Perfume in “Macbeth”

In Act V, Scene 1 of [amazon_link id=”0198324006″ target=”_blank” ]Macbeth[/amazon_link], Lady Macbeth, who is clearly in a state of madness (insanity,) is lamenting that she cannot wash the blood (guilt) from her hands:

Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. O,
O, O! (48 – 50)*  

[amazon_link id=”0394701623″ target=”_blank” ]Elizabethans[/amazon_link] didn’t bathe often, but the wealthy used a lot of [amazon_link id=”0847828328″ target=”_blank” ]perfumes[/amazon_link], which they purchased from merchants who traded with [amazon_link id=”0415195357″ target=”_blank” ]Arabia[/amazon_link]. Arabia (included in the countries that now consist of what we call the Middle East) would have seemed exotic and faraway to Shakespeare’s audience.

Musk and floral women’s perfumes were brought to Europe in the Eleventh and Twelfth-centuries from Arabia, through trade with the Islamic world and with the returning Crusaders. For example, there are records from the Pepperers Guild of London, going back to 1179, which show them trading with Muslims in spices, perfume ingredients, and dyes.

Islamic culture contributed significantly in the development of western perfumery in both perfecting the extraction of fragrances through steam distillation and introducing new, raw ingredients; al-Kindi who was born in Iraq in 801 is credited for establishing their perfume industry believed to be the first of its kind.

*[amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition[/amazon_link] edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells © Oxford University Press 1986, 2005.


Attention Students: to cite this web article in the current MLA-style, please use the example below.

Dixon, Catherine Jo. “Perfume in Macbeth.” Feast Of Languages. Catherine Jo Dixon, 17 August 2011. Web. [today’s date].

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English literature students most commonly use the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) style to write their papers. This citation reflects the [amazon_link id=”1603290249″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition[/amazon_link] and/or the [amazon_link id=”0873522974″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition[/amazon_link]. For additional information, I recommend a free online writing lab from Purdue University: “The Purdue OWL” which has current, credible information and reliable examples.

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