Macbeth Gone Wild
A man who was once a good samaritan now walks around with bloody, murderous hands, curving towards lunacy. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth was created to be watched by all, including monarchs. The protagonist, Macbeth, is portrayed as a Scottish General under King Duncan’s rule. In a nutshell, three witches reveal Macbeth his prophecies because they want to see him suffer gradually. Yet, even though Macbeth knows the prophecies will happen, he is eager to make them come true because he knows they are inevitably going to happen. Therefore, he is willing to do anything to fulfill his prophecies, ultimately leading to Macbeth killing Duncan in order to become a ruler. After the wrongdoing of killing the king, his keenness to become king leads Macbeth on the highway of destruction. At the start of the play, Macbeth is a nobleman, a husband, and a general who is loyal to his king and bears a good reputation. However, throughout the play, he becomes a psychopath who hears voices, sees hallucinations, and becomes desensitized to fear. Shakespeare deliberately makes it clear that Macbeth has spiraled into insanity from sleep issues. All through the writing, Shakespeare makes references to sleeping, showing how Macbeth is going insane. Internally, Macbeth feels very guilty for his actions, which is apparent when he starts hallucinating and experiencing mental hindrances.
Firstly, after Macbeth murders King Duncan, he’s so rattled that he can’t carry on and is cemented physically and mentally. Staring at his bloody hands with dismay and trauma, he tells his wife that as he left the King’s chamber, he heard two men in another room: “There’s one did laugh in’s sleep, and one cried ‘Murder!'” (2.2.20). In other words, even though those men were sleeping, they could still see his bloody murderous hands. In reality, the sleeping men never saw him commit the murder, but his imagination and culpability made him feel as though they had. Shakespeare specifically chose to use the motif of sleep here because when someone is sleeping they are clueless of what is going on around them. Furthermore, Macbeth feels so bad that even a man in deep sleep would have known he committed the murder.
Secondly, shortly after murdering Duncan, Macbeth is shaken to the core and the paranoia starts. He tells Lady Macbeth that he heard a voice telling him that he would never sleep again:
Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep”—
the innocent sleep,Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief
nourisher in life’s feast
In a thorough literary analysis, a “ravell’d sleave” is a tangled string of thread or yarn. Macbeth makes a clever metaphor for the kind of frustration one experiences when they have so many problems that they can’t see the end to any of them. In many instances, people often say that they want to “sleep on it” in order to get everything straight in their head. To Macbeth, sleep is not only a necessity of life, not only part of one’s health, but something that makes life worth living, and sadly he feels that when he murdered his King in his sleep, he murdered sleep itself. When Macbeth thought he heard voices that told him he’ll never sleep again he became anxious and apprehensive.
Lastly, by the end of the book, even Lady Macbeth has become deranged. She walks around in her sleep, repeatedly trying to wash blood off her hands. The gentlewomen try to help her out and reference sleep. They say, “rise from her bed, throw her night-gown upon her…take forth paper, fold it, write upon’t, read it, afterwards seal it, and again return to bed; yet all this while in a most fast sleep” (5.1.5-7). In this statement, Shakespeare refers to sleep as a way of recovery, something that a human needs in order to be mentally sane. The gentlewomen suggest to wake her up and go back to sleep. Unfortunately, at this point it’s too late for Lady Macbeth to wake up. The doctor comments, “…to receive at once the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of watching!” (5.1.9-10). In other words, the doctor means that the Lady Macbeth must be very distraught, agitated, and anxious to act as if she has bloody hands while she sleeps, but it’s a significant observation. Undoubtedly a paradox, Lady Macbeth is not getting any sleep while she sleeps because she is literally running around mumbling incoherently and trying to wash “blood” off her hands. She is reliving the horrors of King Duncan’s murder, the smothering of Duncan’s blood on the guards clothes, and of the visit of Banquo’s ghost. “Macbeth does murder sleep,” a voice cried out to Macbeth right before he was about to kill King Duncan. Ultimately, by the end the voice was right, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth don’t get any sleep.
All in all, the sleep motif is exemplary for professing Macbeth’s shift and character throughout the play. Sleep makes numerous appearances and changes the play by showing pain, insanity, and confusion. Sleep isn’t just a word Macbeth loved to used, it has meaning like what Macbeth experienced. At the end of the story Macbeth suffers from horrible anxiety and lunacy which is seized by Macduff. Shakespeare’s references to sleep make it clear to the audience that sleep is essential and affects the mental state of people. Macbeth needs sleep because his life is a bad dream that he can’t wake up from. Once he sleeps more he’ll feel better.
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