Blood Imagery in Macbeth

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Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a story taken from Scottish history and presented to the Scottish king James I. Shakespeare took this gory tale of murderous ambition, however, and transformed it into an imaginative tale of good and evil. Shakespeare brought about this transformation by relying upon “imaginative verbal vigor” that imbeds itself in the brilliantly concentrated phrases of this literary work. Critics have dubbed it his darkest work, along with King Lear. In his critique of Shakespeare’s works and plays, Charles Haines describes Macbeth as “one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, containing just 2,108 lines.” He further states that it is a vigorous, headlong drama, a relentless spectacle in red and black. (Haines, p. 105) This red and black spectacle reveals itself to the reader and audience through the use of blood imagery. Blood, or the imagery attached to it, appears 42 times in this play. This imagery of blood begins as a representation of honor and progresses into one of evil, then guilt, and finally returns to represent honor. The symbolic use of blood roots in the opening lines of Macbeth when Macbeth accepts honor for his bravery in battle. Duncan sees the injured captain and says, “ What blood is that?” (Act I, Scene 2 line.1) The captain says that Macbeth’s sword “smoked with bloody execution.” (Act I, Scene 1, line. 20) Here the captain describes Macbeth’s sword that is dripping with warm enemy blood and steaming in the cold morning air of the battlefield. The blood on the sword signifies valiant fighting by a brave soldier. At this point, King Duncan glorifies Macbeth. The bloody sword gives birth to this reverence. In his unique style of presentation, Shakespeare’s two references to blood allude to the honor that Macbeth earns in battle for his king. This was the highest of honors for a soldier. At this point, he becomes “brave Macbeth.” King Duncan rewards his bravery and victory by giving him the title of Thane of Cawdor. Ironically, this title was available because the previous Thane of Cawdor experienced execution for treason. Therefore, the first bloodshed earned Macbeth respect and a title. (, PG 1) After this advantageous victory, Macbeth listens to the three witches as they make predictions of the immediate future. Macbeth and his lady then set forth a chain of... ... middle of paper ... ...ctions to the blood they have spilled. Finally, in a true Shakespearean twist, blood once again represents honor and victory at the end. This tragedy therefore ends with the same form of blood imagery as it began. However, the character that kills Shakespeare’s first character to gain honor through the shedding of an enemy’s blood wins the honor. Works Cited 1.) “Use of Blood Imagery in Macbeth.” 23 April 2012. 2.) “Macbeth.” Zecscrab 24 April 2012. http://www, 3.) Shakespeare, William. “Macbeth.” Elements of Literature. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Austin: Harcourt Brac & Company, 1996. 301-382. 4.) Haines, Charles. William Shakespeare and His Plays. New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1968. 5.) “Shakespeare’s Macbeth.” CliffsNotes West, Alex. Foster City: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 2010.
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