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Macbeth Symbols 1,684 views

Teacher/Instructor Katie Aquino
Katie Aquino

Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University

Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.

She dropped her money, should I go after and give it to her? Should I keep it? I'm kind of hungry and this could get me a good lunch. I am really torn, I'm not sure what I should do. Macbeth must have felt the same way when he saw the bloody dagger appear before him, while he was trying deciding whether or not he should kill Duncan.

Shakespeare uses images like the bloody dagger in act two in order to communicate to us, that sometimes, the lust for power can lead people to do evil things. Let's take a look at some of the main events from act two and explore how the symbols and passages communicate that idea to us. It's lunch time and I'm hungry.

In act two of Macbeth, we begin to see some really strong symbols that help to guide character decisions and actions. So let's take a look at some of the main events and then really delve into those symbols that Shakespeare presents.

The first thing we're going to do, is to look at the main events. The first is the prophecies. We see those prophecies of the witches come back. In the first scene of act two, we see Banquo and his son Fleance discussing the prophecies. In fact he says, "I dreamt last night of the three Weird Sisters./To you they have showed some truth." So this is Banquo talking to Macbeth and we see that Banquo is admitting that he has considered the prophecies, mainly because, the prophecy that the witch gave, that Macbeth would become the Thane of Cawdor, did come true. In response to this, Macbeth says, "well I don't think of them at all." We know that's a lie, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have been planning to kill Duncan based on the prophecy of the witches. Right here we see a nice juxtaposition position again of Banquo and Macbeth, which really sets Macbeth up as the more evil of the two.

The next event we want to look at, is in scene two. We see a dagger appear before Macbeth as he gives his first soliloquy. A soliloquy again is when there is one character on stage, and they communicate ideas meant only to be heard by the audience, in order to reveal some inner thoughts or some motivations. Here we see a bloody dagger appear before Macbeth as he's considering whether or not he should kill the king. In this soliloquy, he really walks through his thought process and ultimately decides that he should kill him saying, "Thou marshal'st me the way that I was going/And such an instrument I was to use." So he's saying, here I see the dagger, you're pointing me in right direction the way I want it to go and now I know what I should use to kill Duncan.

One of the most important events to happen in act two is the actual murder of Duncan and it's important for several reasons. The first is, that we learn of the weakness of Lady Macbeth. She reveals to us that she's going to be unable to commit the murder because she peeked ahead into Duncan's room while he was sleeping, and he reminded her of her own sleeping father.

This is really important to know, because for the first time, we're seeing a weakness in the character that we thought to be the most evil. Another important thing to note about this is that, Macbeth is the one that actually carries the deed, though not without a few hitches. After he's actually committed the murder, he says, "I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?" Instead of reacting in a celebratory way, Lady Macbeth is actually angry because as Macbeth stumbles out of the room, he has the bloody dagger that he's used to kill Duncan in his hands. Part of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth's plans, was that he was to plant the dagger on the drunk guards so as to frame them, for the actual murder.

At that point Lady Macbeth actually has to take the dagger out of his hands and then go plant them on the guards herself. But all in all, we see between the two of them, they actually succeed in killing Duncan.

Finally, this is kind of a scene that seems out of place to some readers. We see the scene of The Porter in scene three. And this is the scene right after the murder of Duncan, right after everything is really dark. The Porter is a drunk man who comes banging at the door talking about Lechery. In fact he says, "Lechery, sir it provokes and unprovokes. It provokes the desire, but it takes away the romance." What you have here Shakespeare using some comic relief. This is some body humor about what alcohol does to people. What this would have done to Shakespeare's audience, it would have really greatly entertained the ground links, the lower class of people there watching.Aand you see this in some other Shakespeare plays; if you think about Peter and the musicians in Romeo and Juliet and the Gravedigger and Hamlet. Those are two of the most famous instances of comic relief, but here again we see The Porter giving us some comic relief to kind of lighten the mood after the heavy murder of Duncan.

Finally, act two closes with some strange occurrences. We see a scene with Ross and the old man and what they describe is something unnatural happened. The old man says, "Tis unnatural,/Even like the deed that's done. On Tuesday Last/A falcon, tow'ring in her pride of place,/was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed." What is pointed out here is that, a falcon which is normally thought to be a predatory bird, was actually caught and killed by an owl, which is just out of the natural order of things.

In this scene they also discuss how King Duncan's horses have started misbehaving, and actually start eating each other on those same nights. These are just really important to know, because we see things going on in the natural world being indicative of things that have gone on in the kingdom.

Among the important events that we discussed during act two, we see a series of symbols come out. And symbolism is when an author uses a tangible object to represent an idea that's intangible. Let's take a look at three of those symbols that Shakespeare uses in act two.

The first symbol that we see is a dagger. Quite literally this is the dagger that Macbeth uses to kill Duncan, and also the dagger that he sees appears before him. We see that on a very literal level, we're talking about a knife. On the figurative level however, the dagger really represents Macbeth's temptation to kill Duncan. It also represents his ambition and his lust for power, showing that Macbeth would do anything, even though it's immoral in order to gain the power that he's been promised.

Another symbol we see in act two is the copious amounts of blood. And this blood literally comes from the body of Duncan and it occurs because of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's murder of him. We see lot's of blood, we see it all over Macbeth's hands after Lady Macbeth has to take the daggers back, to plant on the guards, we see it on her hands. But if we think of it on a more figurative level, we see that it comes to represent guilt. In fact, after Macbeth is done committing the murder, he says to Lady Macbeth, "Ha! they pluck out mine eyes. Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No. This my hand will rather the multitudinous seas in incarnadine making the green one red."

We see this idea that Macbeth is not able to get this red, or this blood, off of his hands. He thinks there's so much of it even, that if he tries to rinse it in the ocean, instead of rinsing the blood off his hands, his hands will instead turn the ocean red. We get this idea that it's a figurative representation of the guilt that Macbeth is feeling of committing the murder of Duncan.

The final symbol that we see in this chapter are these unnatural occurrences, that are occurring in the very last thing that Ross and the old man are talking about. As we can see quite literally, they talk about: Number one, horses eating each other. But also this idea that the owl was able to kill a hawk. So we've got a predatory bird being killed by another bird. On a figurative level, however, this represents that things aren't right in the natural world. It kind of represents a disturbance in the natural order of things which communicates to us, the natural order being disturbed in the kingdom of Macbeth.

Just to recap, symbolism is when an author takes a tangible object and uses it to represent an intangible idea. In this episode we took a look at some of the major events of act two and also looked at how Shakespeare uses symbols in that act to communicate his ideas about power and ambition.