‘Blood will have blood’ – The role and symbolism of blood in ‘Macbeth’

What is the role and function of bloody imagery in ‘Macbeth’? 

  • Representation of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s conscience
  • Imagery of blood constantly haunts their minds
  • Reflects changes in Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s characters


Thesis statement

Throughout Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’, the recurring imagery of blood is used as a symbol to demonstrate the constant feelings of guilt felt by the characters, ultimately leading to their endless feelings of fear and horror.


Quote 1

‘What hands are here! Ha! They pluck out mine eyes.
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.’
Act 2 Scene 2 lines 60-64


Context and meaning

The strong imagery of blood in this scene demonstrates his inability to remove the blood from his hands.
‘All of Neptune’s ocean’ represents the degree of guilt within Macbeth.
Guilt will always remain to haunt Macbeth as the image of the crime will always remain in his consciousness, causing him to experience greater remorse and fear.
The permanent change in colour from green to red in the seas, indicates that the guilt within Macbeth is everlasting.


Back to the thesis:

Blood symbolises the guilt within Macbeth after murdering King Duncan, causing him to experience eternal fear for the crime he has committed.



Quote 2

‘And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale!’
Act 3 Scene 2 lines 48-50


Context and meaning

Macbeth is obligated to conceal his thoughts and feelings of guilt to prevent further suspicion among other characters.
Oxymoron of ‘bloody and invisible hand’ also demonstrates a contrast between appearance versus reality by comparing guilt and innocence.
Strong imagery of blood on Macbeth’s hand symbolises guilt by showing level of cruelty.
‘Invisible hand’ is a representation of hiding the thoughts and feelings of guilt.


Back to the thesis:

Blood imagery is used to emphasise guilt due to the cruelty of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s crimes as they attempt to hide their constant fear and remorse from their sinful crimes.



Quote 3

‘Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest: I see thee still;
And on thy blade and dudgeon the gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing’
Act 2 Scene 1 lines 44-47


Context and meaning

His obsession with thoughts of murder causes his hallucination.
The ‘gouts of blood’ represent his guilt.
It foreshadows ‘bloodier’ visions.


Back to the thesis:

More blood, more guilt.
He is haunted by an unforgiveable sin which will lead to endless fear and horror.



Quote 4

‘Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! Oh! Oh!’
Act 5 Scene 1 lines 46-47


Context and meaning

Lady Macbeth is incapable of washing away her ‘bloody guilt’.
She is full of remorse and resentment.
The ‘smell’ of the guilty and shameful blood will never be ‘sweetened’.


Back to the thesis:

She is forever cursed by the ‘smell of the blood’.
She is drowned in immense guilt due to being haunted by fear and horror.



Quote 5

‘Out damned spot! Out, I say! One; two: why, then, ‘tis time to do’t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who know 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 1 lines 32-37


Context and meaning

Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking in Macbeth’s castle.
She sees blood that isn’t there.
She senses her own guilt and realises the mistakes she has made but is incapable of rubbing the blood off her hands.


Back to the thesis:

She made herself out to be a soldier, sexless, but now she is afraid.
She is in a dark place, alone.



Quote 6

‘This is a sorry sight.’ [Looking at his hands.]
Act 2 Scene 2 line 22


Context and meaning

Guilt overwhelms Macbeth immediately after the murder of Duncan.
The blood on his hands represents the severity of the murder and indicates his guilt.


Back to the thesis:

Macbeth’s guilt and realisation cause him to fear the consequences that he may face and other negative things that may come due to his actions.



Quote 7

‘Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there: go carry them, and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.’
Act 2 Scene 2 lines 49-51


Context and meaning

Macbeth brings back evidence of the murder – he can’t think straight.
Fear of suspicion.
Lady Macbeth plans to frame the guards.


Back to the thesis:

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth no longer share the same thoughts or actions. This denotes the beginning of the end of their relationship.



Quote 8

‘Blood hath been shed ere now, i’ the olden time,
Ere human statute purg’d the gentle weal;
Ay, and since too, murders have been perform’d
Too terrible for the ear: the times have been,
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now they rise again,
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,
And push us from our stools: this is more strange
Than such a murder.’
Act 3 Scene 4 lines 75-83


Context and meaning

Macbeth loses composure during his first formal banquet as King.
He tries to rationalise his actions.


Back to thesis:

Banquo’s bloody wounds make Macbeth feel guilty.
His loss of composure shows his fear and guilt in a public forum.




Other bloody quotes


‘If he do bleed,
I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal;
For it must seem their guilt.’
Act 2 Scene 2 lines 56-58


‘Be bloody, bold and resolute’
Act 4 Scene 1 line 79


‘For brace Macbeth – well he deserves that name –
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel,
Which smok’d with bloody execution’
Act 1 Scene 2 lines 16-18


‘It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood;
Stones have been known to move and trees to speak;
Augurs and understood relations have
By maggot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth
The secret’st man of blood.’
Act 3 Scene 4 lines 123-127


‘I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.’
Act 3 Scene 4 line 136-138


‘I think our country sinks beneath the yoke;
It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash
Is added to her wounds.’
Act 4 Scene 3 lines 39-41


Past exam questions on Bishop

‘Bishop uses highly detailed observation, of people, places and events, to explore unique personal experiences in her poetry.’
Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with reference to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on your course.

‘Bishop’s carefully judged use of language aids the reader to uncover the intensity of feeling in her poetry.’
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the above statement? Support your answer with reference to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on your course.

‘Elizabeth Bishop poses interesting questions delivered by means of a unique style.’
Do you agree with this assessment of her poetry? Your answer should focus on both themes and stylistic features. Support your points with the aid of suitable reference to the poems you have studied.

‘Reading the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop.’
Write out the text of a talk that you would give to your class in response to the above title.
Your talk should include the following:
– Your reactions to her themes or subject matter.
– What you personally find interesting in her style of writing.
Refer to the poems by Bishop that you have studied.

‘The poetry of Elizabeth Bishop appeals to the modern reader for many reasons.’
Write an essay in which you outline the reasons why poems by Elizabeth Bishop have this appeal.

‘Introducing Elizabeth Bishop.’
Write out the text of a short presentation you would make to your friend or class group under the above title. Support your point of view by reference to or quotation from the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop that you have studied.