Bad Blood in Macbeth
ENG IV: British Literature
12 November 2013
Bad Blood in Macbeth
Blood is a common symbol or motif in many literary works mainly because there are so many different ways to incorporate blood into a story. In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, blood is referred to in a variety of ways–both positive and negative–including Decius’ reinterpretation of Calpurnia’s nightmare about a bust of Caesar flowing with blood; Decius claims that the blood spouting from Caesar’s bust is a rejuvenating blood symbolizing new life for a chaotic Rome. Also in Julius Caesar, the blood-smeared hands and arms of the conspirators as they march through the streets after killing Caesar is a symbol of freedom and liberty. Furthermore, the blood on Caesar’s tunic as revealed by Antony at the funeral speech is a symbol of the conspirators’ treachery and deceit. Interestingly enough in Shakespeare’s Macbeth,whenever blood is mentioned in the play, it always refers to something evil,treacherous or cruel.
(I just want to kill him!)
The very first thing King Duncan says in the play is “What bloody man is that?” (I.2.1). Duncan is referring to the Captain who is reporting to the king and whose bloody face is a sign that he has just returned from battle—a dangerous occupation.
When Lady Macbeth calls on the murderous evil spirits to fill her with “direst cruelty” (I.5.53) to help fulfill the deed of killing Duncan, she asks them to “[m]ake thick my blood” (I.5.44). She is asking to be possessed of enough daring to complete her evil task. Later in Act I, Macbeth repeats the plan that he and Lady Macbeth …
(She’s no better than that bastard!)
… must carry out to cover up the killing of Duncan when he says, “Will it not be received, / When we have marked with blood those sleepy two/ Of his own chamber, and used their very daggers, That they have done’t?“ (I.7.74-77). Macbeth will kill Duncan with the knives of Duncan’s drunken attendants and make it look like they were the murderers making sure that Duncan’s blood is smeared on the attendants’ sleeping bodies with the bloody daggers at hand.
(That’s sloppy. I would get my hands on some polonium if I could.)
In Act II, Macbeth’s guilt continues to gnaw at him as he cries out these words after seeing Duncan’s blood on his hands, “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.3.58-62). There is so much blood on Macbeth’s hands—both literally and figuratively—that had he washed his hands in the sea, the sea would turn from marine green to blood red.
(I don’t think he is even aware of his own ineptness even though he has no experience, not to mention the guilt. She knows her own guilt no doubt. They are a perfect pair. In bed together.)
Later in Act II, Malcolm and Donalbain, sons of the murdered King Duncan, agree to flee Scotland:
Malcolm: What will you do? Let’s not consort with them. / To show an unfelt sorrow is an office / Which the false man does easy. I’ll to England.
Donalbain: To Ireland, I; our separated fortune /Shall keep us both the safer. Where we are / There’s dagger’s in men’s smiles; the near in blood, / The nearer blood.
Duncan’s sons cannot trust anyone and fly from Scotland before any of their own blood can be shed.
(If I do this, where would I go? Though I would be a suspect if I fled.)
In Act III, Macbeth sees the bloody face of the ghost of Banquo at the banquet table and commands, “Thou canst say I did it. Never shake / Thy gory locks at me” (III.4.51-52). The word “gory” can be read as “bloody” as Banquo’s face, head and hair (“locks”) are covered in blood as only Macbeth sees it. Soon after leaving, Banquo’s ghost returns and Macbeth exhorts, “Let the earth hide thee! / Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold” (III.4.94-95). Macbeth’s guilt is too much to handle.
(I am not thinking mass murder here. I just want to rid myself of those two boneheads. I really did love her. I still do. Then he enters the picture. Principal Jackass. What a joke. He has absolutely no administrative experience. Was a history teacher for God’s sake! Screws up faculty moral with his stupid projects and procedures that never have any follow through. We are sick of it! That handsome, tall bastard took my Eileen away. Assistant Principal Jackass Lover. She can go to Hell for all I care!)
In Act IV, Macduff laments the fate of Scotland when he cries, “Bleed, bleed, poor country” (IV.3.31) because the country is now ruled by cruel Macbeth, an “untitled tyrant bloody-sceptered” (IV.3.104).
( Jackass! More like a benevolent dick-tator! I can’t even say his name!)
Lady Macbeth, in her sleepwalking state in Act V, tries to summon the bloody drops from her hands as if by a charm or magical command when she yells, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” (V.1.37).
(I will give you an “out,” Jackass Lover!)
She blames Duncan for the ever-stained hands when she says, “Yet who would have thought / the old man to have so much blood in him?” (V.3.42-43).
(Not for long J. and J. Lover! I can’t even say their nicknames!)
As outlined above, the symbolism and motif of blood is a major writing convention in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. There are many more examples of the use of blood in the play, but upon investigation, unlike as in Julius Caesar, the mentions of blood always refer to something evil, treacherous or cruel.
Nicely done, Allison! This is clearly one of the best essays on Macbeth I have read in all my years teaching high school kids. What a joy to read. Please add page numbers, indent your paragraphs, and center your title.