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One of the most important tools in literature is imagery. It is not just in there to
fill up paper; rather, there is at least one dramatic purpose for each image and there are many
different types of imagery. This essay seeks to prove that in the play Macbeth the author
William Shakespeare uses darkness imagery for three dramatic purposes. Those three purposes
are, to create atmosphere, to arouse the emotions of the audience and to contribute to the
major theme of the play.
The darkness imagery in Macbeth contributes to its ominous atmosphere. In the very
beginning of the play the three witches are talking and the first witch says "When shall we
three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?" (Macbeth 1. 1. line 1). This is a good
example of darkness imagery because when you think of the crashing thunder, lightning and
rain, they all remind you of evil and ominous things. Later on the Sergeant is talking with
Duncan and Malcolm when he states "Ship wrecking storms and direful thunders break" (1. 2. l26).
Again this darkness imagery contributes to the ominous atmosphere of the play, having reference
to thunder and dark storms. Finally, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are talking in the scene just
before the murder of Banquo and Macbeth says "Light thickens, and the crow makes wing to the
rooky wood: Good things of day begin to droop and drowse, whiles night’s black agents to their
preys do rouse" (3. 2. l50-53). This example of darkness imagery is saying that the day is
turning into night, all the good things are going to sleep, and the evil creatures are coming
out . The evil in this previous quotation and the two before adds to the ominous atmosphere.
Since the imagery creates an ominous atmosphere it would then lead to the second dramatic
purpose, to arouse the emotions of the audience. Darkness imagery is a very good tool for
arousing the emotions of the audience. It enables people to create a mental picture of the
what they are reading. For instance, in this instance of darkness imagery Duncan and Macbeth
were talking when Macbeth says aside "Stars, hide your fires! Let not light see my black and
deep desires" (1. 4. l50-51). When words like dark and desire are put in that context it
creates many horrible mental pictures about murders and fights which arouses peoples emotions.
Ross is later talking with an old man when he states "By the clock \'tis day, and yet dark
night strangles the traveling lamp" (2. 4. l6-7). In other words; although, the sun should be
out, something is blocking the light. This example of darkness imagery creates an eerie
feeling in the reader because it is very abnormal for the sun to be blocked. One might say
that God is punishing them or that there is the presence of a devil if the sun was gone and
would stir up the emotions of the reader although it was probably only an eclipse. Another
case of darkness imagery happens when Lady Macbeth and a messenger are talking and Lady Macbeth
states "That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, nor heaven peep through the blanket of
the dark to cry, "Hold, hold!"" (1. 5. l52-54). It creates an illustration of terror because
of the unknown. With night covering the earth like a blanket no one knows what might happen.
They might be the one behind the knife with know one there to see it or help.
As well as arousing the emotions of the audience darkness imagery works well in
characterizing. Darkness imagery also is very useful for a further dramatic purpose, to
characterize, and specifically to characterize Macbeth. Through the use of darkness imagery
Shakespeare was able to characterize Macbeth as perceived in this next quote where Macduff and
Malcolm are talking and Macduff pronounces "Not in legions of horrid hell can come a devil more
damn’d in evils, to top Macbeth" (4. 3. l55-56). It is understood that Macduff views Macbeth
as a man even further corrupt than any devil and would consequently characterize him as evil.
Subsequent to that, Macbeth enters a scene with Young Siward and Young Siward asks for his name.
Macbeth replies and Young Siward replies with "The devil himself could not
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Characters in Macbeth, English-language films, British films, Regicides, House of Moray, Macduff, Young Siward, Macbeth, Three Witches, Banquo, Malcolm, Gruoch of Scotland
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