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Macbeth Bird Imagery Essay

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Macbeth is a tragic play written by William Shakespeare which deals about the consequences of excessive greed. Shakespeare also uses an abundance of literary devices especially nature and animal imageries. These imageries are used to represent the disturbance in the Great Chain1 which is shown through the murder of King Duncan which destroys the natural order of things especially in the succession to the throne. The birds play the critical role of conveying this idea through foreshadowing and characterization.2 The first function of the bird as a thematic image is to foreshadow. And the most important foreshadowing of the play is the inevitable murder of the King of Scotland, Duncan, by the Macbeth. It is first seen during the Captain’s…show more content…

While the owl, a night creature and also an ill omen, “It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman”6, represent Macbeth. The interference in the natural order was destroyed due to the perverted circumstances of an owl, a night and an inferior creature, would have killed a falcon, and day and a distinguished creature7. The line “Augures, and understood relations, have/ By maggot-pies [magpies], and choughs [jackdaws], and rooks, brought forth/The secret’st man of blood.” 8 The magpies, jackdaws, and rooks are the kind of birds that can be taught how to speak. In this line, Macbeth realizes that some way or another, the things he and his did will be revealed, fortifying the irony to Lady Macbeth’s line in Act II, “what’s done is done”. Within the play, bird imageries are found throughout. The imageries act both to symbolize and to characterize. First, as mentioned from the previous paragraph, the falcon represents Duncan, the most beloved king of Scotland and the owl is to Macbeth. The birds of the night represent Macbeth, the owl and crow, and both represent the act of murders towards Duncan and Banquo. These two murders are important because we can clearly Macbeth moral deterioration; his murder is filled with anxiety and guilt while his second murder, he was fully aware of what he was doing and even asked “darkness” to help him hide9, he has now fully accepted the act of murdering. Another bird of the night is the raven who was
“hoarse himself”

After King Duncan is murdered by Macbeth, we learn from the Old Man and Ross that some strange and "unnatural" things have been going on. Even though it's the middle of the day, the "dark night strangles the traveling lamp," which literally means that darkness fills the sky and chokes out the sun, i.e. an eclipse (2.4.9). Could this be another allusion to the way the king's life has been extinguished (kings are often associated with the sun's power) and his power usurped by "darkness" (Macbeth)?

Probably. And in this case, nature itself becomes a symbol for the political struggle. That makes sense, if you think that kingship in the play is shown to be part of the natural order, something handed down from God. (See our "Power" theme for more about the Divine Right of Kings.)

And that's not all. We also learn that an owl was seen killing a falcon and Duncan's horses went wild and began eating each other (2.4.13-24). Clearly, nature is out of whack, right? Owls are supposed to prey on mice —not go around eating larger birds of prey like falcons. And Duncan's horses? Once tame, they "broke their stalls […] contending 'gainst obedience" just before they ate each other (2.4.21).

It sounds like all of nature is in a state of rebellion, bucking their natural roles and "contending" against the natural order, just like Macbeth has upset the natural order of things by killing the king.

Dark and Stormy

And don’t forget that the play begins with a terrible storm (likely conjured by the witches) that's associated with dark forces and also the rebellion against King Duncan.

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.

The word "hurlyburly" means "tumult" and can apply to either or both the literal storm and "the battle" that's being waged between the king's forces and the rebels (led by the traitorous Macdonwald and Cawdor). In Macbeth, the human world and the natural world are one and the same—and Macbeth's regicide throws both of them topsy-turvy.

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