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Driven to Madness Macbeth

In: English and Literature

Submitted By kenMagus1600
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Authors regularly utilize a character’s conscience in their works, allowing the audience to identify with the character. Edgar Allan Poe is most known for this type of writing in his dark, gothic literature. In one of his famous short stories, The Tell-Tale Heart, the character’s conscience brings him to insanity after he murders an old man. Not only does the use of a man’s deteriorating sanity entice the audience, but also each reader is able to relate to Poe’s character on at least one level. Similarly in Macbeth, a play written by William Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are illustrated as paralleling one another’s feelings of guilt and anguish because of their mutual crimes. These emotions are seen through Shakespeare’s symbolism of blood, sleeplessness and darkness. Macbeth’s guilt is most notably seen by his references to the blood of those he killed. Shakespeare uses this symbol to illustrate how the conscience weighs on Macbeth’s thoughts. When Macbeth imagines to see blood covering his hands, he cries, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?” (2.2.57-59). The immense guilt, already beginning to trouble Macbeth’s conscience, is set off by the enormity of the deed he has committed against King Duncan. He feels as though nothing can wash away this crime, and goes on to say that the blood on his hands would even turn all the oceans red. Also, during the battle as Macbeth sees Macduff coming towards him in his castle, Macbeth yells, “Get back thee. My soul is too much charged / With the blood of thine already” (5.7.5-6). Macbeth knows what will happen when they fight, and he does not want to deal with any more of the guilt. The blood of Macduff’s family is hanging on Macbeth’s conscience, and the thought of suffering even more makes Macbeth nervous. Shakespeare skillfully uses blood to make it the easiest symbol to recognize for both Macbeth. Lady Macbeth accurately mirrors Macbeth’s confrontations with blood. It is significant because it demonstrates the size of her guilt. While Lady Macbeth sleepwalks in her castle, rubbing her hands together vigorously, she shouts to herself, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! / …Yet who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him” (5.1.30, 34-35). Lady Macbeth also feels guilty of her part in the deed; she cannot rid herself of the blood on her hands, and, like Macbeth, descends closer to madness. Later that same night, after trying to rub the stains off of her hands and washing her hands many times, Lady Macbeth exclaims, “Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of / Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” (5.1.42-43). Along with Macbeth, she too believes that the blood of her victims will never be able to be covered, even by all of the sweetest perfumes. The guilty consciences that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffer from cause troublesome hallucinations.
Sleeplessness in Macbeth is the next symbol Shakespeare illustrates as part of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s guilty conscience. The increasing guilt Macbeth feels is depicted slowly entering his sleep and even causing him unrest. After Duncan was murdered by the hand of Macbeth, and he explains to Lady Macbeth that he “has murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor / Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more” (2.2.40-41). Also, when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are talking of how Macbeth needs to rid himself of his accusatory thoughts. Macbeth says that his conscience is causing his sleep “terrible affliction of these dreams / That shake us nightly. Better to be with the dead” (3.2.20-21). Now we see the development of what Macbeth has been nervous of since he killed Duncan — sleeplessness. The guilt has now manifested itself in Macbeth’s dreams, and he wishes he were dead so as to not deal with the unbearable suffering. Macbeth’s subconscious is forced to endure the guilt of his actions. This sleeplessness denies him of escaping his overbearing conscience even as he attempts to rest.
Lady Macbeth is also seen unable to sleep off the guilt of her murder. She cannot pause from her conscience, since it is no longer allowed to be at peace without guilt. As the gentlewoman and the doctor are talking, the gentlewoman tells of Lady Macbeth sleepwalking in the nights. The doctor responds to this saying that sleepwalking is “a great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit / of sleep, and do the effects of watching” (5.1.8-9). Although the doctor is unaware of the circumstances, he knows that it must be immense to cause Lady Macbeth to seem as though she’s awake. When Macbeth questions the doctor of his wife’s condition, the doctor answers, “She is troubled with thick-coming fancies / That keep her from rest” (5.3.40-41). The increasing amount of guilt Lady Macbeth is feeling is now pestering with her psyche, and does not allow her to sleep. As Lady Macbeth and Macbeth put others in a ‘permanent sleep’, it is only fitting that their guilt denies them the option of sleeping. The symbol darkness plays an important role in Macbeth’s guilt. It demonstrates the development and transformation of his conscience. When Duncan announces that his son Malcolm will take over his throne Macbeth says to himself, “ Stars, hide your fires / Let not light see my black desires” (1.4.53-54). Macbeth wishes to do something evil, and prays for the darkness to conceal his plans from others. After Macbeth explains to Lady Macbeth that he has a dangerous plan for Fleance and Banquo, he turns to himself and says, “Come, seeling night / Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day / …tear to pieces that great bond which keeps me pale” (3.2.47-51). Macbeth calls on the darkness again, to aid him in finishing his wrongful crime. He knows that the deed will cause him guilt, but he also still wishes to remain king of his country. The darkness changes from being something that Macbeth calls on, ultimately to a part of his personality.
Shakespeare also uses darkness to develop Lady Macbeth’s guilt. It is a tool that she uses to lead her in evil actions. After Lady Macbeth learns that King Duncan will be visiting the house, she engages in a soliloquy asking the darkness of night to “pall thee in the dunnest smokes of hell / That my keen knife see not the wound it makes” (1.5.51-53). Lady Macbeth does not want anyone, even the knife she uses, to realize the deed that she is planning to commit, and calls on the darkness to conceal herself. Later in the play, when the doctor questions the gentlewoman how Lady Macbeth found the candle, the gentlewoman states that “[Lady Macbeth] has light by her continually / ’Tis her command” (5.1.19-20). Even though Lady Macbeth called on the darkness earlier, her guilt later takes hold of her. She commands to always have a candle because she is now afraid to be in darkness, because she knows what can happen when there is darkness. Lady Macbeth’s guilt causes the darkness to seem evil, and while she tries to prevent ever being in darkness again, it is already too late.
Shakespeare effectively correlates his symbols of blood, sleeplessness, and darkness between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and he applies them to prove the detrimental effects a guilty conscience can cause. With each passing day and deed, the sanity of both characters slowly slipped out of their grasp until the guilt drove both of them to madness. In both Shakespeare’s play and Poe’s short story, the guilty conscience is used as a symbolic tool, and because each author employed the symbol with style, their works have become classics of American literature.…...

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