In all of his plays, Shakespeare uses an assortment of motifs and symbols that bear vivid imagery, almost bringing them to life, just like a character. In the tragedy Macbeth, Shakespeare does an excellent job in using the element darkness, and words associated to it, to create a type of “force” that has an impact on the characters and the play itself. When we think of the dark, what immediately comes to our minds are feelings of evilness, wickedness, and negativity. Darkness is a tool that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use to lead them both to execute deadly, murderous acts.
At first darkness is simply portrayed as a blanket to cover up a bad deed when needed. As the play progresses, darkness evolves into a personality (creature) that plagues Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. This evolution is evident in the deeds of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the course of the play. The plot directly affecting Macbeth starts off when he meets the Three Witches who tell him a prophecy that piques his mind. They tell him that he will soon be the King of Scotland: “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter! ” (I. iii. 49).
This scene takes place in darkness, and it is the first time we see darkness as being natural. There is thunder, and therefore there are gray clouds and it is dark. With the combination of the witches (known to society as being evil) and the darkness, we get the notion that there is something vile going on. Banquo, at one point in the play, defines the witches as being “the instruments of darkness” (I. iii. 123). The witches prophecies lead him to consider the role and the privilege of being king which he would have never considered before.
Apparently darkness, even at its initial, natural appearance, brought evil. The next appearance of darkness is used as a “blanket,” a hider of bad deeds. Macbeth says to himself, “Stars, hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires” (I. iv. 51-52). In other words, he is asking for darkness to hide his evil desires. Just before Macbeths quote, Duncan names his successor, and it is not Macbeth. Duncan names his son Malcolm. After previous pondering, Macbeth realizes then that he must do something himself in order for the prophecy to come true.
He decides to become king through foul play. He instantaneously calls upon darkness to be a blanket to hide his dark, evil desires so that he can preserve his benign outlook. It is noticeable that he went straight to calling darkness instead of dealing with “the instruments of darkness,” the three witches. This is an indication of him taking matters into his own hands; perhaps the beginning of his abusing of the power of darkness. Alongside to Macbeth, Lady Macbeth also asks darkness to hide her evil deeds.
After she reads Macbeths letter, she too gets the whim of being queen and enjoying all the benefits that will come with it. In her speech (I. v. 36-52), she seems very determined to achieve the goal of Macbeths crowning. She asks the spirits to “unsex” her, “make thick my blood” as to stop its access to remorse, and, generally, to give her the strength to do the evil deed. She too calls upon darkness to play a role in hiding the deadly act, or rather “assist” her in the murder.
Come, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, that my keen knife see not the wound it makes, nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark to cry, Hold, hold! ” (I. v. 48-52). After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth is crowned king. At this point and after, darkness is not just an entity to be used when needed. Before, when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth needed to kill Duncan, they called upon darkness because they needed it. By now, darkness has evolved into an entity that is always there as opposed to being there just when needed.
Since he became king in a foul way, Macbeth had to be careful that no one found out the truth. With his crown lay a lingering thought that someone might find out the truth and attempt to crush him. Upon finding out that Banquo would be a threat to his security, he quickly refers to darkness, in this case evilness. There is no other thought in Macbeths head. It is murder, plain and simpleand dark. Now, in Banquos words, he is “a borrower of the night [darkness]” (III. i. 26). We can see him becoming more and more roguish, just like darkness is a symbol of evil.
Darkness is somewhat turning into a “companion” of Macbeth. He refers to it instantaneously without thinking, as indicated by his instantaneous decision to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. With more continuance of the play, we see the obvious change of darkness as it takes form of a personality or creature that Macbeths mind becomes a host of. We can see the plaguing of Macbeths mind and the transformation of darkness to a personality in Macbeths speech during his talks with his wife. First he says: “Come, seeling night, scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day… ” (III. ii. 46-47).
This can mean that with the personality in him, he can only operate when night or darkness takes over light. He also says: “Good things of day begin to droop and drowse, whiles nights black agents to their preys do rouse” (III. ii. 53-54). This is enough proof that darkness has become a creature because only creatures can rouse their prey. All this leads to the conclusion that Macbeth now lives in the dark, and he sees everything as night. Darkness is him at this point. When the murderers prepare to kill Banquo, one of them observe that “the west yet glimmers with some steaks of day” (III. i. 6). It is the light that versus the darkness.
It is Banquo versus Macbeth. The third murderer refers to Banquo as the light (III. iii. 19). Macbeth has killed the lightthe only source of recovery. He is out of control: darkness has taken over his life. He even has Macduffs family killed in daylight! Also to notice is whereas Macbeth is dwelling in darkness with no problem, Lady Macbeth is in a frenzy. She sleepwalks, hallucinates, and carries a light with her at all times. Darkness is a corruptor of the mind.
In conclusion, Shakespeare uses the term darkness in a very clever way. He brings a life into an idea that pushes the play in one direction, just like a character. Darkness evolved as first being simply a tool for ones evil usage, secondly being an addictive “drug” that the user uses all the time, and thirdly becoming a virus that plagues ones mind and changes his whole mind into a more ruthless mind. Of course, Macbeth is killed at the end of the play. Darkness is evil and leads one to confusion and chaos in the end.