Imagery in Macbeth

By Chloe, Elvis, Faisal, Sarah and Quiana

What is Imagery?

Imagery is a literary concept in which figurative and descriptive language is used to help make the text a reality in the reader's mind. Metaphors, similes, personification, and vivid or expressive language, are used to evoke the reader's five senses. Imagery deepens the relationship between the reader and the characters of the text and it builds an accurate perception of the setting the author is trying to create. Imagery also helps the author emphasize certain themes through symbolism and repetition. Imagery enhances a text and tends to make the reader more responsive and attentive to the text.

Shakespeare utilizes imagery to enrich not only the story of Macbeth but also many of his other works. The four main types of imagery found throughout the play, Macbeth, are; darkness, clothing, blood and animal.


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Darkness Imagery

Darkness imagery is used heavily by Shakespeare throughout Macbeth.

" Fair is foul, and foul is fair./ Hover through the fog and filthy air" (1.1.11-12)

  • 3 witches represent evil and darkness (accompanied by storms and lightning)
  • darkness is portrayed through the words " Hover through the fog and filthy air"
  • allows the readers to imagine the disgusting and dark atmosphere that the witches bring forth
  • helps in creating suspense, a clear idea of the atmosphere, and the weather conditions which sets the mood for the scene

" By the clock 'tis day,/And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp" (2.4.7-8)

  • day after the death of king Duncan ross notices its strangely dark
  • quote shows how evil and darkness overcame light and goodness
  • the dark night strangles the "travelling lamp" which means that dark night has taken over and the sun is not to be found
  • darkness has also caused chaos in the animal kingdom because Duncan's horses went crazy and prey began eating the predator
  • essentially the evil spirits have taken over which resembles the real world due to the fact that the good King Duncan is dead, and the evil Macbeth is the new king
  • darkness imagery was key in setting the atmosphere and developing an emotion of sadness and death after the tragedy that occurred earlier that night

" ... stars hide your fires!/ Let not light see my black and deep desires" (1.4.58-59)

  • Light represents his good and honest qualities
  • He does not want his good qualities to interefere with his inner thoughts
  • His black and deep desires represent his evil side which is starting to take over him
  • Darkness imagery is used to outline the theme of appearance vs reality
  • He does not want people to see what he is actually thinking. In other words he does not want the people to see his black and deep desires
  • It is also used to show macbeths ambitions and his actual plans that he is going to carry out later on in the play
  • This creates suspense and excitement


Darkness imagery is used throughout the play Macbeth for many reasons:

Clothing Imagery

Clothing imagery plays a very important part in Macbeth. Clothing does not only keep you warm from the cold but in Shakespeare has symbolism behind it. Clothing represents characters positions, either if they were worked for or taken from.

"The Thane of Cawdor lives; why do you dress me/ in borrowed robes?" (1.3.115-116)

  • The meaning of "Borrowed robes" is another word for the title of the thane of Cawdor
  • At this point in the play the thane of Cawdor is still alive
  • Macbeth does not want to take someone else's place
  • When Macbeth says "Borrowed" he is referring to the position of the thane of Cawdor because he knows it doesn't belong to him currently.
  • All of this foreshadows how Macbeth looks at the crown later on in the play

"Well may you see things well done there. Adieu,/ Lest our old robes sit easier than our new!' (2.4.49-50)

  • Robes is a metaphor used to represent the king.
  • Old robes is referred to as kind Duncan since he is not king anymore.
  • New robes is referring to Macbeth since he is next in line for king.
  • Sit easily could mean that the robes do not fit properly meaning maybe Macbeth will not be fit to be a king.
  • This quote asks the big question if Macbeth is ready to be a king even with all his doubt, guilt and misery.

"New honors come upon him, / Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mold / But with the aid of use," (1.144-146)

  • Clothing imagery is used in this quote by Banquo when he realizes that Macbeth is not very comfortable with his new title as king.
  • A simile is also used here to show that the title came to Macbeth surprisingly and oddly.
  • This quotes meaning is that old clothes will always fit better than new ones.
  • Meaning that Macbeth would be more comfortable with his title before he pronounced king.

"Now does he feel his title/ hang loose about him, like a giants robe/ upon a dwarfish thief." (5.2)

  • At this point in the play Angus and many others are suspicious about Macbeth and how he got his title as king
  • Clothing imagery is used here with a simile to express how Macbeth stole the title of king
  • It says "Hang loose like a giants robe on a dwarfish their" meaning that the title of king does not fit him
  • A giants robe would obviously not fit a small dwarf
  • Also Angus calls Macbeth a dwarfish their because he assumes that he stole the title of king


  • Shakespeare used similes and metaphors in clothing imagery throughout the play.
  • Clothing imagery is used to create an atmosphere
  • Macbeth's position is changed frequently in the play and clothing imagery is used a lot to describe the different changes.

Blood Imagery

Blood imagery is seen many times throughout the play.


In the beginning of the play, blood has a different image than it does near the end of the play

  • A bloody sergeant enters the castle. Blood is proof that he has battled his way through enemies and survived.
  • Macbeth is seen as noble and brave. He is praised for his worthy actions.


The image of blood has changed from being brave - to guilty

  • “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?” (2.2.72-73). Macbeth is feeling guilty after he has just killed the king. He is tries to get rid of the guilt.
  • Macbeth kills the guards when he was not supposed to.
  • “Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes in Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” (5.1.43-44). Lady Macbeth is feeling guilty of her actions. She is going through the same feelings as her husband.
  • “I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.73-75). Meaning that he has killed so much people that if he stopped now, it would be hard for him to be a good person again.


  • "Is this a dagger, which I see before me" (2.1.41). Macbeth sees a bloody dagger floating in front of him. He is hallucinating. He is scared of what he is about to do.
  • Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo with a bloody head. Lady Macbeth tells him he is hallucinating again.


  • Lady Macbeth wants to cover the servants with blood and frame them.
  • The second apparition is in the form of a bloody child. "Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born" (4.1.86-89).
  • Lady Macbeth makes a plan to kill King Duncan. She asks to make her blood thicker and to clog her veins. Thicker blood so she does not feel compassion.

Animal Imagery

Animal imagery is used heavily throughout the play for various reasons.


There is a reoccurring presence of animals that are associated with dark magic, evil and witchcraft. This animal imagery helps communicate the degree of importance of the witches' roles in the play.

  • Various animals - "Fillet of a fenny snake/ In the cauldron bubble and bake/ Eye of newt and toe of frog/ Wool of bat and tongue of dog/ Adder's fork and blind worm's sting/ Lizard's leg and howlet's wing" (4.1.12-17).
  • Pig
  • Dragon
  • Wolf
  • Shark
  • Goat
  • Baboon

  • Graymalkin (cat)
  • Paddock (toad)
  • Bat


There is a strong connection between animal imagery and the theme of death and murder. Animals that represent death are often seen more than once which contributes to the complexity of the plot. This repeated imagery re-enforces Macbeth's hamartia and emphasizes how he continues to orchestrate people's deaths.

  • Raven - "The raven himself is hoarse/ That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan" (1.5.41-42).
  • Kites (hawks) and chickens - "Did you say all? O Hell-kite! All?/ What, all my pretty chickens and their dam/ At one fell swoop?" (4.3.249-251).
  • Crow - "Light thickens and the crow/Makes wing to the rooky wood" (3.2.50-51).


The animal imagery in this play uniquely supports other types of imagery. The presence of animals that are known to be active only at night, indicates that much of the play takes place at night and in darkness. This supports the dark atmosphere and is also used to evoke fear.

  • Beetle - "- ere to black Hecate summons/The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums" (3.2.47-48)

  • Owl - cries and startles Lady Macbeth
  • Crickets - chirpping and startles Lady Macbeth
  • Wolf - howling


Animals are portrayed with abnormal behaviour that suggests there is an unnatural order due to the characters actions, specifically Macbeth's.

  • Falcon and Owl - "'Tis unnatural... A falcon towering in her pride of place/Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed" (2.4.11-14)
  • Horses - eating each other


The snake is a form of animal imagery used repetitively through the play during character and plot revelations. The snake is also associated with deception, danger and lying which is why it is used to support the theme of deception in the play.

  • "There the grown serpent lies/ The worm that's fled" (3.4.30-31).
  • "Look like the innocent flower/ But be the serpent under't" (1.5.56-57).
  • "We have scorched the snake not killed it" (3.2.15).


Animals are also used to measure or compare the strength of men in the play or to emphasize strength.

  • Greyhound
  • Mongrel
  • Spaniel
  • Curs
  • Shoughs
  • Water-rugs
  • Demi wolves

  • Russian bear
  • Armed rhino
  • Hyrcan tiger

Creative Piece

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