Symbols and Motifs in Shakespeare`s Macbeth

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SYMBOLS AND MOTIFS IN
SHAKESPEARE’S MACBETH
SYMBOLS AND MOTIFS
A symbol is something which represents a more
important idea or concept.
Motifs are symbols that occur frequently in a
text.
The motifs in Macbeth are:
• Blood
• Nature and the weather
• Darkness and Light
• Sleep
SLEEP
In Macbeth, sleep often symbolises death, illness and relates strongly
to both guilt and betrayal.
• In Act 2, Banquo is troubled by the three witches’ prophecy and tells
Macbeth this, referring to difficulty sleeping.
• Learning from Banquo that King Duncan is asleep, Macbeth, alone,
follows an imaginary dagger to King Duncan’s bedchamber where he will
kill him in his sleep.
• Macbeth fears that he won’t sleep again, because only the innocent sleep.
• After Banquo’s murder (and Macbeth’s vision of the ghost
), Macbeth’s
wife comforts him and suggests that he rest to recover himself.
•
When Lady Macbeth is nearing her death, she becomes so overcome by
her guilt that she is unable to sleep, or walks in her sleep.
BLOOD
Blood is everywhere in Macbeth, beginning with the
opening battle between the Scots and the Norwegian
invaders, which is described in harrowing terms by the
wounded captain in Act I, scene 2
Once Macbeth and Lady Macbeth embark upon their
murderous journey, blood comes to symbolise their guilt,
and they begin to feel that their crimes have stained them
in a way that cannot be washed clean.
NATURE AND ITS DISTURBANCES
In Macbeth, much of the plot revolves around disorder
and chaos, whether the characters or audience realize it or
not.
Because of the constant struggle for power in the play, the
nation is always at risk of disorder. If a strong leader is not
present, many things can go wrong very easily and very
quickly.
Disorder causes problems for many people, the king
included. Signs of disorder include a solar eclipse, an owl
killing a falcon, and Duncan’s horses running wild and
eating each other.
This is symbolic of the imbalance of order in society.
THE WEATHER
Macbeth’s grotesque murder spree is accompanied by a
number of unnatural occurrences in the natural realm.
From the thunder and lightning that accompany the
witches’ appearances to the terrible storms that rage on the
night of Duncan’s murder, these violations of the natural
order reflect corruption in the moral and political orders.
The appearance of these storms represent impending doom.
Thunder also foreshadows the three witches appearance.
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