The Mortal Madness of Macbeth: The Guilt and Shame

Many famous stories deal with the complex theme of madness and how it can be the erosion of a person. In the play The Tragedy of Macbeth, Shakespeare explores madness and how it breaks down a once honorable warrior into a paranoid, guilty shell of a man. In William Shakespeare's, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Macbeth is driven to madness and irrational behavior which permeates into his actions, revealing that his guilt is the candid cause of his choices and ultimate downfall. 

Macbeth, in most cases, hallucinates when he has done something morally wrong. In “Macbeth’s Mental Deterioration”, the article states, “The moment Macbeth started feeling guilty over the death of the king, his guilt multiple tenfold and his mental deterioration escalated”. Anytime he commits a crime he is haunted by hallucinations. All of these have a meaning within the play. When he was about to kill Duncan, he manifested a dagger leading him to Duncan. Another time his guilt creates visions is after he murders his friend, Banquo. In the feasting hall, Macbeth sees Banquo after he is murdered and Lady Macbeth tries to explain that he is seeing things that aren’t there, “Sit, worthy friends. My lord is often thus/ And hath been from his youth. My pray, keep the seat/ The fit is momentary; upon a thought”. The “ghost” he sees may be his own conscience trying to punish him for the bad choices he has made. In real cases, many times guilt suffering can manifest things that are irrational. It's the fact that patients believe they are culpable for the situation that causes side effects of seeing visions. These people cannot move on from the guilt. They believe they see things that aren’t there. Schizophrenia and OCD are some of the many disorders that have similar symptoms. Macbeth doesn't prove to have these disorders. Understanding these disorders may help understand Macbeth. His madness may be connected with disorders in real life. 

Secondly, guilt drives Macbeth to paranoid and irrational thinking. The early stages of paranoia set in when Macbeth starts hearing voices, “...‘Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep/ The innocent sleep, Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care”. Macbeth heard voices which is a sign of irrational thinking. The voices were blaming and shaming him, which could be an inside look into what he is thinking. Other irrational fears show up throughout the play. He believed, according to the witches, that Banquo would bare kings that would take his crown, though he is never told that Banquo will have children that will kill or take Macbeth’s crown. His paranoia drives his worry of others taking his crown or turning on him, so he murdered Banquo, Banquo’s child, and Duncan’s guards out of fear and anxiety. The more a sufferer, Macbeth, believes that they are at fault, the more the disorder becomes fits of paranoia and irrational thinking. The guilt is tied to anxiety. Anxiety is tied to fear and paranoia. In “Shame- and guilt-proneness: Relationships with anxiety disorder symptoms in a clinical sample”, the article explains, “Researchers postulate that both shame and guilt are emotions important to anxiety disorders. Extant data, however, indicate that guilt-proneness shares non-significant relationships with psychopathology symptoms after controlling for shame-proneness”. 

All symptoms --hallucination, impulsive behavior, paranoia, and irrational thinking and beliefs-- are symptoms of extreme guilt. This anxiety manifested in the dagger while he was getting ready to kill King Duncan. Macbeth’s guilt and amorality made his mental state worse and worse. The voices and visions are an inside look at Macbeth’s shame. The guilt makes him become a stranger to his former self. Macbeth’s guilt made him falter as a leader and feel hopeless. Macduff and Malcolm rebel against Macbeth’s tyranny and constant murders. The soldiers of Malcolm's army speak of his insanity.

In The Tragedy of Macbeth, the soldier speaks, “Great Dunsinane he strongly fortifies/Some say he’s mad, others that lesser hate him/Do call it valiant fury”. The soldiers that rebel thinks that he is mad. Others view his madness and see that it affects his leadership. He murders because he cannot control his paranoia and guilt. Macbeth becomes a tyrant that doesn’t control his irrational thinking. Macbeth loses hope of living and questions which makes him falter as a leader. He is both questioning his actions and whether they meant anything in the end. Macbeth states, “Life’s but a walking shadow...It is a tale told by an idiot/ Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. He becomes a shell of a man. Because of his guilt, he cannot lead as Duncan could. Macbeth is a warrior turned into a madman. The madness makes him the worse leader of all. He becomes a leader and a coward. He is afraid of himself and what he has become. Many argue that the witches are the main reason for his madness, not his guilt; however, the play never told the reader that the witches used their magic to make him do anything. 

The only person who tried to sway his opinion was Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth states, “Your hand, your tongue. Look like th' innocent flower/But be the serpent under ’t. He that’s coming”. It was the guilt of killing so many that made him mad, not the witches. He decided on his own to commit crimes. The consequences of the crimes were rebelling, madness, and losing everything. The witches told him his fate may have caused a sway in his opinion; however, he decided to murder. The guilt and shame of doing so made him insane. Macbeth is in control of himself. Macbeth is a wonderful story that can have many interpretations of the main themes throughout the play. His mental state had a lot to do with his downfall. Though his own actions lead to his mental state, his guilt is to cause for his madness. Macbeth made that decision and dealt with the ultimate price. The price was losing everything, including his wife, but most of all, Macbeth lost the most important thing to him: the crown.          

07 July 2022
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