stamp_of_macbeth_castle.jpgSymbols in Macbeth:
  • Blood, Dagger, Dead Children
  • Darkness, Evil, Light, Biblical Allusions
  • Animals, Chaos in Nature, Witchcraft
  • Temperature, Weather (Heat, Hot, Cold, Storms)

Darkness: evil nature of Macbeth (horrible deeds), the darkness in Macbeth’s heart. Relates to unnatural world and witches.
  • The cover of night is evoked by Shakespeare, anytime something bad is going to or has recently happened.
    • Starless night so that no one can see Macbeth’s intensions as they are laid out on his face
    • Lady Mac calls out for darkness so that her dagger cannot see the horrid act it is about to commit, stabbing King Duncan. Darkness here is linked to her ill intensions, “dark” act. (1.5.3)

Light: It is associated with God, goodness, divine will.
  • Lady Mac asks the dark and evil spirits to stop light from peeping into the dark of night-time. (1.5.3) She suggests that if the light had called to her “Hold, hold”, it was the only way she wouldn’t have killed Duncan. Also revisited when she goes mad, as she always wants a candle with her. Lady Mac needs the power of light to protect her from the dark and evil spirits she unleashed in Act 1. (5.1.4)
  • Blown out flames – associated with death. “Out brief candle out” Mac referring to death of Lady Mac. When Banquo is killed, there is only enough light from his torch for his murders to see what they are doing, once dead, his candle is snuffed. Death of Duncan, reported chimney smoke strangely went out.

Rebellion of Nature: against death of Duncan
  • Following Duncan’s death, we hear from Ross and Old Man that strange and unnatural things have been going on. Day as night – King’s power (sun) is usurped by Macbeth (darkness); Owls eating Falcons; Horses Crazy and eat eachother; storm at the beginning of play foretell the ill that will later come.

Blood: Bloody Daggers, Bloody Hands
  • Imaginary bleeding: floating bloody dagger of the mind (foreshadowing Mac’s destiny to kill King Duncan). Spots of blood on Lady Mac’s hands.
  • Blood symbolizing guilt. Even Neptune’s oceans can not wash the stains away from his hands.
  • “Blood will beget blood” said by Macbeth, when he sees Banquo’s ghost. He argues that once you have spilled so much blood, you might as well keep going.(3.4.24)

Dead Children
  • Witches cast the finger of a birth strangled baby into their cauldron at the outset of the play.
  • Malcom, Duncan’s heir is denied the crown by Macbeth who kills Duncan. We see that by the end of the play, order is restored and Malcom becomes king.
  • Banquo’s son Fleance is nearly killed by Macbeth’s murderers
  • Macduff’s son is murdered by Macbeth. Again emphasizing that since Macbeth has moved on to killing children, he is past the way of no return.
  • Prophecy of the witches: Bloody Child tells Macbeth that he will not die by the hands of any man of woman born.
  • Most of his killing of children is as a result of the prophecy he is given by the witches. He is angry that Banquo’s sons shall be kings.

  • Storm at Sea: suggests unpredictability of upcoming events. Describing Macbeth as a sailor at sea.
  • Confusion and Ambiguity:
    • "Foul is fair and fair is foul" ambiguous nature of the witches in Act 1 Scene 1
    • "look not like the inhabitants of the earth, / And yet are on it" Banquo's description of the witches. Unsure whether they can be classified as men or women, of this earth or not in Act 1 Scene 1.

Listen to the Folger's Insider's Guide to Macbeth

Macbeth's Soliloquy in Act 2