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The Role of Guilt in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

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A person’s guilt will always manifest itself very quickly on its terms that cannot be hidden for long which is a hard psychological experience for many. The Macbeth play is partially based on guilt which comes to the surface when the characters have done something they already know and feels it’s wrong. In the play, having a guilty conscience and the effects of guilt are major recurring themes that have been displayed throughout the text.

Macbeth together with his wife conspires to carry out a regicide which is the killing of a royal figure against King David. Many scenes take place after the incident, but still, the two continually think of what murder they committed together and tries to process their guilt for having done that. Macbeth wife is seen counting the clock’s chimes picturing that night that Duncan was killed to an extent she starts to sleepwalk and also nonsense. Additionally, Macbeth senses are heightened immediately after killing and becomes paranoid of being caught that makes him jump after hearing any noise. This evident when he says “What’s happening to me, that I’m frightened of every noise” in act 2, while still gazing on his bloody hands for a while. He wishes if it could be possible to take away the eyes that saw him commit the murder. Therefore, we can say that Duncan’s blood is symbolic for Macbeth guilt which has been used as a metaphor that he firmly believes there is no any water even from the ocean that is enough to cleanse his hands.

In Act 5, Macbeth sleepwalks in scene one that she seems to be trying to wash her hands quoting, out damned spot! Which implies that her guilt is getting to the surface while she is asleep and dreams. Under this situation, she attempts to cleanse herself of Duncan’s occult blood. Lady Macbeth quotes that they have power and in a better position to get over with the murder but ‘who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him” which implies that they never expected to feel much guilt and the psychological impacts that they are undergoing as a result of murder.

It’s evident that Shakespeare portrays the two main characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to be evil who have experienced an abundance of guilt that has resulted in unwanted side effects. The character’s dialogue and monologues, it’s possible to pinpoint the exact situations that guilt is unmissable. The play also clearly demonstrates how a person’s guilt can affect one’s r actions which have been used to develop most of the themes in the context. Banquo’s ghost is also a demonstration of guilt amongst the characters after killing of their former ally. Macbeth ends up seeing Banquo’s ghost at a feat in which after being driven to panic he starts reflecting on how the consequences of murder have completely changed since he initially though killing somebody was easy. This is evident when he says, “the time has been that when brains were out, the man would die and that’s is the end. Thus, suggesting that even when your enemy is completely dead, they are not gone forever; instead, they come back to haunt the killer.

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The Role of Guilt in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 21, 2022, from
“The Role of Guilt in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.” GradesFixer, 10 Oct. 2020,
The Role of Guilt in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 May 2022].
The Role of Guilt in Shakespeare’s Macbeth [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Oct 10 [cited 2022 May 21]. Available from:
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