A Bloody Macbeth
In every tragedy there seems to be some involvement with blood. Most of the time that blood only appears when someone or something is murdered. Other than that it really serves no purpose. This is opposite in Shakespeares Macbeth, where in the play, the word "blood" is mentioned numerous times. It's not mentioned because tons of people are murdered, but because Shakespeare uses it as a motif that changes as the play goes on. I am not the only one that thinks this; Michael J. Cummings says Shakespeare frequently presents images of blood in Macbeth. Sometimes it is the hot blood of the Macbeths as they plot murder; sometimes it is the spilled, innocent blood of their victims. It is also blood of guilt that does not wash away and the blood of kinship that drives enemies of Macbeth to action. In general, the images of bloodlike the images of darknessbathe the play in a macabre, netherworldly atmosphere.
Blood enters early into the book in Act 1, scene 2 beginning with the opening battle between the Scottish and the Norwegian invaders, which was described by the wounded captain. For brave Macbeth--well he deserves that name/Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,/Which smoked with bloody execution, (Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 17-20) Shakespeare used blood as an image to symbolize bravery and courage in this passage. By that I mean Bloodshed for a righteous cause is excellent blood. However, Macbeths character changes throughout the play, which is characterized by the symbolism in the blood he sheds.
Before the murder of Duncan in Act 2, Macbeth imagines seeing a dagger floating in the air in front of him. He says And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, / Which was not so before. Theres no such thing: / It is the bloody business which informs / Thus to mine eyes."(Act II, Scene 1, Lines 58-60) The image of blood is now reversed, once seen as courage and heroism, now is the symbol of the betrayal, ambition, and murder that is floating inside Macbeth's mind. It also marked the transformation of Macbeth from what some may call a celebrity of nobility, honesty, and bravery to that of treachery, trickery, and evil. After Macbeth murders Duncan, he begins to realize the ruthlessness of his crime as he tries to wash Duncans blood off his hands, "Will all great Neptunes ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No, this hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red." (Act II, Scene 2, Lines 78-81) The passage shows that the act of betraying his friend and king has changed Macbeths character. The blood no longer represents that of betrayal and ambition; but that of guilt and regret.
This imagery for blood carries all the way over to Act 3 Scene 4 after Macbeth goes into shock and falls on the floor from seeing the ghost of Banquo at his feast, and Lady Macbeth takes him to his room. Before he goes to sleep he tells Lady Macbeth, "All causes shall give way: I am in blood / Steppd in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go oer:" (Act 3, Scene 4, Lines 168-170) Here Macbeth realizes that he went so far down this path of evil that its impossible for him to ever make up what he has done. Like Macbeth, Lady Macbeth realizes what associating herself with the murders will bring her and it torments her through nightmares. She begins to sleep walk and cries, Out, damned spot, out, I say!...What, will these hands neer be clean?Heres the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of / Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." (Act 5, Scene 1, Lines, 37-55) The blood symbolizes Lady Macbeths guilt over Duncans murder. Her hallucination of the blood on her hands and her constant efforts to wash it off shows the suffering of having a guilty conscience, which is causing her to go insane. We later find out that she commits suicide due to it.
The purpose of blood changes for the last time to a symbol of freedom when Macduff says, "I have no words: / My voice is in my sword, thou bloodier villain / Than terms can give thee out!" (Act 5, Scene 8, Lines 9-10) and then goes on to slay Macbeth. After analyzing all the different uses of blood throughout the book you can see how Shakespeare uses blood to show the change and transformation of characters. Like in the starting of the book it was used to describe Macbeths heroism, but as he started to change so did the symbol of the word.
Cummings, Michael J. "Macbeth." The Shakespeare Study Guide. Web. 20 Nov. 2011. <http://www.shakespearestudyguide.com/Macbeth.html>.