also makes a statement of his own. “False face must hide what the false heart doth know” is what he said to his wife during this conversation (I, v). Again, Shakespeare makes use of the character’s appearance in order to hide the evil inside of them. In Act III, Scene v, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that they are “Unsafe the while that we must have our honours in these flattering streams, and make our faces wizards to our hearts, disguising what they are. Macbeth again clearly states that they must make their faces appear to be innocent, although they have already killed several people. After Duncan is murdered, Malcolm says to Donalbain, “To show as unfelt sorrow is an office Which the false man does easy” (II, iii). Malcolm is saying that it is easy for a deceitful man to fake his own sorrow. In addition to these examples, Shakespeare also madekes biblical references to symbolize the events which had taken place. “Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell” (IV, iii). This is a reference to Lucifer, the fallen angel in the Christian bible.
Shakespeare compares Macbeth to Lucifer as a person who was once righteous, but turned to evil to satisfy personal desires. Throughout Macbeth, Shakespeare uses imagery involving light and darkness to symbolize various concepts, such as the struggle between good and evil. Early on in the play, the witches arrange for their meeting to take place “at the set of sun” (I, i). In this example, Shakespeare uses nightfall as a metaphor for the end of righteousness and a dawn of evil. Banquo later states to Macbeth that the witches are “instruments of darkness” (I, iii).
Darkness simply represents evil here. Before Lady Macbeth commits a murder herself, she calls upon “thick night” as an aid for her to avoid being suspected of murder (I, v). Later on in in Act II, Scene i, Banquo tells Fleance, “There is husbandry in heaven, their candles are all out. ” What Banquo means by this is that the darkness is now hiding Macbeth’s evil actions. As the demise of Macbeth becomes apparent, Shakespeare uses light to represent the triumph of the righteous over the sinister. “I gin to be weary of the sun” is what Macbeth says after his demise becomes inevitable.
The sun rising represents how it may be possible for evil to temporarily gain an advantage, but in the end good will always win. Shakespeare makes extensive use of sleep as a tool of imagery in Macbeth. In Act I, Scene iii, the witches spitefully plan to punish the sailor’s wife by depriving her husband of sleep. “Sleep shall neither night nor day hang upon his pent house lid”. This is also foreshadowing what will happen to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after they turn to evil. As soon as Duncan is killed, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both cannot sleep throughout the play.
Their punishment for murder is sleep deprivation. These are the words of Banquo later on. “A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, And yet I would not sleep” (II, i). Banquo is trying to deviate from the temptation inside of him by depriving himself of sleep. The presence of blood is commonly used to represent guilt and betrayal. Shakespeare makes extensive use of blood as a dynamic metaphor with both positive and negative connotations throughout Macbeth. In the beginning of the play Duncan asks, “What bloody man is that? ” when he sees the injured sergeant (I, ii).
In this example, blood is used as a symbol of valor, and is representative of the man’s self-sacrifice and willingness to die for his country. The sergeant later says that Macbeths sword “smoked with bloody execution” (I, ii). This is a reference to Macbeth’s willingness to fight, and how he covers his sword with the blood of his enemies. This is considered valorous to the people in the play, since they take much pride in their country. As the plot progresses, Shakespeare begins to use blood as a more negative symbol. Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to make her blood thick (II, ii).
What she really means here is that she wishes to be desensitized to the guilt that she is now heavily experiencing. Lady Macbeth later attempts to rid herself of guilt again by smearing the blood on the servants. “Smear the sleepy grooms withe blood. “, and “If he do bleed, I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guilt. ” (III, iv). She believes that by smearing the blood on the servants, she will rid herself of guilt. The most vivid example of blood being used as imagery occurs when Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking. “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 out power to account? Yet who have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? ” (V, i). Lady Macbeth’s inability to wash the blood from her hands represents how she cannot overcome her guilty conscience. In the same line, the blood is used as a symbol of good, saying that the king had a lot of blood inside of him. During the final confrontation of Macduff with Macbeth, Macduff makes the following statement: “I have no words, my voice is in my sword, thou bloodier villain than terms can give thee out. (V, viii). Shakespeare again returns to using blood as a positive image when Macduff has slain Macbeth. This is because good has now risen above evil, and the bloodshed has become a positive event which Macduff is congratulated for. Nature imagery is used by Shakespeare throughout Macbeth as well. In Act I,Scene iii, Banquo asks the Witches to “look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow and which will not. ” Shakespeare uses the concept of seeds growing as a metaphor for opportunites that will present themselves. This line is then referred to much later in the play.
In Act V, Scene ii, Lennox refers to Macbeth and his followers as “weeds”. As previously stated, Macbeth is told by Lady Macbeth to look like a flower to conceal the serpent which lies beneath (I, v). Both of these are entities commonly found in nature, the flower representing innocence and the snake representing betrayal. Shakespeare makes other references to animals during the play as well. The sergeant compares the actions of Macbeth and Banquo to an eagle and a lion after their victory in battle. (I, ii). Macbeth employs numerous examples of imagery to convey feelings to the reader and audience.
Shakespeare uses clothing and other images of concealment to illustrate the hiding of people’s guilt and deception. The contrast of light and darkness is almost universally accepted as an allegory for the struggle between good and evil. Shakespeare uses this concept throughout macbeth to amplify the struggles that took place both within the characters and in the environment as well. The lack of sleep experienced by various characters in the play is representative of the guilt that they have burdened themselves with by commiting such evil acts.
Like the contrast of light and dark, blood is also universally accepted as different types of symbols, some of which are positive, and some of which are negative. People also regard different types of animals and items of nature as symbols for various character attributes. Shakespeare exploited this by comparing people and their actions throughout the play to different things commonly found in nature. Shakespeare’s copious use of imagery is truly apparent in Macbeth. His extensive use of imagery and symbolism were most definitely effective in instigating the desired emotional response of both the reader and the audience.
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