The Many Symbols In Shakespeare's Macbeth

1706 words - 7 pages

The Many Symbols in Macbeth

 
     Shakespeare used clothing both symbolically and as a vehicle of character definition. Clothes were often used in Macbeth's case to symbolize his titles.  Symbolic clothing is identified when Ross tells Macbeth of his new title Thane of Cawdor when Macbeth does not know of the Thane's treason,

Macbeth: "The Thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me in Borrow'd robes?" (I, III,108)

Symbols using clothing such as borrowed robes, disguises and cross-dressing are found in several plays where they betray a range of situations from sheer mischievousness to dark, treasonable or murderous plots. The symbol appears again when Banquo and Macbeth are discussing whether the witches' prophecy about Macbeth becoming king will come true as well, "New honours come upon him, Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mold But with the aid of use. (I,III,144)" Later, when Macbeth shares the news of his promotion with Lady Macbeth, he speaks with a clothing metaphor again, "Golden opinions from all sorts of people, Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, Not case aside so soon. (I,vii,33-34)" Again it is mentioned in (V,ii,21) by Angus, "Nothing in love; now does he feel his title Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe Upon a dwarfish thief."

Blood as a symbol in the play assumes many different meanings as the story progresses, ranging from virtuous honour to the guilt of murder.

The first reference to blood occurs in (I,ii,1) when Duncan meets the bleeding sergeant and remarks, "What bloody man is that?" The man is bleeding after having fought to protect the noble Malcolm, which makes the blood a symbol of honour. Blood symbolizes another virtuous trait when it appears again in the sergeant's description of Macbeth's victorious fight with Macdonwald, "Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel, Which smok'd with bloody execution. (I,ii,17)"

Duncan's blood on the Macbeths' hands is symbol of the evil crime they committed, the guilt of which cannot be washed away. Pontius Pilate is the supreme example of the futility of the symbolic act of 'washing the hands' to expunge guilt. History will forever hold him guilty. Macbeth's curse, "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. (II,iii,61)" The symbol was also used earlier as Lady Macbeth tries to blame of the murder on the sleeping grooms, "...smear the sleepy grooms with blood. (II,II,49)" Lady Macbeth's remark on her entry shorty after that "A little water clears us of this deed; How easy it is then!" shows that she has less immediate guilt for the crime, where Macbeth's conscience is eating away at him, or that she has not yet absorbed the enormity of the deed. The same symbol of evil deeds not being washed away is brought out again in (V,II,17) where Angus says, "Now does he feel His secret murders sticking on his hands;" The...

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