Macbeth Concept Of Imagination Philosophy Essay

Macbeth is the best example of Shakespeares use of imagination. Macbeth b

A Shakespearean tragic hero is defined as ‘an exceptional being of high degree’ whom has a fatal flaw. Macbeth’s character is a classic example of a Shakespearean tragic hero. In many of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the main character starts off as a very brave, heroic person whom everyone praises. However as time passes by, the character loses his reputation because he faces a moral dilemma. He also loses reputation due to his fatal flaw.

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In Act 1 Scene 2, we know that Macbeth is the main character, because of his brave actions in the battle. A tragic hero’s exceptional nature generally raises him above the average level of humanity.

“Disdaining fortune with his brandished steel” (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 17)

Macbeth’s heroism can be seen by the way Macbeth rejects ‘fortune’ that is personified as a glorious warrior. Macbeth is described as ‘Brave Macbeth’ and also as the servant of the God Valour; he is ‘Valour’s minion.’ This is hyperbole, because a human being can’t fight as if he was the servant of god Valour. The god Valour is the Greek god of war. Macbeth being the servant of Valour suggests that Macbeth is a brave warrior. Macbeth’s violent nature supports his position as a hero fighting for Scotland.

Macbeth is seen to have ‘unseamed him from the nave to the chops.’ Shakespeare creates a violent image of Macbeth brutally killing Macdonwald. Macdonwald is the opponent warrior who was as violent as well, but Macbeth overpowers Macdonwald which suggests that Macbeth is very brutal. The use of ‘unseamed’ is a metaphor from clothing that shows his precision and expertise. Macbeth is seen as a heroic warrior in this act as he is fighting for Scotland. He is represented as a valiant character who hunts down Scotland’s enemies.

‘Carved out his passage till he faced the slave’

He is an accomplished killing machine, but because he serves Scotland he is not a butcher even though he has the skills of a butcher.

When Macbeth and Banquo return to Scotland, Macbeth is greeted by three witches with three different greetings. The three witches said,

“All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!

All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!”

(Act 1 Scene 3 line 54)

Macbeth did not believe the witches’ prophecies at first, but after Ross informs Macbeth that the king has just given him the position of Thane of Cawdor he starts to think that the prophecies could be true. He thinks that he could become the king of Scotland as well. This declines his nobility just by thinking of being the king, which means that he would have to break the chain of being. The chain of being is the status of god, Jesus, angels and kings. The king is believed to be the God’s appointed representative, so it would be wrong for Macbeth to be the king. During the Elizabethan era, killing the king meant killing God’s chosen one. Therefore, going against God’s will was believed to cause chaos. Also, Macbeth knows that if Duncan dies for some reason, it would be the princes who’d be the kings afterwards. Macbeth becomes confused about how he’d be a king when he had no royal blood. However, he still tries to become king as he is influenced by his fatal flaw; ambition.

In Act 1 Scene 5, Lady Macbeth is informed about the witches’ prophecies by a messenger sent by Macbeth. However, once Macbeth arrives home his plans change once again. Lady Macbeth decides to be the push which he needs to go through with the plan. The failing of his decision reflects on her when she taunts his manhood. Lady Macbeth has an enormous impact on Macbeth of murdering Duncan. Macbeth’s craving for power and moral weakness lead him to evil suggestion which inevitably lead to his downfall. This is called hamartia one of Macbeth’s main tragic hero characteristics according to Aristotle.

The third prophecy comes true after Malcolm and Dolnalbien runs away from Scotland, scared for their lives. Then, Macbeth becomes the King of Scotland. Even though he became the king, he is worried that someone else might murder him trying to take the throne. Now, he is eager to do anything to keep the name of being the king of Scotland. Therefore, he hires assassins to kill Banquo because he knows about the prophecy, and Banquo may suspect him. Macbeth’s ambition still rules his actions.

”    Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect,

    Whole as the marble, founded as the rock,

    As broad and general as the casing air:

    But now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confined, bound in

    To saucy doubts and fears. But Banquo’s safe?”

(Act 3 scene 4 lines 21)

At this point, Macbeth’s position declines even more. Killing your best friend to remain as a king is not very heroic. He also, wanted Banquo’s son to be killed, because the prophecy said that Banquo’s sons would be kings. This means that Banquo’s son, Fleance would be a threat to Macbeth or his descendants. However, Fleance escapes and Macbeth becomes irritated. Macbeth’s decline in status is very clear now. Macbeth is a whole different character since the beginning of the play. He was loyal to the king in the beginning, but now he is not afraid of anything. He was not afraid of the consequences of his actions even though he knew what they would be.

Scotland is devastated due to Macbeth’s actions. Act 4 Scene 3 is all about the personification of Scotland who bleeds and suffers due to Macbeth’s actions. This supports and matches with Aristotle’s theories, that a tragic hero is one who causes himself and the whole society to suffer.

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“I think our country sinks beneath the yoke;

It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash

Is added to her wounds.”

(Act 4, Scene 3,Lines 39-41)

Shakespeare uses imagery and metaphors in order to show that Scotland has been destroyed by Macbeth. Scotland is now passive and is being controlled by Macbeth. This affects the whole of Scotland by worsening the society. Each time Macbeth commits a murder a wound is added to Scotland. Personification is used here to portray Scotland as a person who is being damaged by Macbeth. It is an image which portrays that it is not only Macbeth whom suffers, but his actions have wider effects on Scotland.

In Macbeth’s final soliloquy in Act 5 Scene 5, he tells the readers his true feelings, giving us an insight to his feelings. This differs from his previous soliloquies, because the pace of his soliloquy is much slower which shows his depressed emotions. Macbeth finally realises how all the prophecies have come true and understand his faults. In Aristotle words, this is called Agnorisis. Agnorisis is when the character recognises the wrong deeds, he made throughout the time.

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

(Act 5,Scene 5,Lines 19-21)

Imagery and alliteration is used in this soliloquy to represent life which goes so slowly. Alliteration is the repetition of the first consonant sound in a phrase. Due to the use of alliteration, the soliloquy seems very dull and long.

In Act 5 Scene 8, Macbeth status inclines a little, since he still fights against Macduff, even though he knows that he will lose against him. The forgotten heroic warrior, Macbeth is described again at the end of the play. Macbeth did not want to fight, but after Macduff says,

“Then yield thee, coward…”

(Act 5, Scene 8, line 23).

Then, Macbeth says,

“I will not yield…” (Act 5, Scene 8, line 28).

This shows the readers, once again how brave Macbeth is. Macbeth finally realises how all the prophecies have come true and what he has done wrong. In Aristotle words, this is called Agnorisis. Since he fights bravely, like a hero, he gains some sympathy from the readers again. Gaining sympathy from the readers is called catharsis according to Aristotle.

In my opinion, Macbeth is a tragic hero in this Shakespeare play. The Aristotle theory about tragic heroes backs up the play. According to the Aristotle’s theory about tragic heroes, the character must be at a high status in the beginning. They should have some virtues and a tragic flaw. One function of tragedy is to arouse a catharsis, which comes from watching the tragic hero’s terrible fate. Macbeth fits into all the requirements as a tragic hero. Therefore, Macbeth is a tragic hero.


ecomes very obsessed with an idea of becoming king and his imagination leads him to do horrible things.

The purpose of this paper is to show how powerful Macbeth’s imagination was and how it served him. To successfully examine the concept of imagination in ‘Macbeth’ it was necessary to read ‘Macbeth’ itself, ‘Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human’ by Harold Bloom and ‘O Sekspirovim tragedijama’ by Shahab Yar Khan. Also, diverse critics gave their input on this theme which was helpful in finalizing this research. ( Ian Johnston 1999, Henry Neill Paul 1938) Results show that Macbeth has freely chosen to embrace evil in his imagination. He has not resisted the impulse to imagine himself as a king. It is quite clear that Macbeth’s ambition and commitment to his evil desires led him to brutally kill all those who he sees as a threat.


Shakespeare has for the centuries thrilled most of the readers and spectators around the world. His works have been studied in many countries, thus making him hailed as the world’s greatest writer ever. Someone once said that ”the man, who has no imagination, has no wings”. We are all aware of that. The imagination runs the show. We can’t accept the modern literature without it. Shakespeare used it very often and with so much excellence that he brought it to the perfection. Macbeth is the best example of Shakespeare’s use of imagination

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Harold Bloom says that Macbeth himself can be called the unluckiest of all Shakespearean protagonists because he is the most imaginative. His power of fantasy is so enormous that pragmatically it seems to be Shakespeare’s own. (Bloom, 1998, p.516)

The universal reaction to Macbeth is that we identify with him, or at least with his imagination.

Shakespeare describes various types of symbolism and imagery that leads to the downfall of the main protagonist, Macbeth. The showings of darkness represent its evil and tragic moments. Blood symbolizes murder and guilt. The symbol of clothing is particularly used to suggest the hiding of the real faces and true itself and it is also widely used in order to achieve the general theme of evil. There are also Biblical references, witchcrafts, ghosts and many other imagery tools which made the story even more phantasmagoric.

Concept of Imagination

When we speak of imagination the first thing that comes up to our mind is something unnatural; something beyond our concept of reality. Imagination is a long lasting phenomenon. It has roots in mythology. Many people had spoken about it and gave their definitions. They can all be put in one: it is the formation of a mental image of something that is neither perceived as real nor present to the senses.

“The witchcraft in Macbeth, though pervasive, cannot alter material events, yet hallucination can and does. The rough magic in Macbeth is wholly Shakespeare’s; he indulges his own imagination as never before, seeking to find its moral limits (if any). I do suggest that Macbeth represents Shakespeare, in any of the complex ways that Falstaff and Hamlet may represent certain inner aspects of the playwright. But in the Renaissance sense of imagination (which is not ours), Macbeth may well be the emblem of that faculty of Shakespeare, a faculty that must have frightened Shakespeare and ought to terrify us, when we read or attend Macbeth, for the play depends upon its horror and its own imaginings. Imagination 9 or fancy) is an equivocal matter for Shakespeare and his era, where it meant both poetic furor, as a kind of substitute for divine inspiration, and a gap torn in reality, almost a punishment for the displacement of the sacred into the secular. All of us posses, to one degree or another, a proleptic imagination; in Macbeth, it is absolute. Macbeth terrifies us partly because that aspect of our own imagination is so frightening; it seems to make us murderers, thieves, usurpers and rapists.” (Bloom, 1998, p.516)

In the Act I Macbeth is already introduced with extraordinary nature of his imagination:

This supernatural soliciting

Cannot be ill; cannot be good: –

If ill, why hath it given me earnest of success,

Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor:

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair,

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

Against the use of nature? Present fears

Are less than horrible imaginings.

My thought, whose murther yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man

That function is smother’d in surmise,

And nothing is, but what is not.

According to Harold Bloom, ”my single state of man” plays upon several meanings of ”single”: unitary, isolated, vulnerable. The phantasmagoria of murdering Duncan is so vivid that ”nothing is, but what is not”, and ”function”, the mind, is smoothered by ”surmise”, fantasy. Macbeth speaks to himself in a kind of trance, halfway between trauma and second sight. An involuntary visionary of horror, he sees what certainly is going to happen, while still knowing this murder to be ”but fantastical”. His tribute to his own ”horrible imaginings” is absolute: the implication is that his will is irrelevant. (Bloom, 1998, p.536)

The Witches

The witches interactions with Macbeth play a vital role in his thinking about his own life, before and after the murder of Duncan. Macbeth and Banquo recognize them as something supernatural, part of landscape, but not fully human. They have malicious intentions and prophetic powers. They do nothing other than talk and offer visions. They are not involved in any action, yet they are important symbols in the play. They are essential manifestations of the moral atmosphere of Macbeth’s world, just like the ghost in Hamlet. Macbeth so foresees an event that it seems to have happened already before it actually takes place. He is not aware of his ambition before he sees himself having performed the bloody crimes that fulfill his ambition. The witches exist to delusion people, to challenge their faith in themselves and the society.

Professor Khan thinks that Macbeth’s evil-inner of himself attracts the witches:

”One namjerno čekaju Macbetha i Banqua kao Å¡to zlo čeka ljude. MeÄ‘utim, one čovjeku ne predlažu zlo: one radije spomenu object koji bi mogoao pokrenuti čovjekovo vlastito naginjanje zlu, a u ovom slučaju one to rade preko proročanstva. Dobar čovjek kao Å¡to je Banquo, može se oduprijeti njihovom pozivu, jer on u sebi ima milost Božju, kao i trag prvog grijeha.” (Khan, 2008, p.35)

Unlike Macbeth, Banquo doesn’t let his desires outweigh his moral caution. His response to the witches is different:

But ’tis strange,

And oftentimes to win us to our harm

The instruments of darkness tell us truths,

Win us with honest trifles to betray’s

In deepest consequences

Macbeth cannot act on his awareness because his desires, kept alive by his imagination, are constantly mixed with his moral sensibilities. A part of Macbeth is fascinated with the possibility of being king. It’s not entirely clear where this desire comes from. The witches put the suggestion into the play, but there is a strong hint from his wife that two of them have already talked about well before the play begins:

What beast was ‘t, then,

That made you break this enterprise to me?

When you durst do it, then you were a man;

And to be more than what you were, you would

Be so much more the man

In that case, the appearance of the witches may be a response to Macbeth’s desires. He has not exactly invited them, but they are responding to his innermost imaginative desires. They don’t tell him what to do; they don’t say anything about killing Duncan. The witches cannot be responsible for Macbeth’s actions. His actions are not controlled by the witches. He is always free to choose how he is going to act. Hence, we can say that these witches are there to constantly remind us of the potential for evil in the human imagination.


Blood is everywhere in Macbeth, beginning with the opening battle between the Scots and the Norwegian invaders, which is described in harrowing terms by the wounded captain in Act 1, scene 2.

Bloom in his Invention of human argues that ”of all Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth is most ‘a tragedy o blood’, not just in its murders but in the ultimate implications of Macbeth’s imagination itself being bloody. Macbeth’s phantasmagoria of blood is constantly there: blood is the prime constituent of his imagination.” (Bloom, 1998, p.520)

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Once Macbeth and Lady Macbeth embark upon their murderous journey, blood comes to symbolize their guilt, and they begin to feel that their crimes have stained them in a way that cannot be washed clean. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?” Macbeth cries after he has killed Duncan, even as his wife scolds him and says that a little water will do the job. Later, though, she comes to share his horrified sense of being stained: “Out, damned spot; out, I say . . . who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” she asks as she wanders through the halls of their castle near the close of the play. Blood symbolizes the guilt that sits like a permanent stain on the consciences of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, one that hounds them to their graves. (

Professor Khan discusses the sight of blood and its color in his book:

Ono što više upada u oči od boja svjetla i vatre, jeste boja krvi. I zaista, prizor krvi nam se konstantno natura, ne samo pukim slučajem, nego punim opisom i čak ponavljanjem riječi u neočekivanim dijelovima dijaloga. (Khan, 2008, p.25)

Dagger scene

After discussing the crime he is about to commit with Lady Macbeth, Macbeth decided to go through with the “terrible feat”. He is sitting alone, waiting for some signal which would approve his evil act. The focus of this soliloquy, the invisible dagger, is one of first evidences of Macbeth’s powerful imagination; an imagination, which would later be the main reason for his lunacy, and in the very end, his downfall:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?

I see thee yet, in form as palpable

As this which now I draw.

Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going,

And such an instrument I was to use.

Mine eyes are made the fools o’ th’ other senses,

Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still,

And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,

Which was not so before. There’s no such thing.

It is the bloody business which informs

Thus to mine eyes

When he goes out to commit the murder, he is hallucinating the sight of a dagger leading him toward the deed, and he is filled with a sense of horror at what he is about to do. He is, it seems, in the grip of his imagination and is not serving some conscious rational decision he has made. But, in the very act of letting his imagination lead him on, he is aware that what he is doing is wrong. It’s as if the dagger is pulling him toward the murder (against his will)–he’s following an imagined projection of his desires, rather than being pushed into the murder by some inner passion. (

It’s important to stress the imaginative tensions in Macbeth’s character before the murder and to appreciate his divided nature. That’s why summing up his motivation with some quick judgment about his ambition is something one should resist. That resolves the issue too easily. Macbeth, in a sense, is tricked into murdering Duncan, but he tricks himself. That makes the launching of his evil career something much more complex than a single powerful urge which produces a clear decision. (

After all, one needs to notice clearly how he is filled with instant regret at what he has done. If driving ambition were all there was to it, one would think that Macbeth and his wife would not become morally confused so quickly. Macbeth’s entrance after the killing brings out really strongly a sense that if he could go back to the speech about the imaginary dagger, he would not carry out the murder. Lady Macbeth thinks a little water will solve their immediate problem; Macbeth knows that that is too easy. He cannot live with what he is done and remain the same person. (

Macbeth and Banquo’s ghost Encounter

Another instance in which Macbeth’s imagination comes into play again is when he sees Banquo’s ghost and he begins talking to him:

Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee.

Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold.

Thou hast no speculation in those eyes

Which thou dost glare with!

Macbeth and only Macbeth can see Banquo’s ghost. Many critics say that Banquo’s ghost is not ‘real’ but a delusion of his evil sub-conscious and the fear and guilt that have completely overwhelmed and paralyzed him. So Shakespeare uses the appearance of Banquo’s ghost as a means of revealing to his readers the mental turmoil of Macbeth. We know how Macbeth’s reacted to Duncan’s murder, when he said he will never sleep again, that he is capable of guilt. The ghost is a manifestation of that, just as the dagger was a manifestation of his ambition.


Macbeth’s ambition is driven by a number of factors including prophecy and Lady Macbeth. The witches foretell that Macbeth will become King. Macbeth believes them and the various prophecies come true during the play. Witches appear three times, but as a fruit of Macbeth’s imagination. Lady Macbeth is the driving force that encourages Macbeth to overcome his strong sense of guilt and take action. Macbeth’s ambition soon gets out of control and forces him to murder again and again to cover up his previous crime.

The last prophecy Macbeth hears from the witches is:

Macbeth shall never vanquish be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill

For none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.

The supernatural force speaks the truth, but by obliquity and by double meaning. They have blinded Macbeth by extending his pride. The Shakespeare’s use of the apparition to represent the powerful evil spirits is effective to demonstrate the power of image over word.

It is through the strengths of his imagination that Shakespeare’s characters have withstood time. They are played on every stage in the world. In the end, Shakespeare’s ingenious usage of themes and symbolism creates, as A. P. Rossiter calls, “a play about the disintegration of the state of man, and the state he makes his”. Without the witches, the ghost, the visions, and the apparitions, Macbeth would have been a dull and tiresome play.


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