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Symbolism that Can Be Defined in the Story of Macbeth

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Roger Ebert, a well-known author, once said, “Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich. If [one has] to ask what it symbolized, it didn’t.” Symbolism can be defined as an artistic and poetic style which uses images and indirect suggestions to express ideas, emotions, and states of mind. This artistic style can be found in various forms of literature including the Shakespearean text Macbeth. Furthermore, the literary style of imagery, visually descriptive or figurative language, can also be found and serve to enhance a reader’s appreciation of the play.

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To begin, Shakespeare used symbolism and imagery to enhance the story of Macbeth in a way that readers would be able to identify and connect with. In Act 2, Scene 1, many examples of these literary tools can be identified. This scene focuses on Macbeth’s soliloquy where he has a vision of a dagger that points towards a room in which the king rests. The dagger becoming bloody, which Macbeth indicates, is a natural mark of his state of mind. A bell then rings as Lady Macbeth’s signal for Macbeth to commit a crime.

 A significant message to analyze and consider is that of his soliloquy, during this part. Fueled by a goal, Macbeth planned to kill the king, however, in his soliloquy he expressed uncertainty and guilt at the thought of following through with his plan. New to the audience, a weak side of strong Macbeth was exposed. With Macbeth’s comments and Shakespeare’s use of metaphors, the overarching theme was shown: Being selfish, though curtly advantageous, comes with harsh consequences in the long run. Shakespeare also successfully used personification, giving bells the ability to invite, and a rhyming couplet: “I go, and it is done: the bell invites me./ Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell/ That summons thee to heaven, or to hell” . As seen through a Psychoanalytic perspective, this scene and soliloquy can be further examined as much of Macbeth’s senses and subconsciousness were explicitly uncovered. In this instance, the dagger played an extensive role as the audience was exposed to Macbeth’s disputed and ambiguous character. His vision of the dagger made him hold back on the plan he was quite determined to follow. In a sense, this imbalance of his id, ego, and superego foreshadowed that Macbeth would be likely to struggle with himself and give in to internal, subconscious pressures after the crime would be done. Similar to the soliloquy, the many symbols of this scene can be analyzed. 

The first symbol is the dagger which is a symbol of conscience. When it floats in the air, it is illustrative of the events which later take place. At its first appearance, the king was not yet murdered, however, it foreshadowed his death. The powerful soliloquy showed just how torn the protagonist was when he thought that everything seemed lifeless and said, “Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse/The curtained sleep”. Although Macbeth had not committed the unthinkable, his conscience was already bursting with guilt. The dagger symbolized what would be the darkness that followed. On the other hand, blood was used as a mark of symbolism and imagery. In the scene, blood represented weakness and regret. Before even committing the murder, Macbeth felt frightened, as though bad things were to come: “Hear not my steps,/ which way they walk,/ for fear Thy very stones prate of my whereabout/ And take the present horror from the time/ They can’t get the blood out of their mind” . Furthermore, the imagery of blood is illustrated when Macbeth describes the image of a floating, bloody dagger to the audience. Macbeth uses key words such as “palpable” and “dudgeon gouts” in order to help readers depict what he sees. Overall, this use of symbolism and imagery helps readers understand represented concepts and ideas, through which they can make connections.

To conclude, Act 2, Scene 1 of Macbeth can be analyzed through a Psychoanalytic perspective to depict several hidden thoughts and messages, elucidating an overall theme. This scene, with Macbeth’s powerful soliloquy, presents many strong examples of symbolism and imagery. Furthermore, the concept of guilt is shown with bloody imagery and Macbeth’s internal conflict. Guilt is a major issue in the lives of people today and will continue to worry characters in Macbeth. In the end, Macbeth committed murder to be pleased, however, he remained nothing but remorseful.  

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