Themes symbols and the tragic hero
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Themes, Symbols, and The Tragic Hero. Blood – blood is mentioned many times throughout the play, whether in specific reference to an actual murder or as a symbol of the Macbeths’ guilt. . Murder/Post murder: “My hands are of you color…a little water clears us of this deed” (2.2.77-80).

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Themes, Symbols, and The Tragic Hero

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Themes symbols and the tragic hero

Themes, Symbols, and The Tragic Hero


Themes symbols and the tragic hero

Blood – blood is mentioned many times throughout the play, whether in specific reference to an actual murder or as a symbol of the Macbeths’ guilt.

  • Murder/Post murder: “My hands are of you color…a little water clears us of this deed” (2.2.77-80).

  • The Thanes’ recognition of Macbeth’s deed:”Now does he feel his secret murders sticking on his hands” (5.2.19-20).

  • Lady Macbeth’s hand washing: “Out, damned spot..” (5.1.30)

  • Lady Macbeth’s recollection of Duncan’s death: “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”


Themes symbols and the tragic hero

Sleep – often synonymous with death, the idea of sleep begins the plotting of Duncan’s murder and Malcolm and Donalbain’s calling out when their father is killed; sleep continues as a motif throughout, like blood, as a reference to death.

  • Duncan’s murder/sons’ : “Sleep no more…Macbeth will sleep no more” (2.2.50-53).

  • Macbeth’s hallucinations (lack of sleep – Act III): “You lack the season of all natures, sleep” (3.4.164).

  • Porter/Waking the sleeping Duncan (Hell): “Wake up Duncan with your knocking! I would thou couldst!” (2.2.89)

  • Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking: “I have seen her rise from her bed…take forth a paper…read it…and again return to bed; yet all this while in a most fast sleep” (5.1.3-7).


Themes symbols and the tragic hero

Birds –Shakespeare’s use of birds throughout the play is both curious and intentional. He uses many different types of birds to communicate the mood of the scene in which they appear, citing ravens and owls as his primary symbols.

  • Duncan’s arrival at the castle: “The guest of summer, the temple hunting martlet, does approve…hath made his pendent bed” (1.4.4-9).

  • Night of the Murder: “I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry” (2.2.18)

  • Murder of Macduff’s family: “Poor bird, you’ll never learn to fear the net…” (4.2.39).


Themes symbols and the tragic hero

Supernatural – the play opens with the witches on the heath, predicting the arrival of Macbeth and immediately introducing the idea of the supernatural and the mystic that continues to permeate throughout the play…

  • Witches’ introduction: “Hover through fog and filthy air” (1.1.13)

  • Storms/Strange happenings night of the murder: “The night has been unruly” (1.23.55)

  • Witches’ prophecies:

    • Act 1:

      • Macbeth:“Hail to thee thane of Glamis…Hail to thee thane of Cawdor…Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter

      • Banquo: Thou shall get kings, though thou be none” (1.2.69).

    • Act 4:

      • Macbeth: “Beware the Thane of Fife…none of woman born shall harm Macbeth…Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnham Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him…(4.1.77-103).

      • Banquo: “Thou are too like the spirit of Banquo…will the line stretch out to th’ crack of doom?” (123-128).


Themes symbols and the tragic hero

Masculinity/Emasculation – Lady Macbeth is often cited as one of Shakespeare’s strongest female characters at her appearance early in the play, particularly when she convinces her husband to follow through with the murder, challenging his masculinity.

  • Lady Macbeth’s pleas to her husband: “When you durst do it, then you were a man…but screw your courage to the sticking place” (1.7.54;67).

  • After the murder/knives: “My hands are of your color; but I shame to wear a heart so white” (2.2.77-78).

  • At the dinner/Banquo’sghost: “What, quite unmanned in folly” (3.4.85).

  • Role reversal


Themes symbols and the tragic hero

Kingship/Disease – Shakespeare uses an extended metaphor to compare Scotland to a living entity that is cursed with disease, in this case Macbeth himself, that it needs to recover from.

  • Old Man/Scotland: “[The darkness] Tis unnatural, even like the deed that’s done” (2.4.12-13).

  • Ross’s defection: “Alas poor country…where signs, groans, and shrieks that rent the air…” (4.3.184-188).

  • Macduff and Malcolm’s bond: “With an untitled tyrant bloody sceptered, when shall thou see thy wholesome days again…”(4.3.118-119).

  • Edward the Confessor: “Tis’call’d the evil: A most miraculous work in this good king…the healing benediction…” (4.3.163-173).


Themes symbols and the tragic hero

Good Warrior/Good King – A trait typical of Anglo-Saxon literature (going all the way back to Beowulf), with Macbeth clearly symbolizing the drastic difference of the two, especially in comparison to his predecessor, Duncan.

  • Macbeth’s Praise (Acts I and II)

  • Macbeth’s comparison to Duncan (Act II)

  • Macbeth’s Tyranny

    • Banquo

    • MacDuff’s family

    • Young Siward

  • Reflection of Deeds

    • Death of Lady Macbeth

    • “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” soliloquy (Act V)

  • Malcolm vs. Macduff

  • Reflection of King James I (mirror/prophecy)


Themes symbols and the tragic hero

The Tragic Hero – Aristotle’s text of literary theory, Poetics, serves as the basis of all tragedy and defines what is considered to be The Tragic Hero:

  • Criteria for a tragic hero:

  • High position and status; embodies noble virtue:“What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won” (1.2.76)

  • Relatable to common man, though he may be elevated in society

  • Must suffer a fate that is of his own doing (hamartia – tragic flaw), typically the result of hubris (excessive pride)

  • The hero must recognize and actively accept the error he/she has committed: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing” (5.5.25-30)

  • Must evoke some type of catharsis (emotional release/investment) from the audience.


The end

The End!


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