Imagery In Macbet 2 Essay, Research Paper
‘Discuss the imagery in Macbeth by William Shakespeare’
Macbeth is the shortest of William Shakespeare’s plays yet contains more imagery than any other. It was written for James I of England (James VI of Scotland) and performed before him in 1606 at Hampton Court Palace. The play which contains five acts is based on a true story. In reality Banquo, one of King James’s ancestors helped to kill King Duncan, but Shakespeare changed this as King James may have found it offensive to have descended from the accessory to the murder. Shakespeare also incorporated witches into the play as the King was interested in witchcraft and to make the play more exciting for the audience. Shakespeare uses lots of Poetry in Macbeth as the Elizabethan audience enjoyed poetry. Macbeth also could be interpreted as a moral lesson: Regicide in Shakespeare’s time was viewed as the greatest of crimes – almost like killing god. In Elizabethan times, it was believed that the king was second in the hierarchy of society, bar god – ‘The divine right of Kings.’
‘Macbeth’ is the story of a mighty and ambitious warrior. He hears a prophecy that one day he shall be king. With this in mind Macbeth’s ambition leads him to murder King Duncan. Macbeth is elected King of Scotland but is an evil and unfair monarch. Lady Macbeth is even more ambitious than her husband, she pressures Macbeth into the murder without hesitation. Later on in the play Lady Macbeth becomes sick and obsessed with the murder as evil and greed overpower her and she finally commits suicide. As Scotland becomes sick, chaos and evil spreads to every corner of the kingdom.
Throughout the play images of sleep, light & dark, clothing, sickness & disease are repeated, at some stages they are overpowering and repeated. The images also highlight the appearance of opposites and parallels appearing, and help the audience to become involved in the play. Two key images are clothing and Light and dark. These images are both linked together and also link in with the theme of ambition. When Macbeth first hears the prophecy in Act 1, Scene 3 he does not believe it until Ross and Angus tell him of his newly acclaimed title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’. Here we first see the image of clothing -
“The Thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me
In borrow’d robes?”
Macbeth’s ambition grow as two of the three prophecies come true. Macbeth is at first uncomfortable in his new position of Thane as Cawdor but he does not yet know that the previous Thane of Cawdor was a traitor. The new robes are rightfully his. However, when Macbeth kills the king the robes do not belong to him. After the murder of the king in Act 2, Scene 2 Macbeth is elected King. But his new robes do not belong to him and do not ‘fit’. Macbeth should not be on the throne.
As the play progresses the audience realises that instead of being King, Macbeth would rather be on the battlefield in his preferred, natural clothing – armour. Later on in the play (Act 5, Scene 2) Angus – a Scottish Earl, points out that Macbeth’s new robes shall never fit him
“Those he commands move only in command,
Nothing in love; now does he feel his title
Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.”
Angus uses a metaphor of the ill fitting robe of command to show that a leader must rule by the autority of his person and the respect with which others love him and not by a mere nominal and empty authority, unmatched by a real moral presence.
The image of light and dark helps the audience to understand the play as they are quite simple to follow. Images of light are connected with symbols of purity, truth, openness and goodness, while darkness is associated with cruelty, evil, death and guilt. (The Elizabethans believed these same rules and this helped the audience of the time to relate easily to the images in Macbeth)
Like much in the play, Duncan first bring us to the attention of this simile in Act 1, Scene 4
“But signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine
On all deservers.”
Here Duncan is illustrating that light is a symbol of truth openness and goodness. In the same scene, Macbeth realises that Malcolm, the heir to the throne is also an obstacle in Macbeth’s path to the kingship, he speaks to himself:
“Stars, hide your fires!
Let not light see my black and deep desires;”.
Macbeth tells the stars to hide their fires it is because he needs the cloak of darkness to commit evil, he is afraid that light will reveal his evil. This same idea is repeated by lady Macbeth in Act 1, Scene 5
“Come thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,”
(this also ties in with clothing as Lady Macbeth wants a ‘blanket’ of dark.) Macbeth and lady Macbeth continue to share the same ideas about needing darkness to carry out evil deeds until the end of the play when Lady Macbeth is overcome by guilt. She fears the dark and keeps a candle by her at night. Before the murder of Duncan (Act 2, Scene 3), Banquo is aware of evil but does know what it is, he senses the cloak of darkness, but is tired and ignores his instinct:
“There’s husbandry in heaven;
Their candles are all out.”
When Macduff finds the murdered Duncan he cries to Lennox:
Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight
With a new Gorgon:”
(A Gorgon is a Greek word for Medusa and when Macduff discovers the King murdered, Macduff compares the sight of it to looking at a Gorgan.)
The recurring images of opposites such as: Good Versus Evil and Concealment Versus Revealing continue throughout the play. The play is also a reference to Good Versus Evil. Up to the end of play, Evil is winning the battle with Macbeth as King, but when Macbeth is killed the forces of Good triumph over Evil. Macbeth’s ill-fitting clothes are symbolic if a reign in which he is not fit to be King, the robes of Kingship rest uneasy on Macbeth’s shoulders. Just as Macbeth clothes do not fit comfortably , nor does his claim to the throne. Light and Dark is symbolic of Good Vs Evil and ultimately the triumph, of Good over evil as Macbeth’s bloody reign comes to an end.