Blood and Water

In William Shakespeare's masterpiece Macbeth, he uses many motifs. Two of these motifs are

blood and water. The play is full of images of blood and water, to show the characters' attitudes toward

their own guilt at each stage. Both motifs mature and change in their meaning along with the setting and

mood of the play. The functions of both are important if the subtleties of the play are to be understood.

Blood symbolizes honor, treachery, and guilt. Water symbolizes cleanliness of the soul, as though all it

takes is water to wash guilt away. While reading the play, it is noticed that blood comes up repeatedly. This

is important to the overall effect of the different usages in the play.

The word "blood," or different forms of it, is found forty-two times in the play, along with several

other passages dealing with the symbol. The symbolism of blood strangely follows the change in the

character Macbeth. Macbeth is first a soldier, very highly revered by the King Duncan. As the play

progresses, Macbeth's demeanor and personality declines, as does the meaning of blood. Blood is then

viewed as a symbol for treachery and bloodshed, along with the various forms of guilt. The first reference

of blood is one of honor, and occurs when Duncan sees the injured captain and says "What bloody man is

that?"(I, 2, ln.1). This mention of blood is symbolic of honor, for the brave fighter has been injured in a

glorious and ardent battle for his country. In the next passage the captain says that Macbeth's sword ". .

.smoked with bloody execution"(I, 1, ln.20), with this he is referring to Macbeth's braveness in which his

sword is steaming because it is covered in the hot blood!

of the enemy on the cold morning of the battle. This function is important because it shows that at this

point in the play the word blood is used as a sign of fighting valiantly. It is a sort of pride to have a

bloodied sword, or have bled in battle for your king.

After blood has been referred to a few times with reference to honor, the symbol of blood now

changes to show a theme of treachery and treason. Lady Macbeth begins the change when she asks the

spirits to "make thick my blood, "(1, 5, ln.50). What Lady Macbeth is saying is that she wishes to be

remorseless and insensitive about the murders she and Macbeth will soon commit. Also in this area the

symbol of blood is changes to one of guilt. Lady Macbeth knows that the evidence of blood is a treacherous

symbol, and knows that if they are found with bloody daggers they will be hanged for their betrayal of the

king, so she tells Macbeth to "smear the sleepy grooms with blood."(II, 2, ln.64), and Macbeth replies "If

he do bleed, I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal /for it must seem their guilt."(II, 2, ln.72-3). When

Banquo states "and question this most bloody piece of work,"(II, 3, ln.150) and Ross says "is't known who

did this more than bloody deed?"(II, 4, ln.31), they a!

re both inquiring as to whom performed the treacherous acts upon Duncan. Once again, blood is used as a

sign of guilt. Both use blood as a mark upon a person which would point them out as a sure suspect for the

killing of Duncan. Whoever has the blood of Duncan on them is guilty of treason, and more importantly,

they are guilty of the murder.

It is also here where the theme of water is first brought in. Macbeth is fretting about the fact that it

was he who killed the king, and he was beginning to regret the choice he made, saying "Will all great

Neptune's ocean wash this blood /clean from my hand?"(II, 2, ln.78) Lady Macbeth, still sure that they will

never be caught, says "A little water clears us of this deed."(II, 2, ln.86) This shows that the function of

water is to be used as a symbol for an element which can absolve a person of all guilt. This is important

because it seems to be the counter, or the antithesis of blood, where one is a sign of guilt, and the other