Blood Imagery In Macbeth

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Aug 141990

The Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth is filled with references to blood and gore. Three of the many functions which this blood imagery serves are to set the tone in the various scenes, to pace the wave of action throughout the play, and to characterize the nature of the death and killing in the play.

Frequently, blood sets the mood or tone in the play. When Duncan’s body is found, “his silver skin laced with his golden blood” sets a tone of horror for the rest of the scene. (II,ii,102) Although this particular imagery also sets a tone of reverence for the assassinated ruler, its main purpose is to fill one with disgust for the vile deed. This objective holds true throughout the play. When the witches recite the gory ingredients of their stew, the putridness of it is horrifying and disgusting. The witches’ bloody apparitions top off this feeling for the scene in which they appear. Blood, therefore, often sets the tone in the various scenes; and the tone most often established is one of horror and disgust.

A pattern established in Macbeth is that after each murder there is an abundance of blood imagery. The play, which had before a murder been moderately paced and subdued, is swept away in a flood of blood and gore after a murder occurs. For example, before Duncan’s murder there was very little mention of blood (except for the imagery in Act I, Scene II, which serves to foreshadow the action and killing to come); but afterwards, blood imagery literally flows wild. Donalbain is told “the fountain of [his] blood is stopped”; Lennox reports of Duncan’s guards being “badged with blood”; all “question this bloody piece of work”; and Donalbain warns his brother Malcolm, “the near in blood,/ The nearer bloody.” (II,iii,88,91,118,130) All of these images occur in but one scene. After Banquo’s murder there is a cluster of references to his blood and to his mangled body. Macbeth and the murderer speak of Banquo’s blood being better outside of the murderer’s body than inside of Banquo’s. Also, the murderer tells Macbeth of Banquo’s body lying in a ditch “with twenty trenched gashes on his head.” (III,iv,27) Then Banquo’s ghost appears, shaking its “gory locks” at Macbeth. (III,iii,51) Last, the play peaks with Lady Macbeth’s imagined blood and with the battlefield’s literal blood. These blood images form a sort of crescendo which conglomerates all of the murders. Thus, because the blood imagery is so prevalent during and directly after each murder, and because it then tapers off before the next murder, it paces the wave of action in the play.

Third, blood imagery characterizes the nature of the death and killing that occurs within the play. Macbeth is called “brave Macbeth” when he is unseaming the traitorous Macdonwald “from the nave to the chaps”; yet he is described by Macduff as “an untitled tyrant bloody sceptered” after killing Duncan, the rightful monarch. (I,ii,22;IV,iii,104) Also, Banquo’s murder is negatively characterized when Macbeth remarks to the murderer about Banquo’s blood: “‘Tis better thee without than he within.” (III,iv,14) Macbeth is no longer brave and honorable when saying this to the murderer; he has become the deceitful traitor that Macdonwald was. The killings are good when it is the enemy being dispatched; but when it is Macbeth’s liege, friends, and relatives being murdered, the killings are wrong, evil, and treacherous.

Blood imagery, by setting the tone, pacing the wave of action, and characterizing the nature of the death and killing, works to unify the action within the play. The blood begins to flow and a wave of action builds as murder occurs. Then, the images of blood and reeking gore set a tone of horror over the horrible killing of a friend and relation. This unification is constant throughout Macbeth. Blood images build up and become more frequent as Duncan is murdered, and the images instigate feelings of horror and disgust about this deceitful assassination. The same pattern holds true for both Banquo’s killing and the murder of Macduff’s family. When the blood flows quickly, so does the action.

Hamlet’s “Problem”

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Jan 201990

Over the years, many critics and scholars have written their opinions of Prince Hamlet’s “problem” in the Shakespearian tragedy The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Some of these people hold the belief that Hamlet is insane and that he delays in enacting his revenge upon Claudius for murdering his father and committing incest with his mother. Actually, the truth of the matter is that Hamlet is quite sane and he, in fact, goes about his revenge as efficiently as circumstances permit.

To begin with, it is important that Hamlet’s sanity be well established, as this is important in proving that he acted as quickly as possible in accomplishing his revenge. After first speaking with the Ghost, Hamlet comes right out and states that he will “put an antic disposition on” and tells Horatio and Marcellus to play along with his charade of madness. (I,v,197) Later, when he says, “They fool me to the top of my bent,” he is again clearly stating that he is putting on an act. (III,iii,391) Lastly, when he confronts Gertrude in her chambers, he declare that he is “essentially… not in madness.” (III,iv,209) Hamlet thereby proves his sanity by frequently declaring that his madness is all an act. Also, he gets into a number of contests of wit and often speaks quite profoundly during the play. For example, a simple discussion with Guildenstern provokes Hamlet to say that “though/ [Guildenstern] can fret [him], [he] cannot play upon [him],” meaning that Hamlet is sane enough to be wary to Guildenstern’s attempts to manipulate him. (III,ii,378-9) As another example, when he begins the confrontation with his mother, he is speaking cleverly by twisting her words into accusations. As a last example, when he is speaking with Osric, Laertes’s courtier, he toys with words and gets into a lengthy contest of wit. Therefore, it is clear that Hamlet is very much in control of his mental faculties because he declares clearly and often that he is putting on an act, and because he subsequently makes shrewd observations and arguments which draw from his keen wit.

It is important that Hamlet’s total objective be understood. If he had wanted to simply kill Claudius, he could have done it in Act I, scene 5 and the play would have been over. This, however, is not the case. Hamlet’s total objective is not only to see that Claudius is killed for his crimes, but is also to see that he is sent to Hell. Therefore, Hamlet goes about his total goal with as much efficiency as possible. The foremost objective in his pursuit is establishing his “insanity” in Claudius’s mind. This is done to prevent Claudius from suspecting any ill motives on Hamlet’s part. After spending a sufficient amount of time setting this “insanity” up, Hamlet immediately sets his second action in motion: determining the validity of the Ghost’s accusations. He does this by staging a scene in a play depicting his uncle’s dispicable actions and watching to see if Claudius’s “occulted guilt/ [Does] not itself unkennel.” (III,ii,81-2) When, at last, he is sure that Claudius is relatively unsuspecting, and that the Ghost’s story is true, then he begins to pursue Claudius’s demise. Even though he’s had a lot with which to deal, he is able to persevere at an efficient rate towards Claudius’s death. He even is willing to risk joining in with pirates in order that he may return to Denmark to kill Claudius. Though he has the chance to kill Claudius when Claudius is praying, he gives it up to wait for “a more horrid heat” so that Claudius’s “soul may be as damned and black/ As hell, whereto it [will go].” (III,iv,91,97-8) When Hamlet finally does kill Claudius, he does so when Claudius is lying about Gertrude’s passing out from the poisoning; and, thus, Claudius is doomed to the Hell to which Hamlet had wanted him sent. Therefore, it is clear that Hamlet went about his revenge as swiftly as circumstances allowed him, always keeping his total objective in mind.

So, Hamlet is, in fact, not insane but is actually of sound mind and he goes about his total objective with as much haste as possible, given the circumstances of his plan. He feigns maddness as a minute part of his elaborate plan to not only kill Claudius, but to also assure Claudius’s damnation.