Essay on The Motifs of Blood and Water in in Shakespeare's Macbeth

Essay on The Motifs of Blood and Water in in Shakespeare's Macbeth

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The Motifs of Blood and Water in Macbeth

     In his masterpiece Macbeth, William Shakespeare employs many motifs, but none more often than blood and water. The play includes many images of blood and water to show the characters' attitudes toward their own development of guilt. Both motifs mature and change in their meaning along with the setting and mood of the play. “Without an understanding of the blood and water symbolism, the play cannot be completely understood”(Scott 14). Blood symbolizes honor, treachery, and guilt. Water, in contrast, symbolizes cleanliness and purity of the soul, as though all it takes is water to wash guilt away.

            “The word "blood," or various spellings of it, is found forty-two times”(Hawkes 39), along with several other passages dealing with the symbol. The symbolism of blood strangely follows the change in the character Macbeth.  At first, Macbeth is a soldier, very highly revered by King Duncan. As the play progresses, Macbeth's demeanor declines, along with the interpretation of the blood image.  Blood is then viewed as a symbol for treachery, bloodshed, and various forms of guilt.

            The first reference to blood is one of honor, and occurs when Duncan sees the injured captain and says, "What bloody man is that"(I.ii.1)?  This mention of blood is symbolic of honor because the brave fighter has been injured in a glorious and ardent battle for his country.  In the next passage the captain says that Macbeth's sword " . . .smoked with bloody execution"(I.i.20), referring to Macbeth's bravery in battle.  His sword is steaming because it is covered in the hot blood of the enemy on the cold morning of the battle.  This function is important because it shows that at thi...

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Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes, Slaves of Passion. Gloucester: Peter Smith Publisher Inc., 1973.  

Frame, Douglas. Night's Black Agents. Thunder Bay: La Mancha Books Ltd., 1967.

Hawkes, Terence. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Macbeth. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1977.

Hunter, G.K. "Macbeth in the Twentieth Century." Aspects of Macbeth. Ed. Kenneth Muir and Philip Edwards.

Shakespeare, William.  Tragedy of Macbeth . Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Warstine. New York: Washington Press, 1992.   

Snider, Denton.  Macbeth . The Shakespearean Drama, A Commentary: The Tragedies. New York: Sigma Publishing, 1887.  

Steevens, George. Shakespeare, The Critical Heritage. Vol. 6. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.  

Scott, Mark W. (Editor).  Shakespeare for Students.  Gale Research Inc. Detroit, Michigan. 1992



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