Symbolism of Blood, Water and Weather
Virtually all of Shakespeare's most prolific works are accompanied by symbolism. In this respect, his vaunted Macbeth is no different. This tale of betrayal, murder and revenge is so timeless in large part due to the author's copious deployment of symbolism which helps to shape the plot and provide more than a little foreshadowing. The prudent reader can easily discern the fact that there is a repetition of three of the most widely used symbols in this play: weather, water, and blood. These symbols are more prevalent than any others through this dramatic work largely due to what they symbolize: bad omens, purity, and murderous guilt. Furthermore, at least one of these symbols is present in virtually all of the major developments in this play. A careful analysis of symbolism in Macbeth reveals that all of these symbols are potent reminders of the evil tidings of the play and the ill fate of its chief protagonists, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
Such a thesis certainly applies to the symbol of blood. There is hardly an important passage in this work in which blood is not invoked. Furthermore, the several instances of murder in the play provide plenty of instances for blood to flow. Still, the more telling references to blood are those in which there is no literal blood seen, but in which it is referenced for its figurative or symbolic value. In virtually all of these instances blood serves as a reminder of murder and, for the most part, betrayal. Macbeth and his wife are guilty of murdering their king, Duncan. Macbeth's wife's guilt is implied when Macbeth thinks aloud about her "bloody instructions" (Act I, Scene vii, 9). Shortly thereafter, Macbeth obsesses about the blood of the murder. An incisive interpretation of this passage reveals he is not referring to the literal application of blood, but rather to its symbolic value. Specifically, he observes: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine / Making the green one red" (Act II, Scene ii, 58-61) It is apparent that Macbeth is not referring to blood from the murder in the literal sense, due to the imagery employed in this passage. He states that not even all of the water in the entire ocean (which is ruled by Neptune) is enough to wash the blood from his hands after he has killed Duncan. Literally, there is enough water in the ocean's to do so. Symbolically, however, the blood that Macbeth talks about is...
Quite simply, Duncan's former thane does not feel as though he can ever wash the blood from his hands for killing his king -- because he knows he committed an act of betrayal that he innately regrets. Thus, it is apparent that blood represents the murderous guilt that Macbeth feels about slaying his own king, and there are numerous other references in this book between him and his wife that allude to the same fact. Blood symbolizes the evil and ill fate of Macbeth and his wife.
For the most part, water is used to symbolize the opposite of what blood is used to symbolize. Whereas blood is chiefly a symbol of the murderous guilt that Macbeth feels for having committed an act of treason against his king, water is a symbol of purity. Of course, Macbeth has forsaken such purity by committing regicide. Still, the fact that water is no longer able to help him (which means he has forever lost his purity) is a recurring symbol for the duration of this book. This fact is evinced in the preceding passage by Macbeth's perception that not even all of the water in the oceans could purify his hands and make right what he did wrong by slaying Duncan. Water's symbolism of purity is also demonstrated in the subsequent quotation in which, in an attempt to pacify Macbeth, his wife tells him that, "A little water clears us of this deed" (Act II, Scene ii, 65). The purification prowess that water symbolizes is readily evident in this passage. Whereas blood has stained the hands of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, water is regarded as a symbol which "clears" or purifies them from the evil of the killing. It is highly significant, however, that water actually does not assuage the pair. Both Lady Macbeth and her husband continue to feel guilt, are haunted by visions of ghosts and the words of witches, and never fully get over the murder that they commit. Water is a symbol of purity in this story, but it is a purity that the pair can never again feel after their lethal enterprise with Duncan. Therefore, even though water is used to symbolize something positive with its purification connotations (since water can wash things such as blood or dirt away) in this play, it still ultimately functions as a symbol of the evil committed by Macbeth and its wife because it cannot wash away the murderous guilt that these two feel.
There are numerous instances in this play in which weather is used as a harbinger for evil tidings and to foreshadow the death and destruction that awaits Macbeth and his wife. Shortly before Macbeth murders Duncan, there is a storm brewing on the horizon which is largely regarded as a supernatural sign of bad things to occur. Similarly, when Duncan initially arrives at Macbeth's home for a dinner, the weather and the night becomes dark and obscuring, which is a portent of bad tidings. The subsequent quotation, in which Lady Macbeth ponders the death of the king and the perfect weather conditions for committing such a…
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