The Force of Guilt and Paranoia: Macbeth

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One of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies tells a story of a paranoid, guilty king, who murdered and deceived his way to the crown and the fine line between love and hate. The play, Macbeth is driven by the force of guilt and paranoia, and the road of insanity it leads down. The crippling guilt Macbeth creates throughout the play builds up and ultimately is his inescapable demise. The guilt paves the way for paranoia and insanity, and it takes control of every action he takes.

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Guilt often creates unintended and the most tragic after-effects. In Act 2 scene 2, Macbeth has just left King Duncan’s room after murdering him, and he starts to talk to Lady Macbeth about the horrors he had been forced to commit. Macbeth moves into a soliloquy, creating imagery by talking about the blood on his hands, both in a literal and figurative sense, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine..” The quote is used to express the immense and pain that he feels in the moment. He talks about the blood on his hands in both a literal and figurative sense, as the blood symbolizes the tragic guilt of the violent act as well as a sign of death. This is the beginning of Macbeth’s inevitable downfall into insanity. These techniques are crucial to creating the imagery in the audiences’ minds as it shows us the clear consequences of guilt being planted in the mind of someone who has not felt overwhelming guilt already, and the inevitable road to insanity it leads to.

Another example of the crushing effects of guilt is in act 5, scene 1 when Lady Macbeth says this when she is on the brink of insanity and shows us how the guilt consuming her has crushed her assertive and confident personality. These words are the last words she speaks before she commits suicide, “To bed, to bed. There’s knocking at the gate. Come, / come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s done / cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed…”.

The worst effect of guilt is the paranoia and obsession it brings, which lead to unnecessary pain and destruction. Throughout the play, we see Macbeth’s paranoia growing over time, and how obsessive he becomes to keep in power. In Act 4, scene 1, we see Macbeth’s fragile mind on the verge of destruction. Adding to this, his increased belief in the supernatural is continuing to drive him to kill yet another one of his friends, Macduff. He no longer believes he is a threat, yet he says that he should kill Macbeth to make sure, “Then live, Macduff. What need I fear of thee? / But yet I’ll make assurance double sure, / And take a bond of fate. Thou shalt not live, / That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies, / And sleep in spite of thunder.” The use of personification describes fear as pale-hearted (cowardly) and Macbeth boldly claims he is no longer afraid of fear. His paranoia, however, disagrees with the statement. He continues, asking the rhetorical question “What do I fear of thee?”, asking why he should fear Macduff, but ultimately comes to the decision that murdering him would be the best option, to “make assurance double sure”. This brings into the slight of how deep Macbeth’s paranoia has truly become. These techniques create a clear idea of just how insane Macbeth has become, and the lengths he is willing to go to to stay as the King Of Scotland. 

07 July 2022

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