Blood & Water Motifs in Macbeth By: Davilynn & John Wesley

"What is a motif?"

A motif is a recurring symbol, such as an idea, an object, or a concept, which takes on a figurative meaning. A motif can be found in books, films, & poems.

Motif v. Symbol

These two concepts can sometimes be confused with each other. Symbols are images, ideas, sounds or words that represent something else and help to understand an idea or a thing. Motifs, on the other hand, are images, ideas, sounds or words that help to explain the central idea of a literary work i.e. theme. Moreover, a symbol may appear once or twice in a literary work, whereas a motif is a recurring element.

"Why Are Motifs Used?"

Motifs are used in various works of literature to establish a theme or a certain mood.

Blood Motifs

When Macbeth says, “Will it not be received, / When we have marked with blood those sleepy two,” he means that his and Lady Macbeth's guilt will be covered up through the blood on the guards' faces because everyone will suspect the guards of the murder (1.7.74-75).

"There's daggers in men's smiles. The near in blood,/The nearer bloody”, is what Donalbain tells Malcolm when he realizes people suspect them of murdering their father. He means that people will want to kill them because they will suspect them of murdering their father. (2.3.121-122)

When Macbeth says to Lady Macbeth “It will have blood they say. Blood will have blood.” he means that the dead will have their revenge. (3.4.128).

Lady Macbeth is talking to herself when she exclaims “Here's the smell of blood still./All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, Oh, Oh!” Lady Macbeth is now beginning to feel the effects of her guilt that has built up over the time of all the murders she and macbeth have committed. She is saying that her guilt is so strong that nothing can cover it up not even 'the perfumes of Arabia' (5.1.33-34).

Lady Macbeth is again talking to herself when she yells, “Out damned spot; Out, I say... /who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him", she means exactly what she says. This quote shows her guilt about the murder of Duncan. (5.1.25-28)

Water Motifs

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from hand?/ No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, /Making the green one red.”

Macbeth has just Murdered Duncan and is feeling the guilt. To try and make him feel better Lady Macbeth commands him to “Go get some water, /And wash this filthy witness from your hand.” She is trying to convince him that just as easy as it is to wash your hands, you can just wash away your guilt about the murder. (2.2.46-47).

Macbeth tries to retaliate by saying “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/clean from hand? No, this/my hand will rather/The multitudinous seas incarnadine, /Making the green one red.” He is trying to tell Lady Macbeth that a person cannot just "wash" away their guilt. He tries to convince her that his guilt is so strong and prominent that it will just turn anything pure into filth. (2.2.60-63).

Unfortunately, Lady Macbeth continues to berate him by saying, “A little water clears us of this deed. How easy is it, then.”, she means that their guilt can be "washed" away, and this entire event can be forgotten. (2.2.68-69).

Lady Macbeth is in a trance when she is bemoaning all of the murders saying, “Wash your hands. Put on your nightgown. Look not so pale./—I tell you yet again,/Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on ’s grave.” She is seeing hallucinations of blood stains on her hands and clothes throughout this scene. She is trying to convince herself that she can get rid of her guilt of the murders by "washing her hands". She is no longer the strong woman she was in the beginning of the play. (5.1.41-43)

When the doctor says to the gentlewoman “It is an accustomed action with her to seem thus washing her hands. I have known her continue in this a quarter of an hour.”He is referring to Lady Macbeth and the trance that she is in at the moment. This scene reveals that Lady Macbeth continues to believe a person can wash their guilt away.(5.1.20)

Blood and Water Motifs recur throughout the play and serve as a reminder of the theme that a person can not escape guilt. Lady Macbeth is consistently trying to convince Macbeth and herself, that one can escape guilt by simply 'washing' their hands with water to remove the blood, their guilt.

Created By
JohnWesley Davilynn


Created with images by frolicsomepl - "a glass of water color" • frolicsomepl - "a glass of water color"

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