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.