Blood and WaterIn William Shakespeare’s masterpiece Macbeth, he uses many motifs. Two of these motifs areblood and water. The play is full of images of blood and water, to show the characters’ attitudes towardtheir own guilt at each stage. Both motifs mature and change in their meaning along with the setting andmood of the play.
The functions of both are important if the subtleties of the play are to be understood. Blood symbolizes honor, treachery, and guilt. Water symbolizes cleanliness of the soul, as though all ittakes is water to wash guilt away. While reading the play, it is noticed that blood comes up repeatedly. Thisis important to the overall effect of the different usages in the play. The word “blood,” or different forms of it, is found forty-two times in the play, along with severalother passages dealing with the symbol.Order now
The symbolism of blood strangely follows the change in thecharacter Macbeth. Macbeth is first a soldier, very highly revered by the King Duncan. As the playprogresses, Macbeth’s demeanor and personality declines, as does the meaning of blood. Blood is thenviewed as a symbol for treachery and bloodshed, along with the various forms of guilt.
The first referenceof blood is one of honor, and occurs when Duncan sees the injured captain and says “What bloody man isthat?”(I, 2, ln. 1). This mention of blood is symbolic of honor, for the brave fighter has been injured in aglorious and ardent battle for his country. In the next passage the captain says that Macbeth’s sword “. .
. smoked with bloody execution”(I, 1, ln. 20), with this he is referring to Macbeth’s braveness in which hissword is steaming because it is covered in the hot blood!of the enemy on the cold morning of the battle. This function is important because it shows that at thispoint in the play the word blood is used as a sign of fighting valiantly.
It is a sort of pride to have abloodied sword, or have bled in battle for your king. After blood has been referred to a few times with reference to honor, the symbol of blood nowchanges to show a theme of treachery and treason. Lady Macbeth begins the change when she asks thespirits to “make thick my blood, “(1,5, ln. 50). What Lady Macbeth is saying is that she wishes to beremorseless and insensitive about the murders sheand Macbeth will soon commit.
Also in this area thesymbol of blood is changes to one of guilt. Lady Macbeth knows that the evidence of blood is a treacheroussymbol, and knows that if they are found with bloody daggers they will be hanged for their betrayal of theking, so she tells Macbeth to “smear the sleepy grooms with blood. “(II, 2, ln. 64), and Macbeth replies “Ifhe do bleed, I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal /for it must seem their guilt. “(II, 2, ln.
72-3). WhenBanquo states “and question this most bloody piece of work,”(II, 3, ln. 150)and Ross says “is’t known whodid this more than bloody deed?”(II, 4, ln. 31), they a!re both inquiring as to whom performed the treacherous acts upon Duncan.
Once again, blood is used as asign of guilt. Both use blood as a mark upon a person which would point them out as a sure suspect for thekilling of Duncan. Whoever has the blood of Duncan on them is guilty of treason, and more importantly,they are guilty of the murder. It is also here where the theme of water is first brought in.
Macbeth is fretting about the fact that itwas he who killed the king, and he was beginning to regret the choice he made, saying “Will all greatNeptune’s ocean wash this blood /clean from my hand?”(II, 2, ln. 78) Lady Macbeth, still sure that they willnever be caught, says “A little water clears us of this deed. “(II, 2, ln. 86) This shows that the function ofwater is to be used as a symbol for an element which can absolve a person of all guilt. This is importantbecause it seems to be the counter, or the antithesis of blood, where one is a sign of guilt, and .
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the other isan absolution of it. The third, and perhaps the most often use of the symbol blood, is of the theme of guilt. This washinted upon earlier when Lady Macbeth mad sure that no blood was found on either her or Macbeth. Macbeth firsts hints at his guilt when he says “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean frommy hand?”, meaning that he wondered if he would ever be able to forget the dastardly deed that he hadcommitted. Then the ghost of Banquo, all gory and bloody, comes to haunt Macbeth at the banquet. Thesight of apparitions represents Macbeth’s guilt for the murder of Banquo which he planned.
Macbeth showsa bit of his guilt when he says “It is the bloody business which informs thus,” he could not get the courageto say murder after he had killed Duncan, so he says this instead. The function of blood as guilt is veryimportant because it is what eventually brings the downfall of Macbeth and drives Lady Macbeth tosuicide. Water also makes another appearance, again relating to cleanliness and the washing away ofsomething. The forces of Macduff talk of this when thy say “. . .
pour we in our country’s purge /Each dropof us. /Or so much as it needs /To dew our sovergn flower and drown the weeds. ” (V, 2, ln. 33-6) Here thetheme of water takes along with the theme of cleanliness, also a them of a strengthening agent. They talk ofhow water composed of a little of each of them would “dew the sovergn flower,” Macduff, and “drown theweeds,” Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth shows the most outright and blatant example of guilt using the symbol of blood inthe scene in which she walks in her sleep. She says “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 would have thought the old man /to have had so muchblood in him?”(V, 1, ln.
37-42)This speech represents the fact that she cannot wipe the blood stains ofDuncan off of her hands. This isironic that she says this, because of the comment she made right after themurder, when Macbeth was feeling guilty, she said “A little water clears us of this deed. “(II, 2, ln. 86)Obviously, she now feels differently, even if this is only shown through her subconscious. This last is shown just before the ending of the play, when Macbeth has Macduff at his mercy, andlets him go, because of his guilt. He shows that he is guilty, when he says “But get thee back, my soul istoo much charged /With blood of thine already.
“(V, 8, ln. 6-7)Macduff replies, “I have no words; /Myvoice is in my sword, thou bloodier villain /Than terms can give thee out. “(V, 8, ln. 8-10) In Macduff’s lastremark we see that he believes Macbeth to have committed a crime that is so horrible that there are nowords for it, and Macduff therefore calls him a “Bloody villain,” again showing that blood is used as asign of treachery, or loathing. After Macduff manages to kill Macbeth, the symbolic theme of blood swingsback to what it was at the beginning of the play. It is the symbol of honor to Malcolm this time.
The deathof Macbeth is an honored feat that Macduff is congratulated for. It can also be speculated that maybe thecycle will continue around again, with Mal!com obtaining the same demeanor and ambitions as Macbeth did, and have his character go through thesame changes. We have seen meaning of the symbol of blood change from honor to treachery, to guilt, and thenwe have seen it revert back to the meaning of honor once again after the villain that changed the meaningfrom honor to tyranny is killed. Water is present throughout the play, and is used as a cure for guilt, astrengthening agent, and means to wipe out a common enemy . Both of these symbols were presentthroughout the play, and showed how many of the characters felt a certain times during the play.