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Symbolism In Macbeth

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In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, symbolism plays a prominent role to emphasize the theme of corruption of power. Throughout the play there are several main symbols repeatedly used to emphasize this theme. The contrast of light and dark representing good and evil, blood representing guilt, murder, and pain, and the archetypal pattern of purification by using water represents removal of guilt, cleansing and peace. Symbolism is used repeatedly to emphasize the theme of corruption of power.

The image of blood plays an important role throughout Macbeth. Blood represents the murders that Macbeth had committed, the guilt that went along with the murders and the pain that it brought on him during his downfall. The soldier describes the violence and bloodshed, in the war between Scotland and Norway, "Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds." (I. ii. 43) foreshadows the violent nature of the play filled with murder, guilt and pain. Blood in the murder of King Duncan also plays a major role because it represents Macbeth's guilt as well as his shame for slaying King Duncan. Macbeth observes his blood stained hands and remarks "As they had seen me with these hangman's hands." (II. ii. 28) This reveals his guilt and shame because he is comparing his hands to those of an executioner's. After the murder, Macbeth refuses to return back to the bed chamber of Kind Duncan to smear the blood on the sleeping guards, because he is afraid that the blood will incriminate him further. Lady Macbeth smearing the blood onto the guards represents them trying to rub their guilt off onto the guard. "I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guilt" (II. ii. 73) but this proves to be ineffective because Macbeth ends up murdering the guards, and regaining the guilt. Macbeth is uncomfortable with the blood on his hands and he tries to remove it immediately after the murder with water. When Macbeth says, "I am in blood, stepp'd in so far, that I should wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er..." (III. iv. 167-169) this symbolises that symbolises the guilt Macbeth feels and compares it to swimming in blood, but he has already reached the point of no return. As Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and attempting to clear her conscience, she says, "Here's the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand..." (V. i. 46-48) This symbolises that nothing can remove the guilt and pain of the murders that she and Macbeth have committed. This thus establishes blood as a representative for murders which Macbeth had committed, the guilt that consumed him, and the pain of his downfall which is used to emphasize the theme of corruption of power.

As a contrast to blood, the archetypal pattern of purification by water in the play was very significant. The water symbolized purification, the removal of guilt, cleanliness. After the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth tries to reassure Macbeth by saying, "A little water clears us of this deed." (I. ii. 67) But this only symbolises the temporary removal of guilt, and clear conscience. Later, Lady Macbeth begins to sleepwalk, rubbing her hands together, she says, "Out, damned spot! out, I say!...Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him!"(V. i. 32, 34) This shows that she is trying to clear her conscience by trying to remove the hallucination of spots on her hand. Macbeth also mentions after the murder of King Duncan, "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red." This symbolises the fact that the symbol of blood was more powerful of the symbol of water due to the fact that Macbeth says that the blood will turn the water from green to red. Therefore, water symbolises the contrast to blood, purification, removal of guilt, cleanliness


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