Macbeth Symbolism and Imagery





Macbeth

In "Macbeth" William Shakespeare employs his skills in imagery and symbolism. The landscape of "Macbeth" reveals the contours of the title character\'s psychological turmoil. Churning with self-doubt about his determination, his ability to connect word and act, and his sexual potency, Macbeth is a man at the mercy of his environment. The inability to sleep is symbolic of a tormented soul and represents a character\'s control over their lives. The imagery of darkness in Act 4 is used to describe the agents of disorder. Within "Macbeth" Shakespeare demonstrates imagery and symbolism through Macbeth\'s self-doubt, his inability to connect word and act, sexual potency, sleep, and darkness.

On the heath of Scotland at the opening of the play, the wind whips over the barren ground and lightening leaps down from the sky around the subjected, weak man who will come to kill a king. Radical change is effected in Macbeth\'s character over the course of the play; he is driven from subordinate confusion to tyrannical insanity. The fluidity of his own psyche is reflected in the fluidity with which the characters around him take up dynamics that reflect his inner fears and worries. Macbeth\'s relationship to the witches in Act 1 Scene 3 and his wife in Act 1 Scene 7 especially resonate with his inner psychic state. Both relations reveal important currents of Macbeth\'s diseased mind.
The witches in Act 1 Scene 3 create a dynamic which flatters Macbeth in an attempt to convince him to kill Duncan. They flatter him in two ways. First, the witches greet Macbeth as a superior, "all hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee Thane of Glamis." (1.3.46). This honorific salutation, "hail," is reserved for the great leaders of men, not subordinates like Macbeth; who at this point in the play is only a vassal of King Duncan. The only other instance in which one of the characters in the play is greeted by "hail" is when Malcolm takes power at the end of the play after Macbeth\'s head is chopped off (5.8.78). Never outside of Act 1 Scene 3 is it used to refer to Macbeth. The witches greeting to Macbeth also flatters him by differentiating him from his peer Banquo. While Banquo at this point in the play is an equal of Macbeth, Banquo is not greeted at all. The witches do not even refer to Banquo until halfway through the scene; after he begs them to prophesize about his future.
In Act 1 Scene 7 Lady Macbeth cuts Macbeth down in order to convince him to kill Duncan. She insults him in two ways. First, she attacks his masculinity. She tells Macbeth that he is not actually a man when Macbeth tells her that he doesn\'t want to kill Duncan: "What beast was\'t then / That made you break this enterprise to me? / When you durst do it, then you were a man." (1.7.47- 49). Lady Macbeth equates masculinity with the ability to be violent; thus her attack resonates not only with Macbeth\'s fears about sexuality, but also about his inability to act. The effectiveness of her words is revealed when Lady Macbeth\'s words are echoed in his own mind and he begs Lady Macbeth to stop harassing him, "Prithee, peace." (1.7.45). Macbeth\'s insecurities about his ability to commit murder is fascinating because it is almost a mirror of Lady Macbeth\'s own self-hatred in Act 1 Scene 5, when she herself begs to be unsexed so she can no longer feel remorse.
Lady Macbeth\'s second way of insulting Macbeth is to tell him that he doesn\'t keep his word. Lady Macbeth claims that Macbeth has broken his word to kill Duncan. To Lady Macbeth, the inability to keep one\'s word is an affront. She tells Macbeth that she in contrast would keep her word. In order to illustrate this point she says that even if she said she would take a baby and, "have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums / and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn / As you have done to this." (1.3.57-59). Loyalty to one\'s word, thus, becomes contrasted to loyalty to one\'s king. By splitting his loyalty, Lady Macbeth exacerbates Macbeth\'s fears about his relationship to Duncan and to his words that already exist as