Symbols in Macbeth – Macbeth Symbolism Overview

Macbeth Symbols Introduction

Macbeth takes place in 11th-century northern Scotland. The weather in this part of Scotland is often dark, cold, and damp, making for the perfect setting for this play about murder, intrigue, and madness. In fact, the play opens in the middle of a storm and this stormy weather continues for much for the play. Furthermore, a lot of the action of the play occurs at night.

During the course of this play, several motifs are used that contribute to the major symbolism found in the play. With the setting being so dreary, it follows that the motifs and symbols would play on this. Three major motifs are enhanced by this: hallucinating, violent acts, and prophecies. Hallucinations occur for multiple characters throughout the play and show the piercing effects of guilt. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both hallucinate as they are tormented by guilt over the murders they have committed. Violence is everywhere in Macbeth. Although a significant amount of the killings happen off stage, there will always been a gory retelling courtesy of one of the characters to count on. Violence ranges from killings on the battlefield, to killings as a result of greed or fear, to revenge killings. Finally, prophecies are a significant motif. The Three Witches provide the first prophecy which kicks off the violent actions of the play. Then, the Witches provide another prophecy later that fuels the action forward into more violence. Aside from the prophecy that Banquo’s sons would inherit the throne, all prophecies come true by the end of the play.

Symbolism in Macbeth

Here’s a list of major symbols in Macbeth.

  • The Weather
  • Blood

The Weather Meaning

what does the candle in macbeth symbolizeAs mentioned before, the weather has a major affect on the mood of the play. Much of the action takes place during storms or at night, which implies that a heavy gloom hangs over all the characters at all times. This increases emotions, irritability, and the dramatic effects of each murder.

Thunder and lightning is always present when the Witches show up, which symbolizes the chaotic energy that they introduce into everyone’s lives. On the night of King Duncan’s murder, terrible storms rage on, which heighten the effects of Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s hallucinations. Furthermore, the storms occurring as the king is murdered symbolize the destruction of Scotland’s political and moral order.

Blood Meaning

macbeth symbolism daggerHow is blood a symbol in Macbeth? As one of the most violent plays of its time, it comes as no surprise that blood is often found throughout the play, playing an important symbolic role in its meaning. From the very start of the play, the war battle between Scotland and the invading Norwegians is said to be a bloody one, which enhances the significance of Macbeth having bravely led his troops to victory.

Later, once Macbeth and Lady Macbeth start to descend into their violent and murderous tendencies, blood symbolizes their guilt. They see hallucinations and apparitions soaked in blood, leading them to feel stained by the guilt of what they have done. Lady Macbeth hallucinates blood on herself that she cannot wash off. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth feel stained by blood for the rest of their lives, until their guilt leads them into a total descent into madness.