Dramatic Use of Images of Blood in William Shakespeare's Macbeth
'Macbeth' is the story of a nobleman, who, while trying to fulfil a
prophecy told to him by three witches, murders his king to cause his
ascension to the throne of Scotland. After the King's death, Macbeth
reigns as a cruel and ruthless tyrant who is forced to kill more
people to keep control of the throne. Finally, Scottish rebels
combined with English forces attack Macbeth's castle. A Scottish thane
named Macduff, who has sacrificed everything and whose family was
killed by this tyrant, then kills Macbeth in the closing scene.
Considering the fact that many people are killed in 'Macbeth', the
number of murders committed on-stage is minimal.
We have known blood to represent life, death, and often injury. Blood
is an essential part of life, and without blood, we could not live.
Shakespeare uses this fact to create imagery to represent treason,
murder, guilt, and death. These ideas are constant throughout the
King Duncan is the first to mention blood, and he does so in the
second scene of the play. At this time, Scotland has defeated Norway;
Macbeth and his best friend, Banquo, have led the Scottish forces to
victory. The blood in this scene is depicted as showing honour and
heroism. Duncan sees an injured Sergeant and says: "What bloody man is
that?". This is symbolic of the brave fighter who has been injured in
a valiant battle for his country. In the next passage, in which the
Sergeant says: "Which smok'd with bloody execution", he is referring
to Macbeth's braveness in which he covered his sword in the hot blood
of the enemy.
Macbeth's brutality is shown when the Sergeant tells Duncan of how
Macbeth "ne'er shook hands, not bade farewell to him /Till he unseam'd
him from the nave to the chaps". In modern-day English, what the
Sergeant was telling King Duncan was that Macbeth refused to leave his
enemy's body until he had cut him open from the navel to the throat.
This does not appear sinister at first as it shows Macbeth being noble
and faithful to his country, as gruesome as it may appear. Duncan
hears of Macbeth's nobility and names him Thane of Cawdor, after the
previous thane had been found to be a traitor. There is some irony in
the situation, as Duncan is the first to be murdered by the 'loyal'
Macbeth, whom Duncan trusts and admires so much.
The murder of King Duncan is not performed on-stage. We know that
Macbeth is about to kill Duncan at the end of Act 2, scene 1, because
"I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven, or to hell".
Before Duncan's murder, Macbeth imagines a dagger floating in the air
before him. He describes it:
"Is this a dagger which I see before me,