Purposes of Images and Imagery in Shakespeare's Macbeth

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Purposes of Imagery in Macbeth

The Shakespearean tragic drama Macbeth uses imagery to stisfy various needs in the play. This essay will develop the above premise, including exemplification and literary critical thought.

In The Riverside Shakespeare Frank Kermode enlightens regarding the imagery of darkness in the play:

Macbeth is the last of the four "great tragedies," and perhaps the darkest. Bradley began his study by pointing out that "almost all the scenes which at once recur to the memory take place either at night or in some dark spot." That peculiar compression, pregnancy, energy, even violence, which distinguishes the verse is a further contribution to the play's preoccupation with the fears and tensions of darkness. (1307)

Lily B. Campbell in her volume of criticism, Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion, describes how the imagery contributes to the atmosphere of the play:

Macbeth is, however, not only a study of fear; it is a study in fear. The sounds and images in the play combine to give the atmosphere of terror and fear. The incantation of the witches, the bell that tolls while Duncan dies, the cries of Duncan, the cries of the women as Lady Macbeth dies, the owl, the knocking at the gate, the wild horses that ate each other, the story, the quaking of the earth - all of these are the habitual accompaniments of the willfully fearful in literature. (238-39)

A.C. Bradley in Shakespearean Tragedy comments on the dark imagery of the play:

The vision of the dagger, the murder of Duncan, the murder of Banquo, the sleep-walking of Lady Macbeth, all come in night scenes. The Witches dance in the thick air of a storm or, 'black and midnight hags', receive Macbeth in a cavern. The blackness of night is to the hero a thing of fear, even of horror; and that which he feels becomes the spirit of the play. (307)

L.C. Knights in the essay "Macbeth" explains the supporting role which imagery plays in Macbeth's descent into darkness:

To listen to the witches, it is suggested, is like eating "the insane root, That takes the reason prisoner" (I.iii.84-5); for Macbeth, in the moment of temptation, "function," or intellectual activity, is "smother'd in surmise"; and everywhere the imagery of darkness suggests not only the absence or withdrawal of light but - "light thickens" - the presence of something positively oppressive and impeding.

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