The symbolism of blood in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. References many different points in the tragedy where blood plays a key role.
There are many recurring symbols in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Blood is the most prevalent of these. Shakespeare’s use of blood in relation to characters can tell the readers a lot about the character. Blood is used as a symbol for honor in some cases and guilt or treachery in other cases. The way blood in association with a character can relay how the character feels and what his intentions are. In Macbeth, blood symbolizes different characteristics that each character has. The use of blood in the play varies from character to character.
Some characters in Macbeth have relations between blood and honor. The Bloody Captain and Young Siward are described as honorable from their connections with blood. When the Bloody Captain reports to Duncan during the opening battle between the Scottish and rebels, the king tells the captain that his wounds “smack of honor” (I. ii. 48). The soldier has proven himself in battle by facing injury and is now considered an honorable fighter. The king greeted the captain by calling him a “valiant cousin, worthy gentleman” (I. ii. 26). Duncan believes that the captain is a good man based on the fact that he has been wounded and is bloody. At the end of the play, Young Siward is depicted as a man due to the placement of his wounds. Young Siward’s father asks “Had he his hurts before? /” to which Ross responded that they were “on the front” (V. viii. 53-54). The placement of Siward’s blood signified that he was truly a man because he died fighting, not fleeing. Men were considered to be brave in combat and not to have mercy for anyone.
Other characters feel immense guilt in relation to the symbol of blood. Lady Macbeth sees blood as an indicator of unbelievable guilt. While sleepwalking, Lady Macbeth attempts to wash a spot of Duncan’s blood out of her dress:
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 knows 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? (V. i. 37-42)
In reality, there is no blood in Lady Macbeth’s dress, but she feels the presence of guilt caused by Duncan’s murder. She did not expect to feel so much guilt from taking part in the murder. Lady Macbeth asks if her “hands ne’er be clean…” (V. i. 45). No matter what she does, she can not remove the guilty thoughts from her mind. Lady Macbeth says that the “perfumes of Arabia” would not “sweeten” her hand (V. i. 54). Nothing can cover up what Lady Macbeth did with her own hands. Lady Macbeth realizes that she will never be rid of the guilt that plagues her and soon commits suicide.
Blood relates to Macbeth as a symbol of evil and perceived invincibility. This is illustrated in Macbeth’s final battle with Macduff. Macduff tells Macbeth that his “voice is in [his] sword, thou bloodier villain / Than terms can give thee out” (V. viii. 7-8). This is a proclamation that Macbeth’s deeds are so horrible that words cannot describe them. During the battle, Macbeth tells his adversary that:
As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air
With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed.
Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield
To one of woman born. (V. viii. 12-16)
The king believes that it does not matter how much blood Macduff makes him spill because he cannot die to one of woman born. The blood that Macduff spills does not have any effect on his life. Macbeth soon proves to be wrong as Macduff was “Untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb (V. viii. 20). Macduff was not literally born from his mother, meaning that he was the one that could kill Macbeth.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth uses the symbol of blood to relate different meanings. The characters in Macbeth each have distinctive connections to blood, and are associated with blood in different ways. Blood can be a symbol of evil and represent guilt which can never be washed away. Blood could also represent the honor or glory one attains when wounded or killed in battle. The symbols relay the characteristics of all the people in the play. Each character has a different representation of blood that corresponds to him.