Images of birds in Shakespeare's "Macbeth" - Part 1 (2023)

This is a paper I wrote for a course on the works of Shakespeare in college. As a side note, the professor for this class was one of the best I've had. You could go to his class hating English and literature and at least come out enjoying it. His love of teaching was contagious. This assignment has given me a deeper appreciation for this magnificent piece, and I hope you will too.

Blessings to you and yours,

~ Madelyn Rose Craig

(Video) Shakespeare in Seven Minutes: Macbeth Summary

Macbethis a story about witches, murder mysteries, secrecy and superstition. Most of the story revolves around the supernatural and untouchable forces. Some of these superstitions, however, are lurking in the feathers of higher-level creatures, creatures that are frequently found on the pages of Shakespeare's play but often go unnoticed in the larger scope of the story. As Spurgeon writes of Shakespeare's animal pictures: “Of the great group of animals, the outstanding point is the large number which are of birds. … Shakespeare's tender pictures make up by far the largest part.” (48). Birds in ShakespeareMacbethplay a surprisingly important role in the nature of the piece. They are not placed as a casually mentioned description, but the birds are often used to characterize a person or add more meaning to the atmosphere of a scene.

Some of these birds are dire omens, as their presence brings the worst of calamities. Others are a sign of prosperity and peace. Besides the actual naming of birds, there are also many tangential references to them. The use of fly and flight occurs eleven times, wing three, and the word bird six times. Macbeth's last lines state that he cannot fly as if he were a captive bird (5.7.1). The imagery of the bird is used well by Shakespeare because it is both poetically beautiful and culturally significant. Yet for today's reader, these birds mean little beyond name, shape, and perhaps color if the reader is knowledgeable about bird species. It is therefore important to explain the symbolism and portents behind the birds that Shakespeare uses to understand an underlying message of the play. Shakespeare uses birds as symbols to represent the ambiance of a situation and to describe the nature of the characters in his playMacbethwhich, if they know what they symbolize, give the reader an additional deeper understanding of the piece.

throughMacbeth,There are many general references to birds. Most of these uses are related to escape, such as B. Escape from a place. The first occurrence is at the time of Banquo's assassination, when he says to his son, "Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!" (3.3.17). The next event is when Lennox tells another lord that a messenger must "fly" to England to report the evils afflicting the land (3.6.45-49). After her husband's escape, Lady Macduff Ross questions why her husband had to "fly over land," an act she calls insanity (4.2.1, 3). Macbeth, frustrated by reports of the Lords who have forsaken him, brazenly says, "Let them all fly." (5.3.1). The last use of the word fly is when Macbeth relates how trapped he is when he claims, "They tied me to a stake; I cannot fly” (5.7.1).

(Video) William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth': Act 1 Scene 7 Analysis

Flight is also used not only in reference to a person fleeing, but also to Banquo's "soul flight" to their resting place (3.1.140-141). There is also a reference to a bat fleeing to the witch Hecate to fulfill her evil duty (3.2.43-44). Duncan uses the beautiful word "wings" to express how slow the payback for good deeds is compared to how quick Macbeth does them (1.4.16-18). The crow "flies" to its home in the "Rooky Wood" and leaves the night and bad news to the owl (3.2.50-51). The scene with Lady Macduff and her son includes birds; In fact, Lady Macduff once calls her infant son a bird and twice to herself (4.2). This scene also mentions ways of catching a bird, such as nets, lime, snares, and gin (4.2.34-35). The last use of the word bird is an indirect reference to the owl as "obscure bird" and to the martlet, both of which are discussed below along with another direct designation (2.3.59; 1.6.7).

This first use of a specific aviary description occurs in the opening act of the play. The battle draws to a close, the generals confer with their king, and the success of a great man is discussed. Macbeth, a general along with Macduff and Banquo, is described by a messenger to his king as a noble bird: an eagle (1.2.34-35). The eagle is a large bird of prey, territorial and fierce in nature. Such a description fits Macbeth, who was only defending his country. The reporting messenger mentions that just as the battle was about to be won, new enemy recruits were arriving against Macbeth, Banquo, and their men. When asked whether this "dismayed" the captains, the messenger replies with a joke and says: "As the sparrows the eagles, or the hare the lion." (1.2.34-35). Obviously a lion would not be afraid of a rabbit, nor would an eagle be afraid of a tiny sparrow. Macbeth, symbolized as an eagle, is thus both noble and fierce. Macdonwald, on the other hand, is described as exactly the opposite. He is an ordinary sparrow, a tiny bird of little importance; harmless, peaceful, and more of a nuisance than a worrying creature to a man with a fighting spirit like Macbeth's.

Soon after this first use, the sparrow is mentioned again and described as having a similarly harmless character. King Duncan, approaching the castle with Banquo, comments on the "pleasant air" that surrounds it. Likewise, Banquo observes the calm scene around him and comments on how warm and full of little birds called martlets (1.6.3-8). These little birds are a sparrow species and, as mentioned, harmless. In fact, Banquo notes that they "haunt temples," i. H. Birds that live in temples, perhaps alluding to the psalmist who says that swallows and sparrows build their nests in God's temple, and the air around the house praises peacefully, for these birds nest only where "the air is delicate is” (Holy Bible: NIV, Psa. 1.3; 1.6.3-8). This sighting of the peacefully nesting bird announces at the entrance to Macbeth's castle that this place is a place of safety and life. Also, the air Duncan mentions could also be a reference to their birds filling them, which he recommends "nimble and sweet" (1.6.2). These birds are used as a symbol of peace and security in this apartment. They even symbolize life itself, since the bird only sets up its "birth cradle" where the air is harmless (1.6.8).

(Video) Macbeth By William Shakespeare | #macbeth | Macbeth Full Movie | #tragedy

But life will not be found here, and the presence of these martlets, like many other characters in the play, can be deceptive. Another name for Martlet is Martin, which in the "sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a sort of slang term for a 'dupe' 'Martin'" (Spurgeon 188-9). Thus Shakespeare probably intended his readers to overlook the bird's innocent nature and foresee the deception to come (Spurgeon 188). Just lines before the reference to the Martin, a messenger of death came to this place and foretold the death of these men who are speaking. Lady Macbeth, who has just read her husband's message, is informed by a servant that King Duncan will soon be at her house to rest. The bird she names the messenger is a raven (1.5.38-40). According to Hazlitt in his bookbeliefs and folklore of the British Isles,The raven is a harbinger of terrible things, an ill omen, and a harbinger of death (Hazlitt 507). He quotes another when he says: "By ravens both public and private disasters and death were heralded" (Hazlitt 507). Again he says, "Private men were warned of their death by ravens . . . a messenger of death," and names one such man who was forewarned as Cicero (Hazlitt 507). Hazlitt even goes so far as to say that "the croaking of a raven" is counted among the "omens" and that if one hears "a raven croaking from the nearest roof, he should immediately make his will" (Hazlitt 508).

So this raven inMacbeth, croaking his hoarse message to his beloved, brings the news of death to the king. The mere presence of a raven is itself a warning that great misfortune is about to happen, and in just words, the Lady Macbeth, having gained knowledge of her enemy's impending arrival, devises a plan that will bring about the downfall of her king (1.5) . Shakespeare shows his knowledge of the superstitions of the time by using such symbols in his writings. People would have known that this bird was a messenger of death. And as the play unfolds, that omen proves true.

A different but smaller bird of prey is also used by Shakespeare: a kite. This bird is a type of hawk - a small, swift bird. Macbeth first mentions it when speaking to the spirit of Banquo when he says, "Our graves must send back / Those we bury our monuments / Shall be Dragon's Maw" (1.7.71-72). These lines show the carnivorous nature of a dragon, with Macbeth even going so far as to say that they will eat the flesh of men, their bellies becoming the graves of men. But later in the play, Macduff uses a dragon to represent the character of Macbeth. Dismayed by the death of his wife and children, he calls Macbeth a "hell dragon" (4.3.218). Although no such bird actually exists, the use of Hell verbally exaggerates Macduff's anger at Macbeth and reinforces Macbeth's destructive nature. Macduff says shortly after Macbeth was renamed that this "hell dragon" murdered his family "in one fell swoop" (4.3.220). Such formulations create the image of a large bird of prey swooping down on its great wings and moving swiftly to capture an unsuspecting creature for it to feast upon. Once again this refers to Macbeth's use of dragons saying that "our monuments shall be / dragon's maw" for the graves of the Macduffs shall be wherever the mouth of Macbeth proclaims them (3.4.71-72).

(Video) [Shakespeare: The Animated Tales] Macbeth

Before the revelation of his family's death, Macduff's wife appears on stage while talking to their son, whom she calls a bird (4.2). She currently feels, and rightly so, abandoned by her master. She describes herself as a wren who, although a tiny bird, "will fight" (4.2.8-11). The wren, as described in Hazlitt's books, was known by the Greeks and Spanish respectively as the "little king" or simply "king" (Hazlitt 665-6). The Latins, Danes, and Italians also referred to the bird as "king," "chicken king," and "little king" (Hazlitt 665-6). Therefore, Macduff must be regal by nature, or at least noble, to be a wren's mate. Hazlitt also mentions that the wren "though so small molests the eagle, which rules over all other birds" (Hazlitt 665-6). Many other cultures also entitle this little bird with royal statues, and even the Druids, the native people of the islands, regard the little wren as "king of all birds" (Hazlitt 665-66).

Originally, Macbeth was described as a great eagle unperturbed by small birds such as sparrows. But here it is shown that some small birds are culturally a nuisance to what is normally regarded as the ruler of birds. The cultural references show the reality of the game situation. This eagle seems more than a little excited by such a small bird as it rushes off to kill her. Also, Macbeth's character bird changes from an eagle to an owl, the bird Lady Macduff entitles him to and will soon fight (4.2.11). As Macduff later finds out, all of his "pretty hens and their mother" were killed by Macbeth (4.3.219-220). Apparently, some small birds get caught in the "net" and "lime" (4.2.34).

continued inPart 2

(Video) Shakespeare's = MacBeth = Part 1


How is bird imagery used in Macbeth? ›

The raven, a bird that is entirely black and sinister, is usually represented as a symbol of negativity or evil force. So Shakespeare adopted this portrayal of the raven in this quotation as well as he was prognosticating the vile action that Lady Macbeth and her husband were about to carry out.

What are some examples of imagery in Macbeth Act 1? ›

Some examples of imagery in Macbeth include:
  • "Make thick my blood./Stop up th' access and passage to remorse" (1:5:50-51)
  • "Look like th' innocent/ flower,/ But be the serpent under 't." (1:6:76-78)
Aug 21, 2022

What birds are mentioned in Macbeth? ›

Birds make frequent, and often noisy, appearances in Macbeth. There are sparrows, eagles, ravens, 'martlets' (house martens), owls, falcons, crows, chickens, kites, 'maggot-pies' (magpies), choughs, rooks, and wrens.

Why does Lady Macduff use bird imagery? ›

- Foreshadows the Macduff's deaths. Wrens symbolize purity, showing how innocent and helpless Lady Macduff and her children are when they meet their death. By characterizing Macbeth as a malevolent owl, it shows how ruthless he is to attack these poor unprotected, unsuspecting wrens (the Macduffs).

What do birds represent in Shakespeare? ›

Although Shakespeare was himself likened to “an upstart crow” by a rival playwright in his time, he still used birds symbolically, metaphorically, and poetically within his works. For Shakespeare, birds were the announcers of mood, of changing time, and of the desires and intentions of his characters.

Why does Shakespeare use bird imagery? ›

Shakespeare uses birds as symbols to represent the ambiance of a situation and describe the nature of the characters in his play Macbeth which, knowing what they symbolize, gives the reader an added depth of understanding of the play. Throughout Macbeth, there are many general references to birds.

Which are the two birds mentioned in the poem? ›

1) The two birds are Robin and Jay.

Which are the two birds in the poem? ›

Answer : The two birds mentioned in the poem are Robin and Jay.

What do birds symbolize? ›

What do birds symbolize? The beautiful feathered creatures are fascinating in flight. They represent freedom, grace, love, strength, longevity, eternity, happiness, love, and more. Birds have varying symbolism depending on culture and religion.

What does the bird symbolize in the poem? ›

The bird represents freedom or desire to be free, while the cage symbolizes confinement or oppression.

Are birds a motif in Macbeth? ›

Macbeth himself is most often associated with an owl - a bird of prey. On Tuesday last, / A falcon tow'ring in her pride of place / Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed. ' An old man tells Ross that an owl (unusually) has flown upwards then attacked and killed a falcon.

Why is there so many references of birds in Macbeth? ›

Birds are used as a motif because of the visible world of hierarchy that exists in their species and this easily represents the proceedings in the play. Birds, primarily the owl, symbolize Macbeth many times because of his horrific deeds. An owl is usually defined as a predatory bird that is active during the night.

What are 3 images that appear in Macbeth as eerie warnings? ›

Here, Macbeth encounters three apparitions: a severed head, a bloody child, and a royal child holding a tree. Each of them respectively represents Macbeth himself, his childish naivete, and Malcolm's offensive from the Birnam Wood.

What are 3 examples of a imagery? ›

Literary Imagery Examples
  • Visual: appeals to our sense of sight. The crimson apple glistened in her hand.
  • Auditory: appeals to our sense of sound. The roaring thunder frightened the little boy.
  • Olfactory: appeals to our sense of smell. ...
  • Gustatory: appeals to our sense of taste. ...
  • Tactile: appeals to our sense of touch.

What do birds symbolize in stories? ›

In FAIRY TALES, those who understand the language of the bird are often able to attain special knowledge, and people are often transformed into birds. They are thought and imagination, transcendence and divinity, freedom from materialism.

What are the two birds metaphors for? ›

Two birds are shown to dwell on the same tree as inseparable companions. One tastes the fruits in the tree while the other merely watches. The former represents the individual self and the latter the Supreme soul.

How many times are birds mentioned in Macbeth? ›

In the tragedy Macbeth Shakespeare continually uses bird imagery to represent several different plot developments in the play. Birds are continually used as a way to represent characters themselves in the way the act. Shakespeare uses this imagery a total of eleven times throughout the five acts in the play.

What does the bird symbolize in the writer? ›

Throughout the story, birds were a recurring motif. They symbolize numerous things in varied novels. In this novel in particular, birds symbolize freedom and the possibility of escape.

What are the birds used in poems? ›

Birds that are usually named in poems include sparrows, swallows, nightingales and peacocks.

What do birds symbolize in paintings? ›

Birds often symbolize a certain aspirational quality that sets human beings apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, which is why depictions of divine beings often draw upon the physicality of these winged creatures. Renaissance paintings and prints, for example, present angels with human bodies but bird-like wings.

Which birds are talking in the poem answer? ›

Name the two birds in the poem. Ans: Robin and Jay are the two birds in the poem and are having a talk.

How were the two birds separated answer? ›

One day, a storm blew down their tree. The strong wind blew the baby birds away to the other side of the forest. They landed at different places. In this way, they got separated.

What is the name of the two birds? ›

Question 1: Name the two birds in the poem. Answer: Robin and Jay.

What are the birds doing as described in the first stanza? ›

In the first stanza, Maya Angelou refers to nature. She describes how “a free bird leaps on the back of the wind.” She describes the bird's flight against the orange sky.

Who were the two birds separated? ›

The tree came down. The mother bird was killed. The strong wind blew the two chicks away to the other side of the forest at a little distance from each other. Thus they got separated from each other.

What is the moral of two birds? ›

The king told the story of the two birds. The Rishi gave him the moral of the story that “A person is recognized by the people who are friends to them. The first bird got the accompany of the robber and became like that; while the second bird lived in the company of saints. So he became like the saint”.

Which birds represent life? ›

Cranes are revered in Asia as symbols of long life.

Who does the bird symbolize trifles? ›

The canary represents Minnie Foster: that sweet, fluttery girl who was transformed into the lonely, depressed Mrs. Wright by years of her husband's neglect and emotional abuse.

Does bird symbolize love? ›

No animal represents the sentiment of love more than love birds. This symbolism dates back to the Middle Ages, as it is commonly known that a pair of birds symbolises true love.

How does the poet describe the bird? ›

She refers to nature. She describes the way “a free bird leaps on the back of the wind”. ... Then she describes the “bird that stalks his narrow cage”.

What are the themes discussed in the birds? ›

As a fable of humility, “The Birds” condemns humanity's hubristic belief that we can control the world around us. Building on the theme of man vs. nature, Du Maurier's tale rejects the notion of humankind as the master of nature, instead suggesting that any belief in human superiority to nature is foolish and doomed.

What do the birds symbolize in the birds by Daphne du Maurier? ›

Daphne du Maurier has chosen birds as the enemy, probably inspired by the recent WW2. The bird attacks do have an obvious resemblance to the air raids during the war. But it might as well have been a different animal or a different threat. or even a contagious virus, by sheltering in our homes or going underground.

What is the obscure bird in Macbeth? ›

The owl is the "obscure bird," because it flies in the night and can't be seen. Perhaps that owl was the same one that Lady Macbeth heard when Macbeth was killing King Duncan. Just after Lennox finishes this speech, Macduff comes rushing in with the news that King Duncan has been murdered.

What do the two birds symbolize answer? ›

Two birds are often used to symbolize love.

What is the irony in for the birds? ›

For the Birds is an excellent film for teaching situational and dramatic irony. As the birds peck away at the large bird's claws, we in the audience know that he will soon fall down, causing the power line to rebound upwards, shooting the other birds into the air.

What does the quote for the birds mean? ›

for the birds in American English

US. Slang. ridiculous, foolish, worthless, useless, etc.

What animal imagery is used to describe Macbeth? ›

Macbeth himself is most often associated with an owl - a bird of prey. On Tuesday last, / A falcon tow'ring in her pride of place / Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed. ' An old man tells Ross that an owl (unusually) has flown upwards then attacked and killed a falcon.

What do birds symbolize in Macbeth Act 4? ›

The bird symbolizes a pitiful, innocent, harmless creature, which is the son. His protector abandoned his child and now this evil being is going to kill him. Later right before he is killed, the son is referred to as an egg. Illustrating his son as even more innocent and defenseless.

What animal imagery does Macbeth use? ›

Macbeth is symbolic of the mousing owl, conquering the more powerful and usually predatory falcon, represented by Duncan. Although this may be a success in Macbeth's eyes, it signifies the beginning of his callous nature as he now turns against his once revered and powerful king without regret or emotion.

What are some significant symbols and images in Macbeth? ›

Light and darkness are used throughout Macbeth to symbolize good and evil. Shakespeare uses references of lightness in nature and the weather to symbolize life, purity, and innocence, and references of darkness in death, destruction, and guilt.

Why is Lennie described using animal imagery? ›

Why is it used? Lennie's mental disability makes him unable to understand situations, the way that others behave and what they say. His size and lack of intelligence are often emphasised through the comparisons made between him and animals.

What are 3 themes from for the birds? ›

The Birds Themes
  • Man vs. Nature. ...
  • Hubris and Humility. As a fable of humility, “The Birds” condemns humanity's hubristic belief that we can control the world around us. ...
  • The Inhumanity of War. ...
  • Reason vs.
Mar 2, 2018

What is the message of for the birds? ›

It depicts a story of bullying and how the bullies suffer from their own actions in the end. Themes: – Being different: The theme of being left out for being different is a key theme here.

What are birds a symbol of in literature? ›

In FAIRY TALES, those who understand the language of the bird are often able to attain special knowledge, and people are often transformed into birds. They are thought and imagination, transcendence and divinity, freedom from materialism. May also stand for the metamorphosis of a lover.

What are the birds mentioned in the poem? ›

Answer : The two birds mentioned in the poem are Robin and Jay.

What do crows symbolize in Macbeth? ›

Crows are scavengers who feed on carrion, notoriously symbolic of deception, death, and war–and witchcraft–but they are also creatures of prophecy, and this line Macbeth speaks is prophetic, setting the stage for his downfall, though to him the words are a signal that it is time to act under cover of darkness, to grab ...

What animal does Banquo represent? ›

Banquo in every aspect reflects characteristics of a wolf. Wolves are fiercely loyal and will stick with the pack no matter the circumstances. Wolves are also very strong animals and if need be will use force to protect the pack.


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