One of the most important tools in literature is imagery. It is not
just in there to fill up paper; rather, there is at least one dramatic purpose
for each image and there are many different types of imagery. This essay seeks
to prove that in the play Macbeth the author William Shakespeare uses darkness
imagery for three dramatic purposes. Those three purposes are, to create
atmosphere, to arouse the emotions of the audience and to contribute to the
major theme of the play.
The darkness imagery in Macbeth contributes to its ominous atmosphere. In
the very beginning of the play the three witches are talking and the first witch
says “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
(Macbeth 1. 1. line 1). This is a good example of darkness imagery because when
you think of the crashing thunder, lightning and rain, they all remind you of
evil and ominous things. Later on the Sergeant is talking with Duncan and
Malcolm when he states “Ship wrecking storms and direful thunders break” (1. 2.
l26). Again this darkness imagery contributes to the ominous atmosphere of the
play, having reference to thunder and dark storms. Finally, Lady Macbeth and
Macbeth are talking in the scene just before the murder of Banquo and Macbeth
says “Light thickens, and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood: Good things of
day begin to droop and drowse, whiles night’s black agents to their preys do
rouse” (3. 2. l50-53). This example of darkness imagery is saying that the day
is turning into night, all the good things are going to sleep, and the evil
creatures are coming out . The evil in this previous quotation and the two
before adds to the ominous atmosphere. Since the imagery creates an ominous
atmosphere it would then lead to the second dramatic purpose, to arouse the
emotions of the audience. Darkness imagery is a very good tool for arousing
the emotions of the audience. It enables people to create a mental picture of
the what they are reading. For instance, in this instance of darkness imagery
Duncan and Macbeth were talking when Macbeth says aside “Stars, hide your fires!
Let not light see my black and deep desires” (1. 4. l50-51). When words like
dark and desire are put in that context it creates many horrible mental
pictures about murders and fights which arouses peoples emotions. Ross is later
talking with an old man when he states “By the clock ’tis day, and yet dark
night strangles the traveling lamp” (2. 4. l6-7). In other words; although, the
sun should be
out, something is blocking the light. This example of darkness imagery creates
feeling in the reader because it is very abnormal for the sun to be blocked.
One might say that God is punishing them or that there is the presence of a
devil if the sun was gone and would stir up the emotions of the reader although
it was probably only an eclipse. Another case of darkness imagery happens when
Lady Macbeth and a messenger are talking and Lady Macbeth states “That my keen
knife see not the wound it makes, nor heaven peep through the blanket of the
dark to cry, “Hold, hold!”” (1. 5. l52-54). It creates an illustration of
terror because of the unknown. With night covering the earth like a blanket no
one knows what might happen. They might be the one behind the knife with know
one there to see it or help.
As well as arousing the emotions of the audience darkness imagery works well
in characterizing. Darkness imagery also is very useful for a further dramatic
purpose, to characterize, and specifically to characterize Macbeth. Through
the use of darkness imagery Shakespeare was able to characterize Macbeth as
perceived in this next quote where Macduff and Malcolm are talking and Macduff
pronounces “Not in legions of horrid hell can come a devil more damn’d in evils,
to top Macbeth” (4. 3. l55-56). It is understood that Macduff views Macbeth as
a man even further corrupt than any devil and would consequently characterize
him as evil. Subsequent to that, Macbeth enters a scene with Young Siward and
Young Siward asks for his name. Macbeth replies and Young Siward replies with
“The devil himself could not pronounce a title more hateful to mine ear” (5. 7.
l8-9). This shows that, as well, Young Siward views Macbeth as a bad man and
would also characterize Macbeth. Lastly, Malcolm is speaking with Macduff and
saying how he will reveal his real evil self and states “When they shall be
open’d, black Macbeth will seem as pure as snow” (4. 3. l52-53). This
characterizing Macbeth as a dark person but contrary to previous beliefs,
Malcolm is actually more evil. Darkness imagery was very effective in
characterizing Macbeth in all the preceding quotes.
Consequently viewing the previous, it is undoubtedly true that darkness
does play a big role in developing the dramatic purposes. Darkness imagery
does help convey to the audience the atmosphere, it does provoke the audiences
response to the play, and it did help illustrate the characters in Macbeth.
Imagery plays a huge roll in the development of any piece of literature.