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Friday, 30 May 2014 15:20

Use of symbols and imagery in the Macbeth by William Shakespeare Featured

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Use of symbols and imagery in the Macbeth by William Shakespeare

 The writing of the Macbeth tragedy by William Shakespeare is usually dated to 1606, and scholarly opinion finds that the play appears to have been consciously written to appeal the political views of King James of Scotland, who had just succeeded Elizabeth I by becoming the English monarch.  James believed that the ruling monarch held a scared authority that was essential to maintain the order of the state and even the universe. The killing of the king, regicide, was the worst crime because it offended God and could not be justified.

 Elements that may seem unique to Macbeth such as its plot, structure, character, and theme reflects conventions and stories that Shakespeare shared with contemporary  dramatists, historians, critics, and their predecessors.  Shakespeare selection of events in the later part of the play, in which tyranny is manifested, permits Shakespeare to shape the play into a tragedy. In doing so, Shakespeare explores the psychology of power during Macbeth reign and political ramifications of his actions that lead to his demise.  The tragedy, therefore, serves as an important social function.  The effective use of imagery, symbolism and allegory, dramatic irony makes the reading of the play interesting.  Shakespeare combines imagery, symbolism and the use of blood and violence, which contributes to the understanding of the vicious nature of Macbeth.

They make the Macbeth a play of emotions, thoughts, and planning than of action.Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses imagery to create a vivid picture in the mind of the reader, which creative cover the horror and bloodshed in the play.   Shakespeare creates images that appeal very vivid to the senses, particularly to the sense of light. This enables us to imagine the metaphors very clearly, and understand the impact of images.  He also uses patterns of images linked to various themes, which help to clarify the themes for the audiences. Certain images are also linked to specific characters. The effective use of images that are interconnected makes the play unique.

One of the outstanding imagery is the image of light and darkness (Abhinandan, 2012).  Characters such as Duncan and Banquo are surrounded by daylight. Darkness form an all inclusive space where the reality dissolves and the protagonist start intermingling with his or her own identity and with other characters or events of the play at various levels.  In the play, darkness plays an important role in the developing conflict, progression of the action and the revelation of characters.  Shakespeare uses darkness to emphasize evil, wickedness, and negativity.

 At the beginning, Macbeth portrays darkness as a blanket to hide his evil and deadly deeds.  The three witches encountered on the way evoke darkness with thunder that gives the reader that something evil or frightening is going to take place.   In some instance in the play, Banquo defines the witches as an instrument of darkness due to their wickedness.  Macbeth also relies heavily on the darkness to murder the king.The blood imagery throughout the play creates the notion of inevitable guilt. It evokes the feeling of frustration, regrets, self-punishment and shame on the part of Macbeth.  In the play, blood symbolizes murder and guilt that characterize two of the main characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

Blood plays a great role in revealing Macbeth’s feelings about murder.  For example, the blood symbolism exposes the trepidation of Macbeth before he kills Duncan (McKinlay Sheinber, 2008).  He hallucinate a dagger floating before him, directing him to Duncan’s room.   His brain is “heat-oppressed” or feverish about the murder that it creates a symbol of murder and the bloody dagger. After killing Duncan, Shakespeare uses blood to illustrate Macbeth horror and guilt of his heinous act of killing Duncan.  Macbeth laments, “What hands are here! Ha! They pluck mine eyes.” He laments that the sight of the blood “metaphorically” rips his eyes out.

 This indicates his magnitude of shock after killing Duncan. He is not only shocked but also feels extremely guilty.    The symbol of blood is also used after Macbeth kills Banquo.  After killing Banquo, the ghost of Banquo appears to accuse and haunt Macbeth. He protests “thou canst not say I did it. Never shake/Thy gory locks at me.” this indicates that the ghost of Banquo is bloody.  The appearance of Banquo reveals Macbeth guilt.   Shakespeare uses the same symbol of blood to indicate Macbeth acceptance of his guilt.  Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth, “I am in blood…..should I wade no more.” In this metaphor, Macbeth says he has waded so far in the pool of blood, and it was difficult for him to turn back.  The blood symbol is also used to show Lady Macbeth attitudes to murder.


Shakespeare use effectively symbolism, imagery and allegory to create the tragic picture of the play. The effective of light and darkness and blood symbols and image create scenery that is horrific and scary. This enables the play to emotional. The constant use of darkness reveals the wickedness of characters while blood is used to illustrate the bloody encounters, death, suffering and fights in the play. The use of these literary devices made the reading of the play interesting despite the ancient English used. In addition, the play is short compared to other famous plays of Shakespeare such as the Romeo and Juliet and the Merchant of Venice.


Abhinandan Malas (2012). The Darkness in William Shakespeare’s Play Macbeth: A Study. International Journal in English. Vol.III Issue III

McKinlay Sheinber (2008). William Shakespeare. Macbeth. Oxford University Press.  Oxford, UK.

FET Phase (2005). X-Kit Literature Series: FET Macbeth.  Maskew Miller Longman.  New York, USA. 


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