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Symbolism Of Macbeth Essay Research Paper The

Symbolism Of Macbeth Essay, Research Paper

The tragedy of Macbeth is filled with ironic and

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symbolic elements. Throughout the play Shakespeare uses a

variety of clauses to symbolize both good and evil. The

four major images he uses are light and darkness, the number

three, birds, and blood.

The contrast of light and darkness is shown throughout

the play. The light symbolizes life and happiness, while

the darkness symbolizes evil and death.

Before Macbeth murders Duncan there is a great deal of

light shown in the play. After the murder the light turns

into darkness, not only the darkness of death, however but

also the darkness of evil. The murder has forced Macbeth to

suffer from insomnia. After the murder he states exclaims,

Sleep no more!/Macbeth does murder sleep?…?Glamis hath

murdered sleep, and therefore/Clawdor/Shall sleep no more.

Macbeth shall sleep no more? (II,ii,46-47,54-57) He cannot

shake the memories and guilt he feels about murdering


Lady Macbeth also suffers from the darkness. At first

she is not affected by the murder; however in the end she is

the person who suffers the most. In the final days of her

life, Lady Macbeth start to sleep walk. She is unable to

hide from the deep horrors of the darkness and her fear of

discovery. She is afraid of the dark and uses the light to

try to hide from the demons of the night, in an attempt to

rid of her demons. In Act V, the doctor and the gentlewoman

watch Lady Macbeth walk into the light from the darkness of


Doctor: ?How came she by that light.”

Gentlewoman:” Why, it stood by her. She has light by

her continually. ‘Tis her command” (V,i,23-25).

Here Lady Macbeth commands that she has light by her at all

times, to help escape from the darkness. The contrast of

light and dark is portrayed so drastically to show that the

deeds of darkness, the murder, overshadow the light.

The number three is used throughout the play as a

symbol of evil. The number itself traditionally is

considered to be unlucky. The first time the number appears

is in the fourth scene of the play with the three witches,

or weird sisters.

First witch:? Thrice the brinded cat that mewed.”

Second witch: ?Thrice, and once the hedge-pig whined.”

First witch: ?Days and nights has thirty-one”


Another example is the three apparitions give to Macbeth at

his second visit with the witches. Macbeth’s name is called

three time before called before they, the witches speak.

First Witch:? All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane

of Glamis.?

Second Witch:?All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane

of Cawdor!?

Third Witch:?All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king


The word three is shown in other context as well. The

Porter in Act II seems to be providing some comic relief for

the audience, but it goes deeper than that. He explains to

the audience that the number three and drinking does not

make for a good mix. He shows that the two play a major

role in the play. Porter:”…and drink, sir, is a great

provoker of three things” (II,iii,25-26). Here he may be

referring to the three fatal apparition that the three

witches are to eventually tell Macbeth about.

Birds also are mentioned in the play to symbolize both

good and evil, often paralleling the light and darkness

theme. The marlet and wren are used to symbolize goodness,

while the raven and owl are used to symbolize evil.

The raven, is used to tell of the messenger that

informs Lady Macbeth that King Duncan is coming. Lady

Macbeth exclaims,?The raven himself is hoarse/That croaks

the fatal entrance of Duncan.” Not only is the raven’s

voice is traditionally thought to be a call of death, but is

also a symbol of death itself along with evil and darkness.

The owl, also shown as a symbol of darkness and evil,

is used throughout the play. The owl is a bird of the night

and appears many times as an omen of death and evil. Once

again Lady Macbeth exclaims:?It was the owl that shrieked,

the fatal bellman,/Which gives the stern’st

good-nite”(II,2,5-6). Again in Act II, in Old Man?s

conversation with Ross, he states,?A falcon, tow?ring in her

pride of place,/Was by a mousing owl hawked at and

killed.?(II,iv,15-16) This statement by the Old Man

suggests that the night bird, the bird of evil and darkness,

has finally struck, with the murder of Duncan. Then in Act

IV, the owl comes back to haunt again, this time to prey on

Lady Macduff:?The most diminutive of birds will fight,/Her

young ones in her nest, against the owl.? Lennox talks of

an ?obscure bird? that ?Clamored the livelong night?

(II,iii,67-68). One might conclude that this ?obscure bird?

that he speaks of is the owl.

Shakespeare uses blood to symbolize many events,

ranging from honor for a victory well won to guilt from

malicious murder of a great king. The first reference to

blood we find in the play portray “blood” as good and

honorable. King Duncan pronounces “What bloody man is

that?”(I,i,1) regarding an obviously bloody soldier after he

has fought a long gurgling battle to protect Malcolm. The

blood here symbolizes goodness and honor. A few lines

further, blood is again shown as a symbol of honor. The

Captain,refering to Macbeth, rejoices with the victory of

their battle and says,”Disdaining Fortune, with brandished

steel,/Which smoked with bloody execution.”(I,ii,19-20)

These are a few rare occurrences in the play that portray

“blood” as good and honorable.

From this point on the references to blood are used to

symbolize evil, rather than goodness and honor. The scene

is that of the murder of King Duncan. After Macbeth murders

Duncan, he returns to his room where the king’s blood has

saturated Macbeth’s hands. Lady Macbeth tells her husband

to go and frame the sleeping guards for the deed, “Go,carry

them and smear/The sleepy grooms with blood.” (II,ii,63-64)

Macbeth does so and he also tries to wash his hands with

water to clear his name of the deed, as his wife had

instructed him to do, but is unable to rid his conscience of

the guilt; ?Will all great Neptunes?s ocean wash this

blood/Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather/The

multitudinous seas incarnadine…? (II,ii,78-80) This time

the “blood” symbolizes the evil deed of murdering King

Duncan. Blood again,as evil, appears in Act V. Here Lady

Macbeth is suffering from the guilt of the murder, she says

“Out, damned spot, out, I say!…Yet who would have

thought the old man/to have had so much blood in

him?…Here’s the smell of the blood still.

All/the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this

little/hand. O,O,O!”(V,i,37,41-42,53-55)

The guilt of the evil murder has gotten the best of Lady

Macbeth and has caused her to have demons. The guilt seemed

to have overtaken Macbeth at first, however he was able to

rid of the feeling. Lady Macbeth on the other hand seemed

to not to be shaken by the murder at first, but in the end,

the massive guilt caused the death of her.

Shakespeare uses a variety of symbolism to better

describe the situations that occur throughout the tragedy.

Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffer from the evil and

darkness that is illustrated in the play, through the use

of symbolism.


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