In Shakespeare”s Macbeth the symbol of blood is used to represent honor, bravery, treason, murder and guilt The symbol of blood is continuously developed until it becomes the dominating theme of the play.
The word blood, or different forms of it appear forty-two times, throughout the play. Perhaps the best way to show how the symbol of blood changes during the development of the play, is to follow the character changes in Macbeth. At first, Macbeth is presumed as a brave and honorable person, but as the play progresses, he becomes a treacherous person who is identified with death and bloodshed, and shows his guilt in many different forms.Order now
The first reference of blood is one of honor, and occurs when Duncan sees the injured sergeant and says:
What bloody man is that?
Act I, Scene II, -1
This quote is symbolic of the brave fighter who had been injured during the battle for his country. In the next passage the Captain says: . . . Which smok”d with bloody execution.
Act I, Scene II, -20
He is referring to Macbeth”s braveness in which his sword is covered in the hot blood of the enemy.
After these few references to honor, the symbol of blood now changes to show a theme of treachery and treason. Lady Macbeth starts this off when she asks the spirits to make her blood thick. What she is asking by this is, that she wants to make herself insensitive and remorseless for the deeds which she is about to commit. Lady Macbeth knows that the evidence of blood is a treacherous symbol, and knows it will make the servants and not Macbeth and herself look guilty when she says: . . . smear the sleepy grooms with blood.
Act II, Scene II, -64-65
. . . If he do bleed, I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guilt.
Act II, Scene II – 81-83
When Banquo states . . . and question this most bloody piece of work.
Act II, Scene III -149
and then Ross says . . . is”t known who did this more than bloody deed?
Act II, Scene IV, -28
they are both inquiring as to who performed the treacherous acts upon Duncan. When Macbeth is speaking about Malcolm and Donalbain, he refers to them as ‘bloody cousins.’
The other way, and perhaps the more vivid use of the symbol blood, is for the theme of guilt. First Macbeth hints at his guilt when he says Will all great Neptune”s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?
Act II, Scene II, -79-80
meaning that he wondered if he would ever be able to forget the horrifying deed that he had committed. Then the ghost of Banquo, all gory, and bloody haunts Macbeth at the banquet. The sight of apparitions represents his guilt for the murder of Banquo which he planned. Macbeth shows a bitf his guilt when he says It is the bloody business which informs thus.
Act II, Scene I, -58-59
he could not gather up the courage to say murder after he had killed Duncan, so he uses this line instead.
Lady Macbeth shows the most vivid example of guilt using the symbol of blood in the 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 much blood in him? .
Act V, Scene I, -31-36,
This speech represents the fact that she cannot wipe the blood stains off of her hands. It is ironic, that she says this, because right after the murder, while Macbeth is feeling guilty, she said A little water clears us of this deed.
Act V, Scene III,- 44-45
When the doctor of the castle finds out about her sleepwalking, he tells Macbeth As she is troubled with thick-coming fantasies,
Act II, Scene II ,- 85
What this means, is that Lady Macbeth is having fantasies or dreams that deal with blood. Macbeth knows in his mind that she is having troubles with her guilt, but will not say anything about it.
Just before the ending of the play, Macbeth has Macduff at his mercy, and lets him go, because of his guilt. He shows that he is guilty, when he says But get thee back, my soul is too much charg”d with blood of thine already.
Act V , Scene VIII -6-7
Of which, Macduff replies, I have no words, my voice is in my sword, thou bloodier villain than terms can give thee out.
Act V, Scene VIII, -8-10.
He is saying that his actions with his sword will do his speaking for him and that Macbeth is the worst of all villains.
After the death of Macbeth at the hands of Macduff, the symbolic theme of blood swings back to what it was at the beginning of the play. It is the symbol of honor to Malcolm this time. The death of Macbeth is a honored feat that Macduff is congratulated for.
So as we have seen meaning of the symbol of blood change throughout the play from honor to treachery, and then to guilt, after this, it returns back to the symbolic meaning of honor once again. This could only occur after the villain that changed the meaning from honor to treachery is killed. Because of these many changes, it has been proved that the symbol of blood has many different meanings which can be attributed to it, and the theme of the novel throughout the course of this historic play.