In the year 1040, Macbeth and Banquo, two victorious generals, meet three, mysterious witches on a heath in Scotland (Leggatt). The witches predict that Macbeth will one day be King of Scotland. They tell Banquo that his son will also sit on the throne. Urged on by his wife, Macbeth kills King Duncan and is declared king. Fearing the second part of the witches’ prophecy, Macbeth has Banquo killed (Leggatt). When Duncan’s son Malcolm raises an army to oppose Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, tormented by guilt, commits suicide. Macbeth is then killed by Macduff, and Malcolm is crowned king.
Figurative language also adds to this development. Some prominent techniques in Macbeth include imagery, metaphor, simile, personification, antithesis and irony. All these techniques help us to expand the meaning beyond the literal level, connecting characters and actions to much larger cosmic and philosophical issues. Many passages, for example rely on images crafted into similes and metaphors that develop the theme of deception by articulating contrasts between appearance and realty (Leggatt). Lady Macbeth warns Macbeth before Duncan’s murder:
Your face, my name Thane, is a book, where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in our eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like th ’innocent flower,
But be the serpent under’ it.
Her references to books, serpents, and time convey the necessity for false appearances. Other metaphors help to express the mental struggles underlying this conflict between outward actions and inward intent. Lady Macbeth attempts to overcome Macbeth’s reservations about murder by invoking the image of a soldier screwing the cord of his crossbow for war: “But screw your courage t the sticking – place,/ And we’ll not fail” (1.7.61 – 62). Later Macbeth articulates his anguish and insecurity about Banquo by adapting the serpent metaphor:
We have scotch’d the snake, not kill’d it:
She’ll close, and be herself; whilst our poor malice
Remains in danger of her former tooth (3.2.13 – 15)
Animal images and personification appear frequently throughout the play to intensify the darkness, violence, uncertainty, and humanity surrounding the crimes of the two main characters. These and other figures of speech add richness and texture to the relentless, linear action of plot. Furthermore, dogs in this play emblematized ion renaissance for their loyalty are ironically appropriate animals for Macbeth, whose loyalty to his king has failed but who wants to evoke that emotion in the desperate men before him.
The clothes imagery runs throughout the passage; the body of the king is dressed in the most precious garments, the blood royal itself; and the daggers too are dressed – in the same garment. Clothing imagery has several implications in this play. Macbeth has to change from battle to battle behavior to civilian behavior. He finds this difficult. He brings his murderous ideas from war into peace. He has just unseamed or unstitched the rebel Macdowald. He should now change from his armor and sword and put on new clothes of peace (Leggatt). However, because of his success in battle, he is willing to try on clothes the witches offer him of being King of Scotland. After all, he has just saved Scotland from the enemy and rebel attack. In this scene, Macbeth’s thoughts are described as though they were bodies that could be dressed in new clothes. He is thinking about being a king, although he is not king: he is trying on new garments that he would like to have. It is also worth noting that the clothes they wear are supposed to be a disguise. This is because they have been carefully clothed to play a part. Banquo uses a clothing metaphor to explain Macbeth’s strange mood. New clothes feel odd.
Macbeth is full of imagery of light and darkness. From the first, the cover of night is invoked whenever anything terrible is going to happen. Lady Macbeth, for example asks “thick night” to come with the “smoke of hell,” so her knife might not see the wound it makes in the peaceful sleeping king. The lateral darkness Lady Macbeth calls for seems to correspond to the evil or “dark” act she plans to commit. Essentially, darkness itself is a symbol of powers of darkness, of which in her guiltiness Lady Macbeth is now terrified. Darkness is twice invoked during the hours before Duncan’s murder. In these invocations the context suggests awareness on the first of Macbeth, then Lady Macbeth, of the turpitude of what they plan to do by night. It speaks of plans which are evil and morally wrong. Lady Macbeth’s invocation is more violent as it sets heaven and hell in opposition, and declares her allegiance to the powers of darkness.
In conclusion, the value of imagery has been utilized in great depth with regard to literature. This enables the reader t be able to understand the concept in a clear and succinct way. In the case of Macbeth, the author enables the reader to understand what is happening. This is because the reader is able to utilize the images in a manner that adds flavor and pragmatism in the play.
Leggatt, Alexander. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth: a sourcebook. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2006.