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Blood Symbol Icon
Blood is always closely linked to violence, but over the course of Macbeth blood comes to symbolize something else: guilt. Death and killing happen in an instant, but blood remains, and stains. At the times when both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth feel most guilty, they despair that they will never be able to wash the blood—their guilt—from their hands.

Blood Quotes in Macbeth

The Macbeth quotes below all refer to the symbol of Blood. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Ambition Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Macbeth published in 2003.
Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts! unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall.
Related Characters: Lady Macbeth (speaker)
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 1.5.47-55
Explanation and Analysis:

After learning that King Duncan will remain at the castle for the evening, Lady Macbeth plots his demise. She asks for fortitude in renouncing any human compassion in order to best carry out the deed.

Much like Banquo, Lady Macbeth believes that supernatural forces have a corruptive effect on human nature. She believes they “tend on mortal thoughts” and will fill her with “direst cruelty.” Yet whereas Banquo made this point in order to avoid those effects, Lady Macbeth fully embraces the depravity. Indeed, she uses a series of commands in order to demand being overtaken by them. The implication is that Lady Macbeth wishes to act entirely cruelly, but her natural human disposition will prevent her from doing so.

To make this point, Lady Macbeth focuses on images relating to female fertility and more generally to bodily functions. That she implores “unsex me here” indicates that she sees her gender as preventing her from carrying out her vile purpose; while “take my milk for gall” similarly involves a desire to give up something feminine nurturing (mother's milk) for something destructive and acidic (gall). Repeated references to the body further show her to be renouncing not only womanhood but humanity altogether—as if she desires to be a supernatural entity like the witches who could then act without moral scruples. In wishing to give up her humanity, this passage thus paradoxically affirms Lady Macbeth's sense that there is in fact an inherent goodness to human nature and specifically human biology. At the same time, it shows that humans see in the supernatural a corruptive route away from goodness—which they may flee (as Banquo does) or full-heartedly embrace.


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Act 3, scene 4 Quotes
I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.
Related Characters: Macbeth (speaker)
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 3.4.168-170
Explanation and Analysis:

After seeing Banquo’s ghost, Macbeth decides to return to consult the witches on his fate. He points out to his wife that he has pursued his murderous destiny too far to stop doing so now.

When Macbeth says, “I am in blood” he presents himself as entirely immersed in murder: Instead of causing blood to simply flow from others, he also feels the effects of that violent action – the blood he has spilled surrounds him. He then clarifies that this is the result of having “Stepp’d in so far” into the metaphorical bloody pool; while “wade no more” signifies that he cannot stay afloat but will drown in the liquid. Thus Macbeth uses the metaphor of a pool of blood to articulate his own guilt and culpability: He believes that what he has done has inescapably sealed his fate and that trying to shift destinies at this point is pointless.

His choice of the word “tedious,” however, complicates the passage somewhat. Instead of saying that “returning” is impossible or undesirable, he claims it is boring or insipid. This distinction seems to indicate that Macbeth could indeed change his bloody behavior and that he fails to do so simply out of apathy or inertia. In this way, he presents a somewhat more ambivalent version of fate’s determinism: Destiny may very well have dictated his actions, but he could potentially shift them if he were more courageous.

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Blood Symbol Timeline in Macbeth

The timeline below shows where the symbol Blood appears in Macbeth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 2
Violence Theme Icon
...of Lennox wait for news of the war. A captain enters, covered in so much blood he is almost unrecognizable. The captain tells them of the state of the battle against... (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Macbeth enters. He's killed Duncan and Duncan's attendants. His hands are bloodstained and he's upset that when one of the attendants said "God bless us" in his... (full context)
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
...terrifying Macbeth. He worries that not all the water in the world could wash the blood from his hands. (full context)
Violence Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth returns, her hands now as bloody as Macbeth's. But she's calm, and identifies the 'mysterious' knocking as someone at the south... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth: "Blood will have blood" (3.4.121), and asks what Lady Macbeth makes of the fact that Macduff does not appear... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
He says: "I am in blood / Stepped in so far" (3.4.135) that turning back is as difficult as continuing on. (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
...the words: "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him" (5.1.33-34)? (full context)