Macbeth was one of the most famous plays in generations, it was written in the early 1600s by William Shakespeare. The setting of the play took place in Scotland, narrating a story about a guy named Macbeth and how his ambition leads to a tragic downfall. At first, he was an honourable and courageous man, trusted by people and even called the king’s “kinsman”. But then, his greed is inspired by listening to the witches’ prophecies and Lady Macbeth’s support to kill King Duncan. Blood is one of the motifs Shakespeare uses most throughout this play in order to portray clearly the unending guilt of Macbeth.
The blood motif first appeared in the start of the play by a wounded captain to showed Macbeth courage and loyalty, by battling against the rival without mercy on the battlefield in order to protect King Duncan.
” For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name –
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valor’s minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave. ” ( Act 1, scene 2, lines 16-21 )
The use of blood in this scene seems to elevate his portrait as a heroic character. But as the play goes on, Macbeth’s image with blood changes together with his’ characteristics. He hallucinates a floating knife in front of him before attempting to murder the king: “I see thee still. And, on thy blade and dudgeon, gouts of blood. Which was not so before” (Act 2, scene 1, lines 57-59).
He also tries to reassure himself, saying that “There’s no such thing: / It is the bloody business which informs / Thus to mine eyes” (Act 2, scene 1, lines 59-61). The bloody business refers to the murder he is about to commit. This scene is the significant turning twist of the play, which shows the beginning of Macbeth’s character transformation to a evil, treacherous and merciless tyrant. The image of blood symbolizes the treason, ambition and murder, contrasting what it meant earlier in the play. It is now associated with pure evil.
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. (2.2.78-81)
This illustrates how the act of murder has changed Macbeth’s character, turning him into a man full of guilt and remorse. However, he does not stop at one murder but, out of paranoia and ambition, those who tries to solidify his position as a king and get rid of anyone standing in his way. The image of blood continues to haunt Macbeth as the ghost of murdered Banquo shows up at his feast. Shocked by the appearance of the ghost, he exclaims, “I am in blood / Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (Act 3, scene, lines 168-170). This shows how dramatically Macbeth’s character has changed – he has stepped so far into the world of evil that it is impossible for him to redeem himself and return to righteousness, regardless of how guilty he might feel.
Also, worth mentioning is the blood motif that associated with Lady Macbeth, she was obsessed with her killing King’s Duncan. The blood hallucinates and drives Lady Macbeth crazy. ” Out, damned spot! Out, I say! ” ( Act 5, scene 1, lines 25 ). Furthermore, ” Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! Oh! Oh! ” ( Act 5, scene 1, lines 46-47 ). Lady Macbeth is incapable of washing away her ‘bloody guilt’. She is full of remorse and resentment and the ‘smell’ of the guilty and shameful blood will never be ‘sweetened’.
Shakespeare uses the image of blood is to elevate the audience’s understanding about Macbeth and his character transformation. At the beginning, he is as a noble and trustworthy person, but then Macbeth turns treacherous and ambitious, finally, he becomes a man full of remorse and guilt for his continuous crime. On the other hand, blood motifs is also used by the author in order to evoke a dramatic reaction from the audience. By bringing the image of blood on stage and making it virtually visual, from the bleeding hands to the beheaded Macbeth at the end, Shakespeare succeeds in making his play easier to relate to and for the audience to really immerse into the action, rather than just observers of a normal play.