Imagery In Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
Macbeth – Imagery Russell Doherty
Imagery of clothing in a way is associated with the imagery of Appearance and Reality, but it has a specific relevancy of its own. Macbeth’s new honours do not all fit him, as they belong to someone else. Some critics say that he is being pictured as a ’small’, dishonourable man, degraded and hindered by garments unsuited to him. Others say that he is magnificently great, but not noble, and is, at times, a poor, vain, cruel man, climbing over the dead bodies of friends and kinsmen to a power he is unfit to hold. However, whether the clothes are large or small, the point is that they do not fit him, because they are not his; they have been stolen. A hypocrite is one who hides his real nature under a disguise. It is said that Macbeth hates to show himself as a hypocrite, and that he does it badly. In Act I,Sc.iii, he asks Angus, who has addressed him as Thane of Cawdor, “Why do you dress me in borrowed robes?” At this stage he is reluctant to accept any honour to which he is not entitled. This underlines the change that will come over him later when he murders Duncan for the Crown. In the same scene Banquo says, “New honours come upon him Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould But with the aid of use.” Perhaps he is complimenting Macbeth in suggesting that new honours make Macbeth feel awkward. It is ironical that the Crown never really ‘fits’ him. In Act I,Sc.vii, Macbeth says “…and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people, Which would be worn now in their newest gloss Not cast aside so soon.” Here he is proud of his new clothes and happy to wear what he has really earned. He does not wish to replace them with clothes stolen from Duncan. But Lady Macbeth replies, implying that he has already worn them in anticipation, “Was the hope drunk Wherein you dress’d yourself?” The point she is making is that the drunken hope is a poor and ill-fitting garment.
The clothes images are paralleled by a series of ‘masking’ or ‘cloaking’ images which are changes of the garments that hide his evil side. Before Duncan’s murder, “False face must hide what the false heart doth know”, also, before Banquo’s murder, “Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day”. In Act I,Sc.v, Lady Macbeth, in her invocation to the powers of darkness, repeats Macbeth’s ‘aside’ in the preceding scene when she says, “Come thick night, And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell”. After Duncan’s murder Banquo says, “And when we have our naked frailties hid, That suffer in exposure, let us meet “. Macbeth takes up this in an ironical sense, “Let’s briefly put on manly readiness” (which for him, is the hypocrite’s garment). In Act II,Sc.iv, Macduff says in reference to the coronation of Macbeth “Well, may you see things well done there; Adieu Lest our old robes sit easier than our new.” Here may have a premonition of the tyranny of an unlawful King. In Act V, Sc.ii, Angus says of Macbeth, “Now does he feel his title Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief”. The image of clothes and the masking of true meaning are used throughout the play and symbolises the depth, which the play has to it.
The theme of Appearance and Reality, when mentioned in the play are at least partly based on the ides of deception. Examples of imagery here include Lady Macbeth’s advice to Macbeth, “look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t” (Act I,Sc.v) and Macbeth’s words, “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” In Act III,Sc.ii, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that they are, “Unsafe the while that we Must have our honours in these flattering streams, And make our faces wizards to our hearts, Disguising what they are.” In Act I,Sc.iii, when he has been told that he is now Thane of Cawdor, he comments, “nothing is but what is not.” After the murder of Duncan, Malcolm whispers to Donalbain, “To show as unfelt sorrow is an office Which the false man does easy.” (Act II,Sc.iii) In the following scene Ross tells the Old Man of the strange upset in Nature, “…by the clock ’tis day And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp (i.e. the sun).” In the Ghost scene (Act III,Sc.iv) Lady Macbeth points out to Macbeth that this Ghost (which she cannot see) is the “very painting of your fear” and “O, these flaws and starts” are just “Impostors of true fear.” In Act IV,Sc.iii Malcolm observes to MacDuff, “Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.” He is pointing out that, although people may appear to be virtuous, they may in reality be vicious.
Imagery of disease and corruption comes late in the play but is then extensively used. It applies to Scotland and to Macbeth and the agents of Good are seen as an antidote to the sickness that Evil has brought, or as the Doctors who will overcome it. In Act I,Sc.vii Macbeth speaks of the “Bloody instruments which, being taught, return to plague the inventor”. He realises that violence is a disease that it feeds upon itself. In Act IV,Sc.iii Malcolm referring to Scotland, says, “It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash Is added to her wounds”. In the following scene the Doctor speaks of the King of Scotland who can cure the ‘evil’ (the King’s evil). There may be a notion that Scotland needs a physician – Malcolm himself perhaps. In the Sleepwalking scene (Act V,Sc.i) the Doctor says of Lady Macbeth’s illness, “This disease is beyond my practice” and of “infected minds” that tell their secrets to their pillows. He considers that she needs a spiritual physician to cure her. Here the agents of Good are her only hope. In Act V,Sc.ii Caithness points to Macbeth’s “distemper’d cause” (unhealthy cause) and urges Menteith to march to meet “the medicine (doctor or antidote) of the sickly weal (state), And with him pour we, in our country’s purge, Each drop of us.” In the following scene it says that Macbeth is “sick at heart” and later in the scene he asks the Doctor, in reference to Scotland to “find her disease, and purge it to a sound and pristine health”. Ironically, Macbeth does not recognise that it is he who is Scotland’s disease.
Imagery of light and darkness is clearly related to the conflict between Good and Evil. It is associated with symbolism because in the play light represents Good and darkness, Evil. The Witches, who also symbolise Evil, set their meeting for the “set of sun” (Act I,Sc.i). Later, in Act IV,Sc.i, Macbeth refers to them as “black and midnight hags”. Banquo warns Macbeth against believing the words of the Witches, “The instruments of darkness” (Act I,Sc.iii) In nominating Malcolm as his successor (Act I,Sc.iv), Duncan equates nobleness with the stars and, almost immediately Macbeth, in an ‘aside’, calls on the stars to hide their fires so that light will not see his “black and deep desires”. Again in Act I,Sc.v, Lady Macbeth calls on “thick night” to wrap itself in a blanket of darkness so that she might not be seen in the act of murder. Before the murder of Banquo, Macbeth calls on the “seeling night” to “Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day” (Act III,Sc.ii). He says, too, “Good things of the day begin to droop and drowse While night’s black agents to their prey do rouse.” In Act II,Sc.i Banquo tells Fleance, “there is husbandry in heaven, Their candles are all out.” This suggests that Lady Macbeth’s and her husband’s call to darkness has been answered, that darkness covers their evil deeds. After Duncan’s murder Ross asks the Old Man why “darkness does the face of earth entomb, When living light should kiss it.” This may imply that Evil temporarily dominates Good. Macbeth, in Act v,Sc.v, speaks of light as a “brief candle” and of life as “a walking shadow”, and admits, “I gin to be aweary of the sun”. This may be a reflection of his awareness that Good (the sun) is gaining the upperhand in its struggle with Evil. This imagery is not strikingly new, but it is consistently used in the play and aptly emphasises the Theme of Good versus Evil.
Ultimately imagery plays a large part in the play with it?s hidden depth, unusual meaning and structure to sentences. I feel Macbeth himself is a man of depth and mystery as there is more to him than is written in the play. He is a complicated battle hero who shows signs of intelligence and strength, but towards the end of the play Macbeth shows signs of weakness and an inability to control his anxiety and insanity hidden beneath his hard, soldier exterior. I feel the play is wonderful in the way that the language and it?s meaning is not simple, but has hidden depths to it.