English / Symbolism In Macbeth
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In William Shakespeareâ€™s Macbeth, symbolism plays a prominent role to emphasize the theme of corruption of power. Throughout the play there are several main symbols repeatedly used to emphasize this theme. The contrast of light and dark representing good and evil, blood representing guilt, murder, and pain, and the archetypal pattern of purification by using water represents removal of guilt, cleansing and peace. Symbolism is used repeatedly to emphasize the theme of corruption of power.
The image of blood plays an important role throughout Macbeth. Blood represents the murders that Macbeth had committed, the guilt that went along with the murders and the pain that it brought on him during his downfall. The soldier describes the violence and bloodshed, in the war between Scotland and Norway, â€œExcept they meant to bathe in reeking wounds.â€ (I. ii. 43) foreshadows the violent nature of the play filled with murder, guilt and pain. Blood in the murder of King Duncan also plays a major role because it represents Macbethâ€™s guilt as well as his shame for slaying King Duncan. Macbeth observes his blood stained hands and remarks "As they had seen me with these hangman's hands." (II. ii. 28) This reveals his guilt and shame because he is comparing his hands to those of an executionerâ€™s. After the murder, Macbeth refuses to return back to the bed chamber of Kind Duncan to smear the blood on the sleeping guards, because he is afraid that the blood will incriminate him further. Lady Macbeth smearing the blood onto the guards represents them trying to rub their guilt off onto the guard. â€œIâ€™ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guiltâ€ (II. ii. 73) but this proves to be ineffective because Macbeth ends up murdering the guards, and regaining the guilt. Macbeth is uncomfortable with the blood on his hands and he tries to remove it immediately after the murder with water. When Macbeth says, â€œI am in blood, steppâ€™d in so far, that I should wade no more, returning were as tedious as go oâ€™erâ€¦â€ (III. iv. 167-169) this symbolises that symbolises the guilt Macbeth feels and compares it to swimming in blood, but he has already reached the point of no return. As Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and attempting to clear her conscience, she says, â€œHereâ€™s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little handâ€¦â€ (V. i. 46-48) This symbolises that nothing can remove the guilt and pain of the murders that she and Macbeth have committed. This thus establishes blood as a representative for murders which Macbeth had committed, the guilt that consumed him, and the pain of his downfall which is used to emphasize the theme of corruption of power.
As a contrast to blood, the archetypal pattern of purification by water in the play was very significant. The water symbolized purification, the removal of guilt, cleanliness. After the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth tries to reassure Macbeth by saying, â€œA little water clears us of this deed.â€ (I. ii. 67) But this only symbolises the temporary removal of guilt, and clear conscience. Later, Lady Macbeth begins to sleepwalk, rubbing her hands together, she says, â€œOut, damned spot! out, I say!...Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him!â€(V. i. 32, 34) This shows that she is trying to clear her conscience by trying to remove the hallucination of spots on her hand. Macbeth also mentions after the murder of King Duncan, â€œWill all great Neptuneâ€™s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.â€ This symbolises the fact that the symbol of blood was more powerful of the symbol of water due to the fact that Macbeth says that the blood will turn the water from green to red. Therefore, water symbolises the contrast to blood, purification, removal of guilt, cleanliness to emphasize the theme of corruption throughout the play. Water symbolizes the purification of a guilty conscience.
Apart from the tangible symbols, light and darkness were also used to emphasize the theme of corruption of power. In Macbeth, light represents the good while the darkness symbolised the evil within the play. At some point in during the time Macbeth was written, the king was usually associated with the sunset. In the play, the witches pronounce, â€œWhen shall we three meet again, When the battleâ€™s lost and won. That will be ere the set of the sun.â€ (I. i. 1, 4, 5) This foreshadows the death of King Duncan. Throughout the play, there is continuous contrast of light and dark imagery. Ross says, â€œAnd yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.â€ (II. iv. 8) This shows how evil will overcome Macbethâ€™s moral conscience and this foreshadows Macbethâ€™s transformation from a good captain to an evil, ambitious leader. Throughout the play, the events of corruption and unusualness occur at night. The murder of King Duncan, Banquo, Lady Macbethâ€™s sleepwalking, and the witches, all take place at night. "Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires." (I. iv. 50-51) demonstrates Macbeth's step toward evil as he talks about the murder of King Duncan. During Lady Macbethâ€™s scene in which she is sleepwalking, there is epitome of the light and darkness symbol contrast. â€œShe has her light by her continually; â€˜tis her command.â€ (V. i. 19), symbolizes the fear Lady Macbeth now has for the darkness and evil. She had once desired the darkness but she now carries the candle, light, to drive out the darkness. During the murders, there was a dark setting used which involved supernatural events, while the light setting was used for last battle, when Macbeth was slain at the end to show the restoration of peace and honesty. Thus the symbolism of light and darkness representing good and evil in the play emphasizes the theme of corruption of power.
In conclusion, symbolism is used to emphasize a theme through repetition and imagery. It is used to emphasize the theme of the corruption of power due to Macbethâ€™s actions. Blood representing guilt, blood murder, and pain, the contrast of light and dark representing good and evil and the archetypal pattern of purification by using water representing removal of guilt, cleansing and peace are the main symbols used repeatedly to emphasize this theme. These symbols portray the theme effectively to allow the audience to grasp and involve themselves into the play.
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