Macbeth and Blood


English 12


A motif is a recurring feature (such as a name, an image, theme or a phrase) in a work of literature. Shakespeare uses many motifs in Macbeth; one of the more obvious examples is blood. The blood motif acts as a unifying device by adding a constant to the hectic play. Blind ambition, one of the themes of Macbeth, is the main driving force of the repeated bloodshed. Macbeth thinks that he can get to the top by simply murdering his rivals, but he later discovers that it is not so easy to stay up there. In Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, the blood motif is shown by blood begetting more blood, bloody objects, and blood stains.


All of the bloodshed in Macbeth stems from one murder. Macbeth, with his blind ambition, decides that he must murder Duncan to become king. To insure that he remains king, he orders the murders of Banquo and Fleance, and later, of Macduff ’s household. Thus, the reader sees how "blood begets more blood." Even Macbeth realizes the truth to the expression when he says, "It will have blood, they say: blood will have / blood." (III.4.154‑155) Eventually, Macbeth realizes that he will do anything to protect himself (the murder of Macduff’s family), and that he has stepped so far into a river of blood it would make no sense to turn back when he says, "For mine own good / All causes shall give way. I am in blood / Stepped I so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er." (III.4.170‑173) At the end Macbeth is the source of the river of blood when an enraged Macduff kills him.


Blood is also represented in the most literal sense in Macbeth. In the beginning of the play Duncan first learns of the battle from a bloody soldier. "What bloody man is that? He can report, / As seemeth by his plight, of the revolt / The newest state." (I.2.1‑3) Macbeth is lead to Duncan’s bedroom by a bloody dagger. He says, "And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, / Which was not so before." (II.1.55‑56) After the murder, Macbeth’s clothes are covered in Duncan’s blood. The second apparition, conjured up by the witches, is a bloody child that tells Macbeth, "Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn / The pow’r of man, for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth." (IV.1.89‑92)


Both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth come to the conclusion that blood stains. Macbeth sees that blood stains in the most literal sense when after the murder of Duncan his clothes are stained with Duncan’s blood. The blood on his clothes washes out, but the blood on his hands never will. "Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No. This is my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incardine, / Making the green one red." (II.2.81‑84) Towards the end, the blood will not clean off the hands of Lady Macbeth either, "Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the / perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. / Oh, oh, oh! (V.1.49‑51)


There is always obvious evidence of a blood motif in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. First of all, the reader sees that "blood begets more blood," as numerous murders stem from the murder of Duncan. Second of all, blood is represented in the most literal form‑ a bloody soldier, dagger, and a child. Third of all, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth see that blood stains, and is not easy to remove. The blood motif acts as a unifying device to the play by bringing a constant to the crazy plot. The blood motif is in direct relation with blind ambition, as the latter causes the former.