Guilt is a frustrating feeling; it evokes regret, self-punishment, and shame. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do not know it, but every time they murder, their guilt increases, and they step closer to their downfall. Shakespeare uses the imagery of blood in Macbeth to illustrate the inevitable guilt of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and how their roles change by the end of the play.
In the beginning of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth try their best to hide their conscience. Macbeth commands the stars to “hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires” (1.4.57-58). If the stars hide their light, Macbeth’s dark desires will be hidden and he will feel no guilt. Lady Macbeth speaks to the spirits and orders them to “unsex me here / And fill me . . .top-full / Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood, / Stop up the access and passage to remorse” (1.5.42-45). Lady Macbeth calls the evil spirits to get rid of her female qualities, to make her a man, and to hide her conscience so she will feel no guilt. Both of them know that once they feel guilt, they will be doomed and found guilty.
After killing Duncan, Macbeth feels extreme guilt, while Lady Macbeth seems to experience no guilt at all. Macbeth looks down at his bloody hands and mumbles, “This is a sorry sight” (2.2.28). He regrets killing King Duncan, a man of great virtues, and wishes that he could undo his evil act. Macbeth feels so guilty he forgets to leave the daggers with the guards. He refuses to go back because he is “afraid to think what I have done; / Look on’t again I dare not” (2.2.65-66). Macbeth believes his conscience will never let this horrendous act go.
He exclaims to Lady Macbeth, “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” (2.2.76-79). Macbeth feels that all the oceans in the world will not wash away his dishonor for killing the king. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth does not feel any guilt. Lady Macbeth scolds Macbeth and snaps, “My hands are of your color, but I shame / To wear a heart so white. . . . A little water clears us of this deed” (2.2.80-85). Lady Macbeth cannot believe that a little thing like killing King Duncan could make Macbeth so fearful.
When it is time to murder Banquo, Macbeth plans it out himself. This is a huge change from King Duncan’s murder, when Lady Macbeth had to plan it out and then convince Macbeth to go through with the plan. While Banquo is being murdered, Macbeth is hosting a banquet for the lords. When Banquo’s ghost steps in, Macbeth wonders how Lady Macbeth can “behold such sights, / And keep the natural ruby of your cheeks” (3.4.137-138) while Macbeth’s cheeks are drained of color from fear. Even though Macbeth planned out this murder, and seemed as though his guilt is gone, it still is in his conscience and he despises thinking about it. Lady Macbeth, however, keeps the natural ruby of her cheeks and has no fear of these murders.
With so much guilt already, Macbeth realizes there is no point in turning back. He says, “I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.165-167). Macbeth is so close to being king that he might as well go through with it. Macbeth’s attitude seems to change quite a bit. At this point, Macbeth seems to have “reset” his conscience and has no problem with killing more people. Speaking to Lady Macbeth, Macbeth says, “We are yet but young in deed” (3.4.173). Macbeth hints to Lady Macbeth that more killings are on the way, and that he is no longer afraid to murder.
No matter how hard Lady Macbeth tries, the guilt catches up with her. Macbeth has now become immune to murders and doesn’t seem to feel any guilt. When Macbeth is finally king, Lady Macbeth starts sleepwalking. “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One—two— / why then ‘tis time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! . . . . Yet who would / have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (5.1.31-32, 34-35). Lady Macbeth is experiencing the guilt from killing Duncan by continuously washing her hands in her sleep.
Lady Macbeth also mutters, “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the / perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!” (5.1.45-47). This again represents Lady Macbeth’s disgrace as she cannot get the guilt out of her head. Soon afterwards, Lady Macbeth cannot take all this guilt anymore and takes her own life. Macbeth does not seem to feel any guilt anymore. Towards the end of the play, before Macbeth dies, he pronounces, “Ring the alarum bell! Blow, wind! Come, wrack! / At least we’ll die with harness on our back” (5.5.56-57). Macbeth wants to fight to the very end.
From the use of blood imagery, readers can see the inevitable guilt of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. By the end of the play, the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have been switched; Macbeth seems to be much stronger than before, while Lady Macbeth has slowly shriveled away to nothing from all the guilt. As Macbeth said, “They say blood will have blood” (3.4.149). Each time the Macbeths murdered another person, they stepped closer to their downfall without realizing it. Blood imagery provides us knowledge of the main characters and helps us understand the idea of guilt in Macbeth.
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