Macbeth, written by Shakespeare, is a tragic play written around 1050 A.D. In this catastrophic play, the symbol of blood is mentioned differently several times. Shakespeare uses intricate imagery with the association of the word, blood. This specific word is significant because he uses the word creatively to develop the character of Macbeth and the unfortunate events that occur in the play. The word, blood, is mentioned about forty-two times and ironically the word, fear, also appears forty-two times in the play. As Macbeth’s character fluctuates throughout the play, the powerful emblematic meaning of the word, blood, changes from the beginning to the end as well. Once Macbeth and Lady Macbeth start their murderous journey, blood soon emerges into a symbol of their guiltiness. They both begin to feel that their appalling crimes have forever stained their lives. The first mention of blood seems to establish the significance of honor. Next, the second allusion of blood shows a terrible example of betrayal. Lastly, the third reference of blood appears to establish the sense of guiltiness. Therefore, all of these different kinds of images of blood help develop the atmosphere and scene and as well contribute to the over all drama of the play.
To begin with, the first allusion of blood in Macbeth is based upon honor. Near the beginning of the scene two in act one, a bleeding sergeant appears on the stage. It is known that Macbeth and the Scottish army defeated Macdonwald’s army. The sergeant continues with his description of the battle and how Macbeth and Macbeth’s friend, Banquo fought bravely, “For brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name- / Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel / Which smok’d with bloody execution, / Like valor’s minion carv’d out his passage” (1.2.19-21). In this specific passage of the play, the allusion of blood is a symbol of bravery and courage. Heroic blood shed for a noble deed is known to be the good kind of blood. On the other hand, Macbeth’s character changes drastically throughout the unfortunate events in the play by the allegory of the blood he sheds. Before Duncan’s murder, Macbeth had a horrific vision of a dagger floating in the air in front of him, Macbeth describes intricately, “…and on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, / Which was not so before. There’s no such thing: / It is the bloody business which informs / Thus to mine eyes” (2.1.46-49). The blood imagery in this passage obviously refers to betrayal and murder. This is a dire contrast to what blood symbolized in the beginning of the play. Blood was once seen as a positive merit, but is now associated with the darkness of evil. This imagery also shows the beginning of Macbeth’s character transformation of nobility and bravery into treachery and evilness.
After Macbeth murders Duncan, he begins to realize the severity of his crime as he tries to wash Duncan’s blood off his hands, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No; this hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red.” (Act II, Scene 2, Lines 71-75) This passage illustrates the act of murder has changed Macbeth’s character. No longer does the blood connote an image of ambition; it now symbolizes guilt, remorse, and an entry into the gates of hell from which no one can return. Macbeth laments that not even all the water in the ocean will wash the blood off his hands, he is beginning to realize the magnitude of his crime, and that he has done something truly evil. This same blood symbolism continues when Macbeth, shortly after he sees the ghost of the murdered Banquo at his feast, goes into a state of shock and has to be escorted back to his chamber by Lady Macbeth. He tells Lady Macbeth before he goes to sleep, “All causes shall give way: I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er:” (Act III, Scene 4, Lines 159-161) Like her husband, the once ambitious Lady Macbeth finally realizes the significance of associating herself in the murder plot, and the severe repercussions it will bring. Tormented by nightmares, she sleepwalks through her bedroom and cries, “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?…Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of / Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” (Act V, Scene 1, Lines 40, 46-47) The blood imagery exhibits Lady Macbeth’s guilt over Duncan’s murder. Her hallucinations of blood on her hands and her constant efforts to wash it off demonstrate that the agony of having guilty feelings is causing her to go insane. We later learn that this guilt strains her mind to the point that she commits suicide.
We now find that Macbeth has entered so far into hell and the world of evil, it is impossible for him to return to righteousness. He will be forced to kill more and more people in order to retain control of the throne. The sins he has committed have not only perverted his virtuous life, but have condemned him to an eternity in hell. There is no chance of redemption; he has permanently allied himself with the forces of evil. In the play’s final scene, Macduff confronts Macbeth to avenge the murders of his children and his wife at Macbeth’s hand, and to see Malcolm established as the rightful King. As Malcolm sees Macbeth, he exclaims, “I have no words: / My voice is in my sword, thou bloodier villain / Than terms can give thee out!” (Act V, Scene 8, Lines 8-10) Shakespeare uses this blood imagery to enhance the audience’s understanding of Macbeth’s character. The audience has now witnessed the complete transformation of Macbeth. He begins as a noble, just and brave person, to becoming evil, ambitious, and treacherous during Duncan’s murder, to his final feelings of remorse for his crime and finally, to the realization that he will be punished for his sins.