Comment on the imagery in ‘Macbeth’ Essay

In ‘Macbeth’, Shakespeare has produced some very powerful images that can, and definitely did, induce certain emotions in the audience. The play to an Elizabethan audience would have been both scary and horrifying. The way Shakespeare achieved this was through the use of the imagery of- clothes, light and dark, the unnatural, blood, animals and disease. The opening scene with the witches is full of imagery, such as the storm and dark weather. This is important because the opening scene is the scene that captures the imagination of the audience and persuades them to stay.

One of the most obvious themes in ‘Macbeth’ that recurs throughout the play is the theme of clothing. Clothes are used as metaphors for positions of power, with titles and Thane-ships being described as robes- “The thane of Cawdor lives, why do you dress me in borrowed robes?” (Act 1 Scene 3) In this section of text Macbeth is basically trying to find out why the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’ is being given to him if the current thane is still living, it is just that the metaphor of clothes is being used, in this case ‘robes’. Just a few moments later while Macbeth is contemplating what the witches prophecy means in the light of what has happened in the last section, Banquo murmurs- “New honours come upon him like our strange garments.” (Act 1 Scene 3) Yet another reference using clothes as a metaphor, this time instead of ‘robes’ Shakespeare has used ‘garments’.

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As mentioned before there are still another 5 main images that recur throughout the play and the next is ‘light and dark’. For the Elizabethan actors there were very few fancy props and scene changes that could be made as they are in modern plays, this forced them to use candles and torches to their best effect. The light cast by a candle is not all that bright but does in fact cast a large shadow. Effective positioning of these candles could place an actor either in a pool of light in the same fashion of a spotlight or in the shadow accentuating the dark side of that character. The shadow that a candle casts on a persons face is important for the following reason, unless many candles are used, candlelight only lights one half of a character’s face.

The way this works is like this, the light comes in from one direction as shown but the bridge of the nose creates a shadow. This effectively splits the face into two sections, light and dark. The half of the face that is I illuminated represents the side of the character that is, or has the potential for, good. It also has the more practical effect of showing the audience who is acting. The darker side of the face would signify the darker side of the character, especially to the Elizabethans. Another important point is the stage direction used in the first scene with the witches ‘thunder and lightening’ the dark atmosphere with brief flashes of light, combined with the witches themselves, would create a fearsome period of the play for those watching. Shakespeare realised this and that is why his plays were so popular with ordinary people.

Following on from that but staying with the witches is the theme of the unnatural. It is an obvious idea to us now, to connect the whole idea of the witches as unnatural. But this was a subject on which the Elizabethans were very sure of themselves about, witchcraft. Instead of rejecting the whole idea as preposterous the Elizabethans saw only the ways in which they received their power as unnatural but not the entity of a witch and what he/she is or was. Macbeth also sees as what is happening in the play as unnatural with regards as to the wound he deals to Duncan when he says “Look’d like a breach in nature for ruins wasteful entrance” (Act 2 Scene 3) Macbeth also describes what he has done as ‘breaking open the Lords Anointed Temple’. After this the unnatural events just continue to become more and more outrageous-an owl kills a falcon, the horses eat each other, the earth has a fever and shook, and to top it all day became night. The greatest worry of Macbeth was the idea that he had murdered sleep itself, by convincing himself of this idea he deprived himself of sleep, making him lose his sanity.

There are another three obvious themes to the play-Blood, Animals, and Disease. However it is not necessary to cover them all so the last one will be disease. It was the general idea in the play that a disease was affecting all of Scotland. The differences come when the Scots decide what the disease actually was. Macbeth’s firm belief was that the disease was the English! The more common view was that Macbeth himself was the disease that was pillaging their beloved Scotland. In fact Malcolm urges Mac Duff to “make us a medicine of our great revenge, to cure this deadly grief” the deadly grief of course being Macbeth. Macbeth’s thoughts on the sickness of Scotland were very much centred on a cure. This shows us his desperate need to be relieved of the constant worry and pressure to which he condemned his life, and by killing the king, his eternal soul.

In conclusion, Shakespeare uses different images to give analogies, to put words to things that a normal person finds so hard to grasp. To do this he used metaphors such as clothes so that more people can understand and enjoy the play. For example, Macbeth needs the familiar feel of his last life instead of his new one “I have bought golden opinions of all sorts of people” Shakespeare expresses this by making Macbeth change into his old armour which represents his old warlike life. He does this to make his ideas more accessible to an audience of little understanding.