Blood Motif In Macbeth Essay Examples

What is the role and function of bloody imagery in ‘Macbeth’? 

  • Representation of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s conscience
  • Imagery of blood constantly haunts their minds
  • Reflects changes in Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s characters


Thesis statement

Throughout Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’, the recurring imagery of blood is used as a symbol to demonstrate the constant feelings of guilt felt by the characters, ultimately leading to their endless feelings of fear and horror.


Quote 1

‘What hands are here! Ha! They pluck out mine eyes.
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.’
Act 2 Scene 2 lines 60-64


Context and meaning

The strong imagery of blood in this scene demonstrates his inability to remove the blood from his hands.
‘All of Neptune’s ocean’ represents the degree of guilt within Macbeth.
Guilt will always remain to haunt Macbeth as the image of the crime will always remain in his consciousness, causing him to experience greater remorse and fear.
The permanent change in colour from green to red in the seas, indicates that the guilt within Macbeth is everlasting.


Back to the thesis:

Blood symbolises the guilt within Macbeth after murdering King Duncan, causing him to experience eternal fear for the crime he has committed.



Quote 2

‘And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale!’
Act 3 Scene 2 lines 48-50


Context and meaning

Macbeth is obligated to conceal his thoughts and feelings of guilt to prevent further suspicion among other characters.
Oxymoron of ‘bloody and invisible hand’ also demonstrates a contrast between appearance versus reality by comparing guilt and innocence.
Strong imagery of blood on Macbeth’s hand symbolises guilt by showing level of cruelty.
‘Invisible hand’ is a representation of hiding the thoughts and feelings of guilt.


Back to the thesis:

Blood imagery is used to emphasise guilt due to the cruelty of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s crimes as they attempt to hide their constant fear and remorse from their sinful crimes.



Quote 3

‘Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest: I see thee still;
And on thy blade and dudgeon the gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing’
Act 2 Scene 1 lines 44-47


Context and meaning

His obsession with thoughts of murder causes his hallucination.
The ‘gouts of blood’ represent his guilt.
It foreshadows ‘bloodier’ visions.


Back to the thesis:

More blood, more guilt.
He is haunted by an unforgiveable sin which will lead to endless fear and horror.



Quote 4

‘Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! Oh! Oh!’
Act 5 Scene 1 lines 46-47


Context and meaning

Lady Macbeth is incapable of washing away her ‘bloody guilt’.
She is full of remorse and resentment.
The ‘smell’ of the guilty and shameful blood will never be ‘sweetened’.


Back to the thesis:

She is forever cursed by the ‘smell of the blood’.
She is drowned in immense guilt due to being haunted by fear and horror.



Quote 5

‘Out damned spot! Out, I say! One; two: why, then, ‘tis time to do’t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who know it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?’
Act 5 Scene 1 lines 32-37


Context and meaning

Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking in Macbeth’s castle.
She sees blood that isn’t there.
She senses her own guilt and realises the mistakes she has made but is incapable of rubbing the blood off her hands.


Back to the thesis:

She made herself out to be a soldier, sexless, but now she is afraid.
She is in a dark place, alone.



Quote 6

‘This is a sorry sight.’ [Looking at his hands.]
Act 2 Scene 2 line 22


Context and meaning

Guilt overwhelms Macbeth immediately after the murder of Duncan.
The blood on his hands represents the severity of the murder and indicates his guilt.


Back to the thesis:

Macbeth’s guilt and realisation cause him to fear the consequences that he may face and other negative things that may come due to his actions.



Quote 7

‘Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there: go carry them, and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.’
Act 2 Scene 2 lines 49-51


Context and meaning

Macbeth brings back evidence of the murder – he can’t think straight.
Fear of suspicion.
Lady Macbeth plans to frame the guards.


Back to the thesis:

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth no longer share the same thoughts or actions. This denotes the beginning of the end of their relationship.



Quote 8

‘Blood hath been shed ere now, i’ the olden time,
Ere human statute purg’d the gentle weal;
Ay, and since too, murders have been perform’d
Too terrible for the ear: the times have been,
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now they rise again,
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,
And push us from our stools: this is more strange
Than such a murder.’
Act 3 Scene 4 lines 75-83


Context and meaning

Macbeth loses composure during his first formal banquet as King.
He tries to rationalise his actions.


Back to thesis:

Banquo’s bloody wounds make Macbeth feel guilty.
His loss of composure shows his fear and guilt in a public forum.




Other bloody quotes


‘If he do bleed,
I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal;
For it must seem their guilt.’
Act 2 Scene 2 lines 56-58


‘Be bloody, bold and resolute’
Act 4 Scene 1 line 79


‘For brace Macbeth – well he deserves that name –
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel,
Which smok’d with bloody execution’
Act 1 Scene 2 lines 16-18


‘It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood;
Stones have been known to move and trees to speak;
Augurs and understood relations have
By maggot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth
The secret’st man of blood.’
Act 3 Scene 4 lines 123-127


‘I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.’
Act 3 Scene 4 line 136-138


‘I think our country sinks beneath the yoke;
It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash
Is added to her wounds.’
Act 4 Scene 3 lines 39-41



Guilt is a frustrating feeling; it evokes regret, self-punishment, and shame. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do not know it, but every time they murder, their guilt increases, and they step closer to their downfall. Shakespeare uses the imagery of blood in Macbeth to illustrate the inevitable guilt of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and how their roles change by the end of the play.

In the beginning of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth try their best to hide their conscience. Macbeth commands the stars to “hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires” (1.4.57-58). If the stars hide their light, Macbeth’s dark desires will be hidden and he will feel no guilt. Lady Macbeth speaks to the spirits and orders them to “unsex me here / And fill me . . .top-full / Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood, / Stop up the access and passage to remorse” (1.5.42-45). Lady Macbeth calls the evil spirits to get rid of her female qualities, to make her a man, and to hide her conscience so she will feel no guilt. Both of them know that once they feel guilt, they will be doomed and found guilty.

After killing Duncan, Macbeth feels extreme guilt, while Lady Macbeth seems to experience no guilt at all. Macbeth looks down at his bloody hands and mumbles, “This is a sorry sight” (2.2.28). He regrets killing King Duncan, a man of great virtues, and wishes that he could undo his evil act. Macbeth feels so guilty he forgets to leave the daggers with the guards. He refuses to go back because he is “afraid to think what I have done; / Look on’t again I dare not” (2.2.65-66). Macbeth believes his conscience will never let this horrendous act go.

He exclaims to Lady Macbeth, “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” (2.2.76-79). Macbeth feels that all the oceans in the world will not wash away his dishonor for killing the king. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth does not feel any guilt. Lady Macbeth scolds Macbeth and snaps, “My hands are of your color, but I shame / To wear a heart so white. . . . A little water clears us of this deed” (2.2.80-85). Lady Macbeth cannot believe that a little thing like killing King Duncan could make Macbeth so fearful.

When it is time to murder Banquo, Macbeth plans it out himself. This is a huge change from King Duncan’s murder, when Lady Macbeth had to plan it out and then convince Macbeth to go through with the plan. While Banquo is being murdered, Macbeth is hosting a banquet for the lords. When Banquo’s ghost steps in, Macbeth wonders how Lady Macbeth can “behold such sights, / And keep the natural ruby of your cheeks” (3.4.137-138) while Macbeth’s cheeks are drained of color from fear. Even though Macbeth planned out this murder, and seemed as though his guilt is gone, it still is in his conscience and he despises thinking about it. Lady Macbeth, however, keeps the natural ruby of her cheeks and has no fear of these murders.

With so much guilt already, Macbeth realizes there is no point in turning back. He says, “I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.165-167). Macbeth is so close to being king that he might as well go through with it. Macbeth’s attitude seems to change quite a bit. At this point, Macbeth seems to have “reset” his conscience and has no problem with killing more people. Speaking to Lady Macbeth, Macbeth says, “We are yet but young in deed” (3.4.173). Macbeth hints to Lady Macbeth that more killings are on the way, and that he is no longer afraid to murder.

No matter how hard Lady Macbeth tries, the guilt catches up with her. Macbeth has now become immune to murders and doesn’t seem to feel any guilt. When Macbeth is finally king, Lady Macbeth starts sleepwalking. “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One—two— / why then ‘tis time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! . . . . Yet who would / have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (5.1.31-32, 34-35). Lady Macbeth is experiencing the guilt from killing Duncan by continuously washing her hands in her sleep.

Lady Macbeth also mutters, “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the / perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!” (5.1.45-47). This again represents Lady Macbeth’s disgrace as she cannot get the guilt out of her head. Soon afterwards, Lady Macbeth cannot take all this guilt anymore and takes her own life. Macbeth does not seem to feel any guilt anymore. Towards the end of the play, before Macbeth dies, he pronounces, “Ring the alarum bell! Blow, wind! Come, wrack! / At least we’ll die with harness on our back” (5.5.56-57). Macbeth wants to fight to the very end.

From the use of blood imagery, readers can see the inevitable guilt of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. By the end of the play, the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have been switched; Macbeth seems to be much stronger than before, while Lady Macbeth has slowly shriveled away to nothing from all the guilt. As Macbeth said, “They say blood will have blood” (3.4.149). Each time the Macbeths murdered another person, they stepped closer to their downfall without realizing it. Blood imagery provides us knowledge of the main characters and helps us understand the idea of guilt in Macbeth.

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