Macbeth’s Guilt: Significant Signs of Desperate Mind in Shakespeare’s Play
In the extract, coming as it does towards the end of the play, Shakespeare portrays the guilt through the despair and lack of purpose in Macbeth’s life seen in his silent response towards his wife, Lady Macbeth’s death. This creates a contrast to the beginning of the play as Macbeth’s character undergoes changes from being brave and valiant to nostalgic and lost.
In the extract, Macbeth uses a monotonous tone while announcing Lady Macbeth’s death, “she should have died hereafter”. The use of the modal verb “should” illustrates how Macbeth was expecting her death despite the sins they committed together. The fact that he simply accepts her death, shows his lack of concern towards her. However, in Act 1, scene 5 when Macbeth addresses his Lady Macbeth as his “dearest love”. The use of the superlative adjective “dearest” highlights the immense affection Macbeth possesses for her. This is a contrast to Macbeth’s character now, implying how his character developed from being emotional to materialistic, where he fails to feel anything. Hence showing his despair and lack of emotions. Furthermore, the use of “hereafter”, while announcing lady Macbeth’s death, has heavenly connotations. Arguably this could portray how Macbeth felt that her guilt had redeemed herself, unlike him, and that now she deserves to be in heaven, near God.
Alternatively, it could also portray how Macbeth denies ‘heaven’ for himself and acknowledges that there is no redemption for his sinful actions. This, therefore, reveals how Macbeth regrets being power-hungry for the throne and sees the destruction he caused after becoming king. Macbeth’s despair s further suggested through the monotone of the repetition, “To-morrow, and to-morrow and to-morrow,”. The fact this line accompanies the new of Lady Macbeth’s death, moralizes that the consequences of their filthy actions are inevitable and they would have to face them someday. Also, the monotone used emphasizes on Macbeth’s dullness and fruitlessness. In conclusion, Macbeth’s current emotional state would appeal to the Jacobean audience since the “bad king” is finally being punished for his sins.
Moreover, Shakespeare uses Macbeth’s downfall to set an example of the consequences of breaking the Divine Rule of Kings. Macbeth’s feelings of regret are also portrayed through his lack of purpose. The use of repeated exclamatory imperative, “out, out brief candle!”, highlights Macbeth’s guilt to get rid of life. The use of command reminds us of his authoritative presentation of king from earlier in the play. This contrasts with Macbeth’s current status where, although he has access to the throne, he still feels powerless and futile. Moreover, the exclamatory mark suggests desperation that the audience had not seen before. Previously, the audience were only aware about the valiant Macbeth also addressed as “Bellona’s bridegroom”, that would reach out to any extent for self- preservation. Contextually, In the Jacobean era, Bellona was the Goddess of war. Hence, comparison of Macbeth to her bridegroom, presents him as equally combatant and brave. This strikes a contrast between a whole new Macbeth who lacks motive; thereby presenting his lack of purpose to live. Alternatively, while Macbeth was decrying the brevity of life by comparing to a “brief candle”, Lady Macbeth was deteriorating herself with guilt. This is seen in act 5 scene 1, “out – damned spot! Out” when she desperately tries to get rid of the bloodstains on her hands which symbolizes the guilt of her actions. Thus, the two characters appear to be linked by their language and actions that have caused this guilt which they wish to be disencumbered from.
Furthermore, Macbeth’s lack of purpose is seen when he compares life to a stage, where we are merely actors playing our roles. In his speech, the protagonist compares people in general to a “poor player”, actor, strutting and worrying “his hour upon and stage”; revealing the emotional and exhilarating experience of life. Alternately, Macbeth’s use of “poor player” could compare himself to a poor king who caused his own downfall due to his fatal flaw of being persistently greedy for power throughout the play, thus linking him to the key genre of Greek Tragedy. Lastly, Macbeth insinuates the meaningless importance of life as it is simply a “tale told by an idiot”. The comparison to “tale” portrays ‘life’ as something not true and that has been adapted and modified differently by everyone, just like a tale passed down from one generation to another. Arguably, the use of common nouns ‘tale’ and ‘idiot’ symbolize how Macbeth does not feel a great deal towards his life and compares it to one of the other things he owns, hence underestimating its worth and showing his lack of purpose. In conclusion, Macbeth, like lady Macbeth, is deteriorated by his guilt that he has lost his motivation to live. Contextually, this enforces the piousness of the Divine Right of Kings to the Jacobean era. Through Macbeth’s disintegration, Shakespeare creates awareness for those who even thought to oppose the natural order of kings. Moreover, in the Jacobean era, the king was considered God’s representative on earth. Hence, murdering one would be considered equal to conflicting God himself.
Moreover, Shakespeare presents Macbeth’s feelings of guilt in the play as a whole through the development to his character. Macbeth’s character is not a flat character and has undergone many significant changes, from having a conflicted mind due to Duncan’s murder to an authoritative Macbeth once he gained access to the throne. Shakespeare presents Macbeth’s feeling of regret in act 2 scenes 1, through his guilt, “the dagger of the mind”. The use of dagger in the scene, which Macbeth hallucinates, evocatively symbolizes his guilt and towards Duncan’s death. Through the scene Macbeth is deteriorated as his guilt starts to engulf him, which thereby leaves him with a distorted mental state of order. This a complete contrast to Macbeth’s traits in Act 3 scene 2. The audience sees a switch between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth as he tells her disguise her true intentions of killing Banquo by making “their faces vizards to their hearts”. This reveals how Macbeth is not affected by his actions, unlike Duncan’s death where even the thought of killing conflicted his mind. The significance of the contrast is to portray the deflation of Macbeth’s feelings as he is submerged in his and fails to feel human emotions of love and regret.
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