The Role of imagery in Macbeth


If a picture tells a thousand words, than imagine the importance of an image upon a play as short as Macbeth. In any literary work, it is extremely important that the author can effectively manipulate a reader?s feelings towards a character. In Macbeth, that feat is accomplished magnificently by Shakespeare. Through his skillful use of imagery, Shakespeare shows us a deeper look into the true character of Macbeth. Though imagery is widespread throughout Macbeth, it is most dominant in clothing imagery, light and darkness imagery, and blood imagery. Through these images, Shakespeare shows the development of Macbeth?s character.

Using clothing imagery, Shakespeare develops Macbeth?s character. This is evident, as, imagery of clothing shows us Macbeth?s ambition, and the consequences thereof. We see this ambition, through Banquo, when he says, "New honors come upon him, / Like our strange garments, cleave not to the / mould" (Shakespeare, Macbeth I, III, 144-146 ), meaning that new clothes do not fit our bodies, until we are accustomed to them. Throughout the entire play, Macbeth is constantly wearing new clothes (titles), that are not his, and that do not fit. Hence, his ambition. This ambition, as we see, is what leads to his demise. When Macbeth first hears the prophecy that he will be King, he does not see how it can be so, "to be king / Stands not within the prospect of belief" ( I, III, 73-74). However, Macbeth?s ambitious nature becomes visible when he considers murdering King Duncan to claim the throne, "If it were done, when ?tis done, then ?twere well / It were done quickly" ( I, VII, 1-2). His ambition is encouraged by Lady Macbeth, of whom attempts to convince him to commit this crime, and lay claim to the throne. He is reluctant however, as Macbeth states, "I have bought / Golden opinions from all sorts of people, / Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, / Not cast aside so soon" ( I, VII, 32-35). Macbeth compares being recently named the Thane of Cawdor to a new set of clothes. He believes that he his not ready to be king, and thus not ready for a new set of clothes. He states that the clothes that they have, should be worn for a little while longer. However, Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth otherwise, and he proceeds, and murders King Duncan. This is due to his ambitious nature. As Macbeth first believed, he is not ready to be king at this time. This is evident when Angus states, "his title / Hang loose about him, like a giant?s robe / Upon a dwarfish thief." (V, II ). We see here how the Macbeth that has become King greatly differs from the Macbeth that defeated the invading armies in the beginning of the play. This shows us that Macbeth has changed drastically, due to his ambition, as is seen through imagery of clothing.

With Shakespeare?s use of light and darkness imagery, we see development in Macbeth?s character. This is apparent as, darkness, which symbolizes evil, provides us with a deeper look into Macbeth. We see this in Act II Scene I, which is opened by the immediate announcement that it is past midnight, "I take?t, ?tis later [than midnight], sir" ( II, I, 3 ). During this dark night, we see how Macbeth is a moral coward. This is evident as, he is undecided as to whether or not to kill King Duncan, and he needs to hallucinate that a dagger is leading him towards Duncan in order to commit the crime. Through this hallucination, we see that Macbeth?s ambition gets the better of him, and appears to have control over him. He gives in against his moral conscience, and commits the horrible crime. During this same night, after Duncan?s murder, we also see how Macbeth changes into a cold-blooded killer. While the cruel murder of King Duncan took much convincing, by both Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth himself, he proceeds to murder both of Duncan?s guards without hesitation. This shows us how during this night, Macbeth changes greatly. Using the image of light, we also see Macbeth?s character develop. Although the sun only appears to be present on two occasions, the literary significance of these occurrences is great. Ironically, both examples of the sun, as light imagery, occur when the ?good? king approaches Macbeth?s