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Macbeth: 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.
William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act II, scene ii.

A Stock Phrase meaning "to lay blame for a death (or several deaths)", with the person on whose hands the blood lies being responsible (though not necessarily guilty, depending on the circumstances) for the loss of life. The phrase is often used in statements of personal regret or accusation, and characters who are particularly plagued by remorse often try to wash away their guilt, though this usually proves to be a pointless endeavor.

The visual twin to the phrase is These Hands Have Killed, and the two are frequently paired up.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Blood on These Hands include:


Anime & Manga

  • A major preoccupation of Rurouni Kenshin, who's been Walking the Earth as The Atoner for ten years when the series starts. The closest he ever comes to actually saying the trope name is during the prologue to the long Bakumatsu flashback sequence within the Jinchuu arc.

 Kenshin: This one's wife. Himura Tomoe, who was killed by these two hands.

  • Lelouch Lamperouge from Code Geass is a recent example. He doesn't make a big deal out of death because (as he puts it in the first episode), "No matter how much you cry and scream, it won't bring them back." Instead, he thinks the best thing one can do for the dead is to carry out their wishes for them so their death wasn't meaningless. By the point he thinks his beloved sister (the person for whom he did everything) is dead, he enacts a plan to scapegoat himself to the world. When his sister turns up alive and well, his resolve is shaken, but he sticks it out and allows himself to be killed, hoping that it will give her a happy and peaceful world.
  • Balsa from Seirei no Moribito doesn't use the phrase directly, but her entire life so far has been about saving lives because she feels responsible for her foster father having had to kill six men (his own best friends, who were all members of a king's Praetorian Guard, to boot) to keep her alive.

Fan Fic

Film

  • Oppenheimer

 J. Robert Oppenheimer: I feel we have blood on our hands.

 Renfield: I'm loyal to you, Master, I am your slave, I didn't betray you! Oh, no, don't! Don't kill me! Let me live, please! Punish me, torture me, but let me live! I can't die with all those lives on my conscience! All that blood on my hands!

  • Bruce Wayne uses this line (#1) in The Dark Knight after Joker kills several civilians because Batman didn't reveal his identity.
  • In Avatar, Jake Sully - a former Marine who might know first hand - tries to keep Smug Snake Selfridge from destroying a Hometree full of Na'vi children by telling him that he doesn't want that kind of blood on his hands. It doesn't work.


Literature

  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, after Gallio, Vode, and all their men are murdered, Rafen thinks it's his fault for having sent the message; their blood was on his hands.
  • The Bible. Pilate washes his hands to get the figurative blood of Jesus off of them. History lesson: it doesn't work.
    • The blood of the thousands of other miscellaneous threats to Rome he crucified, of course, are presumed to have come off easily.
      • Incidentally, Pilate's act was actually something of a Roman tradition, indicating that the official responsible for an act was not acting for himself, but rather in his official capacity. In other words, he wasn't trying to "wash his hands" of the Crucifixion, but rather saying (more or less): "I didn't do what just happened. That was the Roman State." Unfortunately for Pilate, very few non-Romans in that time and place understood the concept of separating the office from the person; it was quite the Roman concept, which didn't really translate for the mostly Jewish and Hellenistic Greek early Christians.
      • In the movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar, when Pilate washed his hands, the water he washed them in turned red.
  • Also from the Bible: This was the very reason God instructed Solomon to build the Temple instead of his father, David.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has Bernardo deLaPaz admit that when they, as the new Lunar government, publicly out those members of the revolution who were actually paid informants of the overthrown government, those they expose as traitors will be murdered by members of the public. "I will not duck the responsibility. Their blood will be on my hands."
  • In the Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters, the Macbeth Expy Lord Felmet has blood red hands from the night he murders King Verence until the night he dies. However, the fact that he uses progressively harsher methods to remove the blood (including sandpaper and a metal file) implies that maybe the reason it doesn't come off is because the blood is coming from an actual wound rather than karma.
  • When Dorian in The Picture of Dorian Gray drives actress Sybil Vane to suicide, blood-stains appear on his portrait's hands.
  • In Grey Lensman, hero Kimball Kinnison indulges in this when trying to make Clarissa MacDougal understand what marrying him could entail. She basically tells him to can the dramatics; she knows perfectly well what his job entails.
  • In Gene Stratton Porter's Freckles, one villain objects to killing Freckles because he does not want this trope. They could have prevent him from seeing anything.

Live Action TV

 Londo Mollari: No. The blood is already on my hands. Right or wrong, I must follow the path to its end.

Also, Vir has an awesome drunken self-accusation scene after he kills Cartagia.

 Tom Zarek: They have a jury, but they don't get lawyers. They don't get to showboat for weeks and months on end. They don't get to blame the system. And the don't get lasting fame as martyrs or innocent people just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They just disappear. Now. In the great twilight between the long night of the occupation and the dawn of a new era, you come into office clean, without their blood on your hands.

  • Dick Turpin: The Impostor

 Swiftnick: Happened? What happened to you? What happened to Dick Turpin? Shall I tell you? He's a memory! I believed in him. A lot of us did. Because he meant freedom and a chance to hit back at injustice, to struggle from the mire! But he's a memory. And you, you stand there in his place. With my uncle's blood on your hands!

 Emily Quartermaine: And now the blood of those two innocent kids she killed is on your hands!

  • Heroes: Chapter Sixteen 'Unexpected'

 S.R. Gustavson: You take on a partner. All you get is their blood on your hands.

 Juliet Burke: I'm taking that medication back to Claire. And you're gonna let me. Because if she doesn't get it, she's gonna die. And the last thing that either of you need right now, is more blood on your hands.

  • Monk: Mr. Monk Meets the Godfather, who was chopping up fish at the time.

 Salvatore Lucarelli: [shrugs, chuckling] I have blood on my hands.

  • Used in CSI: Miami: when Horatio has to clear his name he invokes this trope; the blood in question was the real killer's (he punched him in the face), which proves he was at the scene.
  • Referenced/subverted in Bones: "The Hole in the Heart":

 Booth: I don't blame myself, Sweets, I blame the bastard who killed Vincent.

Brennan: You still have blood on your hands.

(Beat as everyone looks around awkwardly)

Angela: Booth, she means literally.

Music

  • The rock opera penned by The Protomen, Act II, track 4, "The Hounds".

 "There is a flame that I've been fanning/There is a fire waiting to catch

There is a hell that has been building/From the moment we first met

If there ever was a time/If there ever was a chance

To undo the things I've done/And wash the bloodstains from my hands

It has past and been forgotten/These are the paths that we must take

'Cause you and I, Tom, we are men/And we can bend and we can break"

  • Melodic Death Metal band Arch Enemy's Blood on Your Hands. The first track on the album, and considered to be the best.

 "You were born your brother's keeper/Why can I see blood on your hands?"

"Blood is on your hands/The Wages of Sin"

 Now here we stand with their blood on our hands

  • The Used's "Blood on My Hands":

 There's blood on my hands/Like the blood in you!

  • Demons And Wizards, a collab of Blind Guardian's Hansi Kürsch and Iced Earth's Jon Schaffer, brought us Blood On My Hands
  • The Smashing Pumpkins' "Wound":

 Wound opens, reveal this broken man

And soon, there's notions of blood on his hands

  • Iced Earth's "Blood On My Hands".
    • The ending of High Water Mark (and of the entire Gettysburg trilogy).
  • Shackleton's Blood On My Hands.

Theater

  • In William Shakespeare's Macbeth both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth still envisions the blood, and cannot mentally remove it.

 Lady Macbeth: Out, damn'd spot!

Video Games

  • Call of Duty 4, after Victor Zakhaev kills himself to avoid being captured:

 Imran Zakhaev: Our blood has been spilled on our soil. My blood on their hands.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Visually done by The Nostalgia Critic after he's recalled memories of being bullied due to Doug. He then looks freaked and puts his hands back down.

Real Life

  • Any athlete, medical practioner, or *ahem* murderer will tell you that blood actually is a pain to get off your hands when it dries. It's very sticky and requires some scrubbing with good soap, and forget it if it gets on your clothes. There's a reason that detergents brag about being able to get blood stains out. What? Why is everyone looking at me like that?
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