William Shakespeare's Macbeth
In a practical sense, we are able to see more clearly in daylight, and
so we are also less fearful. When night comes, our sense of sight is
restricted and we are less able to deal with the unexpected. Also, in
Western culture we have come to associate dark with evil and light
with goodness. So Shakespeare uses this as one of his major images to
enhance the horror of the evil deeds carried out by the Macbeths.
Duncan is killed at night. Banquo is murdered as he rides out into the
twilight, just before the banquet. Repeatedly Shakespeare makes the
point that it is night, a time when dark and evil deeds may be
considered and carried out. Night is like a cloak to hide from others
the evil that is being plotted.
As the play continues, so Macbeth and his Lady move increasingly into
the darkness of sin and corruption. They seem to live in a twilight
world where light does not penetrate. In the early part of the play,
as the couple appear to be successful in their ambitions, night
predominates as evil struggles with good. The climax is reached when
we see Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, a candle constantly by her side. She
is mentally disturbed, cut off from humanity, obsessed with the evil
the two committed.
In the same way, Macbeth also uses imagery related to light and
darkness as the play nears its end and the re-establishment of good
becomes inevitable. This quotation serves as a good example:
"Out, out, brief candle! / Life's but a walking shadow..." (Act V,
scene v, lines 4-23) - surely one of the most world-weary speeches in
So although so much of the play takes place in darkness, it ends in
the light of day as Birnam Wood is seen to move towards Macbeth's
castle. The light of goodness is re-established by the end of the play
as the new king is announced.