Activity 3
Imagery and Symbolism

Part One

Symbolism (Act 5, Scene I.)

  • In this scene, the doctor and a gentlewoman witness Lady Macbeth sleepwalking in a strange manner.
  • The main symbol in this scene is the imaginary "blood" that Lady Macbeth believes is on her. In this case, the blood is used to symbolize the idea of guilt.
  • Lady Macbeth says:

    "Out, damned spot; out, I say...who would have though the old man to have had so much blood in him?" and "Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, Oh, Oh!". (V.i)

    It is obvious that her words are referring to the murder of King Duncan in Act 2, Scene I. In relation to blood symbolism, Macbeth says something similar in the following scene of the murder:

    "Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red." (II.ii)

               Macbeth is saying that he can not wash the blood off his hands even with Neptune's ocean, but instead - will turn the water itself red. The guilt is something that cannot be simply washed away or "forgotten". Lady Macbeth feels this way too. Although she did not partake in the actual act of the murder, she is still indirectly connected to it. Because of her interference, she is probably the more responsible for the murder than Macbeth, who actually did the deed. The witches only told Macbeth of the prophecy and never candidly tell him to take any action, but Lady Macbeth's decision to mock his masculinity is what drove him to. This hallucination that she has of blood on her hands indicates that Lady Macbeth is aware she acknowledges her guilt.

Part Two
Psychoanalytical theory

  • This theory can be applied to why Lady Macbeth behaves the way she does.

          Sigmund Freud, who first approached the branch of "psychoanalysis", was the first to look at dreams in a psychological approach. He says that, "dreams are like a safety valve that harmlessly discharges otherwise unacceptable feelings". Dreams have hidden meanings and a language of their own that when interpreted, express secret drives and wishes that would be threatening if expressed awake. Additionally, the doctor in this scene also says something of importance to this topic:

"Unnatural deeds Do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets." (V.i)

He is saying that unnatural actions will in turn cause unnatural things to happen. People who's minds are infected by this will confess their secrets to their pillows (in their sleep).

         Readers can interpret that Lady Macbeth's hallucinations are caused by her repression of guilt. They are surfacing into her subconscious during sleep in order to discharge the memories from the night of the murder and her denial of guilt when she is conscious (awake). Her hallucinations may be mood-congruent: "any hallucination whose content is consistent with either the depressive or manic state the person may be in at the time." This type of hallucination is triggered by 'depressive themes' including: guilt, death and deserved punishment. These three themes apply to Lady Macbeth: her role in the death of King Duncan, which in turn, creates the feeling of guilt, and fear of the consequences for her actions. 

          This can be connected to one of the themes of the play: "The Corrupting Power of Unchecked Ambition". Lady Macbeth, like Macbeth, has the ambition to become the new rulers of Scotland. This ambition is unchecked by her morals and values, which leads her to partake in the killing of King Duncan. Lady Macbeth is already Queen in this Act, but unfortunately is unable to bask in all of its luxury because of the guilt that haunts her. Shakespeare's intention of making her character sleepwalk and hallucinate shows the power and impact guilt can have on a person. Due to Lady Macbeth's decisions, she does achieve her objective, but now mentally suffers and can not even enjoy what she wanted in the first place. This also leads to her suicide. "Is the power and glory worth having to face the consequences?" - this is an idea that readers may now think twice about.


"Mental Disorders." Hallucinations. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 July 2015. <http://www.

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Picture Credits

First illustration © RaveningCypress (Harisson Densmore) @ deviantArt
Second illustration © Artus Scheiner

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