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Macbeth: Serpentine Imagery

Uploaded by saritagarcia113 on Feb 10, 2001

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 times, when the snake persuaded Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of Eden’s garden. Even the phrase “snake in the grass” expresses latency. Shakespeare uses 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 through serpentine imagery. Macbeth contains four separate images of this type. What is their purpose, and what do they signify? A deep undercurrent of meaning flows beneath each image.

In act one, scene five, 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 too weak to murder Duncan, which she believes is Macbeth’s only path to the crown. After tauntingly questioning her husband’s manhood, she convinces him to follow her gory plan and gives him instructions to do so.

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

She says that to succeed, they must feign mediocrity amongst their guests, concealing their sinister desires. Appearing normal 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 done. This image is used in a traditional manner, denoting mischief and concealment. It represents Macbeth’s hidden ambitions and his wife’s plans. This is the first example of an extensive amount of scheming that will occur 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 all remedy should be without regard,” he disagrees.

“We have scorched the snake, not killed it. She’ll remain close and be...

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Uploaded by:   saritagarcia113

Date:   02/10/2001

Category:   Macbeth

Length:   4 pages (818 words)

Views:   2390

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