Imagery in Macbeth by William Shakespeare


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Imagery is a common literary technique many writers incorporate in their work. It is the use of emotion and descriptive language to paint pictures in the minds of the reader, showing them the story instead of telling them. In Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, he greatly incorporates imagery throughout the play which serves many purposes. Using imagery helps the reader envision what could be happening because a picture is worth a thousand words. With the effective use of imagery of blood, animals, and clothing by Shakespeareother he adds to the completion of the passage and assists in the comprehension of the plot and messages set by the characters.

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Shakespeare’s use of blood imagery helps the reader interpret the plot and the deceiving actions of Macbeth. “And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, which was not so before…Thus to mine eyes” (pg. 45). In this soliloquy said by Macbeth, he expresses his inner thoughts about the vicious plan he is about to execute. Upon committing the murder, he hallucinates and sees floating daggers which foreshadow and leads the way into Duncan’s tragedy. Not only is he going crazy, but the floating dagger he appears to be talking to also has blood on it which symbolizes the guilty conscience he already possesses. However, after the wrongdoing set forth by Macbeth and his wife the theme of guilt enhances. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hands?” (pg. 48) While washing their hands, they noticed the blood wouldn’t wash away so easily as it should. Furthering the theme of guilt, the blood expresses the frame of mind both are encompassing. Duncan’s blood lingering on the hands of the murderers represents his regret and negative consequences that will arise from this, trying to erase the feelings but still couldn’t free herself from guilt. Blood, one of the most important visualized details in the play helps shape the character of Macbeth and the evolving theme of guilt.

Animals could often be envisioned that helps display the theme of natural disorder. When Macbeth becomes king, the country begins to go downhill. His being king is a disorder because he is the secret murderer of the recently killed king. Now that he is king, everything begins to turn on each other and animals are a perfect representation of that. “A falcon towering in her pride of place, was by a musing owl hawk’d at and killed”(page 57). The natural disorder shown through the owl and bird is confusion because owls are usually preying on other animals, but randomly kills an innocent bird flying in the sky. Not only are birds and owls disorganized, “And Duncan horses…Turn’d wild in nature, broke their stalled, flung out, contending with obedience” (page 57). Duncan’s horses are now acting in such a disobedient way because of improper authority. Breaking out their stalls to fight and kill each other, even worse, eating each other symbolizes the natural disorder amongst the land. The horses acting as if they were at war with mankind is metaphoric with Macbeth. Compared to the aftermath of Duncan’s death he just goes on a killing spree, killing much more than just the king. The effect of animal imagery distinguishes Macbeth from the rest and shows his moral disorder contributing to the catastrophe on the land.

Shakespeare’s application of clothing imagery helps portray the appearance of Macbeth versus reality. Macbeth wears his robes for the title he has been given, however one is deserved and one is stolen. When Macbeth helps capture the traitor thane, he is crowned thane of Cawdor. He is also crowned king but nobody knows the confidential information kept between him and his wife. “Like a giant’s robe/ upon a dwarfish thief” (page 108). Robes are worn by the high authorities and the robe he is wearing fits as if the robe belongs to someone else and Macbeth stole them. Macduff, angrily making remarks on the suspicion about the murder is not in agreeance with the new king. “Lest our old robes sit easier than our new” (page 58). When Duncan was king, Scotland was a better country and now that Macbeth wears the new robes everything is turning into a catastrophe and not ran so smoothly. Clothing imagery helps represent the new jobs taken on by certain characters as well as the development of attitudes and tone set forth by many characters in denial of Macbeth being king.

In conclusion, Shakespeare’s use of imagery aids in the understanding of the play as a whole. It highlights the qualities of the character Macbeth, as well as the major themes and events that occur throughout. If left out of Shakespearean play readers would have a difficult time understanding because it emphasizes main points throughout his work. Altogether imagery helps the development of the play and appeals to the readers to develop their own perspective and interpretation of what goes down.  

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