Similes in Macbeth

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About this sample


Words: 604 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 604|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Body
  2. Conclusion
  3. Bibliography

William Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth, is filled with vivid imagery and poetic language that enhance the dramatic impact of the play. One prominent literary device utilized by Shakespeare is the simile, which compares two seemingly unrelated things using "like" or "as." Through the strategic use of similes, Shakespeare not only enhances the audience's understanding and engagement with the characters and themes, but also adds depth and complexity to the overall narrative. This essay will explore the various similes in Macbeth, analyze their significance, and discuss how they contribute to the overall meaning and atmosphere of the play.

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1. Blood as a Symbol of Guilt and Consequence

Shakespeare employs similes to vividly portray the guilt and consequences faced by the characters in Macbeth. In the aftermath of King Duncan's murder, Macbeth is consumed by guilt and remorse. In Act 2, Scene 2, he exclaims:

"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red."

Here, Macbeth compares the blood on his hands to the vastness of the ocean, emphasizing the magnitude of his guilt. The simile highlights the impossibility of washing away his sins, suggesting that no amount of water can cleanse him. By using this simile, Shakespeare effectively conveys the weight of guilt that plagues Macbeth, emphasizing the irreversible nature of his actions.

2. Ambition as a Fiery Desire

Another prominent simile in Macbeth is used to depict the destructive nature of ambition. Lady Macbeth, driven by her ambition to become queen, encourages her husband to take drastic measures. In Act 1, Scene 5, she says:

"Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it."

Here, Lady Macbeth compares Macbeth's ambition to a fire that needs fuel to burn. The simile suggests that without the necessary ruthlessness and determination, Macbeth's ambition will remain unfulfilled. By using this simile, Shakespeare portrays ambition as a force that can consume individuals, leading them to commit heinous acts in pursuit of power.

3. Sleep as a Symbol of Innocence and Peace

Shakespeare also utilizes similes to convey the loss of innocence and peace in Macbeth. After killing King Duncan, Macbeth is haunted by guilt and paranoia. In Act 2, Scene 2, he laments:

"Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep'—the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast."

Here, Macbeth compares sleep to a soothing balm that heals the wounds of the mind and provides solace. The simile highlights the loss of innocence and peace that accompanies his guilt-ridden conscience. By using this simile, Shakespeare emphasizes the psychological torment experienced by Macbeth, illustrating the destructive consequences of his ambition.


In conclusion, the use of similes in Macbeth enhances the audience's understanding of the characters and themes, while adding depth and complexity to the play. Through the comparison of seemingly unrelated objects, Shakespeare effectively conveys the emotions, motivations, and consequences faced by the characters. The similes depicting blood, ambition, and sleep serve as powerful symbols that contribute to the overall meaning and atmosphere of the play. They emphasize the weight of guilt, the destructive nature of ambition, and the loss of innocence and peace. By employing similes, Shakespeare's Macbeth becomes a rich and multi-layered work that continues to captivate audiences and resonate with readers today.

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Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Similes in Macbeth. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 24, 2024, from
“Similes in Macbeth.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
Similes in Macbeth. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Jul. 2024].
Similes in Macbeth [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 24]. Available from:
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