William Shakespeare s play, (if indeed he did write it) Macbeth is rife with killing, and is probably only second in bloodiness to his earlier play, Titus Andronicus. Not only is blood a key part of the plot for obvious reasons, it is also an example of imagery, representing several different symbols throughout the play. In the beginning, blood represents honor. Later, blood seems to show treachery. A the end of the play Shakespeare uses blood to show Macbeth s guilt for all his evil and greedy acts.
The first reference of blood occurs when Duncan sees the injured sergeant and says, “What bloody man is that?” (1.2.1) The King is referring to the brave messenger who has just returned from a war. Soon after, the bloody captain praises Macbeth s deeds in battle, saying that he held his sword “Which smoked with bloody execution” (1.2.20), meaning that Macbeth s bravery was shown by his sword covered in the hot blood of the enemy.
After at first symbolizing bravery, blood soon becomes an image representing treachery and treason. When Lady Macbeth is trying to summon enough courage to have the king killed, she cries out to spirits to “make thick my blood,” (1.5.50) meaning that she wants to try and be as remorseless as possible so that she can perform this treacherous deed. Macbeth also calls the act of treason the …bloody business… (2.1.60) In addition, Lady Macbeth knows that blood is evidence of treason, and so she shifts the blame onto others by telling Macbeth to “smear the sleepy grooms with blood,” (2.2.64) Throughout act two, whenever a character speaks of Duncan s murder, they always refer to it as the bloody deed or the bloody murder, showing that blood has taken on the meaning of treason.
In addition to treason, blood also represents guilt and remorse in act two. Shortly after he has killed Duncan, Macbeth asks himself, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?,” (2.2.78-79) meaning that he is already disturbed by his awful deed. Later, during the banquet scene, blood represents the guilt that haunts Macbeth. Banquo s ghost (who is covered in blood) appears and haunts Macbeth, who says, … they blood is cold…, (3.4.114) meaning that Macbeth feels guilty and is scared of Banquo s cold revenge.
Blood as a symbol of guilt shows itself very well in the scene in which Lady Macbeth walks in her sleep. While attempting to wash her hands, Lady Macbeth says “Out damned spot! Out I say! …. Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (5.1.37-42) This scene, while revealing to the doctor that Lady Macbeth was involved in some of the murders, also reveals her feeling of guilt and remorse since she cannot remove the memory (blood) from her mind (hands). The Doctor seems to pick up on this because he tells Macbeth that his wife “… is troubled with thick-coming fantasies.” (5.3.47) The Doctor means that he knows that Lady Macbeth is dreaming about blood, and possibly knows that she feels guilty. Also, near the end of the play, Macbeth uses blood to show his guilt during his last hour. When he is threatened with death by Macduff, Macbeth says, “…get thee back, my soul is too much charged (burdened) with blood of thine already,” (5.8.6) meaning that he feels too guilty about his deeds to fight with Macduff.
Throughout this play, the meaning of blood has changed along with Macbeth s emotions: blood has symbolized ideas from honor to treachery, and then guilt. It is very fitting that blood is a dominant symbol in this play, for this is one of Shakespeare s darkest and most violent.