What does blood symbolize? The universal meaning for blood in literature is life or sacrifice. In the play Macbeth blood is used from Act 1 all the way to very end of the play. Shakespeare uses the characters to illustrate how important blood is. Without the imagery of blood The Tragedy Macbeth would not be as good. In Shakespeare’s The Tragedy Macbeth, the imagery of blood is very important for mood of the play because it enhances the presence of karma, the crimes that have been committed, and the guilt of the characters.
The crimes that are committed are the first signs of blood, they are the stepping stones for the rest of the play. In Act 2.2, lines 58-65, Macbeth kills the king. Then he realizes that Duncan is not the only person he has to kill to get his throne. Cristina Alfar mentions this in her article Blood Will Have Blood’: Power, Performance, and Lady Macbeth’s Gender Trouble:
Bloody competition for preferment and power implicated in absolute systems of monarchy is doomed to a cycle of failure and repetition. To be thus is nothing, / But to be safely thus(3.1 47-8), Macbeth discovers, so that Duncan’s blood is the only the first that must be shed in Macbeth’s chase after an ever-illusive state security. Thus, blood calls to itself; the violence upon which his precarious authority stands breeds more violence. (180)
Alfar simply says there will be more blood for the blood that is shed and the blood shed will not stop until Macbeth is killed. Macbeth himself says things bad begun make strong themselves by ill(Shakespeare 3.2, 55). There will be more and more crimes throughout the play, which lead to more suspicion of Macbeth’s guiltiness. People begin to think that Macbeth is the murder of Duncan because of all the shady crimes going on in the kingdom. He will never be safe because of his clumsiness with the murder. By killing Duncan’s guards he looked like he was trying to cover up something because they were gonna be hanged. Macbeth’s wrong actions lead to his downfall.
Shakespeare also uses guilt as a reflectant of blood. Guilt is a very strong emotion it really hurts people and it forces people to do things they don’t want to do. Lady Macbeth’s character is most affected by guilt. Lady Macbeth is very cold-hearted and strong, but she discovers the wrong of her actions and is strongly affected. In Act 5.1 line 39 Lady MacBeth is sleepwalking and says, will these hands ne’er be clean? The once strong and cold-hearted Lady Macbeth then is overcome by guilt and commits suicide (Shakespeare 5.5, 16). Macbeth also asks will my hands ever be clean? Macbeth also dies but it is not by the pressure of guilt.
When Macbeth himself is affected by guilt Shakespeare repeatedly makes the reference to water as well as blood. For example, referring back to the quote about Macbeth’s bloody hands, he thinks he will never get the blood off his hands and he didn’t recognize them. He says the Neptunes water will never make them clean. Also in Act 3.4 136-137 Macbeth says I am in blood/ Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more. Once again making the connection back to water, he is in a pool of blood, blood of the people he has killed. To further his guilt he had just had his best friend murdered, and this is what he imagines. MacBeth is deeply troubled by the guilt, but he keeps his cool better than Lady MacBeth does. Guilt plays a major role in this play.
Karma comes upon the murders and they pay for their bad decisions. Justice comes to the characters that have been killed. Shakespeare uses the line blood will have blood(Shakespeare 3.4, 122).
MacBeth’s victims will have their revenge, his murders will be brought to light. MacBeth knows that his life is not in safety but he will not surrender. Ultimately MacBeth pays for his crimes with his own life. MacBeth also doesn’t think about the prophecies that the witches told him. They told him, The First Apparition: “Beware Macduff; Beware the Thane of Fife.” The Second Apparition: none of women born Shall harm Macbeth. The Third Apparition: be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care who chafes, who frets¦ until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill /Shall come against him [Macbeth].(Shakespeare 4.1, 78-93). His failure to think about what they say, also leads to his death.
Lady MacBeth has a different kind of karma though, her karma takes action on something she says. She says, tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood/Stop up the access and passage to remorse (Shakespeare 1.5 39-42). She goes against her morals, her womanhood, and sets herself up for failure. Her blood is made thick to be as evil as she needs to be so she gets what she wants. She is willing to sacrifice everything for the throne. When Lady Macbeth is finally aware of the things she has done, guilt makes her go mad. But without Lady Macbeth’s ambition to become queen, MacBeth would not have killed the king. For she is the mastermind behind the murder.
Some might argue that the image of blood is used to bring out the large quantity of blood in the bloody scenes. In the article The Imagery of Blood in MacBeth and Hassan by Munir Wasti says that blood is just that. Wasti says, It is thus clear that the numerous references to blood in Macbeth are directed to create revulsion in the minds of the readers at the deeds of violence that permeate the play and express horror at the union of pain, injustice and tyranny.
It is normal to think that blood is just used for (that word), because blood is used in every battle scene. When you first start reading the play you think that is what it’s for. As the play goes on though you realize the importance of blood and what it symbolizes.
The symbolism of blood is very important to this Shakespeare play. Without it we wouldn’t feel the strength of guilt. Also, the crimes of the characters wouldn’t be so awful, and karma wouldn’t have such an effect in the play. Blood is a symbol throughout the whole story without it the play wouldn’t be complete. From the murder of King Duncan to the decapitated MacBeth, blood is there. Shakespeare’s main purpose for the imagery of blood was to influence the strong effect guilt has on people. MacBeth without blood is like war without guns. It just doesn’t make sense.
Alfar, Cristina Leon. “‘Blood will have blood:’Power, Performance, and Lady Macbeth’s Gender Trouble.” Jx:
A Journal in Culture and Criticism 2.2 (1998): 179-207.
Wasti, Syed Munir. “THE IMAGERY OF BLOOD IN MACBETH AND HASSAN.” Journal of European
Studies 33.2 (2017).
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. Holt Elements of Literature: Sixth Course,
Holt, Rinehart And Winston, 2005.