One of the key symbols in Shakespeare's Macbeth is blood. Indeed, one of the very first characters we meet in the play is a bleeding sergeant (1.2.1-9). The words “blood”, “bloody”, and “bloodier” are used several times throughout the play. Most people associate blood with death or danger, and this is true of Macbeth as well. However, more than anything blood symbolises guilt in Shakespeare’s play.

Right after Duncan’s murder, the hands of both Macbeth and his wife are stained with Duncan’s blood. While Macbeth is horrified and feels like no amount of water will be able to clean his hands (and soul), Lady Macbeth is less troubled and taunts his lack of courage: “My hands are of your colour; but I shame/ To wear a heart so white. [...] A little water clears us of this deed.” (2.2.79-83).

Ironically, Lady Macbeth ends up echoing Macbeth’s words about blood in her sleepwalking scene when guilt seems to have caught up with her: “Here’s the smell of blood still: all the/ perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little/ hand. Oh, oh, oh!” (5.1.45-47). No amount of perfume will remove her sin. Shakespeare underlines how you cannot escape your guilt or the consequences of your actions when he has Lady Macbeth repeat Macbeth’s words here.

After the murder of Banquo, Macbeth concludes two important things about blood: First, that “blood will have blood” (3.4.144), meaning that one murder will lead to another. Second, that “I am in blood/ Stepp’d so far that, should I wade no mo...

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