Bravery, Guilt & Violence: The Power Of Blood In Macbeth

1491 words - 6 pages

There are a variety of fluids in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth such as milk, water and blood. Milk quenches one’s thirst, whereas blood pours out of a person. Water is used to wash stains away, whereas blood can taint a person. The blood image is very potent throughout Macbeth and reinforces the major themes of bravery, guilt, and violence evoked by the three witches.
At the beginning of the play, the bloody captain and Lady Macbeth have very different opinions of what is brave (especially the qualities of bravery that Macbeth either shows or does not show) and both use different images of milk and blood to prove their point. The captain is bleeding because he fought bravely in battle, especially against Malcolm’s (the son of King Duncan of Scotland) “captivity” (I ii 6). His wounds signify his loyalty to Scotland. In his severely wounded state, however, the bloody captain decides to speak about Macbeth’s bravery against the Norwegian invaders and especially the rebel leader Macdonwald to the King. Macbeth has been killing so many people that his sword “smoke[s]” (I ii 21), or steams, with blood. These “execution[s]” (I ii 21) foreshadow his many other murders with his “brandished steel” (I ii 20) later on in the play. These executions are not for the good of Scotland, but for his acquiring (and guarding) the title of King of Scotland. Later in Act I, Lady Macbeth reads a letter from Macbeth telling her about the witches’ prophecy for Macbeth and Banquo, how he was hailed Thane of Cawdor by the witches and would eventually be King. Instantly, Lady Macbeth began plotting as to how Macbeth would go about murdering King Duncan to gain the title. However, she “fear[s]” (I v 15) that Macbeth’s human “nature” (I v 15) is too “milk[y]” (I v 16) with “kindness” (I v 16) for others (especially the King) that he would not take the “nearest way” (I v 17) to the crown by killing Duncan instead of waiting for the prophecy to be fulfilled naturally. “Milk” (I v 16) is white and therefore represents all things pure and innocent. It is also nourishing, such as when a mother gives her baby milk. Therefore, Lady Macbeth believes that in order for Macbeth to “screw” (I vii 67) up his “courage” (I vii 67) to murder Duncan, he must be rid of the feminine flow of milk that infects him. She herself is poisoning Macbeth when she “pour[s]” (I v 26) her liquid “spirits” (I v 26) of evil in his “ear” (I v 26). Even Macbeth realizes soon after that one has to be “poisoned” (I vii 11) to be able to do the dastardly deed. While the bloody captain perceives Macbeth as a bloody but brave executioner who murdered for the good of the country, Lady Macbeth sees the feminine, milky aspect of her husband, which she believes is cowardly.
After the couple has succeeded in their plot to murder the King, they both feel guilty of their crimes, but at different levels: Macbeth ostensibly displays his guilt by speaking with images of blood that he cannot be rid of, whereas Lady Macbeth...

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