Shakespeare's Imagery
Shakespeare's powerful imagery has never been more apparent than in Macbeth.
He begins the play with a startling image of three witches chanting in a furious
thunderstorm, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air" (1.1.10-
11). The eerie chanting creates a dark, mysterious tone that leaves the reader feeling
uncomfortable and expecting odd and evil things to happen. Later, when Macbeth and
Banquo come across the three weird sisters, the underlying evil creeps back up when
Macbeth says, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen," and Banquo comments, "What are
these So withered, and so wild in their attire, That look not like the inhabitants o' th' earth"
(1.3.38-41). Again the tone is one of dark uncertainty. The reader is forced to pay close
attention through the connotations of pure evil, and Shakespeare uses the opportunity to
relay early in the play Macbeth's motivation and other important information that will
determine the character's fate. The act ends by introducing the evil incarnate character
Lady Macbeth, whose ambition is communicated in her soliloquy, "...unsex me here, And
fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full Of direst cruelty!" (1.5.41-43). Her plan to
make her husband king brings the evil, dark, cold tone full circle for the desired effect of
intriguing the reader and kicking the play into high gear. The tone's effectiveness can be
felt in the reader's desire to proceed deeper into the evil thoughts and developing plots of
the drama.
Act II begins the recurring image of Macbeth's struggle with his decision. His
soliloquy in which he says, "Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my
hand? Come let me clutch thee...A dagger of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from
the heat-oppressed brain?" (2.1.33-34,38-39). He clearly is not comfortable and the tone is
somber and depressing. Lady Macbeth does not seem to share her husband's anxiety, but it
continues to show when he says, "How is't with me that every noise appalls me?...Will all
great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine" (2.3.57,59-61). The image of him on his knees
agonizing over his actions strikes hard and clear and the tone is one of remorse and a
wishing for a chance to change the past. The act ends with a feeling of uneasiness as
Malcolm and Donalbain leave the country, and Ross and Macduff converse about the old
king's death and the crowning of Macbeth. Macduff says, "Well, may you see things well
done there. Adieu, Lest our old robes sit easier than our new!" (2.4.37-38). The image of
concern for the future and the implied uneasiness hints that not all is well in Scotland. The
somber, remorseful, and uneasy tones are effective in sending the reader on an emotional
roller coaster with the characters and changing the reader's feelings from character to
character. The tone helps one formulate opinions about each character based on how they
respond to the tone. For instance, Lady Macbeth becomes the most hated person in the
play due to her complete insensitivity and all around disregard for human life. She stands
out against a background of subjects mourning their king.
Act III resorts to the images of evil and insanity of Macbeth. The act begins with
the murder of his best friend, which is a good indication of his state of mind. He is
constantly in fear, and it shows with, "Ours fears in Banquo stick deep, And in his royalty
of nature reigns that Which would be feared...There is none but he Whose being do I fear"
(3.1.49-51,54-55). The image created is Macbeth trembling, plotting in his castle as to
how he can protect himself. The tone is urgent and calls for immediate action. Also the
feeling of a conspiracy develops, which in fact does happen. The most powerful image is
of Macbeth at a dinner gathering when the ghost of the murdered Banquo appears in his
seat. He speaks strong words into thin air, "Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake Thy
gory locks at me" (3.4.50-51). The shocking image breaks through the building tension as
Macbeth cannot hold in his secrets much longer. The tone has become a bit confused as
was the room in which the events took place. The act ends with a return to the dark,
mysterious, evil tones of the witches and their leader. The witch scene signals the
beginning of the downfall, and the tone becomes more