Imagery in Macbeth
Shakespeare’s Effective use of Imagery to Display Powerful Themes “Fair is foul and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air. ” (1. 1. 11-12). This famous chant lies in the opening scene of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, providing dark evil imagery to evoke the senses and set a tone for the play. Images are strong sensory techniques that can be used as a basis for much further development in any piece of literature. A black cat, a dark alley and a stormy night are all modern day symbols of mystery and evil doings.
Authors often times use these or similar images to embellish the plot by designing a setting or giving the characters more depth. More significantly, images provide a solid ground which gives underpinning to important themes of the writing. William Shakespeare very skillfully uses imagery to support prevalent themes of his drama Macbeth. Poison of the mind, the power of ones thoughts and hypocrisy are all significant themes carried throughout the play by effective use of imagery in reference to serpents, ghostly visions and ill-fitted clothing.
Powerful images creep through the tragedy at every scene to construct a venomous atmosphere of false virtue and self-deceit. To start, Shakespeare effectively uses serpent imagery to illustrate the idea that power may act as a virus that poisons the mind and leads to moral and self-destruction. For instance, the power that Macbeth achieves through the violent act of murdering Duncan acts as a disease embedded into his mind that warps and twists his thinking.
His only focus now is what evil acts must be done in order to ensure that his crown is safe. He expresses these poisonous thoughts when speaking to his wife about his idea to exterminate those threatening his title “O, full of scorpions is my mind. ” (3. 2. 36). The powerful image of scorpions crawling through his brain, injecting their venomous thoughts effectively demonstrates how power can act as a poison that challenges moral thinking and sets people on a wrath of destruction.
By providing a very sinister, wicked image of the diseased mind a common theme of the poison in power is successfully illustrated to the reader. Similarly, Lady Macbeth emphasizes the idea that in order to carry out those actions necessary to maintain such power they must possess poisoned blood “look like the innocent flower/ But be the serpent under’t. ” (1. 5. 64-65). This striking image that compares Macbeth to a serpent enhances the suggestion that his strive to maintain authority has transformed him into a toxic creature with venomous blood.
Such compelling imagery gives the reader a sense of his sickly soul, thus further amplifying the idea that supremacy acts as a sickness that infects the mind and disrupts moral judgment. In summary, the use of serpent and poison imagery firmly expresses a central idea of the play; power is a virus that contaminates the mind and leads to moral and self-destruction. In the same way that Shakespeare uses imagery to emphasize the idea of power acting as a virus, he also makes use of images to portray the theme that the physical world (reality) is not always as real as the thoughts in one’s mind.
First of all, as Macbeth is preparing the murder of King Duncan his innermost thoughts come to life when his anxiety gives rise to the hallucination of a dagger, the handle pointed to him and the blade aimed at Duncan. In a soliloquy, Macbeth expresses his confusion when he is unable to clutch the blade “Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses, or else worth all the rest. ” (2. 1. 43-45). The vision is so strong to him that Macbeth is unable to determine whether his eyes are incorrect or his other senses (such as the sense of touch) are failing him.
The ghostly vision and Macbeth’s heavy belief in what clearly isn’t there illustrates the power in one’s thoughts compared to the reality of the universe, further highlighting a key theme of the play. Furthermore, Macbeth experiences an even more passionate response to illusory thoughts when he believes to see the ghost of Banquo sitting at his place the night of his feast. At the sight of the ghost, Macbeth loses all sense of reality and begins speaking to the ghost amid all of his guests; “Prithee, sit there!
Behold! Look! Lo! How say you? Why, what care I? If thou cans’t nod speak too. ” (3. 4. 69-70). Once again, the way Shakespeare depicts the power of these visions to Macbeth through his ghost imagery better reinforces the strength of our internal thoughts. Shakespeare’s use of ghost imagery, and more notably Macbeth’s strong reaction to them, positively expresses the theme of one’s inner thoughts providing a stronger reality than the physical world.
In a similar fashion to the way Shakespeare applies ghost imagery to depict an idea of the strength in one’s innermost thoughts, he effectively constructs the lesson that hypocrisy goes against nature and will not work in the long run with his use of clothing imagery. The clothing imagery is used to demonstrate that the persona Macbeth is attempting to possess is not actually his; the moral standards he claims to have as a loyal King do not match with his actions. For example, when Macbeth is given title Thane of Cawdor, he asks Angus “Why do you dress me in borrow’d robes? ” (1. . 108-109), indicating that they are literally not his, they belong to the current Thane of Cawdor. However on a more symbolic level, the image of these borrowed robes demonstrates that Macbeth’s honors do not really belong to him. They have been borrowed, even stolen and he should not possess such a title. Thus, the clothing image helps to emphasize the idea that false virtue is unjust, further developing a major theme in the drama. Also, the clothing imagery throughout the play aids in revealing this theme by hinting at the idea that Macbeth’s new title does not “fit” him right.
For example, in act 5 when Angus speaks of Macbeth “Now does he feel his title hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe/ Upon a dwarfish theif. ” (5. 2. 20-22), the reader is given a very awkward an obscure image, revealing Macbeth as a small, dishonorable man covered in garments that are unsuited to him. This advances the thought of Macbeth standing as a fraud; his clothing is not tailored to his size just as his personality is not tailored to the position he holds.
He does not belong in that position of power, he should not be in that position of power and the obscure image if ill-fitted clothing really proves the idea that this is not right, it is unnatural. In short, Shakespeare’s use of clothing imagery helps to develop a central theme that hypocrisy is against nature, further emphasizing his ability to illustrate prevalent themes through images. Evidently, Shakespeare utilizes a variety of images to effectively illustrate the important themes of Macbeth.
His use of poison imagery to display the virus of power, ghostly images to portray strength in one’s innermost thoughts and clothing imagery to demonstrate that hypocrisy goes against nature are all examples of the way Shakespeare employs this technique. This cunning use of words that appear to the senses give the reader a powerful picture to provide further understanding of underlying themes already present in the writing. Such a method of writing has since been used by many other authors to enhance their writing and better depict significant themes.