How Fair Became Foul: Imagery in Macbeth Essay

Submitted By gwennoble
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How Fair Became Foul: Imagery and Characterization in Macbeth
Part of William Shakespeare’s fame can be attributed to the complex imagery that makes his plays so iconic. In Macbeth, the Shakespearean tragedy, a Scottish nobleman loses everything, including his life, in order to gain power. Through the use of imagery in his description of sleep, clothing, and light and dark, Shakespeare reveals significant features of his main character, Macbeth’s, personality. Macbeth’s actions in the play inhibit his ability to sleep, which in turn demonstrates his underlying guilt about what he has done. The use of clothing imagery in Macbeth shows how the main character is undeserving of his responsibilities. Through the use of light and dark imagery, Macbeth’s gradual acceptance of evil is established. First, Macbeth’s guilt surrounding his murders is brought to light through his inability to sleep. After killing King Duncan, Macbeth foretells his own insomnia. When he tells Lady Macbeth about murdering Duncan, Macbeth describes a voice that he thought spoke to him from nowhere:
Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep," -the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast. (2.2.35-39)
Macbeth, upon killing his slumbering king, hallucinates a voice that tells him he will never sleep again. Macbeth then describes sleep as a restorative and soothing act, which he obviously does not see himself as deserving after what he has done. By killing King Duncan, Macbeth has also killed his own goodness and therefore cannot rest. Similarly, Macbeth complains about his inability to sleep before Banquo is killed. After sending the murderers to end his friend’s life, Macbeth complains to his wife that he would rather let the universe fall apart than experience another restless night:
Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams,
That shake us nightly: better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace,
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave:
After life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well; (3.2.18-23)
Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that he feels tortured by nightmares that keep him awake. Macbeth, in many ways, is jealous of Duncan for finding what he sees as sleep and peace, and says he would rather die than stay awake any longer. At this point in the play, Macbeth not only cannot sleep, but is obsessing over the man he killed as he lies awake at night. Additionally, despite his guilt-ridden insomnia, Macbeth thinks that one last murder will cure his affliction. When told by an apparition that he has nothing to fear from anyone born of woman, he resolves to kill Macduff anyways to quell his fears, saying, “Then live, Macduff: what need I fear of thee? / But yet I’ll make assurance double sure, / And take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live, / That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies; / And sleep in spite of thunder” (4.1.82-86). Instead of facing the guilt that is cause for his insomnia, Macbeth blames his own fear, and decides that by killing Macduff, he will finally find respite from his nightmares. This final murder, in his mind, will force panic to dissipate and will allow him to sleep. These uses of sleep imagery throughout the play reveal Macbeth’s subconscious guilt surrounding his actions. Next, clothing imagery is used in the play to show how Macbeth’s new responsibilities are not suited to him. Macbeth initially thinks himself undeserving of promotion, when he is named thane of Cawdor. After Ross approaches Macbeth with the king’s praises, and tells him that he has been honoured with the title of thane of Cawdor, Macbeth replies, “The thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me / In borrow’d robes?” (1.3.109-110). Any other man would accept this recognition without…