In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the image of blood is used effectively
to develop characters. Characters like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are developed
throughout the play by the use of real and imaginary blood. Both characters are
seen to have gone crazy by the end of the play with the image of blood playing
a big role in that.
Throughout the play the image of blood is used as a symbol
of murder and guilt in order to continue developing the character of Macbeth.
For example, “And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, which was not so
before. There’s no such thing: it is the bloody business which informs thus to
mine eyes” (II, i, 53-56). This exposes the fearfulness of Macbeth before he kills
Duncan; Macbeth sees a floating “dagger of the mind” that points him in the way
of Duncan’s room. The dagger becomes covered in imaginary blood, which is
foreshadowing to Macbeth murdering Duncan. Another example would be, “What
hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes! Will all great Neptune’s ocean
wash this blood clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather the
multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red” (II, ii, 76-80). Macbeth
thinks that his hands would stain the seas scarlet, turning the green waters
red. He has so much guilt that it is absolutely impossible to rid himself of it.
From this quote the audience starts to see the guilt consume Macbeth which will
eventually lead to his downfall.
The guilt that Macbeth feels, which is symbolized by blood,
is used to indicate many changes in his character that can be seen in the future
events of the play after Duncan’s murder. For example, “I am in blood, step’t
in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er”
(III, iv, 167-169). He says that now he is so far in that it would be easier to
keep going than to go back. This starts to show how Macbeth is no longer fearful
of the guilt that the things he has done has brought him, he is now more
accepting of it. The change in Macbeth is effectively represented by blood
imagery, much like the character transformations seen in Lady Macbeth.
The image of blood also reveals a lot about Lady Macbeth’s shift
in mental state throughout the play. For example, “My hands are of your color,
but I shame to wear a heart so white” (II, ii, 81-82). At first Lady Macbeth is
the one who plans the murder and who wants to go through with it. She even
tells Macbeth that he is too weak and pure and that he is a coward. Even though
they were both responsible for Duncan’s murder she ultimately feels fine. As the
play progresses Lady Macbeth slowly starts to feel the guilt until eventually
it consumes her. This is shown in act 5 scene 1 line 32 “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”. She has
started to see a spot of blood on her hand, even though it actually isn’t there.
This shows how the guilt has affected her state of mind and how she has changed
throughout the play. It is apparent that the image of blood is used to show the
guilt that leads Lady Macbeth down the path of becoming insane, changing her
from a murderer into someone who she made fun of Macbeth for being in the
beginning of the play.
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the role blood plays is to portray guilt.
This guilt leads to the dramatic shifts in the minds of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth.
Their hands are stained red from the blood the blood of the dead; Macbeth
suffers death by going too deep and too far in the blood that continues to
stain him, and Lady Macbeth is driven completely insane by a red spot on her
hand. By examining several examples of blood used as imagery, it is clear that
in Macbeth it is an essential part of revealing characterization.