Although Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do successfully respond to the circumstances presented to them by the Witches by becoming king and queen. However, being compelled to do terrifying acts against their own conscience also makes them vulnerable to their ensuing guilt, and this guilt begins to haunt and destroy them and eventually leads to their demise. This is when Shakespeare’s symbolism of guilt as blood becomes important for the development of his theme. When Macbeth returns from the killing of Duncan he says “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.”. This quote communicates just how guilty Macbeth feels about the act of evil in which he was just compelled to do, the hyperbole Shakespeare uses emphasize the fact that Macbeth will never be freed from his guilt. This guilt that now stains Macbeth in the form of blood and begins to haunt and destroys him. After Macbeth kills Duncan Macbeth hears a voice cry “Sleep no more!/Macbeth does murder sleep, -- the innocent sleep,…Macbeth shall sleep no more” . This voice is an incarnation of Macbeth’s guilt, and it makes it so that Macbeth can no longer sleep naturally, in Act three Macbeth when says “…these terrible dreams/that shake us nightly.” his guilt is already beginning to destroy him, and its effect is already sever enough that Macbeth is wishing himself dead, he says “Better be with the dead,… Than on the torture of the mind to lie/In restless ecstasy.”. When Macbeth sins again by killing Banquo, his guilt multiplies, this time it haunts him not as a voice but as the bloody ghost of Banquo. Again the blood is symbolic of Macbeth’s increasing guilt, and this time the incarnation of Macbeth’s guilt becomes much more real, it takes on a physical form in the ghost of Banquo rather than just a voice and provokes fear and physical reactions from Macbeth. Macbeth reacts by exclaiming “Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!/Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;”, displaying his fear obviously to Lady Macbeth and the rest of his lords. As well Macbeth says “Take any shape but that [the shape of Banquo’s ghost], and my firm nerves/Shall never tremble.”, this quote communicates the idea that Macbeth is powerless to fight his guilt, and he can do nothing to stop it from destroying his life. Later in the same act Macbeth says “I am in blood/ Stepped in so far that, should i wade no more,/ Returning was as tedious as go over.” , again the blood represents Macbeth’s guilt, and Macbeth realizes that he is too guilty to ever be redeemed and his only option is to continue killing. This is what eventually leads to the destruction of Macbeth, because his guilt forces Macbeth to continue killing, his sins eventually catch up with him and he is slain by MacDuff in revenge. Unlike Macbeth Lady Macbeth underestimates the power of guilt, and after the murder of Duncan she says “a little water clears us of this deed”. However, the full force of her guilt catches up with Lady Macbeth in Act 5, at this time her guilty conscience is already starting to impact her mentally, she begins to sleep walk and is becoming more and more mentally unstable. In one of her sleep walks she is seen rubbing her hands together profusely trying to wash imaginary blood from her hands, again blood represents guilt. As Lady Macbeth is trying desperately to rid herself of her guilt she says “Here’s the smell of blood still./All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” . Not unlike in Macbeth’s case Shakespeare also uses hyperbole to emphasize the fact the Lady Macbeth is also stained forever by her guilt. This guilt eventually destroys Lady Macbeth completely, driving her to commit suicide later in the same act.
Using the prophecies from the Witches, Shakespeare is able to present a special set of circumstance in which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are compelled to respond to. Utilizing the acts of evil that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth undergo in their response to these circumstances, and the resulting fate that befalls them, Shakespeare is able to clearly demonstrate his theme. That certain circumstance when coupled with one’s ambition is enough to compel one to do acts of evil, however, being compelled to act against ones conscience may leave one susceptible to guilt which eventually may bring about one’s doom.
Here's what a star student thought of this essay
Quality of writing
Unfortunately, grammar and punctuation remain the really problematic aspects of this essay. The student should review how to quote from plays - correct quotation mark placement and page references are few and far between. There are numerous run-on sentences. For instance, "... Macbeth will never be freed from his guilt. This guilt that now stains Macbeth in the form of blood..." and other similar structures should be grammatically reconfigured: "...Macbeth will never be freed from his guilt, which stains him in the form of blood..." The whole essay would benefit from a close proof-read in order to cut out unnecessary words and extra quotations that only serve as additional emphasis on points already mentioned.
Level of analysis
As it is blood as a symbol of guilt which is being examined here, it would have been prudent to sustain an engagement with how this manifests throughout the text, rather than bring it in near the end in an attempt to tie many plot moments and quotes under a hurriedly-identified literary device. It is the final paragraph which hints at a deeper capacity for analysis; if only that well-identified final sentence, regarding the tragic irreconcilability of ambition and conscience, had been a thread running through the student's argument from beginning until the end, this essay would have reached the next level of evaluation.
Response to question
This essay demonstrates a good understanding of Shakespeare's attention to the themes of ambition, guilt and the battling of the conscience with the will in Macbeth; however, the quality of the writing makes what is an essentially sound argument difficult to fully detect. Although the student's first paragraph is dangerously close to merely paraphrasing the plot developments in the first few scenes of the play, the third paragraph begins to bring some much-needed analysis to the moments of internal confusion and conflicting ambition described in the first two paragraphs. The student has understood the prompt, but adopting a structure which delves immediately into the examination of blood would have demonstrated this understanding earlier on.