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Guilt and Mental Deterioration of Macbeth

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Many aspects of life affect mental stability, such as a family history of mental illnesses, a sudden psychotic breakdown, or even a gradual development of symptoms. Mental illness is common amongst our society, and literature frequently uses it as a focus in stories. One famous example of mental disease occurs in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The play tells the story of a hero falling from grace when he becomes greedy with power. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth seems completely healthy in his psyche at the beginning of the play, but he soon transforms into a man whose shame makes him hallucinate and become hysterical. By the end of the play, the witches, hallucinations, and his hunger for power all have caused Macbeth’s descent into madness. There are various aspects of life that can impact a person’s mental stability.

The play opens with the introduction of supernatural characters, which are a major key. The witches spur Macbeth’s mental deterioration because, without their prophecy, Macbeth would probably have never sought out to kill Duncan. First witch: “All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!” Second witch: “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter!” Almost immediately after Macbeth’s meeting with the weird sisters, he has a hallucination of a knife. This becomes the first of many hallucinations he has after meeting the witches. Later on in the play, Macbeth pays a visit to the witches again and they give him more prophecies about his ruling. Second Witch: “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.”  The second witch indicates that something wicked comes their way, Macbeth keeps approaching the witches about prophecies. If fate isn’t a sure thing, then it isn’t fate, however, Macbeth is going to kill Macduff in order to assure that fate keeps its promises. The witches warn Macbeth that it’s in his best interest if he doesn’t ask any more questions, but he flies into a rage and demands that they answer. Macbeth doesn’t want to look, but he can’t help himself. It appears like every time Macbeth sees the sisters, his mental stability noticeably worsens because these predictions distort his thinking further, and he starts to think that he is invincible.

Macbeth’s hallucinations progressively worsen throughout the play, and they showcase the amount of guilt that affects him. Macbeth’s first hallucination occurs during the beginning of the play; he sees a dagger with blood and believes it to be real until he realizes it does not exist: “Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch Thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still”. The dagger is only seen by Macbeth, and when he told Lady Macbeth about what he had just encountered, she waved it off and thought he was silly. “‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine.’” Paranoia has clearly gotten to Macbeth’s head after killing Duncan, in this scene he speaks these lines when he meets his wife right after taking care of his business. When he talks about the blood he refers both to the literal blood on his hand but also to the burden that is placed upon him due to his huge sense of guilt. This is a hyperbolic statement, he implies that the blood would stain the entire ocean red. His conversation with his wife implies that the consequences of his actions can’t be easily hidden, although his wife tells him that it can be simply washed away. He’s going to be a changed man forever as a result of what he did. Macbeth’s second hallucination occurs after he kills Banquo. Macbeth’s vision of the ghost reveals his culpability over ordering the murder of Banquo and Fleance. His sense of guilt is powerful enough to make him lose his sense of reality. In doing so, Macbeth reveals that his tormented soul is causing him to begin to lose his hold on sanity; ‘O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!’ Later, he claims that he hears voices that say, “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep”. He sees hallucinations, he has killed more than one person, and he cannot sleep. Macbeth’s guilt is slowly ruining him, but Macbeth goes on and tries to keep his title as king. Although Macbeth suffers the most, later in the play, Lady Macbeth also hallucinates that she has blood on her hands and is unable to get them clean, symbolizing her sense of guilt. Both characters’ guilt affects their lives to a point that they cannot function. Their guilt will ruin them eventually, and their wrongdoings will not be worth the negative consequences. Banquo: “And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray us In deepest consequence cousins, a word, I pray you.”

Overall, the mental deterioration of Macbeth as the play progresses plummets. The witches, hallucinations, and his greed for power ultimately cause Macbeth’s downfall. As an honourable man, he started the game, but by the end, he becomes a broken man whose shame eats him alive. To exchange for power, he sacrifices his mental stability because his shame won’t let Macbeth enjoy his victories. Macbeth makes stupid decisions, and eventually, the consequences are not worth it. 

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Guilt And Mental Deterioration Of Macbeth. (2022, January 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from
“Guilt And Mental Deterioration Of Macbeth.” GradesFixer, 12 Jan. 2022,
Guilt And Mental Deterioration Of Macbeth. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2022].
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