Light and Dark Imagery in Macbeth

Life is filled with miserable men whose only goal in life is to ruin the lives of others and to cause misery in the lives of others. Macbeth became one of these men after he was predestined to become king, after which he kills his own king and rises up in power.

Eventually he is killed, but before so, the world was left in chaos. To describe these horrific changes, Shakespeare uses light and dark imagery through his play Macbeth in order to describe the unstable disorder of the real world.

One of the recurring themes that occur from the light and dark imagery is that of the foretelling of Macbeth’s evil plots. First, in Act 2, before Macbeth is about to kill Duncan, Banquo feels a telling of the heavens that tells him that something is going wrong. Although Banquo does not know that Macbeth actually does plan on killing Duncan that night, he already had a hunch of him doing so because of what the three witches had said earlier. Banquo says, “There’s husbandry in heaven, their candles are all out” (2.1, 19). This implies that Banquo has a hint that Macbeth is about to commit a heinous crime against the direct order of the world. He also uses the light and dark imagery of the light of heaven and the darkness of unlit candles to say this because they give him an eerie feeling. Later he sees Macbeth up and about at night and he is slightly suspicious of Macbeth’s motives. The second time light and dark imagery is used to tell of Macbeth’s evil plots of murders is when he is talking the murderers about killing Fleance. Macbeth says, “Fleance his son, that keeps him company, whose absence is no less material to me than his father’s, must embrace the fate of that dark hour” (3.1, 37). This conveys the fact that Macbeth wants Fleance dead. He says “the fate of that dark hour” to say that hour of Fleance’s death is inevitable. This is another revelation of Macbeth’s plans to kill all those who stand in his way. Finally, Macbeth also tells the murderers to kill Banquo by using light and dark imagery. Macbeth says, “It is concluded: Banquo, thy soul’s flight, if it find heaven, must find it out tonight” (3.1, 37). “Tonight” literally means tonight and the heaven standing for light stands for Banquo’s death. Also, delving deeper into the meaning of “tonight”, it can be used to represent the darkness of Macbeth’s heart in which it has turned black with evil and now he himself will not be able to guide his soul to heaven. Once again, this quotation reveals the fact that Macbeth has evil plots planned out for many men. All in all, by using light and dark imagery of heaven and night, Shakespeare manages to portray Macbeth’s evil plots, the cause of the chaotic disorder of the world.

Another purpose of the light and dark imagery used within Macbeth is to convey all of the chaos and strange things occurring in the world. First, after Macbeth kills Duncan, strange things begin to occur in the world. A veil of darkness has covered the world and the day has stopped appearing as it normally does. Ross says, “…Threaten his bloody stage: by the clock “tis day, and yet dark night strangles the traveling lamp…” (2.4, 29). This means that even though the time claims that there should be daylight, the world is always completely dark. Though the world should have daytime and nighttime, the utter chaos in the world brings only nighttime. Also, right after, Ross talks about how the animals of Scotland have begun to act strangely too. Normally there is a hierarchy between animals of predator and prey, but now all that has switched to the opposite. Ross says, “A falcon towering in her pride of place was by a mousing owl hawk”d at and killed” (2.4, 30). An owl is always seen at night because it is nocturnal, so it can be related to darkness, while a falcon is always seen in the day because it sleeps at night, so it can be compared to the light. This quotation implies that once again, darkness has taken over light and that there is still utter chaos in the world. Finally, when Hecate meets with the three witches, she is angered because she was not included in the tormenting of the world’s natural balance. The only goal of Hecate, the goddess of witches, is to cause chaos and disorder in the hearts of men. Hecate says, “Unto a dismal and a fatal end: Great business must be wrought ere noon: upon the corner of the moon there hangs a vaporous drop profound…”(3.5, 47). The light of this sentence is of the noon and the darkness is of the night when the moon will appear. It means to say that once Hecate goes off to the moon for her vaporous drop, more chaos will appear in the world. In using light and dark imagery, Shakespeare is able to expand on the chaos of the world that is the disorder in the natural world.

Finally, through the usage of light and dark imagery, Shakespeare is able to underline the rapid changes in life that lead to the changes in disorder for the world. First, after Macbeth has sent out the murderers to kill Fleance and Banquo he discusses with Lady Macbeth that they need to keep on killing. Now that they have become king and queen they must get rid of all the people that know that they murdered to receive their titles. Macbeth says, “Good things of day begin to droop and drowse, while night’s black agents to their preys do rouse” (3.2, 39). This quotation literally means that once the night comes around, the murderers that Macbeth sent out will seek out Banquo and Fleance. This also tells the reader that Macbeth is starting to become more independent of Lady Macbeth’s orders. Before, Lady Macbeth would just tell Macbeth what to do, but now Macbeth is able to make his own plans. It conveys a sense that Macbeth is growing up rapidly. Also, soon after the murdering of Duncan, Banquo, and Fleance, Malcolm and Macduff quickly plan out a way to take away Macbeth’s power. They have had enough of the chaotic world and desire it to be changed back to the way it was before. Malcolm says, “Macbeth is ripe for shaking, and the powers above put on their instruments. Receive what cheer you may; The night is long that never finds the day” (4.3, 67). This quotation means that Malcolm thinks that it is the time to kill Macbeth and the gods of heavens are supporting the stripping of Macbeth’s rule. Also, “the night” in the quotation signifies Malcolm and “the day” signifies the end of the current chaos. All in all, this quotation propels the theme of rapid changes because the order of the universe is about to change once again. Finally, after Lady Macbeth dies, Macbeth talks about the lives of humans, but he does not seem to grieve the loss of his wife. Macbeth’s heart has already hardened by his experiences and he no longer needs his own wife to tell him what to do. Macbeth says, “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more…” (5.5, 77). Macbeth is saying that a person’s life is short and meaningless and that it passes by in a second. He is probably talking more so about his own life than of his wife’s because he knows that his death has already been foretold by Hecate. He is soon to die and he cannot do anything to do anything to stop it. Throughout the play, Shakespeare uses the light and dark imagery of day and night to suggest the rapid changes in life.

The disorder of the natural world and the causes of the disruption of the preset hierarchy are implied by Shakespeare through the use of light and dark imagery. Light and dark imagery is a great way to describe the chaos in the natural world because there are still men fighting for justice while the world is in shambles and everything is wrong. In some ways it is just like the real world where some people are trying to ruins the lives of others while trying to stay anonymous and while the other people work hard by trying to save the world. Unfortunately there is no way to combine the two groups into one, because after all, there will always be light and dark separating them apart.

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