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Animal Imagery in Macbeth

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In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare uses animal imagery to develop the theme of reversal of moral disorder. Macbeth's murder of the king causes moral disorder to himself, and natural disorder amongst the land. This disorder is not reversed until the catastrophe of the play, when Macbeth is beheaded in the final confrontation with Macduff. Shakespeare's application of animal imagery characterizes Macbeth to show his moral disorder, aids to the symbolism which helps in presenting the chaotic aspects of the play, and presents other important themes that work alongside the theme of moral disorder. The use of animal imagery is often used to characterize Macbeth, which in turn brings out the theme of moral disorder. Shakespeare uses animal imagery to show the audience Macbeth's valiance at the start of the play. In the exposition of the play Shakespeare uses the comparison of a lion and an eagle to describe Macbeth. But, as the play progresses Macbeth is compared to an owl and eventually is called a hell-hound. The comparison is effective in introducing Macbeth as a heroic character in order to present his downfall through immorality. This downfall of Macbeth and his corruption by evil is made apparent by Shakespeare's usage of imagery in the rising action. After Duncan's murder, it is mentioned, "And Duncan's horses - a thing most strange and certain...'Tis said they eat each other" (Macbeth 2.4, 16-23). ...read more.


Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy, nature is mirroring what is happening in the human world. The owl killing the falcon is echoing Macbeth murdering Duncan. The audience can comprehend that as king Duncan was said to be a fair king, Macbeth's kingship will be foul and he will be unfit for the responsibilities of a king. Through the comparison, we can tell that King Macbeth is small and meek just like an owl, while the late King Duncan was noble and respected, like a falcon. The owl killing a falcon, Macbeth murdering Duncan, and having an such an unfit king are all forms of moral disorder. The symbolism of the owl helps the motif of sleeplessness form, which develops the disorder. The fact that the owl is a nocturnal bird shows Macbeth's cowardliness, as having to hunt during the night when most other creatures are asleep foreshadows Macbeth's future actions as a king. The nocturnal habit of owls is important with the motif of sleeplessness as Macbeth says he has had trouble sleeping at night. Shakespeare's idea that sleep is a natural process pushes Macbeth further into the realms of unnaturalness and develops the moral disorder. Shakespeare reiterates the image of the owl throughout the play to the point where it could be said that the owl is Macbeth's familiar spirit. ...read more.


For a king to be left without choices, like a low-class citizen, would not happen and an opposite of the natural order. Also, the comparison of Macbeth to Duncan's horses progresses the theme of fate and damnation. Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as a rebel, and this is effective in showing the audience that Macbeth will face the same fate that the traitor, Macdonwald, did. These two other themes of natural versus super-natural and of fate and damnation aid in the advancement of the theme of moral disorder as they point out the irregularities of character's actions and they expose the opposites of which was considered normal. Throughout the whole play, Shakespeare builds upon the theme of moral disorder, and not until the end of the play does the moral disorder become reversed. Macbeth begins to regret the choices he has made, Macbeth returns to his former role of an individual who kills on the battlefield and not by hiring murderers, sleep finally returns to Macbeth because of his ultimate demise, and peace is restored throughout nature because of his death. Shakespeare's constant use of animal imagery indirectly develops the theme of reverse of moral order through characterization, symbolism, and development of other themes. Shakespeare's function of the imagery he uses is broad. It not only develops themes, but develops the story as well as creating a picture in the audience's mind through words and while simultaneously helping the audience achieve a deeper understanding of the characters and play. ...read more.

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