Imagery in Macbeth

In addition to the main groups of images which help to develop the main themes of the play, there are others which contribute to the atmosphere or mood of the play.

Large cluster images combine to make the prevailing atmosphere of Macbeth one of gloom, evil and violence. Even when the blackness is relieved by flashes of colour, these have sinister associations, since the dominant colour is that of blood.

The most memorable scenes are those of darkness; Duncan is murdered in his sleep; Banquo, as ‘light  thickens’. The two great speeches of ritual dedication to evil are full of images of darkness (I:IV:37, II:I:49). After Duncan’s murder, day turns to night (II:IV).’Hell is murky’ says Lady Macbeth during her sleep walking scene, an association between evil and darkness. The witches are ‘secret, black and midnight hags.’

The animal images of the play reinforce the impression of gloom. ‘Good things of the day begin to droop and drowse/Whiles night’s black agents to their prey do rouse.’ (III:II)There are images of a ‘hell-kite’ eating chickens, a devouring vulture, a wren fighting for the life of its young, small birds fearing snares and a bear tied to a snake fighting to the very end.

There are over a hundred references to blood such as daggers, swords and hands covered in it; the bleeding sergeant; Banquo’s twenty gashes, his appearance ‘blood bolter’d’.

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