William Shakespeare was the greatest playwright of his time. One of his most well-known plays is “The Tragedy of Macbeth”. In The Tragedy of Macbeth, the word “blood” appears many times throughout the play. The word has drastic effects on the characters in the play, and it’s meaning changes throughout the story. The meaning of “Blood” changes significantly as the story progresses according to the character of Macbeth, and it affects Macbeth and other characters along the way with some feelings of guilt.
First of all, the whole play is actually based on the word blood because as the story goes on, blood changes along the way and reflects Macbeth’s character and behavior. At first, Macbeth is a brave and honored soldier, but as the play goes on, he becomes a treacherous person who has become disliked and associated with death and bloodshed, and then finally, the meaning of the word returns back to its original usage. The first reference of blood is about honor, and it occurs when Duncan sees the injured sergeant and says “What bloody man is that?”(1.2.1). This is symbolic for the brave fighter who got injured in a noble battle for his country. In the next passage, the sergeant says “Which smoked with bloody execution”(1.2.20). He is referring to Macbeth’s braveness for killing the enemy triumphantly with his sword. Duncan responds to this news by saying “O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman!”(1.2.26). These quotes show that “blood” was used honorably, and when said to a person, it would be taken as a compliment.
After these few references to honor, the symbol of blood begins to change to show a theme of treachery and treason. Lady Macbeth starts this off when she asks the spirits to “Make thick my blood, Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse”(1.5.50-51). What she is saying by this is that she wants to make herself insensitive and remorseless for the bad deeds which she is about to commit. Lady Macbeth knows that the evidence of blood is a treacherous symbol, and knows that it will relieve the suspicions of guilt from her and Macbeth and transfer it onto the servants when she says “smear the sleepy grooms with blood”(2.2.63-64), and “If he do bleed, I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, For it must seem their guilt.”(2.2.71-73).
After the murder of Duncan, Banquo states “let us meet, And question this most bloody piece of work to know it further”(2.3.149-151), and Ross says “is’t known who did this more than bloody deed?”(2.4.31), they are both questioning who it was that did this treacherous act of killing Duncan. Much later in the play, after Macduff slays Macbeth, the symbolic meaning of blood swings back to what it was at the beginning of the play. Macduff gets honored for killing Macbeth, and finally at the very end of the play, the word “blood” returns to its original place of honor after the villain that changed the meaning from honor to tyranny is killed.
Although the meaning of the word “blood” changes throughout the play, it’s biggest effect on the images of the characters is guilt. First Macbeth hints at his guilt when he says “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”(2.2.78-79), meaning that he wondered if he would ever be forgiven or able to forget the awful deed he has done. Then the ghost of Banquo, all cut up and bloody, comes to haunt Macbeth at the banquet and the sight of it represents his guilt for planning the murdering of Banquo. Lady Macbeth shows the best example of guilt using the symbol of blood in the scene where she walks in her sleep. She says “Out, damned spot, out, I say! One. Two. Why then, ’tis time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”(5.1.37-42).
This is the little speech Lady Macbeth recites while sleepwalking, this represents the fact that she cannot wipe the blood stains of Duncan off of her hands because killing him has done a lot more damage than benefit. It’s ironic that she says this, because right after the murder when Macbeth was feeling guilty, she said “A little water clears us of this deed.”(2.2.86), but in reality, she is also very scared and feels an overwhelming amount of guilt that she lets it out while she sleeps. When the doctor of the castle finds out about this sleepwalking, he tells Macbeth “As she is troubled with thick coming fantasies,”. What this means, is that Lady Macbeth is having trouble with fantasies or even nightmares where she sees blood. In his mind, Macbeth knows the truth, that Lady Macbeth is actually having troubles with her guilt, but he does not say anything about it.
In conclusion, The Tragedy of Macbeth is a complex story filled with elaborate characters and strong emotions, all of which Shakespeare created using a few key words and symbolism as his tools. With just the word “blood” he created many meanings and emotions to affect not only the characters, but also the readers and watchers of his plays.
Courtney from Study Moose
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