The Meaning of Blood: Honour, Evil, and Guilt
The famous 17th century poet Oscar Wilde once wisely stated “when liberty comes with hands dabbled in blood, it is hard to shake hands with her.” This statement illustrates the connection made by modern and historical society between blood and evil/guilt. Hands spotted with blood are often punished as the hands of the culpable, but can also be celebrated as the hands of the honourable. Blood imagery is a prominent motif in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and is used by the playwright to reveal character and develop themes. More specifically, we observe blood imagery as being used initially as a symbol for honour, progressing into one of evil and treason, and eventually guilt.
The first use of blood imagery in Macbeth is to highlight honour and bravery. Particularly, we observe Shakespeare using blood imagery alongside brave soldiers or courageous acts in battle. This is demonstrated in the second scene of the play, as Duncan watches a wounded soldier approaching him on the battlefield. He asks his men, “What bloody man is that?” (1.2.1) and is informed that this is a “good and hardy soldier” (1.2.5). This quotation is the opening line of the second scene of the play, and is therefore important for establishing theme; it also introduces the first imagery of blood. By referring to the soldier as “bloody”, Duncan associates the valiant, honourable soldier who has been injured for his country with the image of blood, consequently equating blood with honour. Furthermore, the soldier continues to describe “brave Macbeth” (1.2.18) and his acts of bravery, as well as his sword, which “smok’d with bloody execution”(1.2.20). The mention of blood is once more linked to an act of honour and gallantry, as the soldier is telling the other men how Macbeth destroyed a traitor to Scotland. Imagery of colour and blood is also used to portray honour. Even after blood imagery has been transformed from a symbol of honour...
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