Patterns of Images and Imagery in Macbeth

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Patterns of Imagery in Macbeth

Shakespeare's Macbeth is full of different types of imagery. Many

of these images are themes that run throughout the entire play at different

times. Five of these images are nature, paradoxes, manhood, masks and

light vs. darkness.


"Thunder and lightning." This is the description of the scene

before Act I, Scene i, Line 1. The thunder and lightning represent

disturbances in nature. Most people do not think of a great day being

filled with thunder and lightning. The witches are surrounded by a shroud

of thunder and lightning. Also, the first witch asks in Line 2 about the

meeting with Macbeth, "In thunder, lightning, or in rain?" The meeting

will also be filled with these disturbances. The witches are also

surrounded by more unpleasant kinds of weather: "Hover through the fog and

filthy air" (Line 11). The weather might personify the witches, meaning

that the witches themselves are disturbances, though not limited to nature.

The bad weather also might mean that the witches are bad or foul ("filthy

air") creatures.

In Act II, Scene i, it is a dark night. Fleance says, "The moon is

down" (Line 2), and Banquo says, "Their (Heaven's) candles are all out

(there are no stars in the sky)." (Line 5) Darkness evokes feelings of

evilness, of a disturbance in nature on this fateful night. It creates a

perfect scene for the baneful murders.

Another disturbance in nature comes from Macbeth's mouth, "Now o'er

the one half-world / Nature seems dead" (Lines 49 - 50). This statement

might mean that everywhere he looks, the world seems dead (there is no

hope). It might also give him the idea that the murder he is about to

commit will have repercussions spreading far. The doctor says in Act V,

Scene i, Line 10, "A great perturbation in nature," while talking about

Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking. This is just another example of how nature is

disturbed by human doings, placing emphases on mankind (following the

Humanistic philosophy).

The Paradox:

The witches' chorus on Act I, Scene i, Line 10: "Fair is foul, and

foul is fair," is a paradox. It is also a prophecy, where one thing seems

like another (the characters of the play), or about how things will change

through the story (again the characters). Being so early in the play, it

is a good "grabber" for the reader. Since it isn't a simple statement, it

makes the reader think about the line to find some meaning for themselves.

It is easier to grasp a meaning of this line further along in the book.
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