Symbolism in "Macbeth"

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"Macbeth", William Shakespeare

Examine the role of symbolism in the play

In the tragedy of "Macbeth", William Shakespeare's use of symbolism is abundant. Symbolism and imagery are constantly present to emphasise and/or illustrate a point and add to the themes of the play. Things such as blood, clothes, light and darkness are repeatedly used to portray deeper emotions or circumstances not literally or clearly expressed verbally by the characters themselves.

Throughout the play, blood is often present or mentioned in several scenes. It most commonly symbolizes guilt. Macbeth's hands full of blood represent what he has done, which he cannot deal with, being overcome with guilt. Similarly, water is a symbol of purification. Throughout the play, washing hands represents the cleansing of the evil deed, namely, Duncan's murder. As Lady Macbeth states:

"A little water clears us of this deed" Act Two Scene II

However, it is suggested that the guilt that the Macbeths are experiencing is significantly larger and too strong to be simply cleared by water.

Shakespeare uses such symbolism to suggest that certain things or actions never leave you and cannot be washed away, no matter what you do. This idea is transmitted through the fact that Macbeth states that if he washed his hands in the ocean, it would all turn red from the blood, suggesting the blood, being guilt, is too powerful for anything to make it vanish:

"No; this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red." Act Two Scene II

This is emphasised later on in the play, in the scene where Lady Macbeth is seen sleepwalking and seems to have this fixation with washing her hands and a spot of blood left on one of them. This obsession, again, points out that blood does, in fact,