Obviously blood isn’t a disease, but its presence or absence is clearly a key difference between life & death – or, if you’re one of the Macbeths, a guilty reminder of the foul deeds on their CV. There is an awful lot of bloodshed in the Scottish Play, be it in battle, a guestroom regicide, or the brutal slaying of innocents (seen as loose ends); it’s a wonder Macbeth has any time for consulting witches or hosting banquets.
Blood is roughly a 50:50 split of plasma and various kinds of blood cells. Plasma is a yellow liquid which contains proteins (for clotting, transporting substances, etc.), glucose, and other dissolved nutrients & compounds; blood cells can be red (erythrocytes; oxygen carriers), white (leukocytes; infection fighters), or platelets (thrombocytes; clotting assistants). Arteries, veins & capillaries transport blood throughout the body. It’s not all plain sailing for your blood, however, as it can be affected by conditions such as haemorrhage (bleeding, basically – external or internal), haematoma (bruising), blood cancer (an umbrella term I loathe, which includes leukaemia, multiple myeloma & lymphoma), anaemia, haemochromatosis, sickle cell diseases, haemophilia & deep vein thrombosis. Blood is also a very useful diagnostic tool, for example cell counts, blood type (a compatibility test prior to transfusion), and blood culture (to check for infection in the bloodstream). The Giant Microbe featured today is an erythrocyte, biconcave disc in shape (to increase surface area & provide flexibility) and packed full of haemoglobin – an iron-rich protein which binds oxygen and gives the cells their red colour.
“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”
Lady Macbeth, Macbeth (Act 5 Scene 1)
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand?”
Macbeth, Macbeth (Act 2 Scene 2)
These two quotes selected by Giant Microbes show the blood weighing heavy upon both Macbeths, following the murder of Duncan – which is ultimately just the tip of the iceberg as far as killings are concerned. Lady Macbeth’s incredibly famous line is a huge indicator of the guilt she feels, as well as the unholy consequences she may be facing for her crimes. Macbeth’s quote, however, is in the immediate aftermath of Duncan’s murder, and so could be seen as a reaction to the very real blood he is hastily trying to clean off before he’s spotted, as well as a symbol of his guilt; “Neptune’s ocean” shows the enormity & scale of the crime, suggesting Macbeth’s conscience will be muddied (or should that be bloodied?) by this for some time to come.
This is a commonly staged play, particularly in recent years, so there are plenty of options if you want to watch it for yourself. The Show Must Go Online did an all-female/non-binary production towards the end of their run last year, which was quite extraordinary. For those with BritBox, the excellent Christopher Eccleston-led RSC production is available to stream, and the Sir Patrick Stewart film version (based on a stage adaptation) can be found on Prime Video. The 2013 Globe production is available to rent or buy on Globe Player. A Kindle edition (including free audiobook) is currently available for the princely sum of 99p, if you would like to give the play a read.