“Conscience is a Man’s Compass”: The Motif of Blood in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is a tragedy, based off of the Scottish king Macbeth. The play explores the rise and downfall of Macbeth, as he ascends from Thane of Cawdor to king of Scotland. Initially in the play, Macbeth was portrayed as a brave and loyal soldier fighting to protect his country, however, the encounter between him and the three witches changed Macbeth’s life. He was promoted to Thane of Cawdor and the rise of power blinded him, causing him to kill King Duncan. Throughout the play, Macbeth is haunted with guilt and hallucinations of bloody images that revealed his inner subconscious mind and the psychologic conflict raging inside of it. He is eventually killed by Macduff at the end of the play. Shakespeare embeds the motif of blood in the play to characterize Macbeth and to show the transition of Macbeth, from honorable, sinful, to finally bloodthirsty.
In the beginning of the play, Shakespeare embeds the motif of blood to highlight the glory, valor, and bravery of fighting in war. King Duncan’s first line is: “What bloody man is that? He can report,/ As seemeth by his plight, of the revolt/ The newest state” (1.2.1-3). Shakespeare depicts a sergeant covered in blood in the opening scene, indicating a violent and gruesome battle. The amount of battle scars and blood on the sergeant reflects his heroism and bravery. It demonstrates his never ending loyalty to the King and that he is willing to lay his life on the line for Scotland. Thereby, his injuries and blood reinforces the image of Macbeth as a hero and a brave warrior, as it is Macbeth who is leading the army of soldiers. As the play progresses, the sergeant relays the battle scene to King Duncan, describing Macbeth’s sword “which smoked with bloody execution,/ Like valor’s minion carved out his passage/ Till he faced the slave,/ Which nev’r shook hands, nor bade farewell to him” (1.2.18-21). He stresses out how Macbeth fought so valiantly even though he was outnumbered. The sergeant’s praises emphasizes Macbeth’s bravery and image of a war hero. The blood on Macbeth’s sword reinforces Macbeth’s image of a hero, as it was a honor and privilege to fight for their own country. King Duncan’s reaction to Macbeth’s achievement indicates his gratitude and respect towards Macbeth: “ O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman!” (1.2.24). Duncan grants Macbeth with the title “Thane of Cawdor”, which ironically was the previous title of Macdonwald, who betrayed Scotland. His ascendancy of power proved to be too overwhelming for him and his greed for power grew as he longed to be king. Although the motif of blood conveyed the idea of Macbeth as a hero, it changed to express guilt, after the murder of King Duncan.
Shakespeare’s motif of blood further exemplifies the guilt Macbeth’s inner conscience feels after brutally murdering King Duncan. Macbeth expresses his guilt as he contemplates whether if “...