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In William Shakespeares play Macbeth, there are reoccurring symbols which help develop the major themes. These symbols are used to foreshadow the theme of guilt which takes big roles in the theme of the play. Some other symbols which are subtle may not be as evident but often show up and eventually lead to the theme of guilt. The three symbols that are important and repeated are blood, water, and hallucinations. Each time one of these symbols are used they are used as precursors to a theme or an important event.
The first symbol, blood, represents Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s guilt. In Macbeth blood is everywhere from the beginning to the end. In Act 2 Scene 2 Macbeth got blood on his hands by murdering King Duncan. After Macbeth murdered King Duncan he confided with his wife about his crime and fear. He cried to his wife “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand?” (Shakespeare Pg. 83) after he has killed Duncan. Macbeth was afraid to go back to the crime he had committed. But the crime had not been completed as Macbeth had forgotten to cover the servants in blood and frame them for the murder. The brave and bold Lady Macbeth goes back and covers the servants in blood herself. Lady Macbeth shares the same feeling as Macbeth but doesn’t show any emotion. They both feel guilty for the death of King Duncan. Lady Macbeth displays her guilt when she says “Yet who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him!” (Pg.213) she asks this when she is sleepwalking in the halls of the castle. Lady Macbeth seemed so brave committing the crimes but as the play comes towards the end she feels guilty of the murder. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both have blood on their hands and can’t get this blood off of their hands and it becomes a permanent stain constantly reminding them of their crime and guilt.
The second symbol that represents guilt is water. Water is used throughout most of the play. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use water to clean them of the murder they have committed because of the guilt they feel. Macbeth feels remorse and guilt after murdering King Duncan, his wife advises him to wash his hands with water to cleanse him of the guilt. However, the guilt he feels is so deep that he believes not even all the water in the ocean can cleanse but his guilty bloody hands will make the oceans red, “No; this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red” (Pg.83). Despite Lady Macbeth’s suggestion of cleansing their deeds with water, no amount of water seems to be enough. Near the end, it is evident that she does not feel cleansed of her deeds and still feels guilt because as she is sleepwalking she says, “Out, damned spot; out, I say!” (Pg.213) and makes motions of rubbing he hands together as someone would if they were washing their hands. In her mind she feels the guilt and knows no amount of water will cleanse her guilt “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” (Pg.213) and she is repeatedly trying to cleanse herself of the guilt. Water is correlated with guilt throughout the play, and is a very important symbol because Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both turn to water for cleansing when they feel guilt.
The last symbol is the hallucinations that repeat throughout the play. When Macbeth is on his way to kill Duncan he sees a dagger in the air floating in front of his eyes “Is this a dagger I see before me? The handle to my hand?” (Pg.71) and because of his guilt he thinks the dagger is there to show who the murderer is. As the play progresses Macbeth’s guilt makes him hallucinate and see the ghost of Banquo “Here had we now our country’s honour roof’d were the graced person of our Banquo present; who may I rather challenge for unkindness than pity for mischance!” (Pg.143),who is Macbeth’s good friend, that he had also gotten murdered. But near the end of the play Lady Macbeth seems like Macbeth did at the beginning of the play. She now feels guilt as she sleepwalks at night and says “Here’s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” (Pg.213). Lady Macbeth feels like she will never be able to get rid of the guilt which leads to her suicide.
Shakespeare’s use of these symbols portrays guilt throughout the whole play. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s guilt caused them to act differently and become different people. The guilt between them had switched from the beginning of the play to the end. The three symbols that represented guilt in Macbeth were blood, water, and hallucinations. These symbols recur many times in the novel and show the guilt of the characters.
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