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Published: 22-12-2019

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The Serpentine Symbolism in Macbeth

The snake has long been used as a symbol of sly subtlety. A serpent’s presence has been characterized by cunning cynicism dating as far back as biblical instances, when the snake persuaded Eve to consume the forbidden fruit of Eden’s garden. Even the phrase “snake in the grass” expresses hidden threat. Shakespeare utilizes this treacherous reptile in Macbeth to convey the same evil. In his poetic prose, Shakespeare may not speak of a character’s malevolence directly rather, he alludes to it by way of serpentine imagery. I analyzed four pictures of this type in Macbeth. What is their goal, and what do they signify? A deep undercurrent of which means flows beneath every image.

In act 1, scene 5, Lady Macbeth tries to instill invisible evil into herself and her husband in preparation for Duncan’s murder. She asks for supernatural unsexing, for a thickening of her blood that will “stop up th’ access and passage to remorse.” She fears her husband is as well weak to murder Duncan, which she believes is Macbeth’s only path to the crown. Following tauntingly questioning her husband’s manhood, she convinces him to comply with her gory strategy and provides him instructions to do so.

“To beguile the time, appear like the time. Bear welcome in your eye, your hand, your tongue. Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.”

She says that to succeed, they have to feign mediocrity amongst their guests, concealing their sinister desires. Appearing typical will not invoke suspicions. The serpent Lady Macbeth speaks of is the evil ambition Macbeth has, craftily slithering out of the shade of the virtuous flower when the deed is to be accomplished. This image is utilized in a traditional manner, denoting mischief and concealment. It represents Macbeth’s hidden ambitions and his wife’s plans. This is the very first example of an extensive quantity of scheming that will happen in an effort to cover the bloody truths of Macbeth’s rise to the throne. It also follows the theme of appearance versus reality- “fair is foul and foul is fair.” What Duncan thinks to have “a pleasant seat” is actually the poisonous serpent underneath, waiting till nighttime to prey on its docile victim.

Macbeth expresses his suspicions about Banquo and Duncan’s murder in act three, scene two. When Lady Macbeth says “things without having all remedy ought to be without regard,” he disagrees.


“We have scorched the snake, not killed it. She’ll remain close and be herself whilst our poor malice remains in danger of her former tooth.”


Right here, the snake is a metaphor for the obstacles impeding his rise to energy. He says they have merely injured these hindrances, not eliminated them. In time, they’ll reassemble just as robust, even though Macbeth and his wife will be vulnerable to them once again. He feels his work is not but completed, and hires murderers for Banquo to finish it. The “former tooth” of the snake Macbeth fears will get revenge on him foreshadows the remainder of his life. Upon scorching Duncan, Macbeth sets off his devilish ambitions and begins butchering his way by means of a downward spiral. His scorching of the snake eventually leads to he and his wife’s painful demises and a loss of all he had gained.

The “snake” Macbeth was apprehensive about earlier is eliminated by the murderers when they kill Banquo in act 3, scene four. Macbeth believed that his impediments would dissipate with the General rather, they stay in Fleances’ escape. About the incidents, Macbeth says:

“There the grown serpent lies. The worm that’s fled hath nature that in time will venom breed, no teeth for th’ present.”

The “serpent” that has plagued him is lying nonetheless in a ditch, definitely not a bother to him any more. He is now troubled by its spawn, the presently innocent “worm” that he knows will grow to be a danger in time. Even soon after far more bloodshed, Macbeth is not cost-free of the weighty snake. Fleance will mature into a threat, fathering a son that will start the seven generations of Scottish kings Macbeth wanted to kill off. A final serpentine image is employed in act 4, scene 1. The Weird Sisters initiate their brew with a “fillet of a fenny snake.” The serpent, along with numerous other animalian ingredients, is utilized to show vileness. It is not a specifically substantial image in the full play, however in this scene it precedes twenty-six lines of further components. Heading the filthy brew with a swamp snake, effortlessly the most loathsome of all animals, the Witches set the revolting tone of their potion.

If a picture tells a thousand words, consider the importance of an image upon a play as brief as Macbeth. Shakespeare colorizes his play with contrasting dark pictures of snakes. They are placed evenly all through the play, serving different purposes. The 4 examples of serpentine imagery in Macbeth illustrate the theme of look versus reality, foreshadow coming events, and set the tone of passages, all the although keeping the deceptive finesse that characterizes the snake in all literary works.
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