Monday, October 22, 2012


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A constant theme throughout the history of literature and drama that often intrigues people and catches their attention is the use of blood. Blood shows guilt or shame due to someone’s actions, victory or triumph over an enemy, or even courage in battle. But no matter how it is used, blood intrigues an audience and keeps people in suspense. It hooks people into the plot and ensures that they will be interested through the end. This is shown throughout William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

One of the biggest ways that blood is used in Macbeth is to show guilt. After Macbeth has killed Duncan and Lady Macbeth returns from placing the daggers in the hands of the guards, they are both colored with the blood of the king. The red stains are unmistakable proof that they are guilty. If anyone were to see them in that state, they would have no hope of eluding severe punishment, but they were very quick to change out of their blood stained clothes and wash the blood from their hands. They believed that they had removed all guilt from themselves by doing that. The guilt appears to fall on the two guards outside the king’s chamber who now have the bloody daggers in their hands. Before they can be questioned, though, Macbeth conveniently kills them claiming that he was overcome by a fit of rage due to the appearance of their guilt displayed by the bloody daggers in their hands.

The role of blood as guilt is not limited to just physical evidence. It also serves as a constant reminder for Macbeth and his wife. They think that by washing the blood from their hands, they are free of the deed. They believe that water can cleanse them completely, but their minds are eternally plagued with the thoughts. In the first scene of Act Five, the doctor and a gentlewoman witness Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep. While they watch, she screams aloud “Out, damned spot!…What, will these hands ne’er be clean?…Here’s the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” She neglected the fact that water can not cleanse the mind. At the time, she thought that it would be simple to cover up the murder and forget about it, but the thoughts have not begun to leave her head. Her worries have only grown and intensified so that she has nightmares of them. The blood sticks with her to the end of the play when it eventually drives her to her death.

On the opposite side of the mirror, blood serves as a sign of courage. Before Macbeth becomes corrupted, he showed extreme bravery in battle. He was one of the military leaders that led Scotland to victory over the rebels. The blood on the edge of his sword was proof that he had fought hard in the battle as opposed to running away from the enemy as a coward would have done. Another person who displayed such courage in combat was Siward’s son. In the final struggle against Macbeth and his men, Siward’s son was killed. His death was one of great valor though. He died of multiple wounds to the chest, which prove that he died fighting. Although Siward was greatly dejected to hear this news, he was proud of the fact that his son had enough courage to stand strong in the face of adversity and combat.

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One final use of blood is to show triumph. In Act Five, when Macduff returns to the stage carrying Macbeth’s head, he proves that he has killed the traitor, and has gotten revenge. Victory is his. Since no action takes place on stage, the blood dripping head serves as a trophy for Macduff and a sign to the audience that Macbeth is truly dead. Macduff does not face guilt for his actions, though. He committed them out of what he thought to be good reason, as opposed to greed. Macbeth had murdered numerous people to try to ensure that he would be king. He feared that his throne would be threatened. Slaying him was an act of justice for the country. Macduff knew that this blood shed was necessary for that purpose. He had done a great service for the people.

Blood serves as a symbol to both the audience and the characters in this play. The audience can see how the blood of the king curses Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. They are unable escape the memory of their actions and their guilt only leads them into more trouble as they try to cover up the truth. Also, Macbeth’s bloody head is necessary to prove Macduff’s triumph. He carries it with pride and boasts of his conquest. This frequent use of blood flows throughout Macbeth and helps keep people interested. It feeds their desire for action while it still greatly contributes to the plot and events of the play.

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