Shakespeares Macbeth is a story taken from Scottish history and presented to the Scottish king James I. Shakespeare took this gory tale of murderous ambition, however, and transformed it into an imaginative tale of good and evil. Shakespeare brought about this transformation by relying upon imaginative verbal vigor that imbeds itself in the brilliantly concentrated phrases of this literary work. Critics have dubbed it his darkest work, along with King Lear. In his critique of Shakespeares works and plays, Charles Haines describes Macbeth as one of Shakespeares shortest plays, containing just 2,108 lines. He further states that it is a vigorous, headlong drama, a relentless spectacle in red and black. (Haines, p. 105) This red and black spectacle reveals itself to the reader and audience through the use of blood imagery. Blood, or the imagery attached to it, appears 42 times in this play. This imagery of blood begins as a representation of honor and progresses into one of evil, then guilt, and finally returns to represent honor.
The symbolic use of blood roots in the opening lines of Macbeth when Macbeth accepts honor for his bravery in battle. Duncan sees the injured captain and says, What blood is that? (Act I, Scene 2 line.1) The captain says that Macbeths sword smoked with bloody execution. (Act I, Scene 1, line. 20) Here the captain describes Macbeths sword that is dripping with warm enemy blood and steaming in the cold morning air of the battlefield. The blood on the sword signifies valiant fighting by a brave soldier. At this point, King Duncan glorifies Macbeth. The bloody sword gives birth to this reverence. In his unique style of presentation, Shakespeares two references to blood allude to the honor that Macbeth earns in battle for his king. This was the highest of honors for a soldier. At this point, he becomes brave Macbeth. King Duncan rewards his bravery and victory by giving him the title of Thane of Cawdor. Ironically, this title was available because the previous Thane of Cawdor experienced execution for treason. Therefore, the first bloodshed earned Macbeth respect and a title. (123helpme.com, PG 1)
After this advantageous victory, Macbeth listens to the three witches as they make predictions of the immediate future. Macbeth and his lady then set forth a chain of events to bring about the predictions of these three weird sisters. Shakespeares use of blood imagery then begins a rapid descent to reach the point where blood warns of deep evil, treachery, and murder. The use of blood imagery also allows the audience to imagine the true gruesomeness of King Duncans murder. In Act II of Macbeth, the soliloquy describes how Macbeth plans to murder the king. He describes in detail what he will see.I see thee still, and on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, which was not so before. (Act II, Scene 5. Line1) The dudgeon of a dagger is the hilt of the dagger (123helpme.com, pg. 1) Therefore; Macbeth is describing a sharp dagger, covered in thick blood from its tip to the hilt. One can easily visualize the crime scene and the victims body after such a dagger has been plunged into it several times. These deep wounds, the length of said dagger, become the points from which King Duncans lifeblood will spill. This particular description relies on its imagery to reveal the transition from honor to that of pure evil and treachery. No good intent, honor, or victory can attach to such a vile act. Blood imagery now intensifies an atmosphere that is thoroughly evil. It exposes the evil plans and actions that have come to dominate the characters of Macbeth and his lady. Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to make thick my blood. (Act I, Scene 5, line. 50) She is asking the spirits to leave her remorseless and insensitive about the murders she and Macbeth will soon commit. To feel insensitive to such treachery would expose a heart of pure evil. Both she and Macbeth reach this lowest depth at different times during Shakespeares short play. Macbeths character becomes more treacherous as ambition drives him further and further away from the honorable character portrayed in the beginning lines.