The Guilt That Never Goes Away: The Meaning and Effects of Blood in the play Macbeth

The Guilt That Never Goes Away: The Meaning and Effects of Blood in the play Macbeth

In Macbeth, the word "blood" is used repeatedly to describe scenes of brutal murder and to represent guilt; while also proving that when this blood or guilt is not entirely gone, it is reintroduced to haunt the individuals who do wrong. In the play, the murderous husband and wife team, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, kill several individuals to rise to power. Along with these murders come sadness, a sense of wickedness, and, metaphorically, blood. In the play, Macbeth and his wife both find that when the blood or guilt they carry from their actions does not fade away, it becomes a carried weight that drives them to insanity. In this context, blood is not just part of a crime. Instead, it takes on a more pronounced role by affecting those who engage with it. In the play, Macbeth, Shakespeare uses the word "blood" to symbolize guilt, while also alluding to the idea that when this guilt has not vanished or been washed off, it begins to haunt the ones who are confronted with their reality. 

Shakespeare explores the murders committed by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth while symbolically connecting the word "blood" with their crimes to signify the feeling of guilt. Toward the beginning of the play, Macbeth is promised the position of a king by three strange witches who share with him prophecies of his future. However, in order to usurp this position, he must first murder the current leader, Duncan. One evening when Duncan is sleeping at their estate, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth murder him. Before she commits this crime, Lady Macbeth prays for the alleviation of guilt. She attempts to eradicate any evidence which leads to her wrongdoings including her hands which are full of the king's blood: "'Out, Damned Spot! Out, I Say!-one, two. Why, then, 'tis time to do' t. Hell is murky!--Fie, my lord, fie!"' (Macbeth Act 5, Scene One, LINE NUMBER). Here, Lady Macbeth is having trouble removing Duncan's blood from her hands because this blood is representative of her feelings of guilt for murdering him. The author uses the phrase "damned spot" to show that this "spot" of guilt is permanently placed on her bare skin. Furthermore, Lady Macbeth attempts to yell, "Out, I say!-one, two," with the hope of making this spot suddenly disappear, but neither scream nor a means of begging for forgiveness can remove the stain of guilt which will forever lie on her hand. When she realizes the spot of blood does not wash off, Lady Macbeth becomes even more frightened with her comprehension: "A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him." (Act 5, Scene One, LINE NUMBERS). Here, Lady Macbeth is trying to convince herself of her own innocence by asking the question who can blame her for being the guilty party for Duncan's murder. The author uses the phrase "when none can call our power into account" to emphasize this point. Ironically, she claims that no one can place this guilt on her, even when the guilt or the blood is already laying on her skin. Additionally, the author uses the phrase "who would have thought that the old man had so much blood in him" to demonstrate that a large amount of blood or guilt that was once in Banquo's body has now been permanently moved to the hands of Lady Macbeth. 

Shakespeare explores the meaning of blood behind the murders committed by Macbeth while also alluding to the idea that when this blood or guilt has not been removed, it seeps into the mind of Macbeth and causes him to hallucinate. When Banquo, an old best friend, decides to use the witches' prophecies to push Macbeth out of power, Macbeth decides that he must kill Banquo. He fears what Banquo knows about his motivation and perpetuation of past murders. After murdering him, Macbeth tries to cover up his guilt by trying to wash his hands from his friend's blood: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood. Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red." (Macbeth Act II, Scene I, Lines 55-61). Here, Macbeth is saying that not even the most magnificent "Neptune's ocean" can wash the blood, or guilt from his hands. Macbeth's guilt is so paramount that it has the power to transform the appearance of the ocean. The author uses the phrase "my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine" to exemplify that even the most massive and grand of seas could not purify his guilt. The phrase "being caught red-handed" perfectly fits Macbeth's situation. Not only is he physically caught red-handed or caught being guilty, but this physical guilt quickly presents itself mentally: "I see thee still, And on the blade and dudgeon, gouts of blood, which was not so before. There is no such thing. It is the bloody business which informs Thus to mine eyes" (Macbeth Act II, Scene I). When Macbeth continues to recount Banquo's murder and his guilt behind it, he starts to hallucinate and go insane. In his initial hallucination, he imagines a situation where he must fight another individual who is trying to kill him. He then notices a detail on his sword which appears to stand out. The author uses the word "gouts of blood" to emphasize this detail. Here, "gouts of blood" is used to show that the first thing he sees in front of him is the many droplets of blood on his sword. These drops are symbolic of the tiny pieces of guilt which continue to build up in Macbeth's mind. Significantly, the droplets of blood are the first thing he notices because guilt is also the first thing that fills his mind. Ultimately, it is this constant reminder of tiny droplets of blood (guilt) that accumulate both physically and mentally driving Macbeth to a state of hallucination and insanity. 

Similar to Macbeth, when the physical blood or guilt on Lady Macbeth's hands does not come off, it begins to take a toll on her mental state, eventually leading to her suicide. After Lady Macbeth murders Duncan, she begins to go insane. Therefore, a doctor stays with her with the purpose of observing her every move. One night, when the doctor is watching her rest, she begins to sleepwalk. During her sleepwalk, she reenacts the steps to Duncan's murder and even washes her hands full of Duncan’s blood. The doctor claims that she scrubs her hands for hours, but it is not satisfied with the result: "What is she does now? Look how she rubs her hands...I have known her to continue in this for a quarter of an hour. Yet here's a spot" (Macbeth 5.1). Guilt consumes Lady Macbeth's mind all day and every day. She even has nightmares about removing this blood (guilt) and scrubs her hands for "a quarter of an hour." The author uses the phrase "quarter of an hour" to accentuate the fact that Lady Macbeth is quite troubled by the blood (guilt) on her hands. In her nightmare, she spends an abnormal amount of time trying to wash it off. However, this blood will not come off because it is permanent guilt, and because Lady Macbeth now understands this, she begins to have these nightmares. Furthermore, her nightmares are more terrifying than most because they involve physically acting out the memories of wrongdoing. The doctor even says, "look at the way she rubs her hands," to show how truly hard Lady Macbeth is working to abolish this guilt. Despite her many attempts, Lady Macbeth cannot entirely abolish this guilt, and therefore, it sits manifesting in her brain. This manifestation drives her to suicide: "Of this dead butcher and fiend-like queen (who are 'tis thought, by self and violent hands, took off her life)" (5.8,81-83). The author states that it was "self and violent hands" that "took off her life," and he uses the word "hands" because her guilt first started manifesting when she could not thoroughly wash off the blood from her "hands." She scrubs her "hands" for hours, trying so hard to eradicate the guilt and evidence. When she first murdered Duncan, the guilt was placed on her hands, and in the end, she uses these same hands to kill herself.

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