In William Shakespear’s Macbeth, symbolism is abundantly used in
exemplifying the overall theme of murder. There are several prominent forms of
this throughout the play. The contrast of light and dark representing good and
evil plays a major role in the advancement of events in the play. Blood
symbolizes murder and guilt. The archetypal pattern of purification by water is
used several times in the play, particularly in the murder scenes. Symbolism is
widely displayed in order to achieve the general topic of evil.
Light and dark represent good and evil in the play. During the time in
which Macbeth was written, the king was associated with the sun. The sunset
symbolized his death or overthrow. The quotes “When shall we three meet again .
. . ” and “That will be ere the set of sun.” (I. i. 1,4) foreshadow the king’s
death. The imagery of light and dark continues throughout the play. “Stars,
hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.” (I. iv. 50-51)
demonstrates Macbeth’s step toward evil. Most of the corrupt or unusual events
in Macbeth occur under a cloak of darkness. The murders, Lady Macbeth’s
sleepwalking, and the appearance of the witches all take place at night. Lady
Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene is the epitome of the light/darkness symbol. She
once craved the darkness but now carries a candle to dispel it. The line, “She
has light by her continually; ’tis her command.” (V. i. 19), symbolizes Lady
Macbeth’s fear of darkness or evil.
The image of blood plays an important role in the event of Duncan’s
murder. It represents Macbeth’s guilt and shame about the horrific crime.
After killing the king, Macbeth comments on his blood stained hands by saying,
“As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands.” (II. ii. 28) Macbeth refuses
to return to the crime scene to smear blood on the guards, fearing the blood
will somehow implicate him further. Macbeth feels uncomfortable with blood on
his hands. He immediately tries to remove it after killing the guards.
The archetypal pattern of purification by water is prominent in the play.
It symbolizes the removal of guilt. Following the murder of Duncan, Lady
Macbeth reassures her husband by telling him, “A little water clears us of the
deed”; (I. ii. 67) Later in the play, Lady Macbeth repeatedly rubs her hands
together, representing washing her hands. She hopes to clear her conscience by
removing the “spot” from her hand, as she says, “Out, damned spot! out, I say!
. . . ” (V. i. 31) Water symbolizes the purification of a guilty conscience.
Symbolism plays an important role in Shakespear’s Macbeth. It is used
in numerous forms to relate the overall theme of murder to the actions of
Macbeth. Light and darkness represent good and evil respectively. Blood
represents Macbeth’s and his wife’s guilt about Duncan’s murder. Water
symbolizes purification of the conscience.These symbols effectively portray
the ominous theme of murder in Macbeth.